I’ve been spending some time recently looking back at pictures and video I shot last year. It’s amazing how much the farm has changed in such short time. It’s also remarkable how much further along we are this year than we were at the same time last year. For example, last year at this time we had JUST started forming the rows of our main garden.
I also came across some video I shot one morning last August with my sister’s Canon 60D. It’s exciting to think that the garden will soon look like it does in this video.
First of all, I hope that you’re all enjoying our new site. Aside from having a sleek new banner, some new pages and a better URL address, our website also makes it possible to reserve meat online using Paypal. Just got to ourPre-Buy Meat Onlinepage.
I’ve been meaning to post for a very long time, but so much has been happening around here that I didn’t really know where to start. However, yesterday there was a big enough change that I couldn’t help but come online and share it with all of you…
Meet Diamond, our new llama from Pelham, NH. Dave and I just went to pick him up yesterday, and so far he’s exceeded our expectations for awesomeness.
I’m getting ahead of myself though. This all started because we’ve been looking into finding some other pastures for our sheep to graze on this summer. Because we bred all our ewes to a Finn ram, a breed that’s known to throw triplets, quadruplets or even quintuplets, I’ve been getting a little nervous that we were going to end up with more sheep than we have pasture for at Black Brook Farm. Add to this worry the fact that we’ve been getting very little rain so far this year, and we have to ready ourselves for the possibility of a very dry summer, and you can see why we might want some back up fields. However, the more we talked to people, the more obvious it became that there was no way that we could put our sheep out on pasture somewhere without protection against coyotes. Dave and I have yet to see a coyote since we moved to BBF (which could be because of all the barking dogs, or the horses, or just blind luck) but there are surely coyotes in these woods too — so that’s where Diamond comes in! We researched some different ways to protect our girls and their babies from predators — guard dogs, permanent structures — but a llama seemed like the best solution. Diamond eats the same things that sheep do (unlike a dog), he doesn’t require any special training, and he’ll stay behind 4′ electronet fencing! Plus, he’s a perfect gentleman, and apparently has never spit at a human, he just doesn’t like coyotes. There’s lots of information about guard llamas online, but here’s a nice succinct study if you want to read more: http://www.sprucelane.com/guardllamas.pdf.
The ewes checking Diamond out
The sheep also have gotten sheared and look more pregnant than ever! We’ve expecting lambs to drop any day now.
And now, finally, our new baby chicks and piglets…We were on our way up to get our breed sow from Vermont when we got a call that she had had a miscarriage, so we decided to go with piglets instead. It’s sad that we’re not going to get a big beautiful pig momma, and that we didn’t get to see our piglets birthed, but it’s nice to have control over exactly how many piglets we have (six right now!) I’m just going to post some pictures, and I’ll write more later. It’s almost 9 AM and there are things to do today so I have to wrap this up.
Baby chicks under the heat lamp
More baby chicks (note all those feet under the heat box)
Coming home in the trailer
Chowing down on whey
And finally, the picture you’ve all been waiting for…
The last two days have been pretty exciting. Yesterday we processed our 75 meat chickens, which would have been a daunting enough job without the threat of Irene baring down on us.
Friday, Mom and I harvested as many tomatoes from the garden as we could in anticipation of the storm and sorted them out to store in the garage. We also rushed to stake down and secure the garden. Meanwhile, Dave set up everything necessary for processing day. Our last processing day went pretty well (see here for details), but it took about 16 hours and there were clearly improvements to be made. Also, this time we were processing 75 birds instead of 36. We wanted to make sure that we were completely prepared for so many birds and so we made sure that everything was in order before we went to sleep Friday night. Very thankfully, our bravest friend Marka Kiley came out of Boston to help us for the weekend. Saturday, we all woke up extra early and Dave and I went out in the dark to catch the chickens. We got off to a good start, started the processing at about 6:30 AM and were done by 1 PM. Thanks to Marka’s help, as well as several others, we were able to quality control and package the birds as we went, so the second half of the day went quickly and we were completely cleaned up by 5. Mother nature helped us clean by providing some drenching afternoon rains. It was a long day, but satisfying. Processing chickens is never fun, but we did the best job we could. We made sure that the chickens went to their deaths with minimum discomfort and that their meat was treated with the respect it deserves. All of Dave’s work planning and preparing really paid off.
