25 March 2012

Once Upon a Time There Was a Winter

My name is Millie.  Pay attention to me!  All the time. Now.

It has been a strange winter so far in Maine.  There was not too much snow, only one really cold stretch, and quite a bit of mud.  Many farmers I have talked to have expressed some concern about the coming season and how it may be dry because the snow cover, and thus water, will evaporate early, requiring more irrigation this summer.  Most people probably have already dismissed winter as over and done with, and are happy to look forward to warmer weather.  I admit that in the past I would have felt the same way.

Millie: This is what it should look like in Maine in March.  Now let me smell you.

However, with nature (and everything in life) balance is essential.  We continue to see extremes in weather and climate because we are testing the earth's limits as a closed system.  Like a drop in a bucket of water, our energy use a.k.a. release of energy in the form of heat, our use of fossil fuels has caused a spike in average temperature causing the water's surface to move down.  In an attempt to restore equilibrium, the earth's atmosphere is trying to rebound in the other direction, then the other, then the other until it is almost at rest.

The warm weather is messing with farmers and it's messing with maple sugaring.  There has not been a consistent flow of sap from the trees at Mitchell and Savage Farm.  The sap has also been darker than in the past from what Mitch tells me.  The cutting short of the season by warm weather has significantly reduced the amount of syrup that can be made considering that 40 gallons of sap on average are needed to boil down to one gallon of syrup and a tree can produce at least a half gallon of syrup on a good day (20 at night and 40 high during the day).

Sap season is likely coming to a close if it hasn't already.  On the bright side, I have had a wonderful experience with Mitch and Penny helping collect sap with Dick, Dock, and sometimes Belle.  I also learned a lot about boiling sap and a bit of the science behind it.  They were gracious enough to let me drive the horses many times while collecting sap from stop to stop in their sugar bush.  I recognize the trust it takes to let another person drive your draft animals; especially large, 1700 pound beasts that can easily pull a tank/wagon that easily weighs a ton altogether.  It's hard to resist emphasizing the power of a pair of horses and the thrill and beauty of working together to harness their abilities and mesh their personalities with yours in the process.  I truly want to thank Mitch and Penny for the opportunity to work with them and their "haases."

These, however, are Jeff and Amy's horses.

I also happened to show up at Buckwheat Blossom Farm to drop a few things off after an invigorating bike ride and ended up helping them with the sheep shearing process which included keeping track of all the little lambs and giving the adults booster vaccines.  I'll be working at New Beat Farm in a week helping with seedling work, making soil blocks, moving the wall tent platform, and when the soil is drier, plowing with the horses!  My excitement can hardly be contained.  I am, pun intended, chomping at the bit to work with Ken, Adrienne, Lauren, Rachel, Kate, and the horses Molly, Jewel, and Pete this season.  Time for some good, ol' fashioned faahm building!

Peace, Love, and Head Cheese!

Hi! I'm a lamb!
He's only 7.5 pounds!
"Our model citizen is a sophisticate who before puberty understands how to produce a baby, but who at the age of thirty will not know how to produce a potato"
-Wendell Berry

08 March 2012


I am officially not an apprentice for a month.  Then I will be again in April.  The yurt was cleaned and moved out of by Monday afternoon, ending my first apprenticeship.  For a glimpse of it, you need only read any of my past updates.  In an attempt to avoid a year-end summary, I will look to the future.  I've learned so much and cannot properly address my gratitude to Buckwheat Blossom Farm for taking me on for the year.  The opportunity to learn so much, from logging and tillage with horses and growing vegetables, to raising pastured and woods-raised chickens, cattle, sheep, and pigs, was a proverbial alignment of the stars.

Throughout my time here I've had the chance to meet tons of new, cool people related to agriculture and the variously related craftspeople that a farmer/grower depend on to keep their farm running.  I've found, at least personally, that the more people you know in the field, the better.  You don't know what might come up, what kind of equipment might need repair and the skills you might have to trade for in order to get them repaired.  I've been feebly attempting to improve and diversify my skill-set, and therefore, my opportunities for energy and economic self-sufficiency by participating in as many things as I can while apprenticing and in the coming month.

Yesterday I began sugaring at Mitchell and Savage Maple Farm where they use horses to haul a BIG 200 gallon tank around their woodlot to collect buckets of sap.  We were hoping it would be a good sap day because the temperature was close to the ideal range of 20 degrees at night and 40 degrees daytime.  It turns out it wasn't really, but that the sap was about three times sweeter than it typically would be.  This was probably due to Mitch having dumped the ice that froze in the buckets, thereby concentrating the sap that remained.  

Though we only got 50 gallons of sap that was the equivalent of almost 150 gallons of "regular" sap, it was a beautiful day to be out with the horses in the woods.  I worked up a bit of a sweat walking around in the snow with buckets and got to see part of the sap-making process.  It involved a lot of tubes, gravity feeding, and water.  I spent about 4 hours chatting and helping boil sap even though Mitch didn't need the help.  We (including Penny) got to know each other a little bit better talking about everything and anything from politics to horse equipment to the show "Breaking Bad." I easily could have spent the whole night there hanging out, talking, feeding the wood fire, pouring sap, drinking a few beers, and eating popcorn.  In the future I just may do that.  I'm blessed to have met Mitch and Penny and eagerly look forward to the rest of the sugaring season and meeting their son Caleb later this week.

In a month, I'll be heading over to New Beat Farm learning to do lots of new stuff that are almost too numerous to count.  I'll be learning to hay, grow some small grains and beans, do some more walking plowing, single horse work in general, and of course lots of other horse tillage.  Ken and Adrienne also have a different growing system which will be a whole new thing to learn as well.  I'll hopefully also learn a thing or two about repairing horse equipment.  They just got a new horse to make 3 total and his name is Pete.  He's in great shape and I'll be excited to get to know all the horses.

Oh, yeah!  Kate and I will also be raising 8 pigs this summer and marketing them by the half.  I know some of my New York friends are interested and if we have trouble selling them, I will let you know.  Our hope is to try to remain as local as possible.  For those of you in NYC that really want to participate in this kind of meat purchase, visit your local farmers market (there are tons in NYC) and get to know the farmers there.  Otherwise I can help you try to find a person selling pigs by the half or whole.  We have 3.5 pigs left to sell as of today so let me know if you have any interest.  The pigs will be ready at the beginning of October.   Everyone needs to bother me about pictures so I'll be better at including things I'm doing.  Anyways, more sugaring (after a mini-vacation to Portsmouth) is at hand in the coming weeks.  Thank you everyone for reading!

"We Americans are not usually thought to be a submissive people, but of course we are. Why else would we allow our country to be destroyed? Why else would we be rewarding its destroyers? Why else would we all — by proxies we have given to greedy corporations and corrupt politicians — be participating in its destruction? Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us.
How do we submit? By not being radical enough. Or by not being thorough enough, which is the same thing."
-Wendell Berry