My first week on the farm has been a whirlwind of introductions. Brian and I started working Wednesday at 6:30 am and were introduced to Mica and Graham (the other apprentices), the barnyard filled with animals, the three fields we will be growing in this year, a whole lot of tools, 4 greenhouses, and the exhausting month of May. I became familiar with animal chores, which involves feeding the horses (Jewel, Star, and Pete) hay and nutrient supplements, giving them water, and mucking out the stalls, feeding and watering the sheep (20 ewes and about 30 lambs) and 3 pigs. I learned to take down and move sheep fencing to a new section of pasture every day, which takes 2 people about an hour. This week is nearing the end of a transition from winter management of the livestock to spring, so we will soon be preparing them for sleeping outdoors. The horses and sheep are currently grazing outdoors for part of the day and taken inside at night, which is both for the cold and to reduce the chance of grass bloat. When the animals have been indoors eating hay all winter, they are so excited about the mineral-rich, juicy grass that they can sometimes eat too much and become bloated. Since horse and sheep cannot throw up, this can be a serious (and even fatal) issue if it’s not monitored carefully.
I learned how to lead the horses with a lead rope attached under their chin, and how to mount a halter and bridle on them. The halter is a series of connected leather, rope, and metal pieces that goes from the collar to under their tail and is later attached to farm equipment. The bridle includes the blinders and mouth bit that connects to driving lines. Ken explained that there are many variations in style and function of horse halters and bridles. Both come in many different materials and can be made for forestry, farming, or showing. There are many traditions and habits involved in equipment preference, and Ken told us about all of the pieces of equipment he does and doesn’t use that would be scoffed at by old-timers. For example, he finds synthetic driving lines to be lighter, cheaper, and easier to clean, whereas traditional teamsters would always use leather. Ken remarked that using draft horses keeps him humble and honest about how much work he can do. Corn and soy farmers in the Midwest will plow a field with headlights and a GPS with a 16-row cultivator in the middle of the night, while working with horses means that you must be in tune with the needs and limits of the animal, which prevents you from overworking the land.
May is the golden hour for getting things in the ground, so most of the week was spent transplanting and seeding. On Wednesday, the 5 of us (Adrienne, Mica, Graham, Brian, and me) planted about 1500 row-feet of onions in field 3 (see “Picture Dictionary” for a diagram). We planted cipollini onions (Red Marble and Gold Coin) in groups of 3 with hori hori knives. Hori horis are Japanese soil knives with a steel blade that are about 10” long (including the handle) and make it easy to form a deep, narrow hole to plant in. On Thursday and Friday, we began planting in field 3, which has been in cover crops for the last 3 seasons. It was previously in GMO corn, so it needed to be organically managed for 3 years before anything could be harvested from it. Due to how long it has been cover cropped, the soil in field 3 is amazingly soft, well drained, and easy to work with. We didn’t even need to use hori horis to make a hole for planting. We planted kale, pak choi, kohlrabi, and beets all in single rows so that the horses can walk in between the rows with a cultivator later in the season. After planting, we covered the pak choi, kohlrabi, and kale with row cover to protect it from flea beetles. Row cover is a spun polypropylene fabric that acts as an insulative blanket and pest protection but allows in water and sunlight. The other organic option for flea beetle management is to spray some combination of pyrethrins, kaolin clay, and spinosad once the beetles have reached the threshold amount of 2-5 beetles per plant. Ken and Adrienne prefer to use the physical barrier of row cover over the chemical control of sprays because they aim to use as little spraying as possible to ensure that the crops are healthy and free of residue.
Friday night and Saturday, it rained quite a bit, so we spent most of Saturday morning sowing seeds in the greenhouse. The seeding process begins with making soil blocks with a big metal tool that presses wet soil into small squares of soil, each with a small indent for seed. Next, we seeded trays of soil block with either one or two seeds per block: one if the germination rate is 90%+ and was tested more recently than October 2013, two if the germination rate is less than 90% or was tested earlier than October 2013. Mica made soil blocks while I seeded winter squash, broccoli, and lettuces. Meanwhile, Brian and Graham repaired wooden veggie boxes.
During barn chores on Friday, Ken, Brian, and I set up a corner of the pig pen in such a way that they could walk up a ramp into the trailer without escaping or impaling themselves (quite difficult) as we were trying to acclimate Clemenza to the trailer before he was taken away in it Saturday morning. On Friday night, after many a failed attempt, Adrienne successfully closed Clem into the trailer and he was taken to slaughter Saturday morning. We look forward to welcoming him back in another form next week, and to lots more planting and seeding.
used for reference: http://www.uvm.edu/vtvegandberry/factsheets/fleabeetle.html