These last two weeks really do deserve two full-length entries, if not more, but I simply don’t have the time. In the time that I have, I will talk about all of the fall preparations that have been going on around here in addition to the amazing 38th annual Common Ground Fair. Over the last three weeks, the temperature has been ranging dramatically from the high 20’s to the mid 50’s at night and the mid 40’s to the low 80’s during the day. The fields are turning to winter rye and oats and the forest edges have an orange tinge. We are now shifting towards cold-hardy greens, root crops, and storage crops and away from summer vegetables like tomatoes, beans, and lettuce. A typical CSA share this time of year is made up things like of spinach, kale, broccoli, beets, carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, and leeks. In Maine, as early as September I’m craving the warm, hearty soups of winter!
We had predicted that there would not be a frost until October because the full moon is normally the coldest time of the month, and the full moon in September was very early on in the month. Nevertheless, On Thursday night, (9/18) we had our first frost! In preparation, we picked all of the tomatoes, peppers, and tomatilloes that had any hint of color on them so they could ripen inside. We also covered all of the newly seeded fall greens (lettuces, arugula, mustards, baby kale, spinach) with row cover to keep the frost off of them.
Ken and Adrienne go to the Belfast market through the fall and winter and they also run a small winter CSA, so in addition to the storage crops we are harvesting, we are also setting up the infrastructure to grow winter greens in the high tunnel and hoophouses. Last week, we marked out two sections of ground where the hoophouses will be for the winter and prepped and seeded one of them. This involved removing all of the large rocks from the area, rototilling it, spreading manure and mineral amendment, marking out two beds, and finally seeding it to spinach and arugula. For now, the seedlings will thrive uncovered until it gets colder in a few weeks.
On all of the fallow fields and rows emptied from early and mid season crops, Ken has been using the cover crop drill to spread winter rye and vetch and clover, while the rest of us have been spreading oats between the rows of late season crops. It is very important to keep a vegetative cover on the soil the whole year through to maintain active soil biology, reduce erosion, and increase the fertility of the soil. When the crops die back in November, the oats will take over as the primary vegetative agent in the fields.
In addition to thinning and weeding storage crops like carrots, rutabaga, and beets, we pulled all the lower stems off of the brussels sprouts and flower sprouts (kale-brussels hybrid) so that they will develop the bulbs. In Week 5 (back in mid June) I talked about plant hormone balances and how removing certain plant parts can encourage growth in other areas. This is roughly the same process at work in the brussels sprout “pruning,” only with slightly different hormones.
Recently, the barn has been converted into the lamb ICU, much to the chagrin of the horses. (Sheep are loud). Last week, we brought in a small ewe lamb whose back legs weren’t working very well. Since the sheep had been on a hillside pasture when we noticed her, we named her “Rollie” for the way she would comically and inadvertently roll down the hill and get caught in the fence. We scythe down a big pile of grass for her at least twice a day and use our knees to support her upright as we do laps around the pen for physical therapy. Two days later, Ken brought down a companion sheep for Rollie who was suspected to have some hoof rot. She is now being treated for that, which involves trimming her hooves quite severely and then having her stand in a disinfecting solution. Last week, a new sheep joined the ICU and his name is Rocky. Rocky most likely got in a tousle with the breeding ram and was knocked unconscious. Either that or he was stung by many, many wasps. When he was first brought into the barn, his whole head was swollen so big it was nearly round. His ears were puffy and hard and his eyes were sealed shut. For at least one day, he was in and out of consciousness and wasn’t eating at all. After a day and a few shots of banamine (intravenous NSAID for livestock), he was baaing at the other sheep quietly and eating a little bit. After two days, his eyes started to open a tiny bit, the swelling around his face was greatly reduced, he was eating well, and baaing loudly. Now we are squirting saline solution in his eyes, wiping the gunk out, and administering topical antibiotic to help keep them clean. Hopefully he is on the road to recovery!
Over the last few weeks, we’ve had lots of conversations in the field with Adrienne about the specifics of how she manages planning for the season. We talked about soil organic matter and how it relates to other soil characteristics like cation exchange capacity, pH, and moisture retention. Adrienne and Ken have learned, by trial and error, mostly, with the help of soil tests, about the nature of their fields and changed their management strategies accordingly. This is the time of the season to start reflecting on how things have gone this summer and begin planning for next year. There is one large field that is really too wet to be used for vegetables, so they are going to sow it to perennial pasture for the horses and sheep. Another thing we talked about is how Adrienne chooses what to put in the salad mix. Many seed companies sell premixed salad seed, but these don’t include exactly what Adrienne wants. There is more to it than just baby kale, baby mustards, and baby lettuces. The kale includes 2 varieties, the mustards include at least 5 different varieties, and the lettuces are at least 6. All of these must germinate and grow to a uniform size at roughly the same time, have roughly the same cold and heat tolerance, mineral and water needs, and produce a variety of shapes, colors, and flavors. She is also looking for seeds that are cheap to buy in bulk and hoping to find as much organic seed as possible.
The bulk of last week’s energy was put toward preparing for the fair. Since we didn’t get the winter squash in the ground soon enough to have any for the fair, we mostly made garlic ropes, dried flower arrangements, and roasting bags. The garlic ropes were 5 or 10 garlic heads wrapped together and decorated with dried flowers, sage, and cayenne peppers that went for $10 and $20, respectively. The dried flowers were beautiful hanging bouquets that Adrienne and Ashley made that went for $12. The roasting bags were comprised of one rutabaga, 2lbs of carrots, 1lb of beets, one onion, one head of garlic, some sage, and a recipe. Those were sold for $7.50. We also had salsa bags (tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, cilantro), bulk garlic, and cherry tomatoes. Getting all of this ready involved pitchforking and clearing all of the remaining mid season carrots, hunting for lots and lots of medium-sized beets, picking enormous amounts of sage and cilantro, cleaning onions and garlic (with toothbrushes!), and spending lots of time sorting, weighing, and bagging.
When we got to the fair on Friday morning (9/19) at 7am to set up for the market, there was frost on the grass for a few hours before the sun took it away and lots of sleepy campers from all corners of Maine who were staying there for the weekend. When the gates opened at 9am, there was a flood of people rushing through the market. They were mostly just taking in the whole scene and passing through to the center of the fair, but we sold quite a few garlic ropes in the first 20 minutes. The fair is made up of two large food areas, two farmers markets, countless craft tents (2 dedicated entirely to wool!), the livestock barns, the ag demonstration area (where Ken and many other teamsters demonstrated horse driving and ox pulling), the low-impact forestry area, and many, many speaker’s tents. I went to talks about heritage breed pigs, homeschooling on the farm, pollarding, earth-sheltered homes, medicinal herbs for the mind, no-till vegetable production, and pasture renovation. I saw demonstrations of sheep dogs herding sheep and goats, I used a lathe, tried hopped cider, watched raw wool being spun, and saw an organic parade. There were kids dressed as brussels sprouts, corn, and flowers, carrying signs that declare, “No spray on me!” and “We all come out of the garden.” On top of all that, I saw my friends Edgar and Liz from Western Mass, hung out with my friend Sophie who is spending the year at The Stone Soup Institute in Harpswell, ME building a tiny house from rough cut wood and learning homesteading skills, and spent all the rest of my time going from workshop to demonstration with Brian. It was quite a weekend. Unfortunately, I misplaced my camera from Thursday to Monday, so I dont have any pictures of the event, but for those of you with facebook, here is a video of the garden parade: https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10153360710914057&set=vb.62192014056&type=2&theater