Another inch of rain fell on the farm this week, adding some icing to an already fully saturated cake, but in comparison to the rain totals we’ve had since the beginning of July, an inch for the week was actually a bit of a relief. Other than that one rainy day, we’ve had some nice sunny weather, and things are finally beginning to dry out a tiny bit. While much of the ground under-foot, the roads, lawns, veggie beds and pastures seem to be drying, the immense volume of rain that has fallen in the past two months means that there is still an enormous amount of water moving through the soaked soil and heading down hill. Many of our pastures, especially at the dairy farm, slope up away from the main farm complex, and there is still water seeping out of the base of those pastures into the farm. The abundance of standing water on the farm has also lead to an explosion in our resident mosquito population, and venturing into the shady forests, or outside at dusk, has become remarkably challenging. The soaked soil should lead to strong pasture growth, and we certainly have been mowing the lawns a lot trying to keep up with the grass, so I am hopeful that we will have a great fall of grazing. The rainy weather slowed the grass for a while, but it really seems to be getting up to speed again now.
August has been incredibly busy here at the farm because we made an effort to schedule several large infrastructure projects while the Program for Visiting Schools was out of session. We pressure washed and painted the bunkhouse, re-roofed the bunkhouse, put in a new farm road branching off the main driveway and going around the lower (east) side of the dairy barn, drilled a new irrigation well in the Flat Field, added a new bar-way at the road-side end of the Upper veggie fields, and made more progress on the new dairy facility. The new road, bar-way and well are all connected to an effort to develop the Flat Field at Sentinel Elm Farm into a more intensively cultivated bit of acreage. We hope that we can enhance our veggie operations and teaching facilities by making the Flat Field, and its great soil, the highly managed, smaller scale heart of our veggie production. We will keep the larger scale field vegetables going strong, and keep the Maggie’s home garden, but the Flat Field will offer us another relevant model to share with our students. We also recognized that this change would mean more truck traffic to and from the Flat Field, so the new road and the new bar-way are efforts to give folks headed to veggie acreage at Sentinel Elm Farm ways to avoid driving through the middle of campus.
Monday marks the start of what we call the Capstone part of our Learn to Farm year. Friday was the early graduation celebration, an earlier date where some students have the opportunity to head out to start new jobs or to go back to school. This leaves about half of the initial class to finish out three more weeks of farming, and gives them the chance to take on more responsibility in the management of the farm. The class divides itself into either Vegetable or Farm tracks, and the students will spend their final weeks working exclusively in those areas. Students in the Vegetable track will manage the whole of our veggie operation, weeding, harvesting, packing, marketing, and all the rest, while those in the Farm track will manage the livestock and do a large renovation on our beef winter barn. We are hoping to expand the bedded area for the beef cows to use in bad weather, build a new and improved feeder, and re-install windows all around the barn to keep a bit more of the weather out. We have cleaned and gutted quite a bit of the beef winter barn this summer in preparation for this project, and we discovered that there is more work to do in there than we can complete in this three week Capstone period. I expect that renovation and repair work will continue in the beef barn through most of the fall, with the goal of having everything ready for the cows to move in at the end of October or beginning of November. We had dreams of renovating the outside systems as well this fall, but it is beginning to look like that will have to wait until next year.