Tag Archives: Farm life

Lovely Afternoon Light for Pea Planting with the Farm Dog

DSC_3963And so it all begins. The outdoor work, I mean. There is daylight enough for me to sneak in some garden time before a late supper, after I release myself from the office and the computer and the deadlines imposed by more travel coming.

DSC_3952

Farmer and I spent a lovely hour or two in the leaf-strewn garden (the leaves were our winter mulch for the beds) planting peas and moving a few odd winter greens around.

DSC_4008DSC_4004DSC_3931

 

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_4015

DSC_3988

We dawdled in the hoop house, too, finally warm and dreamy after days of cloud cover and chilling winds. Farmer is an excellent garden companion.

DSC_3972

DSC_3977

Naturally I brought my camera along, mostly because I find it so interesting to look back at the stark reality of early April when August comes around. And vice-versa—I’ve been deep into my photo archives this week putting together three different Power Point presentations. Looking at all those pints of cherry tomatoes and bunches of zinnias not only reminds me that we do actually manage to grow a lot of food, but that warm (truly warm) days will come again.

DSC_3965

On an early April day, objects that will later fade into the summer collage now pop out in relief.

DSC_3989

DSC_3939DSC_3990 Even not-so-pretty objects look better in early spring.

I could do without the constant fiddling with Remay (the fabric row cover that keeps pests and a little bit of chill off early greens) this time of year, but getting my boots tangled up in it and stabbing myself occasionally with the fabric staples (in the very top photo) is surely a whole lot better than being inside staring at frozen, snow-speckled ground. If early April is what I’ve got, I’ll take it!

DSC_3960

Blue & White and Read All Over: A Blizzard & A Book Party

DSC_2934The snowflakes that began to fall Saturday afternoon were particularly pretty—billowy and crisp and determined. They came on fast and steady, only an hour before we were due to pile all the food in the car and drive down to Bunch of Grapes bookstore. The forecast had said rain first, starting around 6. It was not even 2 o’clock and it was snowing.

Canceling the Fresh from the Farm book party wasn’t an option. Bunch of Grapes in downtown Vineyard Haven (a nice walking town) would stay open through any snowstorm, anyhow. I had made five different recipes to taste, and we’d sent all kinds of invitations out for the event. Both the Martha’s Vineyard Times and the Vineyard Gazette (as well as the Point B Realty blog) had published nice articles during the week about the book, the farm, and the signing event.

DSC_2814

As Roy drove, I let those little negative thoughts come into my head, “Oh, no. No one will want to come out in the snow!” I said to Roy. And he chastisted me. “You wait. You’ll see.”

By the time Dawn Braasch stood up at the front of her bookstore to introduce me, every chair was full and folks were standing around the bookcases. I saw so many friendly faces, and I realized it was very bad of me to underestimate what an incredible community I stumbled into almost six years ago now. Not only did all these folks come to the event, but they withstood listening to me jabber on while a torrent of snowflakes fell outside the big glass windows behind me! Well, at least it was cozy inside (nothing like stacks of books to make you feel safe and warm), and there was food—and wine. But I still have to say thank you (here on sixburnersue is a good place, as I know some of you who were there will be reading this) to everyone for coming out in a snow storm.

DSC_2888DSC_2893

DSC_2910Thinking about all this, I walked around the farm on Sunday morning with my camera. The “blizzard” did not leave us 14 inches—maybe only 6 to 8. And more importantly, it didn’t blow out power, though it did leave a lot of branches down. It also left a plucky aquamarine sky and a cool blue reflection everywhere I looked.

DSC_2763

DSC_2920Beautiful or not, the winter is wearing on everyone. But all over the Island, and I’m sure in lots of other small communities across the snow-splattered country, there are gatherings like the one we had on Saturday, where the lights are on, the hugs are forthcoming, and the snacks are abundant.

DSC_2818

And when all else fails, curling up at home on the couch with a good book is an antidote to all those icicles and chapped cheeks. After the event, a friend of mine, who had bought her 12-year-old daughter her first cookbook at the signing on Saturday, posted a picture of her daughter stretched out on their couch, reading Fresh from the Farm. Looking at that photo, I felt so privileged to be the author of a little girl’s first cookbook. What an honor! I hope that sweet girl has many fun and delicious cooking experiences ahead of her. But I’m pretty sure she does.

