Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What's New At The Farm 11/19/2008

After a weekend of rain we're back to working in the fields. We hope to get as much done this week out there as we can as the weather is bound to turn cold shortly. Monday we finished pulling the stakes out of the tomato workshop and trial and have been mowing and pulling plastic ever since. The winter squash workshop is moving right along and we should be done in a couple of weeks. Susie's working in the greenhouses; finishing up some projects before it gets cold.

Last Wed. and Thursday Adam, Elisa, Susie and I went on a field trip to Vermont. Wednesday we visited Karl Hammer at Vermont Compost Company in Montpelier, and also Intervale Compost and Farm, and Gardeners Supply all in Burlington. On Thursday we visited High Mowing Seeds, Pete's Greens and made a quick stop at the Cabot cheesery in Cabot.

We originally were going to go in October, but I thought it best to wait until after foliage season. The motel rates might be cheaper and there wouldn't be much traffic. Wrong! The rates were not cheaper and the weather was cold – we about froze! Next year we'll go in October when the weather is warmer and there's more activities going on at t he places we visited. This year, other than composting, there wasn't much if anything going on in the fields and the greenhouses were awaiting a good cleaning before winter sets in.

At least there was some composting going on; both at Vermont Compost and Intervale Compost Company. Both were interesting but totally different. Vermont Compost receives food residue and baled hay amongst other raw materials. It is windrowed on a side hill and moved down the hill as it composts. Karl has 1200 laying hens that do much of the turning. They feed exclusively on the raw materials and produce 1000 dozen eggs a month in the process. His facility is neat, well kept and organized and he produces a top notch product. He's been at it quite a few years and knows the ins and outs.

Intervale Compost in Burlington is composting on a larger scale. They receive leaves and garden/lawn residue from the city of Burlington. While we were there, there was a steady stream of vehicles coming in with leaves. They use leaves, food wastes as well as manures from local farms. They were using a Pay loader to move mountains of materials into windrows. They receive 20,000 tons of materials in a year and sell finished compost locally and bagged.

Compost is such an interesting product. Turning crop residues and manures and other products once considered waste materials into a great soil amendment is key to good agricultural practices. If we put back what we take out and more, we will continue to enjoy success in the gardens and fields producing our food. Compost can be, and is, made from virtually all material that was once living. From dead materials comes life giving nutrients, organic matter and beneficial microbes to enrich our soils, souls and our lives.

Until next week; actually the week after, next week is the week I finish projects around the house and garden before winter comes. Winter will be upon us shortly and I've got a list of things to do. I suppose I'd better round up the last of the firewood and do some last minute harvesting in the garden. The Brussels sprouts and the mangels can be harvested; the sprouts can also be frozen. The mangels will be put in the cellar for the chickens to consume this winter. I've got some insulating to do in the henhouse and a couple of new doors to put on. I'll start on next year's firewood and start up my boiler for this season. And, yes, I've got to spend a day at camp readying things for winter there also and she wants boughs for decorating the window boxes and I've got to get some hay for the goat and so it goes.


What's New At The Farm 11/12/2008

Sorry for the delay in getting Brian's columns up - the new catalog upload took priority. Thanks for your patience! -Daria, the webmaster

Well, it looks like we're going back to seasonal weather for a while at least. While the warm temps were nice, I'd rather have it colder and sunny. Rainy weather is so gloomy, especially in November. The garden looks pretty dead now; the only things left are beets and Brussels sprouts. I suppose I should finish up the harvest and get on to something else.

The leaves are pretty much gone, except for the oaks and the beech, so I can now see what everyone's been up to since the leaves first came out in May. Although I enjoy the leaves immensely, they do block the views. I can see far more countryside now than in the summer. I rode up to Unity on Saturday and the views were spectacular although gray and drizzly.

On the farm we're still tearing tomato trellises down. This week should finish up that project. We'll pull out the wooden stakes and sort them by: Good ones to keep, broken ones to shorten and keep and those to crooked to do anything with except make kindling wood out of. The steel stakes will get sorted into: same length, type of post and crooked ones that can and cannot be straightened and used again. The really crooked ones will go to be recycled as much as old steel has gone before. The tomato twine has all been taken down and the tomato vines will be mowed before the plastic is taken up.

I really don't like pulling plastic this late in the fall; I don't think anyone does. It's cold and wet and muddy; better to do it on a warm and dry spring day. Oh well, what we do now we won't have to do next spring and there's always plenty of things to do next spring.

By the time you read this I'll be in Vermont with a small contingent of my peers. We are going on our annual trip which includes visits to a composting operation, a seed company and a grower of greens and other vegetables. I didn't go last year but thought I would this year. November is such a nice time to go somewhere. The leaves are gone, and it's cool so there are no concerns of mosquitoes. The snow hasn't started up yet and the motels are just waiting for some business. Rates should be relatively cheap now.

Next month I'll go on my usual quick trip to Aroostook. A real quickie; one night and two days. A couple of visits with potato growers and whomever else we decide to visit. I like to go to Aroostook when snow threatens; it's much more challenging to drive in poor conditions. Unlike most people I take route 2 most of the way. You see a lot more and the traffic is usually pretty light; a few logging trucks going 90 miles an hour. Route two goes through all different types of country, from along the river north of Bangor, industrial forest through Macwahoc and farming country beyond that. At Macwahoc you can take either 2A which goes directly into Houlton, or 2 which continues to follow the river into Silver Ridge Township and through Island Falls and comes into Houlton from the west.

