Farm Week: June 2, 2014

Another busy week here on the farm. Some heavy downpours last weekend pushed back our plans for planting our outdoor tomatoes, but our greenhouse tomatoes are pruned and trellised and well on their way to production. Even with a soggy field, we kept filling up the field with food. As the field fills and the weather keeps up, we find ourselves staring down the start of a long and ongoing battle against the weeds. Now is the part of the season where we have to split our attention between finishing our seeding and transplanting, weeding the crops that are getting established, and harvesting for the CSA and markets. Complicating matters as always is the weather, which can alternately keep us out of the fields, fry us while we’re in the fields, or give the weeds a head start. As always, there is plenty to be done. 

We also made our first cutting of hay on about five acres this week, and Mat used the horses for most of the process. I was only involved at the last minute (or last few hours, I guess). I drove the old Allis-Chalmers tractor around in concentric circles, pulling a baler and a hay wagon. Mat stacked the bales, and we ended up finishing in plenty of time before the rain started on Saturday afternoon. Sometimes I look at farm equipment and marvel at the ingenuity. Whoever thought of a way to pick up hay off the ground, arrange it in tight bales, and tie it off with twine was imaginative, to say the least. The machine seems to be the  definition of a contraption, with its rhythmic clanking metal and constantly moving parts. Fascinating.

Thinking about: ingenuity, time management, rhythm

Eating: spaghetti with homemade cream sauce with ham, broccoli, and spring onions; arugula salads; french toast made with Renard’s buckwheat pear and hazelnut bread

Reading: Steven Apfelbaum’s Nature’s Second Chance: Restoring the Ecology of Stone Prairie Farm, Susan Bourette’s Meat: A Love Story, Plutarch’s Selected Essays on Love, the Family, and the Good Life

Farm Week: May 13-18, 2013

Another week of extreme temperature changes, from an overnight frost at the beginning of the week, to high seventies and sunny on Thursday. Last weekend brought some rain and some dramatic fog and winds to the valley, but we had a great weekend nonetheless. We stewed up a mean old rooster into jerk chicken stew, sat around a bonfire, and I even brewed up some beer. Unfortunately, the mad temperature swings this week made a consistent fermentation temperature impossible - hopefully the beer didn't suffer too much!

The chicks turned two weeks old, and are hale and feisty as ever. They're getting close to full feathers, at which point they'll leave the brooder for the great outdoors! We also ordered our next batch of chicks - this time fifty instead of twenty-five! We have two outdoor "chicken tractors" at our disposal, so we'll be able to get a nice rhythm going this summer with batches of chicks coming in every three weeks. That means that eventually we'll have batches going out every three weeks, which will be the harder part.

We opened up our largest block of field yet this week, preparing for a large wave of transplanting and direct seeding. The first step in that process was mowing the cover crop, which Dan accomplishes by driving his bush hog backwards over it, his reasoning being that with such a tall crop, the wheel tracks would leave a large portion of the rye intact. After Dan C. mowed, we hooked up the chisel plow and I did my first big plowing job. The nice thing about plowing up a large field is that you can drive more in figure-eights or loops instead of doing lots of tight little turnarounds after each pass. I had a great time, and it was oddly relaxing. The next day's task of rototilling that same swath was not as relaxing, however. The machine itself is louder, and is much more sensitive to rocky soil -  it was much slower, bumpier, and louder than plowing. I didn't have to worry so much about straight lines (as when rototilling and punching beds), the purpose being to mix the remains of the rye into the soil for a faster digestion.

Thinking about: pork possibilities, blooming, organic matter

Eating: jerk chicken and sweet potato stew, homemade meatballs and risotto

Reading: Dave Eggers' A Hologram for the King, Kelly Klober's Dirt Hog

Farm Week: April 15-19, 2013

Work continued this week in the greenhouse, potting on more tomatoes and peppers, hardening off more greens, and giving our onions a haircut for better growth. We kept on with the transplanting, the tractor practice, and added a few new faces to the farm!

This week's adventure in tractors was the winning combination of bucket-loader and manure spreader, combining all kinds of hand-eye-foot coordination into one package. After a few minutes, I got the hang of the controls for the bucket loader, but I think I would have taken to it more easily if I had played more video games as a child! The scooping motion necessary to move compost from the pile to the back of the spreader takes some practice, and while it got easier by the second load, I was still being a little too timid. Plenty of time to practice! The manure spreader combines the specific skill of backing up and otherwise maneuvering a trailer with the PTO engagement that I learned for the spin spreader and the rototiller. Surprisingly, when I took the wheel to do a three-point turn with the trailer, I found that I had magically become better at it in the past two weeks of non-practice. It was like I had only remembered the skill and forgotten the other 50% of very frustrating non-sucesses. I think I'm going to like tractors.

