Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New additions

Here's a photo of four of the new additions on our farm this summer. The tall one is our helpful intern Michael. The great pyrenees pups were born a month ago and are being trained up in their duty as guardian dogs to our small goat herd.

Mowing the lawn

Here's a picture of Noldi, our JerseyXHereford steer grazing his way around the house.

Monday, June 29, 2009

What's happening on the farm

We thought it was time to give you an update of what was happening on the farm these days.
First, we have some animal births to announce. Peaches, our great Pyrenees guardian dog, had a litter of 5 pups in late May. It's a favorite chore these days to go feed the dogs and check on the growing pups, the stocky little balls of fur. The guard dogs live in the pasture with our small herd of goats, protecting them from would-be predators. The little pups are being trained up in their role as livestock guardians and we hope to sell them once they're weaned.
Next came the first two goat kids to be born on our farm, twins, one male, one female, from our Saanen dairy goat. At this point the kids are drinking up all her milk, but we plan to milk her after we wean the kids and maybe experiment with cheesemaking. Another of our dairy goats is still expecting, but we're not really sure when!
There was also a litter of kittens recently, Nora's new playmates. These too have a role to play on the farm and we were happy to see their mother training them this morning, sharing the latest catch.
And then there are all the biddies!!! For the past two months, we've had hen after hen go to setting, giving us a continuous supply of biddies hatching. We're thrilled as mother hens protecting the biddies and helping them forage make for the best small farm way to raise up replacement hens and produce meat for our freezer. Lately, though, we can't keep all the broody hens out of our nest boxes! Just today, we had a hen hatch some guinea keets (eggs from a neighbor). We're hopeful for these, as guineas are supposed to eat a lot of some problem insects. And they are just fun!
And then there are the biddies that came through the mail last week. We're raising another 100 meat chickens this summer with the help of another addition to our farm, an intern, Michael Spangler. Michael, a senior at Davidson College, came to us this spring wanting to work on the farm this summer break. He is our first intern and we're appreciating all his help, especially getting projects done that might not otherwise get done in this busy season. The purpose of the 100 meat chickens is to generate some summer income for Michael, so for those of you that have wanted to get chicken from us but didn't want to handle the processing yourselves, this is your big opportunity: we're going to offer these chickens fully cleaned and dressed. They are Silver Buffs, a meat breed used especially by pastured poultry farmers. As with all of our chickens, we feed them only locally grown and non-genetically modified feeds, especially forage from complete free range. We bet you can't find chickens like this anywhere else in the industrialized world! We'll keep you posted on their availability.
Now for a quick crop report. We're very excited to be growing the field corn that we sell as white cornmeal on our own land this year. In the past, we've share-cropped on a friend's land. Growing it here has helped us to take better care of the corn, most notably growing a preceding cover crop of crimson clover. And the corn is looking really good! This open-pollinated heirloom corn originated in the Brushy Mountains. Typically growing 8-10 feet tall with very large ears, it is quite impressive to see. We hope many of you can join us for the harvest day this fall.
All 19 varieties of tomatoes are looking good and we're working hard to keep them trained and pruned. We're about to start harvesting the potatoes in large quantities, hopefully with the help of the tractor this year. It looks like the potatoes have really liked all this rain -- we just hope what's under the ground looks as good as what's above. The green beans are coming on strong, though the Mexican bean beetles seem to be coming on pretty strong, too. These are the little yellow larvae critters that skeletonize the leaves and then move on to munching holes in the beans themselves. We haven't come up with a solution to them except to plant a lot of beans, some 800 feet, and hope for the best. As mentioned in the intro, the cucumbers and squash have been a no show. We did just replant them in the hopes of a later harvest, but they're not fans of intense heat. We planted twice as many sweet potatoes this year in the hopes of having potatoes to offer from fall on into the winter. Eggplant, peppers, corn, okra, and summer peas (crowders, pinkeyes, etc.) are all in the ground and growing.
And finally, news from the bee yard: it was our worst ever spring crop with all the rain. While the weather seems perfect now, warm and dry, and the sourwood flowers are in full bloom, there must be little nectar in the blossoms as the bees are mostly staying home. We haven't given up on a summer honey flow, but as the days go on with no increase in bee activity our hopes decrease. Sourwood is certainly a mysterious tree and a very undependable honey crop.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The garden

At one point this spring, I thought that someday we may need to get an irrigation system. I haven't thought about it since with all the rain for the past month and a half. For the most part, the vegetables are growing well in response to the constant water. In low spots in the garden though, the plants are doing poorly. A year like this helps us consider water management on the farm to prevent erosion.


Several of you all have asked us questions about what we wrote the week before last about nutrient cycles and returning nutrients to farmland. We probably should have been clearer about some of the first steps that can be taken. Much of nutrient recycling is logistically very complicated, and while we can suggest a few initial steps, what we want most of all is to encourage you first to think in organic terms about the problem and then to work with us and other farmers in discussing and developing solutions in the margins of the mainstream economy. We're living in a miserably under-developed stone age of nutrient recycling, so the work we all have to do will be the work of pioneers.
One thing we said last time that may have needed further explanation was our use of the word "organic." We definitely didn't mean to suggest that food scraps, for example, that came from conventional farms shouldn't be composted or included in nutrient cycles. We believe that anything that is or was or comes from a plant or animal (from any living organism) ideally belongs in a complete nutrient cycle. When we talk about "organic nutrient sources," we're talking about the nutrient-containing residues of living organisms. The short-term (unsustainable) alternative to those residues is chemical fertilizers, and that's the only contrast we meant to make.
Some of you all asked us whether we thought specific wastes would be good nutrient sources for our farm, whether we'd like to have food scraps or yard wastes, for instance. Food scraps and yard wastes are potentially good starting points, but the chief trouble with such things is that they're mostly water and air, and it doesn't make sense to spend energy transporting water and air. In order to begin to make real progress recycling nutrients from food scraps or yard wastes, those nutrients would need to be concentrated, presumably by rotting down as compost, before any extra effort is made to transport them out of the city to the farm. A fanciful solution would be for us to build or purchase a composting container at the farmers' market location that you all could dump your surplus food scraps into when you come to the market each week. Realistically, that's probably too challenging an idea for the city and the owners and organizers of the farmers' market, which leaves us looking for ways to help you compost wastes at your own homes. If this is all starting to sound overwhelming, then perhaps you're beginning to appreciate how much work we really have to do to escape our mainstream economy of wastefulness.
So what first steps can we suggest? Eggshells are a nutrient-dense leftover that might easily be returned to the farm. Left in an open container they will shortly dry out, after which they can be crushed. (In a sealed container they'll get nasty.) We could quite feasibly collect at the farmers' market all the eggshells all of our customers could bring us each week. And if you do have the means or the motivation to compost food scraps and/or yard wastes, we can definitely find ways to collect compost from you, even by the truckload if it were to ever get to that point. And if you're ever coming to the farm, we will gladly work with you to properly recycle *any* organic nutrient sources you'd like to bring to the farm. Meanwhile, please continue to seek new and better solutions with us.