May 20th – 28th

This has been another busy week at The Farm School, spent pushing ahead with fencing and planting, cultivating and cutting hay, and keeping our animals happy, healthy and growing. We cut hay on Wednesday, and made eighteen round bales on the lower half of our Waslakse Barn pastures. That’s two more than last year, and cut about a week later. The mower-conditioner burned through its main belt in the process, so we were not able to cut more on Thursday as we had planned. We have the new belt ordered, and we’re hoping it will come in Tuesday of next week so we can get the machine back in order and cut two more fields before they totally go to seed. We really try to cut our hay before the Bedstraw goes to seed, hoping to prevent this invasive little monster from further propagating itself and taking over even more of our pastures. I am hopeful that we have enough time remaining, and I’ve been watching for the telltale white blush to appear on the pasture indicating that the Bedstraw has flowered.

IMG_6481Alex, Kate and the student farmers did the first round of clipping and trellising on our hoop house tomatoes this week, connecting the growing plants to the overhead wires with clips and line. They use a very considered approach to this work, trying to anticipate where the plant will grow, where they want to grow for strength and fruit production, and hoping to also keep the neighboring plants from infringing on each other. Our goal is to keep these plants big and healthy through the whole summer, and on into the fall if possible, get early fruit off them, consistent fruit through the growing season, and even be able to keep them going a little late too. This means that we invest a lot of time and care into their upkeep, making sure they are shaped properly and supported well, and setup as best we can for long-term success.

We have two groups of pigs at Sentinel Elm Farm right now. Our original group of twenty, minus one that succumbed to a Tetanus infection, is up on the hill in the North West Pasture, growing well and digging through a couple of acres of Bedstraw infested pasture. The second group of ten, which arrived on the farm just a little while ago, is in the piglet training yard, learning about their automatic water and very strong electric fence. We have been feeding this second group with milk from the dairy, hoping to get them growing fast enough to catch up in size with the earlier, larger group, so that they can join them on the hill for the rest of the summer. My dream is to run the whole group of twenty-nine pigs through a good section of bad pasture, and to let them turn it all over so we can reseed with a pasture seed blend that we want. This will be a bit of an experiment for us, so I expect we’ll be adapting the system as we go along, and I’ll be sure to let you know how it all unfolds.

We had a big community planting day on Friday, establishing a new strawberry field up in the veggie fields above the Sentinel Elm bunkhouse pastures. We have an orchard up on the hill, a row of young grape vines, and several acres of grazing pastures for the dairy herd. In the midst of all that is a nice section of veggie acreage that the growers call Upper Field. The farmers from Maggie’s and Sentinel Elm got together to fill the space with new strawberry plants on Friday afternoon. These strawberry plants come to us from Norse Farm, and each plant is a messy tangle of roots, about eight inches long, with a tiny green nub on the top. We try to get them into the soil as quickly as we can after receiving them, hoping to keep them damp and viable until they’re in the soil and able to soak up moisture there. They will grow and establish themselves this season, and we hope for berries next year.

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May 14th – May 21st

IMG_6450We’ve reached the end of another wonderful week here at The Farm School, with work up and down the ridge moving ahead quickly under blue skies and ample sunshine. Our pastures are exploding with fresh green growth, veggie starts are perking up in their long straight rows, and the greenhouse is bursting with more ready for their turn at planting. Alex and student farmers had a huge planting day Thursday, putting the rest of our tomatoes, those not going into the hoop-house, out into raised plastic covered beds. We had really nice planting weather, and with a nice day of rain on Saturday, those new plants have taken very nicely to their new surroundings.

Some pretty extreme weather passed over southern New England and New York on

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The view from the back of the Maggie’s barn, out over the sheep.

