The to-do list

The to-do list

 

We thought it might be fun this week to give you some up-close and personal insight into our week via the Almighty To-Do List.

The lists we make at the beginning of each week are generally over-sized for the time we have, and so are an exercise in not letting things slip through the cracks.  As long as a task makes it onto the list, we know we won’t forget about it in the midst of the chaos, and even if it doesn’t get done, it will be moved onto next week’s list as top-billing.
Because the season has undeniably changed over the last week (we had a light frost on Sunday night!!), the tasks at hand are increasing in diversity beyond the pick-wash-sell, pick-wash-sell of summer.  We are now gradually turning our focus to cleaning up the farm for winter, prepping our soil and cropping for spring, infrastructure projects, Tax prep, etc.
It has never been easy for me to hold in the present moment both the reality of the current season and the preparations for the coming season.  This is a very necessary skill for a farmer – always knowing what needs to be next month’s reality, and so planting those seeds (literally and proverbially) in the present.  Calendars and to-do lists, as well as increasing years of experience, help.
So here goes!  Try not to get overwhelmed.  Despite what you might think, this list gets us pretty excited.  Many of these activities are projects that have either been on hold for the summer, or signal the slowing down of the season into winter – either way, we welcome the work.

Everyday Tasks:
Milk goats
Move chicken tractors, feed water and collect eggs
Pick up whey from Beltane and deliver to pigs
Move goats to pasture
Harvest, Process & Pack veg

This week:
Seed greenhouse for winter
Set ground posts for moving greenhouse
Order potting soil
Build grain bin/pick up grain order
Move pig paddock
Move winter squash indoors
Cover crop harvested beds
Order more spinach/radish seed
Set up greenhouse for winter chickens
Finish masonry for woodstove install
Write newsletter
Clean house
Fix bent greenhouse rollup side
Bill pay/bookkeeping
Process damaged winter squash for soup
Can tomato sauce
Mow front yard
Move tomato vines to compost
Collect black plastic from Winter squash field
Solarize
Fill sand bags
Pick up 1000 pound bales of mulch straw from Bryan
Wood chip mulch to apple trees
Deer protection around apples

Pests & Predators

Pests & Predators

This weekend I listened to a TED talk given by Dan Barber (Executive Chef of Stone Barns).  He was relating a love story between himself and a fish.  This fish was raised in an incredibly unique environment on the coast of Spain, on a farm that is a model of a true sustainability.  So much so that it is also one of the largest and most diverse bird sanctuaries in Europe.  Without going into unnecessary details (see the whole talk HERE), the point is that they encourage biodiversity in a way that mimics nature.  This includes an incredible bird population that consumes about 20% of the “farmed” fish.  That kind of loss would be totally unacceptable to agribusiness of any kind.  But it allows for a system in balance that accepts loss in the context of valuing all life and appreciating the true bounty that nature offers.  And Dan Barber’s beloved fish was a product of that system.  And it was delicious.
As Charlotte and I strive to be better farmers, our hope is to produce similarly excellent food from a system in balance.  Easier said than done.   Our farm doesn’t just exist in nature.  The human effort we call farming is extremely destructive at certain times and from certain points of view.  The act of tilling that Charlotte talked about in her last post, completely alters the ecosystem of a field.  Reestablishing the balance from that point requires time and a juggling of all kinds of factors (water, nutrition, plant varieties and their rotation).  When we add the financial pressure to produce enough vegetables to pay the bills it can be easy to lose site of the big picture.  But we’re getting there!
One example: We would like to bring cabbage to market.  But there are three different types of cabbage moths that lay eggs on our cabbage and as caterpillars they chew holes in it.  Conventional farming indicates a threshold for the number of caterpillars per plant at which you begin your pesticide spray regimen which kills the pest caterpillars, but also any other caterpillar that happens to be on the plant.  We choose not to spray pesticides on your food, organically approved or otherwise.  We choose to wait.  As the caterpillars grow, different types of parasitic wasps lay their eggs inside the caterpillar and consume it as they develop, eventually hatching and killing it.  They depend on the caterpillar for food.  Research shows that there is a change in the inoculated caterpillar’s saliva, which triggers an immune response by the cabbage making it less desirable to the moth that lays eggs of the pest caterpillar.
To simply see the crop damage and destroy the pest is short sighted: in destroying the pest by spraying, the beneficial insect that would naturally control the pest population, is also destroyed.   So the cycle perpetuates itself leading to more of the same insecticide use year after year with greater and greater resistance.  We prefer to sell a little less cabbage.
Nature is full of these interrelationships and our goal is to foster those relationships into a more symbiotic whole.  We choose to tolerate losses in the meantime as our land recovers from the huge changes that have taken place in our three-year tenure.  So this year, you may not see much cabbage.  We thank you for bearing with us in our struggles, and may we all look forward to a more and more bountiful Sweet Acre.

Something from “Nothing”

The work we do as farmers is generating value from the things that are devalued by our society.  Dirt isn’t dirt, but the medium to grow our sustenance.  A dumpster can often be a trove of re-useful building materials.  In the case of the pines on our property, they could be viewed as a liability.  They shadow our house and field and threaten our outbuildings with their majesty.  They produce a beautiful dappled light at sunset, but they fill our pond with acidifying needles.  When exploring our options for the pine grove we consulted professionals.  A few conversations demoralized us as the pine is virtually worthless to the lumber industry and even the process of turning it all to chip would cost more than a small fortune for cash-strapped farmers.

10931566_1137052226320513_9126314755327265373_oWe have always been gluttons for punishment when it comes to adding new dimensions to the giant DIY project that is Sweet Acre Farm.
So, here is where we stand:  Since the days in 2006 working in the Adirondacks I have been interested in timber framing.  I worked for timber framers the winter after our 2012 farming season, but had not done the work on my own until this year.  Last fall I began the felling process on our land, starting with the trees whose absence would allow us to put up more permanent fencing for our goats (and future sheep?).  Once approximately 20 of the giants were on the ground, we hired Dennis from Terrific Timbers to bring his portable sawmill to the property.  The timbers were cut to the correct lengths and custom milled to generate all the “members” needed for a 12’x16′ shed.  The on-going work this winter is cutting all the mortise & tenon joinery in order to erect the building this spring.  Besides the timbers, the milling process also generated enough 1″ siding for this building and many others, scrap lumber for our endless other building projects, and 100 tomato stakes for the upcoming season.

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We are excited to be able to transform this “liability” of the pines into a valuable building.  Using the materials from the property will contribute aesthetically to the feeling that it, too, “grew” from the property.  I am lucky to have friends interested in this old time tradition of building, and willing to help out in various ways.  While the work now is slow and a little lonely, I am eagerly looking forward to the communal process of raising the building.

And we’ll keep you posted!

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Depth

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Before we bought our farm last year, it was a hayfield for as long as anyone can remember.  As a result we have deep, rich topsoil that has accumulated over the years of perennial growth and decomposition.  It also means that our field is compacted – the result of years of machines driving over it to cut and bale hay.
Compaction makes it difficult for plants to get all the nutrition and water available underground, and can cause drainage problems in the spring.  This year we bought a broadfork – a 5 foot tall fork with five, 14-inch blades for tines.  By forking the majority of our field with this tool, we’ve managed to break through a lot of the compacted sub-soil.  A carrot we pulled yesterday (photo above) is evidence that all that effort is paying off.  That taproot is almost 2 feet long!

Some Poems

Days
by Phillip Larkin

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Self-Pity
by D.H. Lawrence

I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.