Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I'm trying to shake the chill from the rain and cold with a hot roast beef sandwich.It's working, but somehow I imagine that girl scout cookies from the freezer will also have that warming effect.What can I say, I love food.

Before the rain started this morning, I managed to complete the prototype for a chicken tractor (moveable chicken pen). I worked on a bunch during my internship, and I really liked their design, but we needed to modify it to work here. First, they were a little materials intensive, and we couldn't afford to build them in the same way. Second, they were heavy. Fine for me to work, but Kim would have trouble pushing them across the field. I also needed to change the door location so that heavy watering buckets wouldn't need to be lifted up and over the top of the tractor down into the unit.Lastly, I was constantly having to either weight them down, or wrap them in plastic due to the weather. I wanted to modify the concept so that the chickens were more weather-proof and I could easily use stakes to keep them stable in high winds. The result, is pretty good. Made of PVC pipe, self tapping screws, pipe strap and a tarp-they are about half the weight of the similar model and cost us less than $45 dollars. I thought I had it done yesterday, but I did a rain test with the garden hose and ended up taking it apart and adding another bridge in the back to keep the tarp from crushing in on the chickens. We will see how it works in practice, I'm sure more modifications will be needed. Here are a couple pics!

I took down a bunch of old windows from the barn to build a cold frame this afternoon, but the weather isn't cooperating. Hopefully it will clear up after some lunch and I can get it together. I'd like to start some seedlings before the day is done.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bee hive assembly

In process!


Once of the fun parts of having a farm with lots of baby animals is that people love to visit. Since we've moved, we have had at least triple the visitors that we used to get, and though I know folks love my cooking, I'm inclined to believe that small hopping bunnies and peeping chicks are the bigger lure. It's nice to be able to share the farm with people, and tell them about all of the plans to come.

Monday, March 19, 2012

On the cycles of farm life

Friday, the rain came. It wasn't supposed to be a lot of rain, but the mountains trapped it on the farm and a steady drizzle continued for much of the day. I had intended to start some additional seedlings in the morning, and then cut up some branches I had pulled from the field. I decided against both things, the chill in the air didn't lead me to want to open the greenhouse shelves, the peppers need it about 80 degrees consistently. It's silly to cut firewood for next year in the rain, with an electric chainsaw. So instead I spent the morning working on some marketing items.

That's the thing about farming that people don't often realize- the marketing/business end of things. While yes, the most pressing concerns are often related to survival/thriving of all things living (feed, comfort, shelter, water etc)- you also have to have customers. So we've been taking a few ads out, still trying to explain what choosing our CSA means- and why you should trust us to grow most of your food. After a long morning staring at a screen (which I am not especially fond of doing), I looked around for how to make the most of the weather.

I ventured out into the rabbitry to see how the kits were fairing with the chill, and not surprising- they were bundled up in mama's nest, but clearly active and content. I then realized that there was one task, which could be done indoors- and I had no excuse to avoid. The barren doe, had to go. She was our first doe, and of course, we handle our livestock so that they are fairly friendly when we need them to be. But, despite multiple breeding sessions with a proud grand-champion buck- she had failed to produce a single litter. At that point, she was unlikely to ever conceive. Farms can not afford to feed much livestock that do not provide a benefit. And in utter practicality, we needed a plan for dinner anyway.

Maybe that sounds harsh to some, but the reality is we break our backs to provide a high quality life for all living things here. And in return, they graciously provide for us. For every pound of feed the doe was eating, that's a pound more we'd have to purchase to feed rabbits going for the CSA- with no prospect of continuing the productivity. The time it takes to care for her, could be spent caring for members of our farm who are able to provide us with nourishment and income. And so without much fan fare, but genuine thanks, I dispatched the doe and prepped the meat to chill for dinner.

With that task done, and already in the kitchen- I peered out the windows to see the rain continuing in a steady determination to keep me inside. The improvements on the house have slowed, now that she is (mostly) functional. The farm was quiet and resting. So I took the opportunity to paint our kitchen a deep red. It took about a million coats (and needs one more) but the result is very much Us. Warm, bold and inviting, the kitchen is settling into be the welcoming place we wanted. Where coffee is served, meals are shared, and cats stare out from the windows observing birds and moseying sheep.

And it's really that simple here, and that complicated. Small business owners, butchers, and handy-people. All in one day. Rhythmic, exhausting and deeply satisfying. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The march towards infastructure...

So, we have been on a bit of a necessary purchase spree, which always makes me nervous. The reality is, we aren't spending anything we don't have to. The other part of the reality is- we need to finish signing up our shares! We are very excited about the folks who have signed up thus far, and it's been absolutely incredible to get so many people so quickly. We also don't have that many shares left, but they are crucial to ensuring success this year. I'm going to make a few calls and see if I can't table at some local events to tell people about our work. The CSA fair was fun, but didn't really give us an opportunity to talk to as many people as I would have liked, or give us a great return in exchange for the time/effort/registration fee. But enough about small-business management.

