June 25th – July 1st

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The beef herd resting after a grazing session. 

We’ve reached the end of the second week of summer camp at The Farm School, and this week’s group of campers has been truly wonderful. They have worked hard in the fields and forests, and with our livestock, and once again they’ve really brought the farm to life. We got the new tent up on Tuesday, so everything was back to normal and we were enjoying meals out there by Tuesday’s dinner. Our previous tent was destroyed in a very dramatic wind, rain and lightning event last week, and we worked fast to clean up the old one and get a new one in place. The tent has ended up being the heart of our summer program, with most meals happening out there, quite a few evening activities, and also serving as a shady place for campers and staff to get together for any reason throughout the day. We felt a real urgency to get the old tent replaced as soon as we could, and it feels nice to be back out under the shade again enjoying meals together.

We got about an inch of rain last weekend, and got over two inches on Wednesday night

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This year’s garlic.

and into Thursday this week, so it feels like the dry conditions that we were facing throughout the spring may have finally been broken. Our forecast for the coming days calls for extremely hot weather to move in by Saturday, and we are looking at highs on Sunday and Monday around ninety-five degrees. Hopefully the rainy weather has given our pastures and veggies the moisture and strength that they’ll need to stand up to the heat, and to endure what looks to be an extended stretch of hot weather. We’ll have extra water up at the pigs through this hot stretch, and do our best to keep them comfortable with shade and mud, and plenty to drink.

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Fall brassicas just getting started. 

Our count is up to five calves in the beef herd so far, and with a long move and road crossing on Wednesday of this week, we got a really good look at everyone as they paraded by. The whole herd looks really nice right now, sleek and shiny from all of that good spring grass, with the yearlings from last year growing nicely, the two-year-old steers looking enormous and stocky, and the new calves healthy and frisking around the group. We had twelve calves last summer, and while I certainly don’t expect that many this year, I think we still have a few more cows due to calf here in the next month. We typically put a bull in with the herd around August 15th, and my preference is to have calving completed before he makes the scene if possible. There is some concern out there about a bull being aggressive toward new calves, though I do not share that concern, and I am much more worried about my safety when trying to tag and handle a new calf with the bull looking on.

Alex and the student farmers have been tilling up and planting the last of our open

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Salad greens after the rain. 

veggie fields, filling in those areas that typically take longer to dry out from the winter and spring. These plantings are focused on fall crops that will keep the CSA and markets going strong through the fall, so are plants that can tolerate the cooler weather and shorter days that we expect towards the end of the growing season. That cool weather will have to wait a while yet, and I’ll let you know next week how we come through this heat wave.

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June 18th – June 24th

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Dark clouds moving over the bunkhouse before Monday’s storm hit.

We’ve reached the end of another full week here at The Farm School, with a full slate of harvests, CSA drops and markets, big changes with our livestock, and some wild weather too. This was the first week of summer camp at Sentinel Elm Farm (Program for Visiting Schools), and we had a wonderful group of just girls on the farm for five days of hard work, great food, and lots of fun. Most of these girls have come to the farm previously with their school group, and chose to come back for a longer stay over the summer. They are all super excited to be here to pitch in, and we are even more excited to have them back on the farm.

Monday was super hot, pushing the thermometer up around ninety-six degrees in the afternoon, and the heat was broken around dinner time by some really intense thunder storms. We got more than an inch of much needed rain in about half an hour, though most of it ran off  the hard packed dry ground. Winds whipped the rain just about directly sideways, tore down several large branches, and totally destroyed our summer dining tent out in the garden. We have moved the picnic tables into some shade under a line of trees, and we’re working on getting a new tent as soon as possible. We also got a little rain on Friday night, and with more forecasted through the weekend, I am hopeful that we might break the extended dry streak we’ve been in since mid-spring.

Our broiler chickens went off for processing on Monday, and we kept about thirty-five

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We have tomatoes in the hoop house, but also plenty in the field. 

here and processed them on the farm on Tuesday. Those birds processed on the farm were mostly parted out into cuts, and were put into the freezers in the Maggie’s farmhouse basement for next year’s class. Everyone is excited that the broiler chore is done for the year, though we did get sixty turkey poults on Thursday that we’ll raise in about the same way. I picked up the finished chicken product on Thursday as well, and the birds seem to have really come out beautifully! They were loaded into the big walk-in freezer at Sentinel Elm, ready for the meat CSA this winter, and some other select sales too. We raised Kosher Kings and Freedom Rangers this year, hoping to compare the two breeds in our system to determine if one would be a better fit for us, and it seemed at the end that they performed about the same. This was not really a clarifying result, though I’m happy that both grew well, got big, and stayed healthy.

