It's difficult to believe it is already the 17th week of the year. It's also my favorite time of the year. Seeing everything wake up from winters rest is always an amazing sight. The animals seemingly grow inches overnight. The calves are almost ready to turn out to pasture, and the chickens which were born in February are already roosting.
I began chitting the potatoes earlier this week. Chitting is a practice more common in Europe than America, primarily due to the decline of American families farming together and passing on decades of wisdom to younger generations. Conventional wisdom will have you plant your potatoes on Good Friday, and harvest in about 110 days or so. However, when you plant that early the ground is much too cold to stimulate new growth which forces the tubers to sit in the soil for about 3 weeks before beginning to sprout. This method causes poor and sporadic germination primarily due to rot.
When you chit the potatoes, you basically begin the growing process indoors, and transplant outdoors around early May. While potatoes will tolerate a very light frost, a freeze would kill them, so we don't mind the wait for the elimination of the threat of crop failure. With the potatoes in a warm location with bright light, they quickly begin growing their "eyes". Once they are rapidly growing, and about an inch or more in length, they should be set out into warm soil. By starting the growing process before planting, the time to harvest is greatly decreased to around 70 days. This method has very good germination, and often yields are higher, with plants that are stronger allowing for increased pest resistance.
We managed to get 464 brassicas transplanted on Saturday. It didn't really make a dent in the amount of trays that we still have left. These plants should have been in the ground 3 weeks ago, so that the harvest date would soon be approaching. However, the cold, and very wet spring of 2013, has made planting season a nightmare, and nearly everything is a month behind at this point. I try to remember that everyone around the country is having this same problem as well. Even the asparagus crowns that we ordered from New Jersey were nearly 2 weeks late being delivered due to wet fields keeping them from harvesting. Now they are sitting in a box in our kitchen because now we have wet fields. It has simply been horrible farming weather, and I am ready for some more favorable weather.
The forecast shows sunny weather all week. That means we now have the daunting task of attempting to get everything transplanted, and all of our seeds sown...in only 4 days. Wish us luck, and check back next week to see how far we get.
Another busy week on the farm. We spent the earlier half upgrading animal living quarters. We decided on giving our chickens about twice the recommended outdoor spacing, which meant twice the work, with the dimensions ending up at 55ft x11ft. We plan on adding some strong fruit bushes and a few different seed producing flowers as well for the birds to forage from. While we continue work on the duck pen, we have been filling up a pan of water for them to bathe themselves in. See, water has a strong aphrodisiac effect on ducks, and in the picture above, I am convinced our pekin is smiling as Thomas sprays them with the hose.
The chickens really seem to be enjoying the extra leg room. The many stumps that we added give them areas to hunt for bugs and things to climb on, which keeps them from getting bored. A bored chicken is a bad chicken, and that is the reason factory farmed birds have their beaks removed. Without the mental simulation of their natural environment they will begin incessantly pecking each other to the point of causing serious injuries. They will also try to eat their own eggs as well. With the extra thought we gave to providing a stimulating environment we can eliminate later headaches from these common problems. We still have a bit more work to go before it is completed. The posts need trimmed, and a roof will need to be added. We have a very large hawk population which rather necessitates the extra precautions....after all, "An ounce of precaution is worth a pound of cure."
The kittens have become quite rambunctious lately. They have also finally grown into those giant heads! How cute is Mr. Stripes sitting in a quart harvest basket? I've never been a cat fan, but this little guy has sure changed my mind.
There is seldom a week that goes by that some preposterous doesn't happen to us. This week was no exception. I had just come in the house and started taking my shoes off from putting the chickens up for the night. Suddenly, I see a spotlight shining on the wall. Looking out of the window I recognize it to be a police officer, and in the road, another 4 police cars with lights flashing. It turns out one of our bulls had busted through an old part of the fence, and decided to go for a walk down Winchester Road. We rounded him up pretty quickly into the neighbors field while we made repairs. The next day we brought him home by cutting the fence separating our property lines. It was nearly as bad as I had planned.
Somehow we managed to actually take a day off. It was nice to not think about work for a few minutes, and to catch up with everyone. There is a saying that when it comes to family functions farmers are either always late or miss them altogether. This has been quite true for us, and I am glad that we are finally making an effort to break that habit. Seeing Thomas with his nephew in the tractor for the first time was completely worth the effort. Good food and good company...there isn't too much more you can ask for in life.