DSC_2879 P.S. If you are looking for a signed copy of Fresh from the Farm, please visit or contact Bunch of Grapes. If you want a personalized copy, I can sign it at Bunch of Grapes and they will send it to you, no matter where you are.

BOG susie demo photo 6 1200 wide

 Photo above courtesy Barbara Welsh

 

 

 

 

And Now, For the Not-So-Cute Barnyard Animal

DSC_2359



Actually, I wanted to title this blog post, “Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.” But you know, I didn’t really want to scare any one.

A few days ago, I posted this warm-and-fuzzy blog about our new kitten Barney and other cute baby animals that we’ve encountered on the farm. (Barney is doing great, by the way. He has discovered curtains, my keyboard, the laundry basket, Libby’s stuffed animals, and even his first mouse. He especially likes to sit in Roy’s lap while he’s reading the newspaper, helping him to turn the pages with frequent pawing.)

But we have this other creature on the farm of whom I am not so fond. In fact, most days, I do battle with him, and currently I have a scrape on my leg that he managed to give me through my blue jeans. It’s Paulie, the Silver-Laced Polish Crested rooster. I’ve mentioned (and pictured) him before, but I bring him up again now, because he has found a new mission in life: He protects the ducks.

And attacks me when I go in the duck pen. Roy, not so much.

DSC_2351

Paulie was a lonely rooster. He never got along with the other baby chicks when he arrived as our speciality “surprise” chick with the batch of Aracaunas last spring. Roy didn’t want to get rid of him, though he also didn’t want him in with our large groups of laying hens, so Roy built Paulie his own little coop and pen. Paulie regularly got out of his pen and free-ranged around, trying to cozy up to our original six Ladies, who are very independent and wanted nothing to do with him.

But when we got the ducks in early January, we set them up in a pen near Paulie’s, and Paulie immediately hopped over and joined them. Little by little, he’s made himself the Boss of the Ducks. He is so happy to finally have something to protect that he is taking his job very seriously.

Every day he seems to get a little bolder, and lately he’s taken to charging at me like a bull running through the streets of Pamplona.

DSC_2339

The only good news about this is that now I am prepared (or at least forewarned). The other day, when I went into the pen to grab the water bucket, I didn’t realize that Paulie was stalking me until he latched on to my leg and started hammering away at me.

When I told Roy this later, he said, “Why didn’t you just swing the bucket at him?”

Oh, right. You know it’s funny what boys automatically think of doing that doesn’t necessarily occur to a girl. Although, I think that probably would have just made Paulie angrier. Paulie doesn’t attack Roy, because Roy has been handling him on a regular basis since he was a chick.

Thinking about this, I went back this morning to read a piece I remembered really liking in Edible Vineyard magazine by Kate Tvelia Athearn, who lives not too many miles down the road from us on another small farm, and writes lovely pieces about small farm life. Her story about Chickenzilla made me feel like I could keep working to improve my relationship with Paulie.

We’ll see.

DSC_2320I could just let Roy feed the ducks, which he does often anyway. But he’s got the 500 hens to deal with, and my route between the six Ladies and the 20 Aracaunas takes me right past the duck pen, so it makes sense. Later this spring, we’ll probably let the ducks free-range a bit, so that might change the dynamics.

But it would be okay with me if Paulie disappeared. I know, that’s terrible, isn’t it? Roy wants to show him in the Fair this year. Fine. Maybe he will get kidnapped. Or, since he can’t see very well due to the mop on top of his head, maybe he could fall off the back of the truck on the way home from the Fair, and he wouldn’t be able to find his way home. I wouldn’t do that though, either, because then my friend Joannie Jenkinson, the town animal control officer, would get one of those calls to come rescue a rooster. And, unfortunately, she already gets too many of those.

So I guess I’m going to have to learn to put up with Paulie. Or not.

DSC_2335

 

 

 

 

Too Cute: A Little Girl + Baby Farm Animals

DSC_2073DSC_2052Libby and I were watching a show on Animal Planet this weekend called Too Cute. It’s a good name for a program about puppies and kittens and other baby critters that happen to wander into people’s lives. Because honestly, who doesn’t find baby animals cute?

