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Monday, September 10, 2012

Busy days, winter dreams

Summer in Vermont is short, sweet, and very busy. On our small farm, chores have to be done twice a day: feeding and watering the animals, moving animals to new pasture, checking fences and gardens and greenhouse. Of course there are housekeeping chores too: laundry, dishes, meals, cleaning. There are projects: building a new broiler shelter, finishing the porch, expanding the apiary. And the things that aren't project or chores, but need doing periodically: mowing, mulching, watering, weeding, stacking wood. And don't forget the emergencies: sheep limping, invasive plants found in pasture, bees swarming, hawk menacing chickens.

But summer should be more than work, even if the work is fun and fulfilling. This year, our family made a list of things we wanted to do. We've been on several hikes, played mini-golf, gone to an amusement park, attended concerts, seen museums, visited friends and family.

Now we're entering fall. The days are noticeably shorter, the sunlight more slanted, nights chillier. It is a very good thing that we already accomplished our summer fun to-do list, because now it's harvest time. And that means hard work, all day, every day. Time to preserve all that summer bounty with canning, drying, freezing, and soon, root-cellaring. Time for harvesting animals as well; this year we have 2 pigs, 4 sheep, and 150 chickens. We have chosen to do our own slaughtering and butchering, which is difficult, but feels right.

On the hardest days of fall, I close my eyes and dream of winter. A big, well-seasoned woodpile. Pantry and freezer and root cellar practically bursting with food. Animals snug in warm, well built shelters. "This work will pay off" I tell myself, and try to find the energy to finish just one more task before bedtime. Winter....

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Vermont-y day

Today was a very Vermont-y day. We went to Legare's to pick strawberries, saw a moose at close range (running down the middle of the road toward our car), and finished the outing with maple creemies at Bragg Farm.

Usually we harvest our own berries, but I neglected the patch last fall. We were overwhelmed with our chicken harvest, canning, freeezing, root cellaring, and learning to slaughter and butcher pigs and sheep. I kept putting off the strawberry maintenance, and eventually it was covered in snow! Maybe this fall I'll make a better effort.

Moose are always an unbelivable sight. It's like the world's ugliest, largest deer wearing bell bottoms. They always seem in danger of falling right over their enormous feet. The one running towards our car made a sharp turn to avoid us (thank goodness), and slipped on the road surface, feet and legs churning madly.

And creemies? Most places call it soft-serve ice cream, but in Vermont, it's a creemie. And many VT stands offer them made with maple syrup. Summer in Vermont is just not complete without consumption of several maple creemies.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

May Madness

May is a wonderful month: the grass greens up, trees bud, and the blackflies aren't out yet. But it's also a time of unbelievable workload on a VT farm. Here's an overview of May 2012 at our place.

Bees are checked, given more room to store honey, or maybe split into multiple colonies. Sheep and chickens are moved from winter quarters in the greenhouse to spring pasture. The electric fences are set up and checked. Piglets are bought from another farm, and settled in at ours (normally a minor task, but this year, a multi-day affair with escapes, chases, and injuries, but that will be another blog entry...).

The greenhouse has to be cleared out; about 150 bales of hay were spread as feed and bedding, and it all has to be moved and built into a big compost pile. Someday we might have a tractor, but for now this is done by hand. Next the planting beds are tilled up (again, by hand), four beds 3'x40'. Then trellises are erected; vertical netting for melons to climb, horizontal raised netting for bush tomatoes and peppers, twine and clips for vining-type tomatoes, strings for peas. The drip irrigation system gets set up. Finally, time to put in the plants!

Out in the perennial areas, everything needs weeding and mulching. Apple and pear trees, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, currents, rhubarb, asparagus, herbs.

We do rely on tractor power for tilling our outdoor vegetable garden. Our neighbor rototills our 50'x90' garden area each spring. One-third is planted in cover crop. the other two-thirds are shaped into 18 raised beds and walkways. The walkways are mulched heavily with hay. The beds are planted with corn, beans, squash, cucumbers, onions, celery, carrots, and greens. With the exception of carrots, all the plants are set out as starts, raised in April and May in the greenhouse.

Mowing. Oh, how grass grows in Vermont. I've never seen brown lawns since we moved here 8 years ago. Never seen a sprinkler. We use a small push mower, and scythe. A scythe is a great tool; it works best when grass is tall and wet (exactly when the mower doesn't work). The area around the house gets done once a week, and the working areas (paths to greenhouse and garden, electric fence lines, around the shed, orchard, and berry patch) are done about every two weeks.

Flower gardens are weeded and mulched, perennials divided, thinned, or moved. This is "fun work", not really necessary, but something I do to relax and unwind after a long day of farm tasks.

