These past two weeks have seen a diverse array of projects tackled and accomplished. We have moved through many sessions of Teamster Training, seeded and transplanted in the fields, fertilized many parts of the farm, finished most of our firewood processing, continued seeding in the greenhouse, and, finally, moved into the new cabin. The theme of week 7 was Leora and Gabriel (David and Anna’s kids) being home on spring break; they helped out with farm tasks all week. Leora has been driving horses from a young age, so she went out to the pasture independently with a team of horses to harrow, breaking up piles of manure to spread them around evenly. The theme of week 8, in my mind, was that the home orchard is blooming. Every day brings more and more multicolored petals unfolding to grace our path many times a day as we go in and out of the barn. In order of bloom, we have nectarine, peach, asian pear, and pear blossoms dancing with pollinators; apple and paw paw buds are ready to bloom next week. Hurray for fruit trees!
In Teamster Training, we have gone through harness fit and anatomy, driving lines (reins), hooking up and unhooking a hitch, and round pen training. Next week we will begin driving. Following the harness anatomy session, I spent a morning putting together a harness for our horse-in-training, Whinny, who has been wearing her harness in the stall to get used to its feel, smell, and sounds. Harnesses are both complex and simple in the way that beautifully designed equipment always is: complex to the untrained eye, but simple to those who understand it. The opportunity to look at Whinny’s harness in-depth and customize it to her shape gave me the skill to see its simplicity and geometry clearly.
These past two weeks, we have had problems with machinery and all of us have been on the phone with various suppliers, mechanics, and friends to troubleshoot and order new parts. Between the fence chargers, the air compressor, my bike chain, the bandsaw mill, the chainsaw, the circular saw, the sink plumbing on both cabins, and the greenhouse fan, we have spent a whole lot of time scratching our heads and making trips to the hardware store.
Owen, under Anna’s direction, has spent lots of time seeding in the greenhouse. We now have lettuce, asian greens, kale, chard, fennel, parsley, celeriac, celery, peppers, tomatoes, okra, and probably many more veggies that I can’t remember. The seedlings look healthy and adorable, coming up in neat little rows and expressing their individuality from the first cotyledon growth. This week Brian and Anna put the first transplants in the ground: lettuce, pac choi, and asian greens.
Brian, Owen, and I have given our time to firewood processing whenever we have a spare hour here and there, and so have wrapped up bucking and splitting for the home pile and the greenhouse. That was a big milestone, for sure, but there is still wood to be processed for the cabins! On and on it goes.
In the livestock department, we vaccinated the horses for West Nile Virus and tetanus. I actually enjoy giving shots, which is probably weird, but there’s something satisfying about it. Owen is less thrilled about needles, child of two physicians though he may be, and nearly fainted. (Okay, not quite, but he was a natural at it nonetheless). We also installed a free choice feeder for Red the sow, which is a big box we can put a lot of grain in at once and she can eat as much as she wants. I call it the infinity feeder. The male piglets endured castration this week, poor things, which is no fun for them, for their mama to hear them crying, or for us, but it must be done. Little ones (of all species) do heal fast, though, and they were back to normal within minutes.
Brian, mostly, has been plugging away at cabin work, finishing the kitchen cabinetry and sink installation. I installed the porch railing, then biggest project was burying our electric line. David’s friend Josh came over and operated the “ditch witch”, which is like an enormous chainsaw that digs a thin little trench 2 ft deep. I mustered all the muscle I had to hack apart some monster pine roots with an axe, and my arms felt like Gumby afterwards. Owen, on the other hand, can swing an axe endlessly without tiring. Yesterday, we moved in! It’s clean and pretty, it smells like pine, it’s highly customized, and we’re very proud of it. The only thing you can see out of all seven windows is trees and sky. Equally as exciting, though, is that Owen got to move out of the itty-bitty shack he was in and into the cabin we vacated. He is enjoying the perch atop a hill, the roominess (especially roof height, for a tall guy), running water, 4-burner stove, and big porch. Kyle and I ran a new water line up to the cabin-on-the-hill last week and hooked it up, so now all residents at Natural Roots Farm have running water! Woohoo! (Animals included!)
Last week, we went to another CRAFT event, this time at Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst. We talked about season extension and on-farm retail. Simple Gifts has lots of different levels of season extension: field tunnels, unheated greenhouses of all sizes, heated greenhouses, and heated greenhouses with raised beds. This allows them to harvest produce every week of the year. They are also building a farm shop right next to the road, hoping to gain new customers for whom a CSA share is not the right fit. We saw many familiar faces from the previous CRAFT tour; these kinds of events are a great way to get to know other farm apprentices in the region.
Last weekend, Brian and I went up to Brattleboro to visit my cousins Rachel and Dave and their son Ely, who helped us slaughter chickens in the fall. Then we had a farewell dinner in celebration of Kyle, who finished his apprenticeship and left this week. He is on his way to England to help out his co-apprentice from 2016, Calixta, with her farm. After dinner the whole crew went out to the Greenfield contra dance and had a blast!
As we get closer to the CSA season, we have been struggling to find time for things like pulling straw off the herb garden beds, fixing the sign on the road, and postering in local towns, but little by little we are getting them done, and, lo and behold, sign-up forms cover the desk in the office. At we sat at the picnic table eating cake for Kyle’s goodbye lunch on Friday, a CSA member dropped by with flowers to give Anna her sign-up form in person. Before Kyle left, he installed the weathervane that he made this fall with the help of his granddad, who is a blacksmith. It portrays a wagonfull of hay pulled by horses.
Also, very exciting: we got the hogs back from the butcher and now have bacon in the freezer!!! Already eating it breakfast, lunch, and dinner 🙂