Around here, I’m embarrassed to say, we’re rather obsessed with baby critters. In fact, we weren’t just watching them on TV this weekend. We had one (have one) right here in our living room.

We have a new kitten.

He is 9 weeks old.

He is black and white and cute all over.

DSC_2119His name is Barney, because he’s been living in the barn. That is, after he got separated from his mom, a feral cat, and Roy began to feed him and talk to him. Eventually, Roy scooped him up and put him in a crate. It was just a matter of time before crate and kitten moved indoors.

After his first night in the house late last week, Barney came with us for a visit to our fabulous vet, Animal Health Care. There we learned that Barney was in fact Barney, not Barn-ie or Barnadette. He was a he. And healthy. And apparently, on the far side of too cute. Everyone at the vet held him, passed him around, snuggled him, hoarded him.

“Wait, that’s our kitten!” I said.

“Sorry, we’re kidnapping him,” they said.

IMG_1243DSC_2068Finally, we did make it out of there with Barney, and we spent the rest of the weekend watching Farmer and Barney become friends. Farmer was beside himself with excitement. He always wanted a playmate.

As for Libby, well, nothing’s better than a baby animal.

Who knew this crazy farm life would offer up so many great opportunities for a girl who loves animals to interact with such an interesting menagerie of critters, from snakes and turtles and butterflies to calves and lambs and kids and fawns? You can’t predict this stuff or make it up. It just happens.

Proof is in the pictures. Shameful, yes. Too cute? Definitely. But it’s cold and dreary today; we’ll take a little warm-up, however we get it.

DSC_6382_01

DSC_7640 DSC_6593_1 DSC_6079_1 DSC_0440 IMG_3923_1 IMG_3918_1

 

 

DSC_0259  bottle fed05 The Piglets_1IMG_9438_1_1IMG_1966_1

Shelter from the Storm: Why Farm Structures Matter

side of shed squibby coopWhen you begin growing vegetables and raising animals on even the very smallest of farms, you quickly learn that there are three uber-important issues to deal with: 1) Land, of course. (How much space do you have? How healthy is your soil?) 2) Water. (Where is your source? How will you get it to where you need it? Will you have enough?) and 3. Structures. (Where will you need them? How will you build them?)

Number three might surprise you. But as I walked around the farm in the snow this morning, indulging myself in photos of frosted branches and frolicking hens, I realized how often I focused on the door of a shed, the mullions of a window, the turn of a gate. Out in the back field, I stopped to turn around and take a picture of the farm from afar, and I realized just how many structures Roy has built since we moved here.

farm from back field

While the chickens are happy to hop about the snow (which they sort of peck at instead of drinking their partially frozen water), they dart in and out of their coops when the wind comes up. (Outside, they keep themselves warm by puffing up their feathers to trap air.) And tonight when the bitter cold and wind comes, they will be warm, bunched up together on their roosts, inside their locked coops, safe from predators.  We have 8 coops now—one in the process of being converted into a duck house. One coop also incorporates a small area for holding grain.

chickens tractor 1 chickens snow coop

ara perky

farm stand snowWe have a farm stand structure, which includes a back room where we do all our egg processing. (The front functions as the farm stand and holds the egg refrigerator for customers.)

We have two tool sheds and one grain bin/shed. Roy has converted part of one of the tool sheds into a “walk-in,” an insulated room for keeping eggs from freezing.

The grain bin down by our five  biggest coops holds some hay for nesting boxes and coop floors, too. But we could use a bigger area to store hay.

hoop house trees

And of course we have the hoop house, where much to my dismay, everything—kale, collards, baby bok choy, lettuce, arugula—is thriving, despite this cold.

kale hoop collards hoop bok choy hoop lettuce hoop

Everything inside the hoop house is also under two layers of cover—one fabric, one plastic. And the actual temperature in there this morning was above freezing!

hoop plastic hoop thermom

The hoop house is an incredible structure—not only does it protect from the elements, but based on what we’ve sold out of it versus how much it cost to build, it’s a money-maker, too.

