This week marks the beginning of the harvest season! On Thursday, we harvested a bunch of beautiful greens, and we took them to market on Friday, but many other exciting things happened in the beginning of the week as well. Monday morning, Graham and I mucked out the jug (lambing pen) in preparation for moving the pigs into what was the sheep pen. In between sheep and pigs, we will use the space to store some interesting new products that Ken is trying out: cedar shavings and alfalfa pellets. A friend of his makes bedding and food for pet gerbils, and is experimenting with upscaling to farm animals. To that end, he is forming alfalfa into pellets and grinding out large cedar shavings for bedding. These shavings are much larger that the hay we currently use for bedding, and smell much nicer. For reference, the size ratio between gerbils and their bedding shavings is about the same as the size ratio between draft horses and their bedding shavings. Some studies show that cedar may be antibacterial and antifungal, which, if true, would make cedar shavings a cheap way to prevent contamination from the horses standing in their stalls for long periods of time. There isn’t much research on the antimicrobial capacity of cedar wood to date, but there is research on cedar leaves and the wood of other closely related trees. The money for this type of research is mostly in discovering broad-spectrum antimicrobial agents that can be used in household cleaners marketed as “green” or “eco-friendly.” Motivations aside, it seems that cedar shavings for animal bedding might be a good option if it’s affordable enough, and it’s currently free for Ken because we’re acting as guinea pigs for the product.
All day Monday, we continued planting strawberries and we finished planting this year’s strawberry patch. In addition to the six varieties we planted last week, we added two late-bearing varieties: Cabot and AC Valley Sunset. Upon finishing, we used shuffle hoes to weed the beds that were planted last week. Our Grand Total is about 3300 strawberry plants, which means we planted 1500 just today. It’s quite amazing what a 5 people can accomplish. On the other side of the farm, strawberries that were planted last year are flowering like crazy! I’m looking forward to the delicious, albeit labor-intensive, berry harvest that awaits us.
Also on Monday, we did a farm walk and, among other things, discovered thrips damage on the garlic. Thrips are an order of tiny, sapsucking insects that leave characteristic holes on the plant. Not only did we find holes, but we found drooping garlic, despite plentiful rainfall. This is an indication that the thrips have sucked enough sap out of the garlic that the plants are showing visible dehydration, with most showing yellowing at the leaf tips. As if that wasn’t bad enough, thrips can also be a vector for many plant diseases, so thrips presence must not be ignored. On Tuesday, we removed all the straw from around the garlic that had been placed there to insulate the plants over the winter and raked in fish meal as a sidedressing. Fish meal is a general nutrition boost and is intended to increase the overall health of the plant. Next week, Adrienne will spray the beds with a pyrethrum twice over a 10 day period. A less severe case of thrips could be controlled with kaolin clay, which is a physical barrier. Adrienne says she thinks that the repeated thrips problem that they have from year to year is because of the limited greenhouse and barn space that they have. The thrips can be transported via seedlings and dry plant material, and they are not really set up to eliminate that problem currently, so they must resort to spraying.
Tuesday morning, Graham and I were moving the sheep to new pasture and, as we were herding them from one paddock to another, noticed a lamb with a really serious case of grass bloat. He had two huge bulges, one on either side of his spine, right below the rib cage. Thinking that it might be hard to find him in the tall grass of the new paddock, we closed off the end of the chute and kept him in a small sectioned-off area. While Graham stayed with the sheep, I went up to the barn to get Ken, who brought down a jar full of baking soda-water solution and a syringe. The ratio he used was one tablespoon of baking soda to one cup of water, and he also added a little bit of oil to help it go down. I unsuccessfully tried to catch the lamb, and ended up just waiting until he tried to run through the fence, got caught in it, and needed my help to get out. We lay him on his side and fed him the solution, and he let out a few little burps. He most likely bloated because we moved them into a pasture with really rich grass right as all the mama ewes were starting to wean the lambs, so he gorged on the rich grass and couldn’t digest it all. We fed him the solution again at lunch, only that time we used 2 cups of water and Ken also put a stick horizontally into the lamb’s mouth like a bit. The bit gets their chewing muscles going and hopefully helps with burping. Wednesday morning, the lamb (now called “Bloaty”) wasn’t looking any better, so Ken and Brian took him to the large animal vet in Belfast, who first stuck a tube down his throat and suctioned some air out, and when that didn’t work fully, punctured his rumen through the skin of his side with a needle much like a bicycle pump. Bloaty is now living in the small pen where he was born and fed only hay until he recovers. The process we followed for treatment of grass bloat is exactly what is recommended in Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep, the first step is a baking soda solution (Storey’s suggests ½ cup 3 times a day for lambs and 1 cup 3 times a day for full grown sheep), the second step is forcing a bit in its mouth, the third is a tube down the throat, and the last resort is puncturing the rumen itself. If that doesn’t work, the lamb will most likely die. As of now (Saturday), Bloaty’s prospects are not good, but at least we have fresh lamb to look forward to.
On a few different days throughout the week, we worked on what Adrienne calls “The Plastic Boulevard.” A small section (maybe ½ an acre) of Field 3 will be covered in plastic landscape fabric all season for growing tomatoes and cut flowers, including the hoophouse that we moved and the new hoophouse we will build soon. We rolled out irrigation tubing, rearranged it and straightened it out so that it would parallel 3, 3-row beds, and then rolled out brand new landscape fabric over it and secured it to the ground with sod staples. Next came the tedious job of burning out hundreds of holes in the plastic for planting without melting the irrigation tubes. By Friday, we had planted most of the tomatoes where there will soon be another hoophouse, covered them in row cover, and then planted nearly a full row of flowers.
