Barnyard Bull - News & Blog

Posted 2/12/2012 8:30am by Desiree & Jesse Robertson-DuBois.

We are gearing up for the new season! Seeds are ordered- we are looking at new vegetable equipment and we are starting to get excited. Planting in the greenhouse starts next week, so does the next round of hoophouse greens so that we can get a jump on early greens! Our new CSA brochure is ready to download, paper ones will go out in the mail tomorrow to all of last year’s members- there have been a few changes, but one of the bigs ones is that starting around March 1st we will have a new website and folks will be able to sign-up and pay on-line, set up payment plans and all that fun stuff that has been a book-keeping struggle for us for years. We will also be delivering boxed shares to the Farmers’ Market in Lanesboro on Wed & Sat so if you know of anyone who has been holding back on joining the CSA because they didn’t want to make the trek all the way to the farm- this is their chance to get in on the freshest produce around.

We are looking for apprentices- send strong backs and smiling faces our way! Susan & Tony send everyone their regards and asked us to tell you about their new CSA farm in South Dartmouth, MA, Apponagansett Farm in case you have friends or family out their way! Their Amelia is getting so big and is smilingly adorable- we go to see them all when they came out to bottle maple syrup for their new farmstand. We are so excited to have yet another set of apprentices become farmers- it means that we are fulfilling one of our missions- to educate/train/influence new farmers. In a country where the average age of farmers is drastically rising closer to retirement- we need innovative and educated young farmers to move into this field- someone has to grow the food of the future.

We hope to see everyone soon!

PS. the sheepies are getting very wide- we should have the first of our lambs (and a few kidlets, as Penny the goat will have birthed hers as well) in April this year- we will let you know since you are welcome to visit! New piglets will have arrived by then as well (yep. and it is free. we don’t charge to see baby critters on the farm. we get way too much joy in sharing them with our community).

Tags: csa
Posted 9/5/2011 1:25pm by Desiree & Jesse Robertson-DuBois.



Well, it has already been a long season, but it isn’t over yet! We are growing a lot here on the farm. Herds and flocks have increased with the birth of new piglets, lambs & calves and now our farmyard is growing too. The fire set us back last December, but we’ve taken a leap forward and are rebuilding and making it all bigger and better. All summer long the farmyard has undergone a vigorous transformation as we called in excavators to level, dig, fill-in and move vast quantities of soil, rocks and other forms of earth. But the whole yard will be a better place as a result. As of this point, the new barn foundation is almost, but not quite finished. It is the farmstand that is really a marvel- the huge hole that no one managed to fall in that appeared one afternoon in front of the sugarhouse, has become, first a concrete lined foundation that looked surprisingly like a swimming pool and then had a deck built across it (perfect for kids on bikes and easier access to the front door) and now, in one incredibley hot, long, sweaty and amazing day, our timberframe sugarhouse. There is still a lot to be done, but the putting up of the frame feels like a huge accomplishment after a summer of anticipation, sleepless nights, and agonizing detail work (and we weren’t even cutting the frame or doing the architectural plans). And yet, we laid our hands on giant beams, seven different native species, every tree cut from right here on the farm (and some the most beautiful even rejected by the log buyers and destined for firewood!) and we lifted, strained, stretched and pulled them into their specific places. Like a perfectly formed puzzle, they went together with efficiency and beauty. We had one joint to chisel and saw and one slightly loose brace- to me, those are just the small flaws in the Persian carpet so that we appease the jealous gods.

Now that it is fall again and the leaves are starting to turn- we are once again putting the fields to bed, planting cover crops, planning winter animal housing and putting in additional seeds to keep growing veg throughout the cold months. We are going to use a combination of quick hoops (thank you Eliot Coleman) and a new hoophouse that we are getting a grant to help purchase from NRCS. We’ll continue to use the raised beds in our transplant production house- keeping it as a ‘coolhouse’ for the more tender winter vegetables (not tomatoes folks, but the veg that are fine at 30 degrees, but not any colder). We’re trying to come up with a plan to keep supplying some of our members with fresh organic veggies throughout the year, but we are starting small. Last season, somehow and even starting really late, we had delicious salad in January- but we had a few failures too. The greenhouse was set too warm at first and we wasted a lot of propane; the arugula variety we planted was terrible- flavor was awful and it didn’t grow well; bull’s blood beets had HORRIBLE germination (it said this on the packet, but even planted at 3x the normal density, it barely did anything) what did grow was incredible but not until March. Unusual successes balanced our first attempt- the most amazing turnip greens anyone has ever tasted and claytonia rocks! So we are experimenting and learning and expanding and giving season extension another go.