 

snowy path

And fencing—well, that is one of your top-of-the-list structures on a farm. Lots of post-hole digging and deer-fence-erecting went on here, not only to protect our crops, but to create very large (semi-)protected pastures for our chickens. (Additional guy wires cover the pens; they’re intended to discourage hawks but don’t always work.) We were lucky to have a good deal of property-delineating fencing (like that above) in place when we arrived.

We don’t have a barn—yet. Roy has converted a small former garage on the property into his workshop. Long ago, there was a grand barn on this farm (the remaining stone foundation is where we housed the pigs this summer), but it would cost a fortune to erect a new one there. (Oh, and the pig pen itself was another structure! The stone foundation formed three walls, but Roy repurposed old railroad ties and wood pallets to make a secure fourth wall and gate.)

green doorWhich brings me around to the cost-of-structure issue. Always a good idea to look far ahead and budget for these things, as we did this year for the farm stand, the new coops, and the grain bin.

And then, salvage, salvage, salvage.

Roy recycles as much old (usable) wood, windows, doors and hardware as he can. (People actually bring us stuff now, too—recycling is a way of life here on the Island. Witness the compost pile, below, of donated horse manure.)

compost pile in snow

But of course you need someone to do the building, too. We are very lucky here on Green Island Farm to have a farmer who is also a licensed builder, but partnering or bartering with someone with carpentry skills can be a good plan. Keeping the structures as simple and efficient as possible is important, too. For a small operation on a budget, fancy is not practical. Also, living with a problem for a little while, if possible, can present the best solution.

milk canAll this reminds me to tell you that I’m pretty excited that some of our resident builder’s designs have been included in a special appendix in my new book. So when you get your copy of Fresh From the Farm, be sure to turn to the back of the book for drawings of a great small chicken coop, a basic farm stand, a covered raised bed, and a seed-starting system. (Thank you, Roy!)

In the meantime, stay warm and dry. (I almost forgot that part—you need a house, too, to shelter the farmers. Nothing fancy, though. Remember, they don’t spend too much time inside.)

buoys snow

 

Peppermint Kisses & Red-Tailed Hawks: So This is Christmas

peppermint bowls

coop field

Mr. Big (as in Huge) red-tailed hawk helped himself to a hen yesterday. He has been circling for days, gliding from one pine-tree top to the next, always with an eye down, looking for his opening. The smart and fast hens head for their coops or hide under a canopy of tree branches when they hear his eerie screech or see him on the move. But there’s always one….

Hawks are part of the winter landscape that I love so much, and I can’t begrudge them the hunt. After all, the rabbits and voles and mice that hawks usually dine on have all gone into hiding. (The mice into our house of course—mice being a wee bit more resourceful than chickens, in my opinion.)

tree ornament tree fence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stepping outside these days is such a contrast to the warm sparkly cookie baking/tree decorating/present wrapping vibe we’ve got going inside: The light covering of snow on the spent cornfield, the faintly luminous grey noontime sky, the theater of gnarled and twisted bare-limbed trees in the uber-still air. And that gulp of cold air that catches your breath, the chill that makes you curl your fingers into a fist inside your gloves. Startling.

corn field

I love going outside. And then I love coming back in.

Even though, no matter how much we try to seal all the drafts in this creaky-leaky old farm house, it is still on the chilly side.

lib tree dad tree dad lib

 

 

And our Christmas tree brings new meaning to the whole Charlie Brown thing. After traipsing around out back for far too long on the coldest day last weekend, we finally settled on something we thought would work–with the bare back half to the wall! Roy cut it down, dragged it in, and we had a good laugh.

mouse fox doggie charlie

 

pea pod aliceFortunately, now that I’ve fortified it with my ornament collection and lots of tinsel, it doesn’t look half bad. I just try not to look up when thumbing through Martha Stewart Living. But every Christmas tree is beautiful at night, isn’t it? Especially when you turn all the other lights out in the living room and gaze, mesmerized, at the twinkle show that remains.

sugar starkiss final

 

Now, so far we have eaten every single Christmas cookie we’ve made. Dad ate the beautiful sugar cookies Libby decorated as fast as I could bake them. So much for gift giving (more batches to come.) Yesterday, I played around with egg whites and a pastry bag (big fun) and made peppermint meringue kisses, a recipe by my fabulous baker friend Abby Dodge. I got the recipe out of one of Fine Cooking’s special cookie collections, but it’s on the web, too. I’ve never been a great egg-white-whipper and I think I could have gone a little further with these, but I’m jazzed to make them again. (I tried chopping and smashing peppermint candies a few different ways, too, and that was a hoot.)