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A view south over the beef herd grazing in Runway Pasture. 

We had two more calves in the beef herd this week, bringing our total up to four by this weekend. One calf was born on Wednesday, just before the daily cow move, which coincidentally was a really long move through several winter feeding areas to the next area of fresh grass. The new calf and mother would not move from their spot, and I ended up having to carry the calf several hundred yards to the fresh paddock, driving the cow ahead of me. These little calves are born weighing more than a hundred pounds, and this one was still a little wet and slippery from birth. With a long fresh umbilical cord, and plenty strong enough to struggle against me through most of the carry, I had quite a time getting the job done. We got the baby and mother to the new paddock, got them back together, and they seem to be doing great now.

We picked up hay throughout the week, and we’ve almost reached our thousand bales

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Another look at the beef herd enjoying Runway Pasture. 

for the summer. We got way too much hay last summer, and still have about a thousand first cut square bales left over from the winter feeding season. We are going to buy a thousand more this summer, and feed out both stacks this winter, and we’ll hopefully end up closer to an empty hay loft than we did this spring. We have never kept hay for more than a year, but the bales from last year still seems to be in really good shape, and I am optimistic that it will be well received when the grass runs out this winter.

June 11th – June 17th

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Lettuce growing in the Flat Field

We had two tiny rain events this week, both coming in at under a tenth of an inch, so our last meaningful rainfall was on Monday June 4th. We were already well under our average rain amount for the spring months, so this dry run has only deepened our deficit. The soil under the grass is dry and hard, the dirt road running between and around our farms and fields put up clouds of dust when we pass, and Alex is running irrigation just about full time. Despite the lack of rain, our pastures are in good shape, full of nice tall grass and growing back pretty nicely after grazing. Before being grazed, the nice tall thick grass has been able to maintain a pretty moisture rich environment under all that cover, so things are holding up remarkably well. One benefit of our tall-grass-grazing is that each pasture plant is given the opportunity to dig its roots down deep into the soil before grazing, so our pastures are able to be more resilient in drawing moisture from the deeper reaches, and energy from their nice large root structures. I have been really pleased with the performance of our pastures through this dry spring, and we still have quite a bit of grass out there in the paddocks ahead of the dairy herd, beef herd, and even the sheep. My thoughts are almost constantly on the rain in spite of our solid pasture situation, and the ten-day forecast is up on my phone about a thousand times a day.

The dry weather is great for growing veggies, if we can get irrigation everywhere it’s

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The tomatoes in the hoop house are growing well. 

needed in a timely way. Most of our plants benefit from these drier conditions to resist many types of health problems as well as insect pests that depend on having some moisture to thrive. The ample sunny weather also means that there is plenty of solar energy to absorb, boosting growth and making those plants that get enough watering, quite vigorous. So now the race is on to get those water loving crops the irrigation they need to take advantage of all the sunny weather, and if the veggie crew can keep ahead of it all, we’ll have abundant harvests earlier than usual, and sweet delicious produce for all of our customers and community.

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Rows and rows in black plastic

We’ve had a second calf in the beef herd to go along with the little heifer born a few weeks ago, and both mother and baby are doing well so far. We watched a little nursing difficulty on Friday afternoon, though the calf was not interested in a bottle of warm milk that we brought over from the dairy, and seems to be getting enough milk to grow and be happy. The beef herd, made up of some pretty large and ornery cows, is much more difficult for us to get hands on and intervene with nursing and mothering problems than the dairy herd. We don’t have the facilities to restrain a beef cow and manage nursing by getting the calf on the teat by hand, so when things go really badly, our only real recourse is to remove the calf and bring it to the dairy for adoption. We considered that option on Friday, but thought twice about trying to remove a calf from its mother while she was being fully attentive and motherly. The beef herd is generally quite docile and safe to work around, but one of the only times that they can be really aggressive is when a mother cow responds to her baby in distress. We will keep an eye on this pair, and try to make sure that the calf seems like it is getting enough to eat.

We’ve made more progress on our milk facility renovation, with siding, plumbing and

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Our new dairy facility entrance

electrical work this week. We have a door in place on the outside, the framing is all ready inside to receive the fancy waterproof wall panels, and the sinks have been ordered. Plumbing and electrical will be inspected next week before the walls are insulated and closed in, then fixtures, plugs, switches and faucets can start to go in too. Our new bulk tank is in the barn waiting to be setup, and the sinks can go it once they arrive as well. I’ll let you know how this coming week goes!