The drought here in the Northeast has been challenging. We did buy the irrigation equipment we needed, but never installed it. Surprisingly the tiny amounts of rain we’ve gotten here and there and good root growth established by the long season plants in the spring somehow got us through. Walking through three inches of dust in some of the fields was a little daunting, but when you are doing that and harvesting the most beautiful, delicious tomatoes & peppers you’ve ever grown- what can you say? The fall brassicas will certainly suffer some size to the lack of rain however, but the pac chois, chinese cabbage and turnips seem to be coming in just fine. We tried to time our direct seeded crops with high chances of sprinkles- it worked for the most part and we’ll have salad, mustards and mesclun through the fall.

Animal news: After spending the summer away from the farm- in fields down the street owned by the Musante family- the cows are finally home again. It is amazing to see them out there on the green hills again. They birthed all their calves while they were away. Going to check on the cows was a little like opening presents throughout July & August as one calf after another was born. Who would notice one of the girls was thinner? Who would get the first view of the new calf? Heifer or bull calf? What interesting color pattern would it have? Because our girls are Belted-Galloway/Highland crosses or Heirford/Angus crosses and they were bred to a white faced, grey with white belt Beltie/Murray Grey- all the calves are different and in surprising combinations. Our most wide belted cow had a all black calf, our Black baldie had a solid dun calf. It has been great fun and also makes us realize just how complicated genetics really are.

The pig herd is slowly growing: they have spent all summer grazing on a specially planted forage mix of oats, turnips, rape and sorghum sudan grass that we sowed for them in Holiday field. It was all organic seed and we put them on organic feed that we bought in from two different sources. Unfortunately, the pigs HATED the feed,one type was a ground mash and they just spread it around the other was a pellet which they ate, but it was clear that they weren’t happy about it (and we are talking about piglets here- not the sows- they had never had anything to compare it to). They are enjoying the forage we planted, but they don’t root up the turnips the way we thought they would. Other problems with the forage mix is that neither the oats nor the sorghum germinated well. The oats were planted all over the farm- we had great hopes for the fifteen acres we planted in one field for straw…..alas, it was obviously bad seed. Kind of a bummer, but I guess that is the nature of this business- you win some and some you don’t. We ended up going back to the non-organic ( but not medicated) feed that our local feed company puts together. I wish we could find an organic feed that looked this good- whole or cracked grains mixed with rich molasses….it looks and smells like good granola and the pigs love it.

After a successful and fairly uneventful lambing (our girls all gave birth either in the morning, in the field during the day or right before bed- very convenient for the farmers) where we only had to assist one ewe with her lambs, the sheep flock has been a challenge this season. Somehow drought on our farm equalled fly strike for them. Fly strike is also just a nice way of saying MAGGOTS. We’ve been battling foot rot & scald and maggots all summer. We’ve trimmed and treated their feet numerous times, but it is clear that we need to do some heavy culling to get rid of carrier ewes. There isn’t a whole lot we can do about the maggots except keep killing them, but we had them hitting ewes and lambs that didn’t have anything wrong with their feet. It has not been fun, and even though our lambs are big and beautiful and we are very proud of them- we won’t be making any sort of profit on them this season.

Our amazing apprentices, Susan & Tony are planning on staying on with us this winter to help with the interior construction of the store & barn and for sugaring. We’ve added Seth Tebo to our team this year- he’s the guy who’s always fixing something and covered in grease. Lily Crane and Zach Sears both worked on the crew for the summer season and though both are back at school, Zach is continuing to help out afterschool. Jonathon Sawtelle, who has worked year-round for the farm for the last four seasons, is off to college at Paul Smith’s in the Adirondacks (though he keeps showing up for a day of work here and there since apparently they won’t let him drive a tractor up there in the North Country- fools they be). It has been a great summer and we’ve never laughed so much- thank you to all the crew for making it easier by just showing up and being there. Thank you for the extra pair of hands despite the heat, the cold, the blight, the maggots, the wet, the drought, ‘the cows are out’, ‘the sheep are out’, ‘the pigs are out’ and especially for the wicked early mornings and long days and so very much more. We can’t do this without a good team….. cheers.

