Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Nice Days

I've been spending a lot of time in the milk house these past few weeks, keeping the wood stove going and working on some of our indoor projects that get put off until winter. This includes a lot of woodworking projects and as seen below, brushing up (literally) some of our signs. A fresh coat of paint makes a world of difference!
Here are some of our large display boxes for markets and our farm stand. We've decided to try to get into some of the farmers' markets this year and see how we do. These boxes are all made from cedar that was cut from the woods of the farm and milled out by a sawyer who brings his mill to the farm and does everything right in the field.

Here are some of our harvest crates that double as market display as well. Also cedar from the farm, these materials have seen many other projects and had a good and very useful life for us. I just dismantled some things, Jim removed a lot of nails this winter, and I planed everything down to a new finish. Voici!

I've also been spending the nice days outside, usually in the woods. There are few things in life that give as much fulfillment and enjoyment as a good days work in the woods. Here is a pile of 4 ft firewood which I'll pick up next fall with the pulp trailer. A trick I learned from John. Another reminder to appreciate the wisdom and experience of those who have come before us!

Even though I love my work, it's still nice to take a moment every once in a while to stop and be outside without a task to accomplish. So Em, Lizzie, Martin and Brinkley and I went for a nice afternoon walk at sunset the other day. Everything was looking pretty amazing with the fresh ice!

Some of the fences get coiled up for winter to make it easier to get around. Here is the spring fed pond 'down back'.

And here is the work of one of our laying hens. I am trying to get them to stop laying their eggs on the ground in the greenhouse. I've never had trouble with that before but this batch of hens seems to prefer to lay their eggs on the ground. Fairly annoying! But I think I figured out why they were doing it. My nesting boxes are high to help them stay agile and in shape. But I may have them too high. So I added a second roosting spot halfway from the ground. Only three eggs on the ground yesterday so that's a good sign!

Here are some of the girls now along with a couple roosters. Fred, our big Black Austrolorp Rooster was outside at this point on patrol.

Here is Sentinel Wiggly Wind. We get leaves from the town of Newport in the spring. While I like the fertility and mulch, it never ceases to amaze me that people will rake up the leaves on their lawn, put them in plastic bags, truck them across town and dump them in the landfill and then fertilize their lawn. This costs an amazing amount of money over the course of a lifetime. Rakes, gas, time, fertilizer, plastic bags and taxes to ensure the town can take care of all that fertility, not to mention the fact that the trees that produced those leaves actually count on that fertility being returned to the soil where their roots are. On top of all that, many, many people seem to think that many, many things constitute 'leaves'. Sentinel Wiggly is a great example. I found him in a bag of leaves. Now he watches over the chicken house for me and probably take up various posts around the garden this summer.

But summer seems a way off these days. Here is pretty much all that is left of our herb garden. They don't call it German Hardy Winter Thyme for nothing!

Here is the garden in winter. Though summer can seem eons away, it actually won't be long before this is full of the Earth's bounty! We'll be planting onions at the end of the month and then it's all a roller coaster ride until October!

Another winter project is upkeep and maintenance on tools. These are the best pruners on the market! I love my Felco pruners and just finished greasing and sharpening them.
And not a moment too soon. The grapes are the first thing I begin to prune. Pruning of most fruit trees and vines is best done right now, when the sap is not running and the tree is dormant. Pruning is essential for proper health care of vines and trees if you want them to produce edible fruit that is large enough to be worth picking and processing. Also, domesticated fruit trees aren't as hardy as the 'volunteer' apple trees and wild grapes you find around Maine. Without help, they wouldn't survive the same number of years that their wild cousins do.

Many of our CSA Members were happy to receive table grapes for the first time from us. We were happy to have them! Here is what the grape vines are reduced to in the winter. When they break bud in the spring, all the energy the plant stored to feed tons of biomass will now be able to be concentrated into fewer growth points, thus helping to increase fruit and healthy vine production.

Here is Brinkley ready for a ride to the pond!

And here is Indy wishing he got to go.

Scarlet doesn't care what the boys do!

And here we are at the end of our nice, what Lizzie calls a 'walkabout'. Happy winter.

Monday, January 16, 2012

"What do you do in the winter?"

Whenever I tell someone I am a small-scale, diversified, farmer, I inevitably hear one of two questions. This is one of them. To which I respond, "I farm". This question is one of the most obvious indicators that our culture is completely separated from its food. Some people seem to think that farming is just showing up at market with great tasting veggies. But obviously, there are months of work that go into that day at market. From the seed order in the fall to planting, to cultivating and weeding and more. But there is also a lot of work that doesn't necessarily portray itself as 'farm work' because it doesn't directly affect the crop. These are the things that are accomplished in the dark, cold months of winter. Because once spring seedling planting time comes along there is no time for this type of project, despite the fact that it all needs to be done. This weekend was a great time to get a few 'odd jobs' done. Snowy and freezing rain on Thursday/Friday and then colder than you know what on Saturday and Sunday. A great time to be in the workshop crossing things off the 'off-season list'.