Tuesday, with tornado warnings and watches even going up in several counties south and west of the farm. For the first time that I can remember, I heard an actual warning broadcast after the emergency alert tone on the radio, and we were told to take shelter in our basements in case of a tornado. Luckily all of the really strong wind and large hail missed our farm, but we know several farmers, including guest instructor Ben Shute at Hearty Roots Community Farm, who were not so lucky. We had heavy rain that totaled almost an inch before everything was over, and a few little wind gusts, but avoided any real trouble.

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The pigs are rooting and growing. 

We got the pig’s electric fence setup this week, and those little porkers are out there happily rooting through the top layers of the pasture in search of delicious treasures. It is really great to watch the pigs have the opportunity to put their incredible snouts to work, pushing their way through the soil and roots, breaking everything apart and smelling out grubs, worms and tasty roots. One of our chief management principles is a commitment to giving all of our livestock as much opportunity as we can to live out the life they have been designed for, and seeing the pigs out there grinding up the pasture is a rewarding affirmation of that goal. The added bonus this year is that they are working through an area of pasture that has been almost totally taken over by the invasive bed straw, so while they enjoy working for their food, they’re helping us renovate acreage that would otherwise be lost or mechanically managed.

We ran into a little trouble in our flock of sheep last weekend, with ewe #91 unable to get her lambs delivered. I spent a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon with several student farmers trying desperately to pull the stuck lamb out, and although we got things really close, we were unable to get it the final few inches and free. We corralled the ewe up in a lambing jug, and put in a call to the veterinarian. He came around dinner time, and we all worked for a couple more hours to finally pull the lamb. That first lamb was dead,

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The beef herd is way out there, grazing the Back Pasture. 

and upon a further examination, we found that the ewe had another dead lamb in her birth canal. The second lamb was pulled out with much less trouble, the ewe was flushed, cleaned, given a few stitches in her vulva to prevent a prolapse, dosed with some antibiotics, and sent on her way. The first lamb was pretty large, but signs seemed to indicate to all of us that both lambs had been dead for several days, so it’s not fully clear what exactly happened to lead to the trouble we had. Regardless, the ewe seems to be fine, and will unfortunately have to go off for processing this fall. Experiences like this restore my dedication to putting ‘Lambing Ease’ at the top of our criteria when making culling and replacement decisions.

May 7th – May 13th

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Our little dairy herd, waiting to come into the barn. 

With animals grazing out on the pastures, and veggies growing out in the fields, the farm is really beginning to feel like we’ve entered the sprint of the production season. Alex and the student farmers are zipping around cultivating and shaping beds up and down the ridge just about as fast as they can, we’re building electric fences as quickly as possible in every pasture, and the shape of the coming season is developing all over the farm. This late spring period is a mad dash to get the infrastructure of the growing season setup quickly, and in a few weeks, when everything is established, the focus of our work will shift into more of a maintenance mode as we try to keep it all going as well as we can until November. We have this little chunk of time, starting when the ground thaws at the end of winter, to setup the systems that we’ll need to carry our vegetable and animals through the short New England growing season, to give everything the best chance that we can for a healthy productive summer, and to make it all work for the farmers too.

We built our trellis system in the hoop house this week, put down plastic and irrigation

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A look down the beds in our new hoop-house tomato setup. 

drip lines, and the students planted tomatoes on Friday. This work was the culmination of a lot of dreaming and planning for Alex and Kate, and the change in our growing plan is a really exciting improvement. The hoop house tomatoes should come on earlier in the season, and we hope we’ll be able to keep them healthier longer in the hoop house, prune them better with the trellis system, and water them just right with irrigation. Tomatoes face quite a bit of pest and disease pressure here in New England, the biggest being Late Blight, and the hoop house will allow us to keep their leaves drier and better trimmed to avoid many of these issues.