The weather this week is so blatantly delicious that it can't possibly last. I keep waiting for the weather forecasters to come down and remind us all that the cold isn't totally gone. I spent the week starting early seedlings, and fencing, but I'm trying to hold back from getting too excited about spring time. It's just around the corner, and it feels like now, but I know the lady won't be rushed. She will take her time, and just when you think she's ready- colder weather will return and delay her arrival. Well, at least that's what I'm thinking right now.

Today was a little haphazard. Kim started her day with a flat, so I got a bit of a later start after helping her. The fence posts for the primary garden beds are up, and I ran the top line electric. It took less time then I had allotted, which is good. I have to get a few last minute items (handles, in-line tighteners) but then the fence should be all set and ready for when we need it. I had thought I was going to also set up the new hen house, but it's going to take two, so I have to wait for a day when Kim is home. So, begrudgingly, I'm inside ordering supplies, checking email, and doing the budget. All things which are just as important as fencing, but much less attractive then the sunshine.

The new bunnies are growing quickly! Their eyes are staring to open, and it won't be long until they are hopping around the cage.We have another doe due to kindle next week, and are debating breeding one more. I think we need to see how many kits come from Kiddy (the doe due to kindle), and then decide if we need a few more to keep the freezer stocked.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Spring, Ahead

Wow. That week flew by. I am humbled by the amount of work that was not accomplished. Seriously. I threw myself into the tasks each day, and while I feel good about the progress made, the sheer amount of things undone are astounding. I could recite all of the various chores and such that managed to see completion, but it might bore those of you who don't farm on a regular basis.

So, here are some highlights:
-Intermediate pen constructed for chicks within larger chicken coop
-Outdoor pen (complete with chicken jungle gym ladder) for layers set up
-Fencing started
-4 more rabbits added to rabbitry
-greenhouses assembled

I've spent a lot of time thinking about resources this week. We are using the CSA deposits to get all of the supplies we need for this season. My salary from the farm will not kick in until June, we've planned accordingly. So far, with serious frugality, we have made it work. It has meant that sometimes I can't do things for the farm that are permanent, but will do the job until we can save the money to make full modifications. For example, we bought tiered-shelf greenhouses for our seed starts. Not ideal. But we have a screened-in sun-porch that can be easily converted into an incredible greenhouse- once the funds are there. So for seed starts, we will use this little guys, rather than spend more building anything grandiose. They will come in handy for herbs and such even when the greenhouse conversion is done, which should be before the winter (and will mean really good greens and such once it's done, and it can be heated by installing a second wood stove in our kitchen). It also means that I had to re-think our entire fencing concept. Including switching to all electric vs. field fence. But it's all about doing the best we can with what we have, and keeping the deposits manageable for our members. We could have require more payments, but it seemed like that would create an accessibility issue. So here we are.

A good first week, and it's not done yet. Tomorrow is Kim's birthday celebration, so we will be focusing on that, but I plan to get some more fencing done Sunday if possible. It feels good.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Day One

Today was my first day as a self-employed full-time farmer. Previously, I have farmed full time for others, or farmed "full time in my off-time" for us. With the CSA kicking off in June, we decided that I needed to be full time in March in order to get everything done. I am so so happy to be here, right now. If you had told me a few years ago that this was even possible, I probably would have laughed at you. I had this dream of farming, but it seemed so intangible for much of my life. I was encouraged not to pursue it, first by mentors/educators, and then later by some people in my life (many of whom are no longer in my life for that reason). But I had this pull towards farming that wasn't to be deterred. And so here we are. I am grateful.

Now, for what my first day looked like! We kicked off the day with a new batch of bunnies! Bun Bun (named through our CSA fair activity) had her first kits this morning. I haven't had a chance to count them yet, I'm a little hesitant to upset the very nervous mother for a few days. I know for sure that one kit was a still born, and I was able to remove it from the nest. I'm betting there are at least four more (hopefully more) in the nest. I'll wait a day, and then see if I can get Bun Bun to relax a bit while I check out her work. I set up a heat lamp to help keep the little ones warm, though mama built a fine nest of hay and fur to keep her young cozy. Better safe than sorry though with the winter wind still blowing.

After morning rounds, I came back inside (morning rounds start at about 6, finish about 7) to eat breakfast/coffee and make lunch for Kim to take to work. About 7:40 I headed back outside to work on the barn, the sheep are tired of their winter pen and have been using a a section of chicken wire as a scratching post. It didn't take long to get the barn more sheep-proof, an by 9 Badger (one of the pooches) and I were headed to the bank and to my in-laws. We used to keep our sheep there, and had our garden there last year. I needed to retrieve the sheep fencing, and pull up all the old garden fencing so Kim's dad can get in there and mow this year. It was probably well over 400 feet of fencing all said and done. It took most of the rest of the morning to take apart the fencing/pull up posts/move everything. But then I got a surprise lunch from Kim's grandma! The fencing was just behind her house, and she saw me working all morning and decided to fix me 3 sandwiches and a cupcake. I won't lie, I ate every last bite.