Here is one project I've been meaning to do for a while. I've created a filing system for my seedling tray labels. I determined that I waste a lot of time each spring and fall searching for labels that I know I have (I use discarded vinyl siding to make indestructible, reusable labels). Usually, I cannot find the one I want and end up erasing another one and writing the variety, date, etc. Then, I always find the one I wanted soon after that. This is a massive waste of time when you add it all up. So I've created this.

As you can see, I used chicken wire stapled to plywood backing and stick the labels down into the chicken wire. They are organized by variety and will eventually be fully alphabetized. Everything about this project is thrifty. The plywood and frame wood are salvaged from the kindling pile here at the farm. The chicken wire is something I've kept from an invention that was a colossal failure. (That happens you know.) I've kept it all these years and finally had this inspiration. Now, all I have to do is find the variety I want and change the date!
And another time saver for the same reasons. When I plant out transplants into the garden I need bigger signs to note all the relevant information. I was having the same trouble with these except it was worse because of the awkward shape. At least with the seedling tags they all fit into a small bag or box. Not so much with these which are also completely salvaged. The vinyl is from construction debris and the stakes are stickers (this is something you have cut when you get lumber milled by a sawyer. They help to dry the lumber when it is stacked.). Jim has been working the past couple of weeks to increase our supply of signs, which I never seem to have enough of at planting time.

I hope to have these all organized and alphabetized by spring too. Everything on this project is salvaged from the burn pile too with the exception of a box of screws with I did have to buy since I was running out of salvage screws backed out of the wood of old projects. Also, the two vertical pieces of cedar come from the pile of lumber I had milled out last winter from the farm.

Another project I am nearly finished on after this weekend is an insulated, custom-built seed safe. Seed viability decreases quickly in less than ideal storage conditions. Ideal storage conditions include cold temperatures and very low humidity. So, I've built this shelving unit which I intend to enclose in insulated foam board and then sheathing. I will then copy a technique from my friend Mark Allen of Living Land Farm in Winterport, ME. He buys plain white rice in bulk and dumps the entire container into the bottom of his seed bins. This absorbs moisture and keeps it from the seeds.

Once again, everything here is salvaged with the exception of the screws. As you can see, this lumber is from old projects that I dismantled, or asked someone else to dismantle (thank you Becky!). There is a light colored streak just to the left of the nails. That is a spot where the wood broke as I was backing out a screw. The particle board and strapping all came from the burn pile. As such, some of the shelves are piecemeal and took longer to construct because I had to fit pieces together like a puzzle (which can mean several trips back and forth from the table saw).

Another project that I've been working on over the last few weeks is repairing old and constructing new seed ling trays. I'll be using the individual sized milk cartons that I get for the pigs from a local grocery store. They make great 2" pots but with a deeper root capacity than plastic cell trays.

Once again, everything is salvaged here. As you can see, not all of the plywood was exactly the right length. But for some projects, close enough is good enough. The small corner missing from this piece is indicative of the types of creativity you need when working with salvaged materials.

This used to be common practice amongst farmers and homesteaders from the dawn of the last century backward through time. There is a wonderful book by Eric Sloane called "Diary of An Early American Boy". I recommend this book to anyone! It's an amazing work with wonderful drawings and amazing research. One example of the thriftiness that was commonplace in earlier times; they used to burn down old houses that were no longer fit to live in and then go through the ashes to find the nails. Nails were handmade on the farm and very expensive. Only recently have farmers adopted a strategy including the words, "I can just buy more." I don't know when that transition started to take place but my belief is that we must move back toward the mentality that my great grandmother seemed to have after having survived the depression as a child. "Can I used this again? Can I use this again? Can I use this again? And now that I can't use it again, what else can I use it for if I change it slightly". In our modern world we are coming to realize that infinite resources are a myth. We must return to a mentality that allows for ultimate recycling philosophy.

And when it's -3 degrees F outside and you've worked in the workshop all weekend and just got back in from checking on the pigs (who are fine by the way) and chickens (also fine and warm), it's nice to take advantage of a nicely stoked up fire in the milk house workshop.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

First of the seed orders arrives!

As the first of our seed orders begin to arrive at the farm, we're reminded about how soon the growing season will be here. Have you signed up for your CSA share yet? Click on the Vegetable CSA page on the right to learn more about our Member's Choice and Farmer's Choice Share options.

Member's Choice Shares purchased before the 15th get an additional $10 added to their account as a thank you for early investment in our local food web!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Highlights from 2011

Happy New Year! Here are some photos to highlight the great growing season in 2011. Also, be sure to check out our newest blog feature. I finally figured out how to put the 'Like' button at the end of the blog posts. Be sure to like us on facebook and follow all of our activities at the farm. And don't forget, now is the time to sign-up for the upcoming CSA season. We've just unveiled our newest CSA option - the 'Member's Choice Share' - giving you more flexibility and choice in what produce comes to you and your family each week. Plus, this will allow for year round participation in our local food web! Check out the Vegetable CSA link to the right to learn more and find the Membership Agreement Form. Be well and thank you for your support!