June 9th – June 16th

This was our first week of veggie harvest, and we had a very successful first effort from both our student farmers and the plants. Both will get stronger and stronger as the season progresses, the students will master both the physical actions of harvest and the understanding of how the process is managed, and more and more acreage will mature into beautiful harvestable crops. The systems that we’ve put in place for harvesting, moving, washing, labeling and packaging will be refined and mastered, and as familiarity with the whole operation deepens, we’ll find new efficiencies and improvements. There are several crops that will mature a bit later in the season and that will have significant impact on the volume and labor of the harvest. This will put our new-found skill to the test as those added crops expand the work of harvest days. The two largest additions will be tomatoes and squash. When the tomatoes put on fruit and ripen later in the summer, and if we have a large and successful crop, the work of harvest will increase dramatically. We’ll  have flats of tomatoes stashed everywhere, bowls of tomatoes covering the the counters of every kitchen, and every kind of tomato processing we can

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Tom and King grazing in the Barn Pasture. 

imagine running full tilt everywhere that we can find the space. Often the tomato crop here in Massachusetts is curtailed by blight, so in an effort to ensure that we have enough of this super popular crop, we plant quite a surplus of bed space. If they all come to fruit, we end up with more tomatoes that we know what to do with, though the pigs are happy to eat their share too. A successful squash crop will also put a bit of a strain on our harvest systems as this crop, when doing well, will put out just a staggering amount of product. Individual squash fruit also increases in size rapidly, becoming difficult to process and much less palatable as it matures, so the urgency to harvest them at the right moment demands attentive management and adequate labor at the right moments in the season. Luckily this is another crop that the pigs are really happy to do their part in consuming, and the huge over-developed squash fruit ends up entertaining them as they try to dig the seeds out of the middle of each one. We also grow quite a few peppers, though they are often disinclined to thrive in our frequently cool and wet conditions, lots of small cooking pumpkins that love our soil, acres and acres of various greens, and a whole variety of small fruit. The strawberries are exploding right now, and the community has been gathered, on sunny days, in the upper field strawberry beds harvesting as fast as we can to try to keep up with production. Strawberry plants will continue to fruit productively with the regular harvest of their ripening fruit, and the warm sunny weather that we’ve had this week has accelerated that growth and ripening dramatically. I know that the chest freezers at my house are filling really nicely with berries, and judging by the turnout in the strawberry beds yesterday, I bet the same is happening at most houses around the farm. The strawberry crop is one of the first really prolific ones to develop in the harvest season, and one that renews that ancient notion of harvest and storage for the darker days of winter that we know are coming. Pulling a bag of frozen berries out in January does a lot to lift winter spirits, and the vitality of summer, preserved in that beautiful sparkling fruit, is like a little echo of lightning from a summer thunder storm. After strawberries, we’ll move on to raspberries and blueberries, though their fruiting never seems to match the opulence of the strawberry fields, and then on to apples and peaches, if conditions are right for them this year. The ripening of these fruits casts real markers along the path of the summer season, and although they come on strong and fast, and only seem to last for a couple of weeks, the profusion of their bearing is enough to command our attention. They are fleeting over the year, but abounding in their season; they are perishable in their nature, but overwhelming in their accumulation; they mark the summer, but we try to keep them for the winter.

We’ve had some pretty ideal grass growing weather so far this spring and summer, and our pastures are humming along quite nicely. The dairy herd is about half way through the second rotation over their grazing acreage, and we are beginning to think that the new system we put in place for this year may not be quite adequate for their needs. Though the grass is keeping up with them so far, once things slow down in July and August, it seems that we’ll be coming up a bit short. I think that we’ll be able to find some corners here and there around the pastures to give them to extend their grazing rotation a bit, and if we keep getting regular rain, the grass will hopefully keep growing enough. The sheep are moving through their second grazing rotation as well, and their pasture is also holding up pretty well. The lambs are growing beautifully, getting most of the their diet from grazing, and they are looking really good as they bulk up for fall processing. The beef herd is yet to complete their first pass over their grazing acreage, with a few more days to go before they come all the way back around to where they started more than a month ago. A good portion of their pastures are a bit wet, and with the rainy spring that we started the grazing cycle with, I was really nervous about running them over some of those swampier areas. We shuffled their rotation a bit to give those spots a bit more time to dry, and that has led to a slower pace through their pastures. Regrowth has looked really solid so far, and I think the pastures seem to be setup nicely for the next rotation. The beef herd typically takes about forty-five or fifty days to complete a circle around their acreage, so they should finish the second pass some time in August. They’ll complete four or five runs around the whole rotation in the course of the grazing season, depending on how the grass grows and how deep into the fall we feel like we can graze.
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