Wednesday, May 6, 2009


A lot has happened on the farm since the farmers' market ended last October. Winter set in early and hard bringing a quick end to our late fall crops. We spent a lot of our time this winter working on fencing and other livestock-related projects. Much of what we're doing with livestock is still very experimental and inefficient, but we believe strongly in the importance of diversity to our farm, as well as the importance of reclaiming control of agricultural sectors largely lost to small farms. We added Barbados blackbelly sheep and Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dogs to the farm in December, as well as another Jersey cow in March. We'll tell you more about our plans for our pastures and the sheep another time, but the short story is that the sheep have been a lesson in what doesn't work. (Anybody want to buy a breeding pair of Barbados blackbelly sheep?) All in all the dogs have worked quite well for us, and they've helped simplify the way we manage our dairy goats, but their role as sheep guardians will have to await a different breed of sheep more suitable to our circumstances. Elsea, our first cow, had her first calf born on our farm right before Christmas. It was a bull calf sired by the neighbor's Hereford bull. He's a healthy calf with an easy temperament to work with and is growing very well. By next summer he should be the first finished beef steer we will have raised.
We just finished planting the first crop of field (cornmeal-type) corn that we've planted on our own land. (We've only sharecropped field corn until now.) The remaining strips of crimson clover that we grew as a nitrogen-fixing cover crop are blooming beautifully right now, and the bees seem to be enjoying them, too. The bees have had a rough go of it until just lately. Conditions were very poor for the bees last summer and early fall, and we suffered heavy losses. This spring, in part because of the cool, wet weather the bees have built up very slowly and aren't up to size yet for the honey flow that's already beginning. We're expecting a very small honey crop this year. Meanwhile, we're rebuilding for next year and trying to temper our forward-looking management with lessons learned from last summer's dearth.
The garden crops have been a mixed bag -- as usual -- so far this year. We had unexpected, heavy insect pressure through the cool, wet weather. Seedcorn maggots killed half or more of the 4000+ onion plants we grew and set out, and cutworms have been systematically thinning everything from the cabbage to the radishes to the lettuce to the onions. Neither of those insect pests has ever caused significant damage to our spring crops until this year. Our later seedings of spring crops are generally looking a lot better than the earlier plantings. If it doesn't get too dry or too hot too soon we're still very hopeful for the late plantings of lettuce, spinach, beets, etc. The Irish potatoes are also looking very promising so far. We set out our largest yet strawberry crop last fall. They didn't grow as much and get established as well through the off-season as they normally do, but the plants are looking pretty good now, and there are a lot of small, green strawberries already. Of course, there's lots more happening in the gardens, but that's a little news from the off-season.

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