On Wednedsay, I did lots of seeding in Field 1 with the Planet Jr push seeder. I seeded carrots, dill, cilantro, chard, and beets, and I also got a chance to sit down with the seeder and see how it’s assembled. Just as I had finished cilantro and Adrienne had entrusted me to finish the rest by myself, the foot that drags behind and pushes soil up around the seeds fell off. It took me a bit of fiddling around to discover that a nut was missing, and once I got a new nut from the house, I had to figure out how to get the foot back on correctly. The whole process delayed me completing the seeding, but now I really know my way around that seeder.
Wednesday afternoon we were using Jewel to haul seedlings, tubing, and other supplies back and forth to the field with a pull-behind cart. When we needed to go fetch a bunch of boards to secure the row cover on the exposed tomatoes, I had the opportunity to ground drive Jewel with the cart. Aside from the new complication of thinking far enough ahead to steer her in such a way that the cart follows my intended path (without steamrolling me), she was in a really flighty mood from standing in the rain alone all day while we planted. Jewel is usually the most wound-up of the horses, but with the rain and the cart behind her she really wanted to run. It took constantly communicating with her to keep her at a pace that I could control, and I feel good about knowing how to handle her in that kind of situation. In The New Horse-Powered Farm, Stephen Leslie says, “When we speak of the verbal instructions that we issue to our horses in the course of work it is common to refer to them as commands. Yet in our heart of hearts we know that what we are really doing is asking them to perform various tasks for us. And even if we are working with horses that we have raised from foals and trained every step of the way, we still must admit to a certain mystery and wonder that these gentle giants concede to obey us at all. In this light our commands must be properly understood as requests.” I have come to understand that anything these horses don’t want to do, they will not do. Some farmers resort to spurs and whips, but that makes for an unfriendly and inhumane relationship. What we are learning is how to develop a reciprocal relationship with the horses so that we can work together.
The rest of the week’s focus was on market. On Thursday, we prepared the produce washing station behind the house by scrubbing out all of the washing containers with soap and then sanitizing them with a hydrogen dioxide solution. We also cleaned out the share room (the room where CSA members pick up their weekly shares) and set up their greens drying machine, which is actually just an old washing machine that we put on the spin cycle to dry greens. That afternoon, Adrienne and I cleaned out the van by first sweeping it out, then scrubbing it out with soapy water and push brooms, then spraying it out with a hose, then spraying hydrogen dioxide solution on the inside. We harvested beautiful rainbow chard, a mesclun mix (kale sprouts, mustard sprouts, and leaf lettuce), leaf fennel, D’Avignon radishes (mild French breakfast radishes), head lettuce (butter and romaine), and violas. After they were harvested, everything was soaked first in cold water to take the field heat out, then rinsed off again for dirt, then dried and stored in the cooler.
Friday morning, Ken and I loaded the van with all of the tables, baskets, bins, tent, signs, and produce, and drove to Belfast for the farmer’s market. The market runs from 9am-1pm every Friday, and every first Friday of the month it’s in a downtown location. Otherwise, it’s in the parking lot of an arts center, about one mile outside downtown. When we got there, I wrote out a price list for all of the produce, and a guide for the tomato seedlings that we brought. The prices were as follows: chard- $3.50/bunch, mini head lettuce- $1.75 each or 2 for $3, mesclun mix- ¼ lb for $3 or ½ lb for $5, leaf fennel- $1.75/bundle, D’Avignon radishes- $3/bundle, tomato seedlings- $3 each. We had at least 15 varieties of tomatoes with us, including paste, tomatillo, cherry, grape, slicer, and beefsteak. Ken said the goal was to set everything up so as to minimize questions. I understood the motivation behind this as soon as the market got going, because I was constantly answering questions despite how much information was out. New Beat offers a market share with a 10% discount ($100 in advance for $110 worth of redeemable produce) Five or six of their market shareholders stopped by and were happy to see us finally coming to market. Our mesclun mix was a beautiful rainbow of greens and violas, and was cleaned out fast, and we sold nearly all of the other items. What wasn’t sold was traded with other market vendors for sweets, cheese, and chicken. The Belfast market was about 40 different vendors, mostly comprised of baked goods, cheese, meat, crafts, and live plants. They are working on bringing in more prepared food vendors because the market is at lunch time and prepared food would likely bring in more shoppers. Since it was a Friday, the crowd was mostly older folks and vacationers. Ken says that in the summer, they can make $1000 in one day at market. I had a great time showing off our beautiful produce and meeting the local foodies of midcoast Maine.
Research on antimicrobial potential of cedar:
Johnston, W. H., et al. 2001. Antimicrobial Activity of Some Pacific Northwest Woods Against Anaerobic Bacteria and Yeast. Phytotherapy Research 15(7).
Hudson, James, Michael Kuo, and Selvarani Vimalanathan. 2011. The Antimicrobial Properties of Cedar Leaf (Thuja plicata) Oil; A Safe and Efficient Decontamination Agent for Buildings. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 8(12).
Ekarius, Carol, and Paula Simmons. 2009. Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep, 4th ed.: Breeding, Care Facilities. Storey Publishing, LLC.
The New Draft-Powered Farm:
Leslie, Stephen. 2013. The New Draft-Powered Farm: Tools and Systems for the Small-Scale Sustainable Market Grower. Chelsea Green Publishing.