June 4th – June 10th

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We’ve added a small entry room to the north east corner of the dairy barn. 

Work on our dairy facility renovation project moved forward significantly this week, with walls, windows and the roof going up on the little entry room just outside the barn, and walls up on the portion inside the barn too. It is really exciting to see this project coming along, and we are all looking forward to getting our milk room back, new and improved. The new facility will include a pasteurization setup, and we are really excited to expand our operations and products. We have been using a quick little outdoor wash-up station to clean and store our equipment for the past few weeks while this project has been going on, and the pigs have been really pleased with all of the milk, but our new facility is going to fantastic. The walls, both outside and inside, have started to finally give the dreams and plans that we concocted over the past year or more a shape, and it is remarkable to walk through the new rooms and imagine how they will finally be put to use. All of this work and planning was new to us, we have learned a lot in the process, and I, for one, and still nervous to see how the facility finally shapes up.

We cut hay on the dairy farm fields last week, generating twenty five round bales from

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A look at the new facility from inside

the Poll Barn and Saw Mill pastures. That is quite a few more bales than we made from those fields last year, and I am hopeful that running the turkeys and laying hens over those fields last year has really increased fertility and production. Now that these fields have been hayed once, we will setup cow fencing over them, dividing them into a handful of large grazing paddocks, and include them in the diary cow grazing rotation for the rest of the summer and fall. This haying/grazing model gives us the opportunity to make some of our own hay and reduce our yearly hay bill, reduce our grazing acreage while the grass is growing too fast for the cows to eat it all, and then expand our grazing acreage when grass growth slows down and we need more feed to keep up with cow demand. We just about double our grazing acreage for the dairy herd when we convert our hay fields in grazing paddocks, giving us enough space and grazing days to keep those high-demand dairy cows well fed and making lots of delicious milk. We use a similar model with the beef herd, though the hay fields added to the grazing rotation make up a smaller percent of the beef herd’s large acreage. This is a fairly common practice among grazing farmers in New England, and it offers the farmer a nice set of benefits.

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The beef herd is in some tall grass. 

Alex, Kate and the student farmers continue to cultivate, prep and plant veggie beds up and down the ridge, expanding our planted acreage and moving starts through the greenhouse, hardening off house, and out into the fields. Their work turns relatively empty spaces into ground that we have to actively manage and maintain, greatly expanding the area that we’re intimately involved with for this quick growing season. Once beds are planted, they need to be cared for, with row cover (if needed), weeding, irrigating, pruning and harvest. The growers build this ever expanding empire of plants in the hope of harvesting delicious vegetables for our customers and community, and work as hard as they can to keep the whole thing up and running until frost shuts it down in the fall. Each new bed added to the list demands it’s own suite of care and effort to keep it growing and productive, and the larger our kingdom, the more work it takes to sustain it. We are approaching the peak of the season in terms of acreage under management, though there are still a few of the wetter areas that will be tilled up into beds and planted in the next couple of weeks.

We had just over an inch of rain last weekend, and into Monday, and have not had anything since. That rain was a welcome respite from a pretty dry stretch of weather, and with zero rain showing in the ten-day forecast, I am, yet again, getting just the tiniest bit nervous about soil moisture and pasture growth. We have had a truly incredible season of grass growth so far this spring and early summer, and there is so much forage out in the pastures that I am confident we can graze for quite a while without much trouble, but I know that Alex and his veggies would like some rain. We are both eagerly checking the ten-day forecast and hoping some rain will make the scene. I’ll let you know how it looks next week!

May 29th – June 3rd

The grass is growing fast, veggie fields are filling up, and our animals are out there grazing and growing too. Our work this week was focused on preparing for The Big Pig Gig, our annual fund raiser at The Charles Hotel in Cambridge. We try to bring the sights, smells and spirit of the farm into Cambridge for a night of celebration, great food and the chance to spend an evening with the wonderful community that keeps The Farm School going year after year. All the work and time that went into getting ready for the big event didn’t leave much time for writing, so here are some images from the week.

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The horses are grazing in the lane, with cow neighbors. 
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We’ve made veggie beds covered in black plastic to control weed growth, and we’ll plant our starts in holes we poke in the plastic.
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Our newest pigs are growing fast with a lot of milk from the dairy. 
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Phoenix delivered this baby bull on Thursday, and the visiting kids named him Phyre.