What a week! The first week of June, though long and tiring, was also a week full of firsts; we slaughtered and processed our first round of broiler chickens, harvested the first greens from outside the greenhouses, as well as the first produce from things we have planted since we have been here. We also got into our first weeding, both by hand and with hoes. We also went to the first apprentice gathering of the summer!
The gathering was organized by Upper Valley Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (UV CRAFT) as an opportunity for apprentices and farm workers in the area to meet each other and more of the area farmers. Monday evening, we went to Root 5 Farm in Fairlee, VT, which is owned by a young couple who farmed at the Intervale Center in Burlington (www.intervale.org) for ten years and are at their land in Fairlee for only the third season this year. They grow about 6 acres of vegetables, mostly for an 180 member CSA, and the rest goes to markets and wholesale. The topic was crop planning and variety selection, and we definitely learned a lot about their choices and model through the short tour. We were impressed by their highly organized field planning documents and dedication to revision and cover cropping. Afterward, we got to have dinner and chat with farmers and apprentices from 3 other farms, who we will continue to meet up with throughout the summer.
We spent most of Monday inside and out of the chilly rain. In addition to the usual seeding and potting-up in the propagation house, we also went over all of the tomatoes in both of the greenhouses, cutting and pinching suckers and clipping the central leaders of each plant to strings in order to train them upwards. Suckers form at the ‘armpits’ of branches and will, if left unattended, form a new apical meristem or growth tip. This new tip will grow up, branch, and eventually set fruit, but for commercial growers it is important to remove suckers, since they tend to steal sugars better used by the rest of the plant, and will leave the grower with lots of tiny fruits, instead of relatively fewer, but much larger tomatoes.
We spent the whole day Tuesday processing chickens. We killed and cleaned 95 chickens, some of which will be sold fresh, but most of which will be frozen and sold over the course of the year. Because of how meat-processing regulations work, it is illegal for us to cut the chickens up (for instance to sell a package of all thighs), but we are allowed to clean and eviscerate them and sell them whole. Since the chicken processing was so complex and fascinating, we’re going to devote an entire in-depth blog posting separate from this one.
Our exciting first weeding of the season came in the garlic, where we pulled a few weeds that had come up through the hay mulch. However, these were few and far between! We also spent a bit of time hand-weeding the arugula and mustard greens.
Another big project for the week we cleaning out the center bay of the barn. After pulling everything out, throwing out trash, and organizing things somewhat, we brushed the cobwebs off the ceiling, swept, and then scrubbed the walls and floor. We still have to put everything back, but for now, the bay is super clean.
With colder weather on the way and a frost expected over the weekend, we spent some time hooping and putting rime (spun-polypropylen sheeting) over all of the sweet potatoes, cucumbers, squashes, and melons. The row-cover helps traps warmth and will hopefully help these heat-loving crops grow more quickly.
Other exciting projects this week included planting the next succession of spinach, washing harvest bins, and finally getting the young laying hens contained. Because they are still small, they can fit through the gaps in their fence, but on Friday I was able to lure them all within the enclosure with some feed and then run some wire out and electrify the fence. So far that has kept them inside, which is quite a relief, since they had been roaming all over for almost two weeks.
Sidney flew out to California on Thursday to see family, and attend her brother Sam’s graduation from Athenian! Congratulations Sam!