Meanwhile, Dave’s mom Tammy had four pots of our tomatoes bubbling on the stove all day and into the night, working hard to can, freeze and otherwise preserve as much of our crop as possible. Between her hard work, and my mom’s efforts to secure us some big restaurant sales, it looks like none of our tomatoes are going to go to waste.
This morning we got 4 inches of rain, but luckily, the hurricane was tamer than we had feared it would be and, other than a few blown down tomato trellises and (possibly) the loss of our corn crop, it looks like the garden is going to be okay. The chickens are safely in the refrigerator and freezer (we didn’t even lose power!) and we can relax — and blog.
Our tomato bounty and Mom’s new vespa
Sorting cherry tomatoes
Before (tune in tomorrow for After pics)
Artsy Pic: to remember them by in case they were all blown over
Alright, as usual these days I don’t have a lot of time, so I’m going to jump right in…
With the addition of a new backyard dog fence, we’ve finally been able to let our layer hens really free range. We’ve been putting the dogs away mid afternoon every day and our chickens have been wandering around as they please.
Our dark cornish chicks are getting really big and are almost ready to go out into the chicken tractor. We’ve moved the chicken tractor out into the pasture with the pigs and Dave’s been making improvements, more on that later.
Meanwhile, despite some pretty crazy weather this June — 90 degrees one day and then 50 degrees, cold and rainy for the next five (thanks global warming!) — the garden is looking good.
Teepees for pole beans, and in the top right hand corner you can see where we’ve covered the kale with row covers — to keep pests away
Despite a rough stretch after transplanting (you can see that the lower leaves look kind of unhealthy) the new growth on this eggplant looks great!
baby pak cho
a very happy looking tomato plant
…and baby tomatoes!
There’s so much going on here everyday that I’ve had a hard time keeping up. I realized that I’d forgotten to mention that we’ve been selling at the Carlisle farmer’s market all this month! It’s been a slow start to the season for us, mostly because we were so behind tilling the field, but we’ve managed to have enough greens and eggs to hold our own. This last Saturday we had sugar snap peas, beets, lettuce, herbs, flowers and strawberry-mulberry and goat-cheese and dill scones.
We’ve also been selling our delicious eggs to a restaurant in town, 80 Thoreau, where they’re featured on their farm salad. See the menu here.
This weekend we’re going to be one of the vendors at Old Home Day in Carlisle. In addition to our rapidly growing produce selection and scones, we’re also hopefully going to be selling some of Dave’s freshly baked bread. Come visit us if you can!
Those of you who live in the Massachusetts area can probably empathize with me when I say that this past week has been the absolute worst.
We woke up on Monday morning and realized almost immediately that there was no way we were going to be able to perform the final till on Wednesday, it was cold, rainy and dreary and — according to the weather report — there was no end in sight. Naturally, this realization was followed by a couple hours of moping, finger-pointing and rock-kicking. Why hadn’t we paid attention to the weather report and tilled on Friday when it was still sunny and dry? What were we going to do all week in the mud and the rain? Was our summer harvest ruined by one poor decision? Was it a poor decision? What was worse, to till too soon and face the weeds or to be planting our field at the very end of May? And what to do with all those crazy two month old tomato plants overrunning the greenhouse????
Well I’m writing now to say, we did it! We slogged through the muddy, rainy week and now we’re pulling ourselves out the other side alive and well (except for a couple of chickens — but that’s a story for another post). We planted some more in the kitchen garden, did some Spring cleaning, built a shelter for the pigs and got the tomato plants outside where they’re hardening off. Now we’re glued to the weather report hoping it’s going to dry out in the next couple of days so we can get our fields up and running and our transplants in the ground. Who knows if we made the “right” decision, or if there even is a “right” decision, but we’re forging ahead.
And as the weather improves, so do our moods. I see sun so I’ve got to get outside, but here are some pictures.
We’re using a couple empty raised beds to keep tomato plants outside. We have wire hoops ready if we need to tarp them against the cold at night.
We recently relocated half of our first flock of meat bird chicks outside (see last post for details). Here’s a couple videos. They have had to endure some not-so-perfect weather, but seem hearty and healthy and are doing just fine.