Posted 7/23/2011 12:00am by Desiree & Jesse Robertson-DuBois.

As many of you may or may not know, Des & Jesse added another little person to their family in June- Gwyneth was born on the 9th, 6lbs 3oz right into the chaos of summer on the farm. In the month since her arrival she has witnessed the birth of the first of this season’s calves, the farm store’s opening, the first haying (her dad was putting some of the summer’s first hay in the barn while her mom was in labor), the start of the CSA season and so many other things. June is our heaviest workload month because everything is happening all at the same time. Compost season is slowing down, but we are still making deliveries, haying is starting, the bulk of the veggie transplants need to get in the ground along with lots of direct seeding, harvesting AND animals start to need moving on an almost daily basis to keep up with the grass. Whew. Lots going on, and then, little Gwyneth arrives right in the middle of all that and everyone keeps asking, ‘well, are you getting any sleep?’ and ‘how are you getting anything done?’ and the answers are relatively simple- ‘No, we’re not sleeping, but that doesn’t have as much to do with Gwyn as it does about all the things we need to get done’ and ‘We don’t get everything done, but we are getting as much done as we can, and we have GREAT apprentices who are pulling more than a little of the weight.’ That and we are behind on the dishes, the laundry and what all, but since we spend most of dawn to dusk outside it doesn’t really seem to matter that much until we can’t find shorts or socks for the kids or us.

One of our biggest challenges so far this summer is parenting our older kids. The eight year old is finding his own path a lot more- not really into farm work, but loves to fish and read and check on groundhog snares and swim in the creek whenever anyone is on hand to watch him. This independence is awesome, but it has its limitations since it usually means he can entertain himself for quite a while, right up until he’s done and wants our attention immediately. That’s hard when you are unloading a hay wagon or talking to a customer and we are still trying to figure how to manage it other than just outright banishment from the farmyard. We’ve come up with a list of Morgan tasks- things that are fairly simple but that he can manage and pick away at on his own without a lot of oversight….he gets rewards when he finishes them, but since none of them are crucial or time sensitive, it doesn’t really matter if it takes a few days (or all summer). We’ve also given him permission to exercise his innate entrepreneurial skills- so don’t be surprised if you find him selling something either in the store or during CSA pick-ups.

Our five year old is a little easier in that she loves the farm and almost anything to do with helping out with chores, weeding, harvest or even cleaning in the store, but she also has less in the way of ‘staying power’ and has a tendency towards whinging when bored (especially since her momma is in the store so much right now and not out in the field) or hungry. Her big chore in the morning is to bring her horse, Cowboy, down from the pasture where he spent the night guarding the sheep flock, and since we spend a lot of time in the store- we bought her a pink feather duster and she dusts whatever she can reach, she entertains her baby sister, she’s learned to ride her pedal bike (no training wheels) around the farm yard and we try to keep drawing paper and pencils or a clean white board on hand. Other than that

In all we are trying to make more space to play- to let go that the house isn’t clean or the laundry is piling up again- in exchange for being with our kids. And diapers, well- we are washing them and trying to keep on top of that for laundry at least. We figure that they will learn more being with us than being at camp or with a babysitter and they will especially learn that real life involves work and play and that you need to do both.

On other farm news: the farm store is doing very well, we are adding new localvore products all the time to our own selection of pasture- raised pork, grass fed beef & lamb, plus seasonal veggies and our maple syrup. We are currently selling local cheeses from Cricket Creek Farm & Sangha Farm, ice cream from Bart’s Homemade, salad dressings, grill & BBQ sauces & specialty mustards from Appalachian Naturals, all natural & organic soap from Dancing Bare Soap, Vt Peanut Butter Company’s nut butters, Of the Wood Herbal creams & lotion, Giuseppe’s Wild Mountain Farm honey and more! We are here daily Mon- Sat from 8:30a-5:30p & Sunday’s from 10:30a-3:30p.

Animal News:

We now have had eight calves born on the farm- we needed to do some major intervention with one new heifer, Flora, from Wheel-view Farm. The calf was presenting wrong and was totally stuck, but we called our vet, Yoanna Maitre, to the rescue and she got the calf’s hooves pointed in the right direction, got the chains hooked on and together with Tony & Jesse, got him out in time for him to be safe and sound. Thank goodness that Flora had been a well-handled bovine and happened to still be in the barn adjusting to her new home- we got the halter on her just fine which helped with her birthing and again later when we needed to tie her up just long enough for she and her calf to figure out the nursing relationship (she just was so glad that he was out that she couldn’t stop licking him long enough for him to get to her udder). It was quite an event, but definitely one that made us really really glad that we called Yoanna.