In case you can’t tell, I love Christmas. And cold days that make baking, well, essential to one’s well-being. And I also love these precious limbo days at the close of the year. Serious work goes on hold; afterall, there’s a whole new year coming for that.

kiss tissue 2

 

 

 

Decorating the Farm Stand with Farm Finds, Picker Style

Artsy-craftsy I am not. That doesn’t keep me from trying. For the better part of 30 years, I’ve indulged myself with ridiculous forays into the world of “natural” holiday decorating, usually concocting something that generally falls apart in a week, if not an hour. (For the record, my sister Eleanor, who will be reading this blog and laughing, did inherit the artsy gene. Growing up, we had a neighborhood contest, and she often won for the decorations she did for our house.)

Unfortunately, the bad news is that I have now stumbled into not only a wealth of backyard greenery (the farm is full of pines and even hollies with berries on them!), but I also have a little farm stand to spiff up. And a farm stand, as far as I’m concerned, might as well be a doll house. So cute, and it just screams out to be decorated.

So now I am dangerous.

You will be happy to know that half-way through my personal decorating party I staged on Saturday, I gave up on the “swag” to drape around the cut-out window in the farm stand. Short of calling my sister or my friend Mary Wirtz (who will also be reading this and laughing), I had no choice. My limited patience with wiring branches together (that of course didn’t stay together or hide the gaping holes) did me in.

But I did manage to take advantage of some cute props. Since Roy is a picker/junker extraordinaire (I think I’ve mentioned before that American Pickers is his favorite TV show!), and both of us love old metal stuff (and 50s Santa mugs), I had a few things I could simply fill up with snipped pine, holly, and juniper. (The chalice at the top of the blog is a Roy pick.)

I tucked in a few blue eggs here and there, and, voilá, holiday decorations, farm-style.

Then I added a plate of clementines (and a plate of fudge–now gone; cookies coming) for our egg-buying customers who are still visiting the farm stand. And I was happy.

There was a clutch moment (actually before I started decorating) when a classic argument about colored vs. white lights threatened to derail the farm stand decorating project. But after I explained the whole greenery/antique junky stuff theme I had in mind, Roy agreed that white lights were best. I haven’t been able to get a good photo at night, so you will have to make do with this grainy one.

Next up: Heading out back with Roy and Libby this weekend to cut down the Christmas tree. And Libby and I have collaborated on a surprise Birthday/Christmas present for Roy, which we’re picking up this weekend. He claims not to want to know what it is, but I’m going to have to tell him soon. Hint: It waddles.

 

 

 

 

 

Capturing Time in a Basket of Blue Eggs

Just like that, the frost came, the leaves fell, the days shortened, and the blue eggs appeared. Sometimes, there isn’t a logic to what happens on the farm, and since change is constant around here, it’s easy to miss the subtle shifts. But then you walk outside one morning and it hits you—another season on the farm has gone by and while you’re already busy planning for the next one, there’s one right here, right now. A spectacular moment in time, one that can’t necessarily be defined or pinned down, just marveled at.

There’s really no corollary between golden leaves and blue eggs; it just happens that the Aracaunas (who grew big and beautiful over the summer) started to lay in earnest this week and we finally have a whole clutch of blue and green eggs to ogle. We’ve been wondering if all the eggs would be the color of Sugar’s—a paler shade of Robin’s egg blue. So far there’s a murky tidal green, a Sugary blue, and one true teal.

The Aracaunas themselves match the leaves that are falling by the zillions, Roy raking them up in bursts of energy while I avoid that least favorite task as best I can. I do haul a cart or two into the garden every now and then, as I am ripping out dead veggie plants, adding compost to garden beds and covering them up with leaves and mulch for the winter. I am weighing down the leaves with spent sunflower and zinnia stalks, which are as stiff as bamboo.

