31 August 2014

Robust August

What you can't see is the horses drooling over the beautiful hay.

What a summer and how it has flown by!

As Kate and I get our first full season under our belt, we seem to be learning how to refine our vision for the future every day. Farmers markets take a lot of time with only two full time people; most especially when you are doing three!  We will be reformulating how many markets we will be doing next year. We will also hopefully continue to be making loose hay like above!  Post on this by itself in the future...

Hay!  Stop having so much fun!

We are finding that we also enjoy having the farm stand here at the Bridge Farm.  Less time to set up and break down and much more time at the farm to do the things we need to do.  Plus it's always nice to have visitors at the farm!  Kate has a very good eye for aesthetics in the farm store and at our farm stands.  She loves making bouquets; you can tell by how much they brighten the atmosphere in the store (and at Ship's Chow Hall right across the bridge in Dresden Mills.  Lennie does a good job using local ingredients where he can and makes a pretty mean omelet!)

Ponies! (mmmhmhmhmmmh)

The horses have had a break in work as there hasn't been much more hay to make and cultivation isn't very difficult work for them.  Therefore, they are puffing up a little bit.  We will hopefully be making some second cut the next stretch of good weather.   Our neighbor Bruce thinks we've probably got enough hay already for our three horses, but it won't hurt to make a little more!  Plus the second cut will be a treat for them in the deep winter.

Kinda loud, kinda intense, but what a thrill!

Tony and Jess have had a little bit of work over the summer helping plow and prep a garden for our neighbors down the road.  It was nice to just walk them down the road for 15 minutes as a warmup and cool down to sandwich the work they had to do in the neighbors' garden.  I was also able to plow with the walking plow and team by myself; a major accomplishment for the three of us!

Happy Farmer

The only other bit of work they have had is dragging out witch grass in a field we have just seeded oats on as a cover crop.  It is hard work as we have to set the spring-tooth harrow deep in order to pull out as much of the witch grass rhizomes as possible in order to make it workable for next year.

Hogs! (weh weh)

I dare you to scratch me!

Our pigs are almost ready to become pork.  They are set to go to the butcher in two weeks. That means setting up a little den for them in the trailer so they won't be afraid to get on when the time comes for two of them to go for their one way trip off the farm. They're about 220 pounds at this point.  A nice size for all.

We are trying not to get too attached to them as they have been very friendly lately; especially after a couple of them came down with a very high fever for a couple of nights.  It turned out that they were fine, but it was scary seeing one pig's temperature at 105F when it's normally supposed to be 101F!  After that, they never seemed to mind a good scratch on their flanks or behind their ears.

Layers (rawwwwwk)

Don't tell me that chicken isn't a little scary looking.

Our layers meanwhile are spritely, curious, and active. They still won't be laying eggs for another couple months. I don't know if I can wait that long. While I walk around the barnyard, there always seem to be a couple of hens that think I will dispense food from my boots. They seem to particularly like the barn interiors. I'm not sure if the horses like sharing their space with the chickens yet...

Edible leaves

In between all this stuff going on at the farm, Kate's been helping out at weddings here and there, I've been volunteering on the MOFGA Low Impact Forestry Steering Committee, and we've been looking at purchasing a farm in Richmond.  Pure madness!  We're very excited to have a chance to have our own farm with a farm stand already set up and fields that have been used for vegetable production already.  We shall keep you posted when we hear back from the FSA (Farm Service Agency).


Thanks to everyone who has been supporting us this year so far!  Despite the long days and few and far between off-days, it's been exciting, invigorating, and rewarding to be sharing food with friends, family, and local townspeople.  Photos courtesy of Kate's iPhone.

17 May 2014

Spring Plowing 2014

This event took place over the course of the last two days. We just picked up a new Belgian a little over a month ago to phase out our older mare who we got from our mentors. We knew he hadn’t done much work this winter, although neither did our other two horses. His overall health seems good and his demeanor in harness when ground driving and on lighter loads was good. I think he will be a good fit for us.

We had done chores with our young team for a few days a week since we’ve gotten him and even spread some manure. This we did based a bit on what we had heard from Doc Hammill at a workshop at the DAP Field Days last fall and interestingly enough on Kate’s dad’s suggestion while he was helping me get the spreader going. We had them follow the spreader behind my truck; first with nothing engaged, then with the apron on, and then both the beaters and apron on. They didn’t mind the noise. Then we had the truck with the spreader follow the team in the same sequence. No problem.

Looking back, while we were loading, the new horse Tony didn’t like standing with the spreader behind him while we were loading and tried to move many times and I had to back the team back up to the manure pile a few times. I made a note, which went to the back of my head (maybe too far), to remember this later when we put him on new implements and heavy loads. The spreading went fine and after just one late afternoon load, I decided this was a good lesson to end on for both horses.

Fast forward to today:

Today we plowed for the second day in a row. Yesterday almost ended disastrously. Luckily we ended up with nothing more than a bent square tube pole on our sulky plow due to an equipment failure on a wooden neck yoke and a few scrapes on myself after bailing off the plow. We were fortunate to have two of our mentors Mitch and Max over. It was actually Mitch’s neck yoke and evener for plowing that he came over to lend so that the draft on the plow would be set correctly. We tried the same two horses on this plow earlier, but couldn’t get it set right without more experiences eyes and these two know a thing or two about plowing. They didn’t seem antsy or to mind it much at all the first time around so I thought they’d be good with the plow again.

Things were going ok, the plow was slowly starting to scour, and the horses were starting to get it. Our newest horse, the Belgian Tony, took off a little faster than I liked and as I was trying to hold him back I also realized the neck yoke on the off side, in front of Jess, broke and I immediately became concerned about flipping the plow as the horses were no longer responding to my commands. As I felt the plow starting to bounce around I decided to bail and jumped off to the right and not far from where I landed, the pole dropped into the ground and the horses stopped. I was glad they at least didn’t run to the barn.