Our pigs moved out to their summer area this week, although the electric fence has not been built up there yet. We build a deck to hold the feeder and automatic water system, a hard fence around the edges of the deck, and a hog-panel fenced yard around three sides of the deck so that we can keep the pigs in a smaller yard if we need to. Around all of that we setup an electric fenced area large enough to entertain and feed the pigs through the summer, and this year I am dreaming of establishing a little paddock rotation cycling around the pig yard to keep the pigs moving through their summer area. We are really hoping that the pigs will help us renovate a pasture this summer, so we are aiming to maximize their impact on the ground. The pigs currently are on the deck, and in the hog-panel yard, and I hope to build the electric fenced area next week. We usually have a short period like this, especially when the pigs are not quite big enough for me to feel confident that they will be predator-proof adventuring out in their large electric fenced area.
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We ran our layers under the apple trees at Maggie’s Farm last week. 

This was another nice week of mixed sun and rain, and the pastures are really growing fast now. They start slowly in the spring, with limited leaf area with which to photosynthesize, but now that they’ve put on some leaves and can really capture ample sunlight, the pasture plants are growing like crazy. Now we are trying to race our grazing animals through the pastures as quickly as we can, trying to get them to clip the top off as much grass as is possible to keep it from going to seed. Our grazers like leaves, not seeds, so our goal is to maximize leaf growth and to avoid seeding. I think we’ll even be cutting some hay the week after next if we get the right weather!

April 30th – May 6th

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The dairy herd got a little taste of grass at the end of the week. 

We had our first taste of summer weather this week, with temperatures on Wednesday passing ninety degrees on the thermometer. With no leaves to cast shade, the heat and sun were pretty powerful, and the farmers, livestock, and growing things were happy to see conditions turn cool and rainy again by the end of the week. The hot dry weather did seem to put a super charge into the growing pastures, and we are now racing around trying to get everything put in place to start grazing in earnest next week. The beef and dairy cows have been getting little sections of grass over the weekend, working to get their digestions carefully switched over from hay to grass, and I expect they’ll be grazing full time early or the middle of next week. We try to time grazing and the start of calving season to coincide for the beef herd, and we could be having calves any time

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Patty delivered a heifer calf Sunday, and we’re calling here Pickle. 

now. Birthing a brand new calf out on fresh green pasture is much nicer than it would be in the winter barn or yard, so we really hope that all of the expecting mothers can hold out until the herd is out on the grazing rotation. Last year, we had a six-week span between the start of the potential calving season, and when our first calf actually arrived, and I was getting myself worked up into quite a worried lather by the time that first calf finally arrived. We then had ten calves in two weeks, with several days of two or three calves at a time, so it ended up being a great year for us. The timing of calves really depends on the behavior and success of the breeding bull, and that is always a mystery to us. Some bulls get out there and pursue breeding openly and with vigor, while some are quite subtle and low key about it, but they have all succeeded for us every year so far.

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Some classic PVS style carpentry for the new goat house.

The hot dry weather also dried our veggie acreage down nicely this week, and the great cultivation race continued as before, as we try to get as much space cultivated and prepped up into beds, ready to receive either direct seeding, or fresh veggie starts. The greenhouse and hardening-off house are filling with tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, with plans to get those moving out into the fields over the coming week. Final cleanup and trellis building is planned for next week in the hoop house, with a big push to get the tomatoes planted in there next Friday.

Our next generation of laying hens came in the mail Wednesday, and moved into the nice warm brooder for a couple of months of growing and putting on feathers. We got one hundred and fifteen New Hampshire Reds this year, and they are doing great so far. With conditions so hot and sunny on the farm Wednesday and Thursday, we ended up having the heat off in the brooder and the windows open, trying not to overheat our new babies. Now we’re back to cool and rainy, so the heat is on and the chicks are happily snuggling up under the heat plates and heat lamps. This time of

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The new PVS dairy has a new cement floor. 

year is often characterized by wide swings in temperature, so we keep a vigilant eye on the thermometer in the brooder and do the best we can to keep our new chicks as comfortable as we can. These girls will spend quite a while in the brooder, and then they’ll move out into an egg-mobile out on pasture for the last half of the summer.