I am also nursing the hoop house back to life, filling beds with transplants and seeds, harvesting arugula and kale, discouraging mice. We are curing pumpkins and winter squash for the first time in the green house, too. I’m especially excited about the Japanese kabocha squash we grew in the back field, though I hope we didn’t harvest it too soon. The vines weren’t quite dry, but they needed to come out for Roy to finish prepping the new field, which is looking spiffy.

And wouldn’t you know it, just ahead of the freezing weather, Roy reached water with the well pipe he’s been driving, driving, driving down into the ground. The new well will provide a closer water source for the 500 chickens and will also irrigate the new field next summer.

Overnight, the summer veggies disappeared from the farm stand. I decided not to foist any more green tomatoes or free jalapenos off on anyone, though we’re still harvesting greens and packing them up for egg customers to discover in the fridge.

The skies darkened and the first rains came over the weekend, happily driving us inside to play board games with Libby. Or I should say, to lose to Libby while playing board games. The marathon Gardenopoly tournament ended like this: Libby—$8,000 and every single property; Dad—bankrupt; Susie—$1. Watching her squirm with delight is one of those moments in time that I really wish I could pin down. As she barrels (or more accurately, skips and runs) towards 12 years old, I want to stay here in 11-year-old world with her just a little longer.

One thing I know for sure: While my memory isn’t so great any more, and some of these moments are going to get fuzzy for me down the road, Libby won’t forget. She’s got a whole lifetime to carry happy farm memories forward. Blue eggs and crazy colorful chickens. Leaf piles and fairy houses. Blustery days, board games, beach walks. Arrowheads, deer antlers, sharks teeth, starfish. Turtles, garden snakes, baby skunks. Owl spotting, sheep watching, pig petting. And hanging out with her best furry friend—Farmer, of course.

In Between Sun Drops, Finding Time for Fall

It hasn’t rained here in any significant way for weeks, maybe months. The effect is sort of Eternal Summer. It’s warm, dry, sunny, and blue-sky beautiful every day. Not beautiful in a traditionally stunning foliage-peeping-tour kind of New England way. It’s more of a languorous, dreamy, golden-grasses-waving mirage-like across-the-cornfield kind of way. Time feels suspended.

And yet it’s not. The tautness of summer has loosened a notch or two with every passing weekend, leaving just a little more room for us to breathe and stretch.

We still have a zillion eggs to gather and wash every day. There are greens to harvest every morning and seedlings in the hoophouse to transplant. The new field needs prepping for winter, and there are seemingly miles of chicken fences that need mending.

But there are pockets of time. Time we’re making the most of with some cool activities.

One Saturday we shot a video. Our friends Chris Hufstader and Katie Hutchison came to the farm and spent all day filming and recording us, the chickens, Farmer, and some delicious food, of course. They’ll edit all that into a short spot I’ll be able to post online to help promote the new book.

Last Thursday night, we took part in the Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival. The opening event was a tasting of farm food (and wine) across the street at the Ag Hall. Our charge was to make something to showcase our eggs, so I spent a couple days shopping, prepping, and cooking 12 frittatas to cut into 250 pieces. It was a fun evening and a nice off-farm outing for Green Island Farm!

I took some time to make bacon (literally) last Monday. When we got the meat from our last pig back from the butcher, I kept a pork belly (these things are huge!) out of the freezer, and then when I had a minute started reading up on how to make bacon. That led me to knocking on my neighbor Katherine Long’s door for some advice and supplies. I came home with 12 books about pigs and pork and charcuterie (among other things.) Katherine is both a former librarian and an amazing, adventuresome cook. Hence the books. The pork belly is now curing in the fridge.

The best thing, though, about shaking off our intense summer schedule, is time for walks and play. When Libby came out a few weekends back, we all took a long walk on our favorite beach on the South Shore. Then we raked piles of leaves for Libby and Farmer to roll in. And carved the little pumpkin that conveniently came right out of Libby’s garden. We made chocolate zucchini muffins at Libby’s request and ate a lot of corn on and off the cob. Libby dressed Farmer in his early Halloween costume (a cape) and chased him round and round our tiny house.