May Madness!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Planting perennials

Springtime...time to put in some perennials! I love planting perennials...give them a good start, and they'll provide food for years. Much less work than tending tomatoes and peas! This year we're planting ostrich fern (for fiddleheads), gooseberries, and bush cherries. We also added more plants to existing perennial areas: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, rhubarb, and hazelburts. If you have any garden space at all, consider giving a spot to a food-producing perennial. There are so many choices; currents, grapes, hops, juneberries, cranberries, echinacea, thyme, sage, oregano, asparagus. And if you have a lot of space, you could plant apples, pears, plums, cherries, walnuts, maples. Hungry yet?!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

It has been a roller coaster the last few days. Thursday: Mike at work in Burlington all day, Susie and boys traveled from Florida to Vermont. Mike picked us up at the airport at 11:30 PM. Arrived home exhausted at 1 AM to an apologetic note from a neighbor. Their dog got in with the chickens and killed most of our laying flock. Lost 22 of 29 birds. Friday: cleaned up carcasses, rounded up strays, and to our horror, found some badly injured survivors. Spent the day nursing hurt chickens in the bathtub. Our favorite rooster died despite our efforts. Shopped around for options to get another flock going. Saturday: picked up 20 pullets, nearly ready to lay eggs, from a farm an hour from us. So relieved that we don't have to start from chicks again. Euthanized a hen that obviously wasn't going to recover. Two other hurt chickens seem to be pulling through. Sunday: our ewe Hickory delivered 2 lambs. New chickens settling in well. Hurt chickens much improved. Farm life returning to normal....

Maybe now we can finish unpacking our luggage.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

This weekend was very busy in Cabot, VT. Maplefest took place on Saturday, with tons of craft vendors, food, and music. Our boys performed in a Tae Kwon Do demonstration with their martial arts school, Pyramid Black Belt. Sunday morning was spent working on farm infrastructure; specifically, setting up the chicken's electric fence netting, running electricity to the fence, moving the chicken coop out of the greenhouse, and finally moving the chickens out of the greenhouse. As per "Murphy's law", the chickens are desperate and devious about getting out when I want them in...but when I actually want them out, they're in no particular hurry. Once they were out, though, boy were they happy. You never saw so much scratching and clucking and strutting. Sunday evening was spent at a party, a lovely gathering of farmers and homesteaders. the talk is all about the weather, of course...should we plant or wait?

Monday, March 12, 2012

With all the warm weather, I've been letting the chickens out of the greenhouse. There is still a very high drift along the north wall of the building...and one adventurous hen used the drift as a launching point to scramble up to the roof. She made it all the way to the very top, then sat down and wouldn't move. Chickens have long sharp nails, and our greenhouse is covered in plastic film, so I was very anxious to remove her. After several vain attempts, and some oaths of which I am not proud, I managed to get her down with an extension ladder and push broom.

On another note, the sheep got sheared today, by an excellent local sheep shearer, Peter Brandt. They don't even look like the same animals when all the fluff is gone. The wool from our 4 adult animals completely stuffed a contractor-size trash bag. We'll use some of it for arts and crafts, but most of it is going to a neighbor who does fiber arts.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Our honeybees are out and about today! It's nice to see them after a long winter. When the hives are topped with snow, and the north wind is blasting, it's hard to imagine that the bees are still alive in there. Not only alive, but warm...the workers make a ball around the queen, and keep her above 90 F all winter. They are tough little critters!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Looking to fill your freezer with delicious, locally grown chicken? Place an order with us now, and we'll raise your chickens over the summer. We raise 100-150 chickens each summer, for sale and for our own use. When they're sold out, that's it till next season.

Why only in the summer? Why so few chickens? Well, we raise animals on pasture in the open air, not in barns. This is only possible during summer ( we're in high country VT, where you can have frost in June and August!)  By raising a limited number, we can take really good care of them, and do all the butchering ourselves.

If you've seen Food Inc or similar films about conventional agribusiness, you've probably seen chicken barns. The farmers grow a couple thousand birds in a relatively small space, allowing about 1/2 square foot per bird. It's kept dark, so the miserable chickens are less apt to peck at each other. And every morning, the farmer walks through and chucks out the ones who died overnight. The ones who make it to full size are rounded up and trucked to a processing factory, and I'll just end my narrative there, as it only gets nastier.

Though this may be profitable, and cheap for the consumer, the food is of questionable quality. And the ethics...well, that's up to every individual to decide for themselves.

We decided several years ago that we didn't want to eat this type of food. We started raising our own, and now we're happy to offer good quality chicken to our friends and neighbors (and not just when they come over for dinner!)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Today is the first day of March, and we're buried in new snow. The sledding is great! Unfortunately, most of my outside time was dedicated to shoveling. Really enjoying the longer, sunnier days. In fact, it's been so sunny that we've had to keep the greenhouse opened up during the day. Our greenhouse is a 48' x 21' from Ledgewood Farm. It's passive solar; we don't heat it, and control the temperature by rolling up the sides or opening vents in the end walls. We discovered the power of passive solar when we left the greenhouse closed one sunny day in March, and melted the plastic pots that were stored inside. Fortunately, we were just starting out and didn't have any plants or animals in the greenhouse. Currently, the chickens and sheep are wintering in there, and many mornings it's already 70 F when the critters get their breakfast. It's wonderfully cozy to step inside after the cold and windy walk from the house. Usually I linger longer than strictly neccesary, watching the animals and enjoying the warmth.