As I alluded to above, we got some pigs this week! Two tiny little Red Wattles, which I helped named Biscuit and Gravy. They'll fatten up all summer on the farm's scraps and some feed, and then will take their place in the freezer! Right now, though, they're very cute, and the kids are having a great time taming them.

The other thing I have been reflecting on this week is how odd it is to be completely dependent on the radio for all of my news and weather on a daily basis. I've been an avid listener of NPR my whole life, and even had a few jazz radio shows during college. But usually, I've listened in the car or as podcasts while I do chores or run errands. The radio was always a supplement to other forms of media - I could look up the local weather report on the internet when I got up, and turn on the TV for a major news story. But my discovery this week is that when you don't have a TV, internet, or even cell service, you are subject to the schedule and the reporting whims of your local radio stations. I might turn on the radio to get a weather forecast and wait half an hour before I know how many layers to put on. This week especially, when I turned on the radio to non-stop news coverage of the events in Boston, I felt that I was always playing catch-up without the ability to pull up the whole story. It was an exercise in patience, and for the first time I really understand what it's like not to have total control over your information-gathering/media consumption. This week was a peek into that pre-TV, Rockwellian image of a family gathering around the radio for the latest news.

Thinking about: food forests, efficiency, warmer weather, pests large and small

Eating: italian sausage and borlotti beans, brown rice with yellow dal (lentils) and baingan bharta (eggplant); salami finocchiato on San Francisco sourdough

Reading: Mark Shepard's Restoration Agriculture, Jonathan Safron Foer's Eating Animals

Farm Week: April 8-12, 2013

Week two started in sun (and sunburn!) before reverting back to a frigid rain, but not before we had time to plow and till a few fields! We direct-seeded our carrots and spring turnips, got the peas in the ground, and transplanted some head lettuce and brassicas: kale, chard, cabbage, and bak choi. The continued greenhouse work of seated seeding was contrasted with the very physical rumble of the tractors and the flexibility and agility demanded by efficient hand transplanting, leaving us very sore the next morning.

I started my tractor education this week! After some basic practice driving a tractor around and (attempting to) back up a trailer, I got in some practice on my first three implements: the spin spreader, the chisel plow, and the rototiller. Spreading a custom blend organic nutrients is the first step toward preparing a field for planting in the spring, and it is a low-stress, high-dust introduction to the tractor. After emptying eight fifty-pound bags of nutrients into the cone of the spreader, I donned my protective eyewear (sunglasses), facemask, and earmuffs and headed out to the field. Then off comes the spreader and on goes the chisel plow. A much more intuitive tool, the chisel plow is dragged through the field at a depth of about eighteen inches in order to aerate and loosen the soil without inverting the soil profile too much. This trip to the field involved a little more coordination; it took a few passes before I got the timing down to lower the plow right where the row started and lift right when it ended. A chisel plow also shows you how mistaken you were about driving in a straight line. The third and most complicated implement we tackled this week was the rototiller. Far from your garden variety walk-behind model, this rototiller is over five feet wide, and when dragged behind a tractor at the right speed with the right power will make a bed so smooth and fluffy you just want to lie right down in it yourself. Running the rototiller can be a slightly nerve-racking experience. For one, besides lowering and raising at exactly the right time, you also have to stay in as straight a line as possible while also lining up in a precise way with your last row so as not to leave any untilled spaces or create ridges by tilling too close. As if you weren't concentrating hard enough already, each and every rock you pass over with the machine makes a clank so big you're sure that this time you've broken the thing. I tilled and "punched out" (drove over to create a bed and a tire track/path) six beds, and the whole time my face was frozen in a look of "yikes that wasn't a straight line at all what was that sound I'm not very good at this at all did I just break this thing?" When I was done, it turns out that the beds didn't look so bad after all, and the good news is that I'll only get better with practice.

In other news, fellow apprentice Dan C. and I put in an order on Friday for twenty-five Freedom Ranger chicks to be delivered in the first week of May. We plan on raising them for meat, both for our own consumption and to sell to any CSA members that are interested. Mostly, we're doing it for the learning experience, and if the first batch goes well, we might scale up production for future batches through the rest of the season. So look out for future blog posts on baby chicks in the brooder, chicken tractors, and adventures in chicken slaughter!

Thinking about: horsepower, routines, reciprocation, projects

Eating: sweet potato and black bean tacos; pasta salad with green beans, olives, hard-boiled eggs, potatoes and dijon-mayo; roasted beets, potatoes, carrots, and onions over refried borlotti beans

Reading: Wendell Berry's The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture, Augusten Burroughs' A Wolf at the Table, Mark Shepard's Restoration Agriculture