We are getting more Clun Forest sheep! The farm has decided that more sheep are needed for lamb/wool production and for the great job that they do on renovating/fertilizing pastures & hayfields and for clearing fencelines. So we called Mary at Rocky Top Farm in NY and asked her to give us all she could. We are driving up there next week to pick up 15 Clun ewes, 3 gorgeous crossbreeds from her grand-daughter (we have 2 of them here on the farm and we LOVE them too) plus all their lambs- a total of 43 sheeps! They will bring our current flock size up to 87 sheep including the lambs. We will also be adding a beautiful Blue-Faced Leicester ram lamb from Cranberry Moon Farm to our flock- he will be used mainly for breeding to Cluns to produce ‘Mules’ (a specific hybrid used for breeding to a larger boned meat breed such as a Texel to make larger meatier lambs that still perform well on grass alone), but as he is a gorgeous silver, he will make incredible fiber producers as well.

The pigs are out on pasture grazing in the forage field that we planted for them. We had a smaller than expected litter from Lilythis spring, a larger one from Bela and none yet at all from Tulip (we hope that she is bred!). In any case, we kept back two promising young gilts from Tulip’s fall litter- Rose & Petunia (of the beautiful eyes) and are looking for a new boar for this fall.

If you have a chance, come by and visit the new store and say hi! Gwyn and Des are usually there most of the time.

Posted 6/29/2011 12:48pm by Desiree & Jesse Robertson-DuBois.

On Saturday, July 2nd, we will be firing up the grills and the tractors in honor of our farm store’s first opening day. There will be hayrides and tastings. The festivities start at 10am and run until 2pm. Our new store will feature our own meats, produce and yarn along with other locally made and grown products. Come by and celebrate with us.

Posted 5/9/2011 12:58pm by Desiree & Jesse Robertson-DuBois.



We are having our Annual Spring Plant Sale from 10am to 3 pm

on May 21st & 22nd and again on Memorial Day Weekend

May 28th & 29th.

 

Come and check out our beautiful, organically raised plants- ready

to go into your garden.

 

We will have a number of plants available- old favorites and

exciting new varieties as well as mystery packs for the adventurous!

 

Vegetables: in 6 packs, 4 packs and 3.5″ biodegrabable pots (OMRI-listed)- Tomatoes (determinate & indeterminate, hybrid and heirloom in cherry, sauce, salad & slicers), peppers (sweet red bells, pimentoes, sweet fryers), chiles, cucumbers (pickling & slicers), summer squash & zucchine, pumpkins, winter squashes, mixed lettuce packs, kale, chards, broccoli, cabbage & brussel sprouts. Onions & leeks available as bundled starts. Seed potatoes in many colors & textures.

Flowers: in 6 packs & 3.5″ pots (some in larger)- Perennial & Annual bedding plants

Herbs: in 3.5″ pots and 6 packs- Basils, Culinary and Tea Herbs

Posted 1/31/2011 1:03pm by Desiree & Jesse Robertson-DuBois.

 

We always get asked what it is do farmers do in the winter? Do we take it easy, slow down, go on vacation or what? Well, there hasn’t been a whole lot of slow down this winter. To some extent, we have to, there just isn’t enough light in the day to work as much outside as we normally do and it is and has been very cold, snowy or windy and that takes more energy out of you than the hot summer sun of August. So even if you can only work for 6-8 hours, it still feels like you worked twice that. We have chores every morning- pigs, sheep & cattle need food and fresh water (though the sheep seem to prefer to eat snow most of the time) and that doesn’t include plowing snow whenever needed so that our employees and stable manager can get in to do their own chores. This winter, we fill the rest of the day with construction whenever feasible- the farmstand got its roof and is now completely enclosed and the root cellar stairs are done. We are waiting to put in windows and finish siding until we get the barn more complete. The new barn has most of the hay mow finished and the exterior walls are mostly up. We’re waiting on some lumber to finish getting milled and delivered before finishing the interior pens, the rest of the mow and the roof rafters (we didn’t want to put on the roof until the mow was finished- it is a LONG way down otherwise). Lots of planning, accounting and meetings also happen in the winter- enough to try and set up as much of the coming season as possible so that we don’t have to stop in the middle of a project. Also winter is when the farm makes firewood happen from our sustainably managed woodlot, cutting the next season’s wood and making seasoned wood for delivery. Logging is easier when the forest floor is either completely dry or frozen solid. We are currently logging in a section of woodlot close behind the main farm- bike & horse trails cross through it, and it will look a lot different in the spring. When Dicken and Seth log, they are clearing trees that are mature and ready for harvest, but also thinning out scrubby or unhealthy trees and leaving the most gorgeous trees as seed trees to promote healthy, vigorous saplings and the varieties that we are looking for.

