July 8th – July 15th

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The dairy herd is grazing above the bunkhouse. 

We are coming close to the end of our second time through the beef grazing rotation, passing through paddocks and pastures that we’re grazed once earlier in the growing season. On the first pass over these pastures, the grass was super tall and growing fast, and we tried to get the cows to pass over all of it as quickly as possible to keep the grass from getting too mature and going to seed. Now things have slowed down a bit, and with the shortage of rain that we’ve had around here so far this summer, there is a real difference in the pastures this time through. Visually, the pasture is dominated by a rich green bottom layer where shorter grasses and clover are growing well after the first rotation, interspersed with isolated patches of tall golden dry grass topped with big seed heads where the cows didn’t graze the first time through. Mixed into all of this are some tall weeds like thistles and lambs quarter that we’ll have to mow in the next couple of weeks. We are still growing some incredible clover this year, and there are large areas of it, even in some of our poorer pastures, covering significant portions of our acreage and making up the bulk of our grazers intake. Clover does not grow super tall and put up a high seed head like grass does, but rather flowers in multiple spots on the plant, spreads horizontally across the soil, and grows back quickly after grazing. Clover can also be a bit more resilient in dry weather since it stays closer to the ground and can thrive in that lower region where soil moisture and the morning dew can keep things from drying out too much. We are happy to see the clover beginning to exert itself out in our pastures and to spread in a meaningful way because it also has the highest sugar content of our pasture plants, giving the cows the most energy, vigor and growth as they consume it. We are in the business of turning pasture forage into beef, so we are always eager to get more clover into our pastures, and cows. Clover also fixes nitrogen from the air in small nodules in its root system, and releases that nitrogen into the soil when its roots die at grazing or mowing. That nitrogen, essential in plant growth, helps promote vigor and production in all the other pasture plants.

We had two calves this week, one in the dairy, and one in the beef herd. That is our seventh calf in the beef herd this year, and I expect that we are getting close to our total for the summer. The bull comes in about a month, and I hope that we are finished

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Tiny Purple Rain meeting her cohort.

calving before he arrives. Our dairy calf, a tiny little heifer that the kids named Purple Rain, was delivered by Pip, another of the many daughters of the incredible Patty. This is Pip’s first calf, and although she has been a bit of a challenge to milk, we are making progress at every try. Modern dairy cows are bred to have smaller teats than the old style cows of fifty years ago because there is no more need for large teats sized for milking by hand. With mechanical milking, a smaller teat is easier, and safer for the cow, and most cows now have teats shorter than two inches. An old style cow could have teats close to four inches long, giving the milker enough space to get a hand on and give a good squeeze. Pip has really tiny teats which have been difficult to get the milking claw to latch onto, and that difficulty has been exacerbated by the typical swelling that her udder is going through as it gets used for the first time. Things will settle down a bit and come into better shape over the next couple weeks, but there is always a bit of a learning curve when we add a new heifer to the milking lineup. Gladys, another first time heifer, is due is a couple of weeks, so we’ll be going through all of this again soon. We let our heifers get to about two years old before breeding, which is a little longer than the industry standard, so Pip is now just about three years old and has started her first lactation. She has been a very attentive mother so far, and I hope to put her and little Purple Rain out with the herd on pasture Monday morning.

Our hoop house tomatoes required a little emergency trellis support this week as the weight of the large plants, filling with plump tomatoes, pulled the wires down enough that some of the wooden posts began to split and tilt. We installed a second level of ground anchors to pull the posts back up, repaired where they had begun to crack, and

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These tomato plants have been pruned for harvest. 

installed additional supports along the lengths of wire to help hold the whole thing up. Those plants are doing really well with their regular irrigation, lots of sun, and shelter from strong wind and rain. They are putting on some really impressive fruit, and we are looking forward to adding those tomatoes to the CSA in the coming weeks. This week should include some leaf removal and pruning down around the lower region of the plants, opening them up for easier harvest and hopefully lightening the strain on the trellis system enough that they can make it deep into the fall. We have all learned a lot about trellising tomatoes in a hoop house this summer, and we’re looking forward to perfecting the system for next year’s planting.