 

 

Yesterday we had Roy’s Mom and Dad and sister Nancy out to the farm for a relaxing visit. Farmer and I showed Peg and Bob the walk down to the creek and the Square Field. I made Compost Soup for lunch. (This is Libby’s name for veggie minestrone, which she actually likes, despite the epithet. She just think it looks like the contents of our little kitchen compost pail—actually the one that usually goes to the chickens, not onto the pile, since it is mostly veggie trimmings.)

Even the sun setting earlier is a bit of a relief for us. In the heat of summer, we get our best farm work done in the cool evenings, and often we are outside until 9 pm. Now we are forced inside at 6 o’clock; soon it will be 5. That means we can’t work quite as many hours in the day (though there is all that accounting to do inside!). Endless summer is nice for a while (and I’m certainly not in any rush for winter), but the solid comfort of a fine autumn day is particularly sweet.

 

 

 

The Compost Chronicles: Black Gold Comes to the Farm

Lest you think this whole farming thing is all beauty and glamour (yeah, right), I will tell you that the most exciting thing on the farm this week was well, manure, and the most exciting activity was a trip off-island (for about 5 hours total) to pick up a tractor part. Whee! We know how to live. This was our first off-Island escape together in about four months, and what did we do but shop for farm stuff. I didn’t even get my promised visit to Target to look at kitchen goodies. We ran out of time. Oh, well, we did get to stop and visit with Roy’s parents for like ten minutes, which was the highlight of the trip, as far as I was concerned.

But I could tell Roy was pretty excited by the new purchase from The Tractor Supply store. (Who knew there was such a thing—it’s a big box store just like all the rest of them, only full of farm(ish) stuff. Some fun things, like Muck boots and dog toys, but mostly manly items like well pumps, chain saws, fence posts, and livestock gates. Good to know you can pick up a collar for your goat here, or a block of salt for your cow.) The purchase was a rock rake attachment for the tractor (see photos). Roy is prepping a big new vegetable field on our back four (not forty) for next year and the soil is full of rocks. A piece of equipment like this that will drag the surface rocks off and smooth the soil at the same time is a real time-saver. (The soil has already been tilled once.)

And about that other excitement (photo at top): Roy has been helping a friend build a cart for his horses. Not just any horses, but two beautiful draft horses—Clydesdales in fact. You know, big horses generate a lot of well, crap. So our friends call their horse manure CC, for Clydesdale Crap. (Excuse my language.) But the really amazing thing about their CC is that they age it (turning it over as it heats up and “cooks”) for a year before doing anything with it. The end result is crumbly black gold (below), the finest composted manure you could hope to add to a brand new field. And they gave us a whole truckload of it in exchange for Roy’s help.

We also finally have our own first batch of aged chicken manure. (We’re calling ours CP for Coop Poop. All the manure is mixed with straw or shavings when it comes out of the coops. It looks like the photo at right in the beginning.) It’s been a year since we got the first big batch of hens (the 200 arrived last November and the 300 this spring), and 7 or 8 months since we stopped adding to the first pile. Our piles also heat up and Roy turns them with the tractor, so this stuff is breaking down nicely (photo below).

Chicken manure is particularly high in nitrogren, but it, like horse or cow or pigeon or any other kind of manure, should be well-aged (and preferably hot-composted, too) before using in a veggie garden. Roy is going to combine a little of the CP with the CC to lay down on the new field.

Three years we’ve been building the farm and this is the first year we will really be adding significant amounts of fertility to the soil. Up until now we’ve had to purchase most of our organic fertilizer (augmented by small amounts of leaf/household compost), and while we could pull that off with the market garden, it wouldn’t be a good (or affordable) strategy for a bigger farm field.

So there you have it. Not the sexiest side of farming, but maybe one of the most important. So I didn’t exactly get a Susie shopping trip this week, but I did get a happy farm boy, a fun ride in the truck (with Farmer, too), and a good investment for our future. I can’t complain, but I do feel like we’re starting to resemble the Clampetts (of Beverly Hillbillies fame) more every day.

After soil fertility (and sunlight), the next most important thing for a new field is irrigation. So Roy’s working on digging a well (in his spare time, yeah. The well will provide water for the 500 chickens, too.) Then there’s the deer fencing…which might involve another trip to the tractor store. Oh boy.