Either way you go there's an advantage over going on the interstate. The interstate is trees, trees and more trees. Taking route 2A brings you into Linneus where Matt Williams has a new and operating grain mill; I like to stop and say hi. There's also a great little restaurant there called "Grammies". Huge portions, homemade food and a down home friendly atmosphere. Also some huge whoopee pies!

Route two takes you into more farming country. Starting in Silver Ridge there's lots of canola fields. Pretty wide open country for Maine. Then you're on to Island Falls (nice town) Oakfield and Smyrna, and into Ludlow. Dick York of Full Circle Farm has his packing facility in Ludlow and has farms there as well as other towns locally. Then you're on to Holton; from there everything's "Just plain North".

Until next week, Brian

Monday, November 10, 2008

What's New At The Farm? 11/05/2008

Welcome to November!

The warm summer days are but a memory now and the dark, cold and gloomy days of November are upon us. Oh sure, we'll get some warmth now and then, just a tease to keep us going, but overall there's not lots to look forward to for the next month or so. The gardens are pretty well dead and the harvest is winding down. Lots of field cleanup to do before the ground freezes which may come sooner than we had expected – it's as good a guess as I care to venture.

The geese are headed south in fairly good sized flocks as are the local crows. I saw perhaps 300 crows headed out last Sunday – maybe they know something we don't. I think the majority of the ducks have gone – I saw none in the beaver pond over the weekend and I haven't seen any flying around in the past couple of weeks. I have seen a couple of Blue Herons, fishing unhampered by anything else; trying to get those last few bait fish before their flight south. The ospreys are gone as are the earlier flyers like hummingbirds and swallows.

Besides cleaning up the garden, now is a good time to check out those birdhouses around the property. Might as well clean them out and see what the needs will be for next year. Winter is a good time to churn out some new ones in the workshop as not much else is going on. I think between Johnny's farm and the house I'll need around thirty or so new swallow houses for next spring. Maybe this will be the year I get around to build and install some wood duck nests in the beaver pond.

All summer I noticed bigger woodpiles than usual and bigger gardens. I see people that never had a garden before having on this year. Gardening can be a family affair; I think it's fun, although I seem to be alone in the garden the bulk of the time. That's fine; I enjoy the time alone. It gives me time to watch the world around me and contemplate life in general. The garden is a good place to try out things that might or might not work. At the farm, the farm crew takes exemplary care of the crops, but the garden is different. It doesn't get everything it needs to produce a bumper crop every time.

I think I've perfected the beets and onions – what exactly they need to thrive and not become a time sinkhole. Everyone in the neighborhood has had their share of beets and beet green sthis season. I like beet greens so I planted Big Top. They were right, they have big tops! We put plenty of greens in the freezer and had lots of beets for the cold cellar. I planted a packet of Ace and we ate these all fall and will also have some stored this winter. As for onions, I used plants this year. My patience in weeding tiny onions is limited. I planted Alisa Craig Exhibition for summer use and Copra for winter storage. It was dry when I planted the two aforementioned crops so, and I don't like watering the garden, I dragged two hundred feet of garden hose out and watered the garden.

Good thing I did. Everything took off immediately after watering and it didn't need any more moisture after that, not at least from the well. We harvested sweet onions all summer and into the fall. We pulled the Copras and put them in the greenhouse to dry before bagging them up for storage. An interesting side note here; the sweet onions won't keep any length of time, so when they start to sprout and regrow we place them in a cardboard box in a sunny south window and have fresh shoots for a month or so. Beats throwing them out.

Until next week, Brian

Monday, November 3, 2008

What's New At The Farm? 10/29/08

The fall work continues in the fall-like weather. We're busy harvesting the last few squashes and pumpkins for seed and also cleaning up where some of the trials were this past season. The 3.5 acres of tomatoes that we had need to have the strings pulled/cut out, the stakes need to be pulled, cleaned and stacked and the plastic can be removed. After all that the ground can be chisel plowed before we get much more rain. This will prevent erosion from taking our soil and depositing it where we don’t want it.

Many frost sensitive crops are standing dead in the field while we wait for the soil to become dry enough to work it. I'd really like to get out there with the mower and make some things go away. It's time, time to close out another season out on the farm. It's sad somewhat but as the weather turns gray and dreary we find other projects that need doing. There's plenty of work to do to the crops we moved into the greenhouses before the killing frosts. Our largest greenhouse is brimming full of winter squash awaiting testing and seed extraction. Our breeding greenhouse is housing the dry and pop corn trials and some pumpkin seed as well.

The polytunnel is waiting on the planting of some fall greens; lettuce and such. We've still got some green peppers in their but their fate is all but sealed with the colder weather approaching. There's a few flowers in there as well.

We're processing the last few squash and pumpkin increases now. We're doing some today and will have only two left which we'll do next week. There's still a fair amount of field work to do before we get any snow; hopefully we'll have time to get the bulk of it done before winter. Once the weather turns colder we'll work in the field on warm days and clean seed on not so warm days. The seed that we produced must be absolutely clean before we send it to any grower for seed production. This usually means a trip over the bean tables.

Never heard on a bean table? A bean table is a small table that has a slow moving conveyor belt. The seed is placed into a hopper and doled out onto the conveyor. As the seed passes by, poor seed, cracked ones, dirty or otherwise unusable seed is handpicked out. The good seed is then deposited into a chute where it goes into a collection bucket. While it's a very thorough method of cleaning seed, it is slow and boring. I think a person could literally go to sleep watching the belt, especially if there isn't much to pick out.

Until next week, Brian