The pullets moved out of the brooder house at Maggie’s this week, and the turkey poults moved out of the brooder at Sentinel Elm, so we have all of animals out on pasture. The pullets moved into an egg-mobile in the same pasture as the mature laying hens to make that chore as easy as possible, and they have their own fence, feeder, water and fence charger. They will move around the farm just like the layers, scratching up pasture and soil that we want to renovate, and leaving behind their powerful manure. The turkeys moved into a small moveable pasture house, and we’ll add more houses as the birds grow before finally letting them out into a large fenced yard when they’re big enough to stay safe. With all of animals out on pasture, the work of livestock care for the rest of the growing season is taken up almost entirely with maintaining the systems that support the animals out there. We’ll be keeping the water and feed flowing, weed-whacking fences, clipping pastures, moving animals across the landscape, and supporting calving, but the major work of setting up the season is done.
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July 1st – July 8th

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The beef herd in some tall grass

This was an extremely hot week here at The Farm School, with the temperature Monday and Wednesday up over one hundred degrees and close to that every other day, bright sun, and pretty uncomfortable humidity. The weather put a significant strain on our livestock, and we worked all week to do what we could to keep everyone as comfortable as was possible. Most of our animals come from English or European origins, and are most comfortable in cooler, and even wet weather. Our Devon beef cows prefer temperatures below seventy degrees, and will seek shade any time the thermometer goes above that point. Our Border Leicester sheep also would prefer cool English weather, and the pigs, with a very limited ability to sweat, can overheat quite easily. We made sure that all the livestock had access to cool fresh water throughout the week, managed our beef grazing pattern to make sure that the herd had constant access to deep shade, and parked an extra water tank up at the pigs for soaking them periodically and for maintaining a nice muddy wallow. Everyone came through the week remarkably well, and we had a nice rainy Friday morning as a cold front finally pushed in and squeezed the tropical air out to sea. We had a great soaking rain in the middle of last week, so while the hot weather did make everything seem a bit droopy and baked, our veggies and pastures held up nicely and are enjoying a cooler end to the week. There is some hot weather in the forecast for next week, (and no rain), but nothing as extended and hot as we just suffered through.

We are up to six calves in the beef herd so far this summer, matching our yearly

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The laying flock moved to a new pasture Sunday morning. 

processing demand. We had twelve last year, so I expect that we may have a few more before the season is over. We have had a nice mix of bulls and heifers, giving us the opportunity for some great steers in two years, and some replacement cows as well. The whole herd is looking great, sleek and fat out there on the pastures, and an amazing contrast to the rough look everyone has coming out of the winter and mud season.

This year’s Thanksgiving turkeys are in the brooder in the back of the dairy barn, and we would like to get them out on pasture some time in the coming week. They grow amazingly quickly, and fill the brooder in a matter of two or three weeks, so we are eager to get them more room to stretch out in, and get them outside on the grass. We transitioned the turkeys from our usual daily move small house

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Turkey poults in the brooder

model to a day-range fenced model last year, and I think we’ll do that again this year. We start the birds in small houses, moved once or twice per day to fresh ground. Once they’ve grown big enough that we are not worried about hawks carrying them off, we setup a large perimeter fence, and open the doors to their houses and let them wander. We setup a few feeders and waterers throughout their fenced yard, and move the whole setup periodically to get them on fresh ground. The turkeys herd very easily, so the moves have been really easy and our visiting students really enjoy that part of the work. Last year we lost one turkey to predators out of our group of fifty birds, so the system seemed to work for us, and it certainly gives the birds more freedom and space.

We have some fences up around veggie beds these days, trying to deter the local deer population which seems to have gotten a taste for some our lettuce and peas. Carlen has also been battling a family of woodchucks that has been dining on our veggie starts in the LongMowing area of the farm. She has been humanely trapping for a few weeks, and we have setup a low electric fence in their area as well. Some years these issues never seem to arise, but on the years that they do, we have found it difficult to dissuade an

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The next generation of layers is growing well in the Maggie’s brooder house. 

animal from eating our produce once they’ve gotten in the habit of doing it. The deer follow a regular path through their habitat every evening, stopping to eat at locations that they’ve found and prefer all over the area. Once they establish comfort with a spot, especially if it’s full of delicious lettuce, peas and other organic veggies, there is not a lot that can stop them from coming back. They are extremely agile and can jump remarkably high, are determined browsers, and are relentless in their efforts. Our approach has been to setup a strong electric fence, and to hang scented baits on it to encourage the deer (unfortunately) to touch the fence and feel the shock. Our hope is that one strong experience with the fence will make a memory powerful enough to keep them away in the future. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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.

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. 

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.

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!