After lunch, I headed back out to finish up loading the fencing in the truck. We had half a role of page wire that had to be loaded, and it was a bit of a struggle. Those roles of wire are exceptionally heavy, and I'm no weak link after working at the flour mill. We generally lifted 3,000lbs before lunch in 50-100lb increments, so I'm pretty used to that. But this fence was awkward, and aside from the weight, the gate on the truck only works when the mood is right. Apparently, today was not a good day for it. Anyway, I ended up using the pasture gate as a ramp, and rolling the damn roll up to the gate of the truck, and then standing the roll on it's end and then finally tipping it into the back of the truck. It was quite the production.

By now, it was about 1:00 and I headed to Agway in Millerton to pick up some supplies for our pets and the chicks. We were almost out of organic starter, and the meat-birds pound feed all day long. While there I also picked up a salt wheel for Bun Bun, thinking she might be a bit depleted after kindling. I made it back to the farm around 2:00 and got the truck unloaded. This is where things got a little bit lost. I planned to start working on some of the fencing, but forgot to buy a new set of bolt cutters, and you can't use standard wire cutters on that type of fencing. I did managed to get some wooden posts cut down, but the ground was still a bit hard to be pounding them in (sigh, impatience always gets me) so I need to just wait until later this week when it warms up enough to make it easier. It's all part of doing most of this work by hand. I switched gears to start adding a smaller pen inside of the chicken coop for the meat birds. I got the pieces cut, and started attaching them when the screw gun battery gave up on me. Ugh. Luckily, there is so much work to be done, I just switched gears again, and headed to clean the rabbitry.

I must admit that I think I lost a bit of time screwing around with the fencing and that not being able to get the pen done was just annoying. I like to start and complete projects, but sometimes it just doesn't work out. But at least now the rabbits are cleaned up, and tomorrow I have a game plan. I need to get the workshop/rabbitry/chicken brooder cleaned up and more organized first thing. Then, it's back to the barn to finish the pen and move the meat birds out of the brooders. As always, Cornish Crosses grow three times as fast as any other breed, which means you have to keep on top of increasing their space.

Phew. It was a good day. Now maybe some dinner?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Why raised beds?

We recently applied for a grant through raising organic family farms to help defer the cost of raised beds for the farm. Part of the grant is a 'farm favorite' component where you can vote for us through Facebook! (see our page for the link, it won't embed from my phone right now).

I wanted to take a minute and explain why raised beds are so important to our operation.

As you know, this year I will be only person working out farm full time. And we will not be spending tons of money on machinery that will burn up fossil fuels and cause me headaches to fix. So we need to maximize my time, and keeping raised beds disease and weed free is substantially less time consuming. Plus, since this is the first year we are working the land, we can better control soil quality by using certified organic soils in raised beds. We know that the land we have for this season hasn't been sprayed or unnaturally fertilized, but we also know its very rocky and hasn't supported veg growth in a long time.

Raised beds have also been recorded to have higher yields, probably because they are so much easier to keep weed/disease free. We need the highest yields possible of course. Raised beds are easier to hand till, and control water levels in my experience.

Perhaps most importantly, raised beds fit with our larger non profit goals. Eventually we want the farm to be accessible to folks with physical limitations. Raised beds allow for wheelchair access when set up properly, and would help us maintain safe pathways through the fields. Plus they are easier in the back for everyone. It is really important for us to plan for our long term goals, so regardless of the grant we have to start putting in raised beds that can be converted down the road to be high enough for wheel chairs if we can't do it now.

So please take a min and vote for us!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

CSA fairs, and napping.

The snow is still falling here. There hasn't been a huge amount of accumulation, but there is a sheen of ice on everything. We had to make a run out today for allergy medicine for our special needs dog. The roads looked safe enough, and I was even considering heading to the day job for a bit. Half way down the road though, the combination of lousy tires and black ice had the truck transformed practically into a sled. So, now we are settled in. There is a CSA fair this weekend, so we have been prepping materials for our display/handouts.

I have fantasies of maybe even getting in a nap today, which is like forbidden fruit with how busy things have been. I only have one more day of my current day job left, then it's our farm full time. This is a dream come true. But there are also so many materials to obtain, and organizing that needs to happen. We've been working straight through until at least 8 o'clock (5:30 am alarm start) this week with various research projects and supply orders. The greenhouse materials arrived today. I ordered bees and a hive set up last night. More chicks are coming in one week. We have a rabbit set to kindle either tomorrow or the next day. The seed planting schedule is written through June. We have priced out the irrigation supplies and rain water collection materials, and have plans to borrow a surveyor's measuring tape to finish the fencing order this week. Things are coming together. So now with a little bit of extra time today, we are indulging in some left over chicken with biscuits, brownies, maybe a dark brew later- and yes- I think a nap.