I think I will end this weeks note with a cute picture of Marshmallow because, why not? This little guy eats out of the food bowl while sitting in the water bowl.
Until next week...
You may notice that this weeks blog post is a little late (ok, a lot late). While I am sure everyone is getting tired of hearing about the weather, it has been somewhat perfect for us lately, which means lots of work! We managed to get the first planting of beets, carrots, leaf lettuce, romaine, and spinach in the ground. Later this week we will be transplanting all of the broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and other cool weather plants. Despite the warm days we have been experiencing, it is still technically cool weather season. Until our nights are stable in the high 50's and 60's we can only plant hardy vegetables such as those belonging to the Brassica, Daucus, Lactuca, and Allium families. While that may not seem like very many, you must consider that the family of Brassica contains all cabbage, collards, mustard, cauliflower, broccoli, and brussels sprouts species. You may also sometimes hear farmers say that it is time to plant the cole crops (often misunderstood as cold crops), which is yet another term for brassicas. Despite all of this confusion, they are all technically mustards. That doesn't help the confusion, since we also have mustard greens. I suppose I should end this science lesson before I lose all of our readers!
Our seedlings have been busy as bees! They are almost ready for transplanting, and are looking extremely healthy and well developed. Above you can see tomatoes, to the left are some peppers, and below the asparagus seedlings. Seedlings seem to hold in the cotyledon (seed leaf) stage so long that you have begin to worry if they will ever be mature enough by their transplant date. This year we are hoping that day arrives a little earlier than our fail safe date of May 5th. Since a single frost will completely destroy all of our tender vegetable crops, we must tread carefully. Beginning on April 20th we will be watching the extended forecast quite diligently, and if it looks like there will be no more frosty nights, we will begin setting them out into the field....the earlier they go out = the earlier we get to harvest!
We received a phone call this week informing us that our potatoes were shipping out, which means we will be even busier (if that is possible). Each seed potato must be slightly sprouted to identify the eyes, and then carefully cut into chunks. Once they are all cut up, they will be dried until the juicy flesh calluses over. This will keep them from rotting in the moist ground when they are planted. We are also expecting our 2 year old asparagus crowns to ship this week. This time of the year is better than christmas...tons of treats in the mail, and stuff we can actually use!
I hope everyone is enjoying this beautiful weather that spring has blessed us with. So often we get caught up in the whirlwind of life's trivial annoyances that we let the surrounding beauty escape us. Try to take a minute each day to let the simplicity of nature envelop and wash over you. Whether it is a simple sunset or the scent of a spring rain, I am certain it will do wonders for the harsh pressures that a modern life imposes on you.
That is all for this week, but luckily it's a short wait until Sunday!
Look at those rows. Have you ever seen something so cathartic in your entire life? Rightly so, because getting to this point has been an all week endeavor, which began with yet another hydraulic hose attacking me. Preparing our fields for planting is a 4 step process that occurs over a few months time. We begin with the plows, then the discs, followed by a set of tooth harrows, and lastly a few heavy boards to perfectly level the soil.
The field pictured here has been freshly raked with the spike tooth harrows, which means it is nearly ready to plant. The first planting is always exciting, and I was thrilled to finally be hooking the tractor up to the harrows. I plunged the hydraulic hoses into their hook up, and reached down and pulled the pin out of the tongue. I took a step back, looked up at Thomas and said, "ok", and before I could even close my mouth, I was drenched in a torrent of hydraulic fluid. I wiped my face off, and inspected the hose. Sure enough, just like the plow incident a few weeks ago, the hose was dry rotted. I don't think I'll ever learn.
Our luck never did improve. A rain shower halted our efforts the next day, and by the time the ground was dry enough to work, nearly the entire week was gone. We did however manage to get the area we needed for spring crops prepared, which was paramount, as the weather has already pushed us 2 weeks behind schedule.
However, my luck finally improved once I saw the delivery man carrying this down the driveway. Our first year we planted all of our seeds by hand. It allowed for perfect spacing, no waste from thinning, and a consistent planting depth which allowed more seed to germinate. It also provided plenty of headaches and a lot of backaches. So, our second year, we hesitantly decided to purchase a basic seeder. We were willing to put up with some of the seeder's shortcomings in exchange for the convenience. It didn't take long for those shortcomings to become serious problems as the seed began germinating. Each row would have alternating sections plants much too close, and then large, barren gaps. The amount of time we spent filling in empty spaces, and culling out the excess plants negated all conveniences promised by the cheap, inefficient machine. I searched all winter long, determined to find a solution before spring planting. I finally stumbled upon this fine instrument which actually manages to plant seeds with hand seeding accuracy. This lets us finish planting in a mere fraction of the time of previous years, freeing up time to focus on other chores.
