Over the Last two weeks, we have been very busy in the fields and around the farm, but we have also made major progress in our teamster training! Last week we started with “people driving” around the barnyard, practicing line tension and pulsing, and then last Thursday we took a big step and started ground driving single horses. We took Star, Tim, and Pat out to one of the fallow fields and practiced driving in straight lines, stopping and backing, and making gentle and tight turns. We finished the afternoon by hooking up to the spring tooth harrows and carving our initials into a newly-plowed field. This week we picked right up, first ground driving teams, then moving up to driving with the forecart. Most of the driving we did at New Beat a few years back was from a forecart, and Sidney noted that it came back quickly. By the end of this week, Owen helped David with the walking plow, and Sidney drove Pat all by herself with a spring tooth harrow. Soon we will be able to share in the load of field work, just in time for the CSA starting in June.
The other exciting progression on the horse front is that the herd is now going out to pasture in the evenings. We start each day by riding bikes out to the paddock in the Far Field, then ride the horses back to the barn for breakfast and harnessing. Riding bareback on a 1600-pound draft horse and leading two in hand is a little scary, but also very exciting, and its a very relaxing way to start and end each day.
Sidney Has been spending lots of her time on the berry patch recently. She weeded one of the rows of black raspberries, and mulched it with wood chips. She and David also met with three specialists from UMass Extension who visited the farm. Weed control is always a challenge in organic agriculture, especially with perennial crops like berries. The other CRAFT farmers who grow berries also spend lots of time hand-weeding their berries, which has been our strategy in the past. Sid is hoping that by weeding early in the season and then putting down thick mulch, we should be able to stay ahead of the weeds without too much trouble. She also got to drive the truck with the trailer for the first time to pick up the mulch, which was challenging but ultimately rewarding.
Sid and I spent a few hours last week cutting a hole in the side of the barn to give Red and the piglets access to a little bit of outdoor space. Their pen was getting pretty cramped as the piglets get bigger, and the extra space, sunshine, and mud seem to be making them much happier. The piglets got right to rooting up their little yard as soon as we let them out.
Also last week, I spent part of a few days troubleshooting our walk-in cooler. Our cooler is cooled by a standard home AC unit, hooked up to a machine called a Coolbot, which basically fools the AC unit into blowing way more cold air than it would normally, cooling the space down as low as 34. Our setup was frosting up and not keeping the cooler cold enough, so I had to do a little tinkering and play with the Coolbot settings, but I eventually got it working. Although it was frustrating, I feel like I pretty solidly understand how the system works now. Coolbots are very widespread among small veggie operations, since they work well for small coolers and are orders of magnitude cheaper than a ‘real’ refrigeration compressor (both to install and to operate).
This week I installed some upgrades on the coop for the field hens to keep then from roosting under the trailer and convince them to lay in the nest boxes instead of on the floor of the coop. We have also been trying to wrap up spring cleaning tasks, because when June arrives we won’t have time for anything apart from vegetables and hay. We mulched the orchard and the home garden, continued clearing fallen trees off of field edges, and cleaned up lumber around the cabin. Sidney has also done some landscaping around the front, and soon we will have lots of beautiful flowers and tasty herbs right at our fingertips!
Last weekend we took a day off to drive up to Vermont and stay with my parents at their house in Hinesburg. We visited lots of our friends in Burlington, met Jean and Briana’s new dog(!), and also planted a new orchard! With help from our friend Claire and neighbor Eugene, we planted eighteen apples, two cherries, four peaches, four pears, and five plum trees. The thought of all the fruit we will have in a few years is so exciting, and it will also be lots of fun pruning and caring for the young trees as they grow up.
This week we had a CRAFT visit at Caretaker Farm in Williamstown, MA. They grow about 6 acres of vegetables, herbs, flowers, and berries for their CSA. It was interesting to visit a farm of a very similar size to Natural Roots and compare how they do things. We got to see and discuss a few of their nifty gadgets, including their spader, paper-pot transplanter, and hand dibbler. Sidney was excited to see how they grow their raspberries.
Last but not least, we are keeping abreast of the actual vegetables. Over the last two weeks we transplanted kale, bok choy, leaf broccoli, napa cabbage, chard, and lettuce. We also seeded tomatoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, cucumbers, and more lettuce. Anna has seeded spinach, arugula, and more carrots, beets, herbs, turnips, radishes, and snap peas.
Last night, we had a picnic with Sidney’s friends from college in a meadow of lilacs in full bloom. Spring is a wonderful thing here in New England!