We reset things after making sure the horses were settled and Mitch suggested we bit Tony down on his Liverpool bit. We then harrowed a small piece to make sure they learned that the incident was nothing more than a blip and that they still needed to work. We were all exhausted and so called it a day.

Max came back today and came with his nice Wyard walking plow and we went right back to the same piece to plow. After we were able to scour the moldboard and get the plow set right, the horses settled right into it and boy did that feel good! It was a high and a low in the last 24 hours, but we’re lucky to have great mentors nearby. Kate and I couldn’t help but keep remarking how good we felt during lunch. It’s moments like these that we live for as teamsters.

Spring 2014 Walking Plow Photos

Mitch and Max here to help.
End of 5/14
End of 5/14

Finishing up the Maple Field 5/15

Finishing up the Maple Field 5/15

Plowing the River Field at Bridge Farm
Almost done!

Spring at the Bridge Farm

A lot has changed since the last post.  Kate and I are leasing Bridge Farm in Dresden for a couple of years.  We will be growing organic vegetables, herbs, flowers, seedlings, eggs, and pigs.  There are two barns on the 28 acre property right on the Eastern River.  Since we have been here, it's been busy.

Kate's been working at Johnny's part time, I've been doing some carpentry part time, and in between we've been planting lots of seedlings and tending to them.  The greenhouse (and our house!) is full of seedlings already and the cold frames are also almost maxed out with seedlings hardening off for transplant.  We're realizing how much time is actually devoted to greenhouse management and planning; necessitating leaving a portion of the day in the morning and night to water, cover, move, and monitor seedlings.

We also have a few new additions to the farm, a new horse named Tony.  We got him from a horse trader in Vermont at the beginning of April.  In a way it was a birthday present to ourselves, mostly due to timing.  He is getting used to the new farm and horses, and is great when in harness.  Hopefully he will continue to get along with Jess as they will likely be workmates for a while as Molly remains as our backup.

Tony after his arrival.

The other new addition(s) are 50 Barred Rock laying chicks.  They are tiny, and very cute.  Especially when they run around their brooder.

I have also been busy moving our equipment over here in a piecemeal fashion.  Some of it I've worked on and tuned up, most still needs some attention, and I've acquired more as the season starts gearing up.  This year we have acquired a new John Deere #4 mower as of yesterday, a single-row potato digger, a John Deere side delivery rake, and a single gang horsedrawn disc that is in much better shape than the one we had before.

It's overall been a late spring with it being cold so late into the year (lows in the low 30s last week) and now it's been rainy.  Every time it rains, the timing for plowing, harrowing, and planting gets pushed back a little further.

28 January 2014

Hard Ground to Fall On

Winter never leaves a dull moment.  Everyone's been wondering what is going on with the weather.  These very cold spells sandwiching a very warm few days have taught me that you really can't predict the weather.  It seems the earth we depend on is sending us a reminder of who is really in control.  Some people don't seem to understand as they continue to try to carry on their normal routines as if the below zero temperatures don't change a thing.

Power was out around Christmas time in Maine due to a pretty heavy ice storm weighing branches down and tearing down power lines.  Fortunately for Kate and I, we were in New York visiting my family.  Meanwhile, her family and our housemates were dealing with no running water or cook stove.  Many people in Maine were dealing with the same issues.  At least with a wood stove or furnace for heat, you can still keep your house and pipes warm.  It is a nice excuse to sit inside, stay warm, and read a nice book.

We are glad we have a nice wood stove and plenty of wood at our house here on the farm.  We could always melt some snow for water.  However, this can be arduous in terms of also maintaining water for the horses.  The frost-free hydrant in the barn froze while I was gone and when I tried to turn it on, I broke something inside it.  I plan on repairing it once there is another thaw, but who knows when that will happen.  In the meantime, we've had to bucket water up; a task eased by snow and a sled.

However, I haven't been doing most of the chores as was our normal routine.  The Monday after Kate and I got back from NY, we wanted to take the horses out for a ride to get everyone some exercise.  We should have know better given the circumstances: the horses had extra energy from not being used or handled for a couple weeks, it was snowy, Kate and I's muscles and joints were a bit stiff from being sedentary New Yorkers for a week.  All these factors added up to Jess bucking me off twice and spraining my right MCL.

The culprit.

What. A. Bummer.  I have been very inactive since, squashing my hopes for logging in these pretty good conditions, doing some carpentry, and doing some cross country skiing and ice skating.  I've noticed that besides getting a bit flabby, my mood is down.  I believe my body and mind are so used to being engaged by chores and moving around that the contrast in how I feel is remarkable.

My knee injury, as most ligament injuries do, will take a while to recover and repair itself, another 2-4 weeks of rest, ice, and strengthening exercises punctuated by hay visits with the horses in their pasture.  They do seem to be bored just standing around in their pasture, but Kate and I have at the very least been taking them on an hour ride on the forecart every week.  Nonetheless their muscles have atrophied a little as well.

Exhibit A: Bored Horse

The injury has been a blessing in disguise as it has forced me to focus on "inside work" like business planning, crop planning, and acquiring a place to farm.  It is satisfying and empowering to figure out cash flows and what our overall farm vision looks like leading up to the coming season.  We feel like we're in an overall good spot and are setting the stage for marketing and income in the future.

In regards to our land search, we are close to finding a place to farm and plan to move out of the house we're in now by March.  We won't make any announcements til we sign a lease, but we feel pretty good about the location we might be heading to. In the meantime, I'll be reading some Wendell Berry.