We have been fully taking advantage of the extra daylight hours this week. The sun has set on us several nights as we finish setting out onions. The varieties for this year are:
In addition, hundreds more leeks and thousands of bunching onions were also planted. Getting all of these fragile guys in the ground is a painful test of patience. Unlike almost every other species we grow, onions are only planted once a year. I constantly reminded myself of this as I spent the week hunched over them, plugging away, steadily staring at the growing pile of empty trays in earnest.
Calves do the funniest thing after they finish a bottle...they frantically search for more milk, and more often than not, end up trying to suck each others ears like a child sucks a pacifier. One night while we were feeding they managed to form a bovine chain of ear pacifiers. In the front of the picture New Cow is still drinking his bottle. Just behind him you can see Little Bit latched onto his ear desperately trying to find milk. Last in line is Ellie Mae, doing her best Linda Blair impersonation, all the while gnawing away at poor Little Bit's ear.
The cough that the calves had last week has resolved, and they are in much better shape. The warm sun renewed their energy, so this afternoon I turned them out to get some exercise. Ellie Mae got so excited that she somehow managed to kick herself in the head. She never ceases to be a constant source of entertainment.
It's been another busy week, spent rushing about trying to finish chores, and making repairs that can't wait through our longest growing season yet. I've found farming to be quite the paradox, as no matter how much work you are able to finish, you are always left with more than when you started...and that's how I will end this note, with more work left than when I began.
Tonight I find myself asking, "Is the week really already over...I mean, really?" In the whirlwind that is early spring on the farm, time is an inconvenient reality; because it is now Sunday, the 13th week of the year, and there is more to do than hours in the day. It is always a careful balance of what dire circumstance must be tended to immediately, and what tedious chore can handle a day's wait.
Pictured above is a hen roosting in her new coop. We spent about 3 days completing the hen house, which was about 2 more than we initially allotted in our planning. It required a little more labor due to some thorough predator proofing, but it is always better to lose time now than to lose an animal down the road.
During the icy, rain, turned to snow storm the three bottle calves got sick. Thomas heard Ellie Mae coughing while feeding them earlier this week, and sure enough a quick ear to the chest, and it was certain, they were congested, and probably beginning to develop pneumonia. A single dose of antibiotics and they are now running around and back to their old, silly ways. I am glad they are feeling better so that I can begin trying to wean them off their morning milk. They are beginning to eat a bit more hay, as well as calf feed, so tonight for their evening bottle they only got 2 pints instead of their usual 4. The process will be a slow one so that they can stay in the best of health (and because they love their milk!).
We started another 80 or so trays of vegetables this week as well. Mostly tomatoes, peppers, and brassicas. We were hoping to be able to plant in the field this weekend, but as the last day approached before the storms, the ground was still much too wet. Before a single seed or plant can be buried, the dirt must be perfect. It needs adequate moisture to germinate the seed without irrigation (as that would wash the tiny seeds away), yet dry enough so as not to rot the seed. Even as strong of a desire that we had to plant, we had to remind ourselves that the benefits on harvest and plant health far outweigh the benefit of earliness. When you farm organically, you need every advantage you can find, and the best is plant health. So, we are hoping that Tuesday or Wednesday will yield favorable conditions for planting.
We were excited to finally complete our seed potato order for the year. Up until now we have purchased our seed stock locally, which reduces the options to about three: Russet, Yukon Gold, and Red Pontiac. Despite the limited choices, it was the most logical, as the shipping cost for hundreds of pounds of potatoes can really add up! However, we decided we just couldn't continue to grow such poor species when there are so many better ones out there. After lengthy discussion, we finally settled on the following 7 new varieites:
The monthly newsletter for CSA members will be going out this week. Keep an eye out for it as there will be a lot of information about the first anticipated harvest of the season, as well as a few other important tidbits. Also, a big thank you is in order for the members that completed our survey; your insight was invaluable.
Until next week, all the best.