When I got a fever two weeks ago I figured that my number had finally come up and I had gotten the flu. After a painful, sweaty and boring three days in bed I felt much better and got back to work. Five days later a huge rash broke out on my neck. Unlucky again, I thought, I’ve swiped my neck with a work glove covered in poison ivy. Easy enough to believe, considering I’d spent the last month brush clearing and burning. However, this last Sunday when I collapsed into bed with another fever, the rash still itching and burning on my neck, I started to put two and two together and realized that maybe this was more than just a string of bad luck. Sure enough, a visit to the emergency room later, it was confirmed, I have Lyme disease. Lyme disease is a pretty nasty tick-borne illness, and even though the antibiotics I’m on have gotten rid of my fever and most of my rash, they’ve left me pretty weak and tired.
Needless to say, this news has made the last couple of days pretty stressful for Dave, who has been forced to do all the heavy lifting on the farm (instead of just most of it). Luckily my mom’s here everyday to help. She’s been handling the greenhouse, the kitchen garden and the laying hens while Dave’s been working on getting the meat birds outside and readying our temporary pen for the piglets. In the last week we’ve lost a handful of chicks, which has been pretty heartbreaking. We are in charge of all of these fragile little lives, and although we know that it’s inevitable that we’re going to lose some, it doesn’t make it any easier. A majority of the chicks that died appeared to have been smothered by the rest of the flock. This can happen when they get too hot or too cold and all clump together, but we were pretty sure that it was also because they were getting way too big for their brooder. We felt as if we really needed to get them outside and into some fresh air and sunshine. As always, the weather wasn’t making it easy for us. Dave’s new chicken bible, Joel Salatin’s book Pastured Poultry Profits, had instructed him that it was best to put the chicks out on a dry, sunny day. If the chicks are exposed to heavy rains too quickly they can get wet and cold, or drown, and die. With forecasts of rain for Wednesday and today, we knew that we had to get the chicks out fast, or risk losing more in the brooder this week.
The frame was all set, but the tractor still needed chicken wire sides and corrugated roofing. Luckily, a local farmer gave us the roofing for free (the only cost was Dave’s time prying it off the roof of an old shed with a crowbar) and so all day Monday and Tuesday morning, while I lay in bed recovering, Dave finished up the tractor. Tuesday at around 10:30 AM we moved the chicks in (I watched). We decided to only move out half at first, just to see how they would do and open up some much needed room in the brooder.
Moving the chicks in
Our Chicken Tractor. 10′ x 12′ x 2′
Home sweet home
If you look at the tractor from the angle above, the back half is covered on all sides by corrugated steel roofing while the front half has chicken wire sides. Both the roof panels on the front half are removable. The left-hand side contains the waterer and the right hand side contains the feeder trough. It is necessary to have 3/4 of the tractor covered by roofing because the chickens need a lot of escape from the sun, as they can easily overheat. We copied the tractor from Joel Salatin’s design. You can watch a great video about it here:
We moved the tractor for the first time this morning to a new foraging spot. It went well, aside from the fact that it’s heavier than we would have liked. Salatin specifically recommends that you don’t use corrugated steel for the roof (it’s much heavier than aluminum), but since we got it for free we couldn’t really be picky. Luckily, we only have to move it 12′ a day, just enough to give the chicks fresh grass. Even though there was still a lot for them to eat in the first spot, it’s necessary to move the tractor at least every two days as their feces will start to grow bacteria.
The rest of the chicks are going to go out tomorrow morning, after the threat of rain and cold has past. Until then, they’ll have to content themselves with their new feeder. They’ve gotten MUCH too big for the old one.
This feeder is just a piece of 4″ PVC pipe cut in half with plywood stands on either side. We’re getting better at cutting costs everyday.
Some Other Things We’ve Been Doing:
* Turning over any sod clumps that the plow didn’t catch out in the field. It’s important that the grass is underground so it rots and doesn’t continue to grow. We’re planning on harrowing the field on Sunday. We’ve also been trying to pick out any rocks.
* Transplanting TONS of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants in the greenhouse, and planting brussel sprouts and late season cabbage.
* Seeding the kitchen garden with greens so we’ll have something for the first farmers market.
* Getting ready for the piglets. We decided to wait until Monday to go pick them up, so hopefully I’ll feel better by then.