This winter has brought frigid temperatures and lots and lots of snow so far. Great for those of us who like winter-time snow activities such as sledding, skiing and skating- but not so great for finishing barns. The sheep seem to hardly notice the weather- they have free access to a nice warm barn whenever they would like to be inside, but we rarely ever find them in there whether there is freezing rain or a foot of snow. We’ve even taken to feeding them in the barn whenever there is a threat of inclement weather- they come inside to calling for their hay, usually covered in a couple of inches of snow and look disgruntled when it starts to melt. The ewe lambs actually started to shed a little wool when we were bringing them inside every night at the beginning of the winter (their mommas were up in a higher pasture with the ram and we were running separate flocks). Keep in mind, this barn is not heated. The flock has been reunited (the ram, Arlo, is back in his own paddock with his buddy Leo) and now there is outdoor access round the clock and everyone prefers to sleep outside. Lambing is scheduled (HAH!) to begin in mid-April as things hopefully warm up a little. Of course, some of those girls out there are looking mighty huge already and we wouldn’t be at all surprised if we have a few earlier lambs in the group.

Pigs are still out on pasture for the next week while we finish up pens for them in the new barn. The barn isn’t finished yet, still lacking a roof, but the hay mow is finished enough to provide adequate shelter from the elements. As soon as the pens are built, we will march the pig herd down the road and into their new quarters, just in time for the four sows to farrow their newest litters of piglets. (Yep. these are the spring feeder piglets, call us now to put in your orders).

We just moved the cattle down from the upper Turkey Field pasture this past week where they have been since the end of October. The picture of Sweetie’s calf on the left was taken the day after we moved them up to that field (the day this little guy was born) when we had an unexpected cold snap and the wind chill rates reached 15-20 degrees. We were so worried about this brand-new wet calf that Jesse took a fleece vest of Morgan’s up to the field in the middle of the night andwrestled the calf into it. It worked wonders and the next morning (chilly as it was) found a frisky calf gamboling along after his mother. He wore the vest for the day and Jesse took it off the day after- it needed a good washing and then Morgan wore it to school soon after.

We were starting to have difficulty getting the tractors up the road and across the fields to the cattle with all the snow (and you don’t really want to plow a road through the hayfield) and so we decided to move them all down to the Nut Field which is closer to the main farmyard and right on the main farm road. Getting them their daily ration of haylage and dry hay will be a lot easier from here on out. They love the Nut field, it has lots of trees to rub on, hollows to settle into out of the wind and a ready water supply. We also like seeing them more often than once a day and judging from the sudden increase of visitors, our friends of the farm seem to like seeing them too. (It couldn’t be the cuteness of calves could it?)

CSA brochures went out in the mail at the beginning of last week, we hope everyone got theirs. If not, give Desiree a call and she will get one out to you. The sign-up form will shortly be available here on the blog. If you need extra brochures for friends, co-workers or have a good spot to put them out, let us know and we’ll send you a batch. We hope that you are all looking forward to delicious, fresh veggies as much as we are! If you would like to help out with seeding in the greenhouse, we’d also like to know- we get started with that in March! We started our first experimental wintertime CSA extension in Nov & Dec of 2010 where we offered a boxed share every other week and we think that we will definitely be doing it again and more extensively for 2011- this is not on the Summer CSA sign-up form, but will go out to this season’s members later in the season. We had a lot of fun making and packing boxes- we learned a lot about what worked well and what could have been better. We will solve most of our problems by just having the hoophouse finished, full and ready to go (and with the plans already in place and seed ordered and planting scheduled- we will definitely make it happen) and the quick hoops tunnels fully installed over beds of field veggies (and all up by the hoophouse which will make getting to them easier). We still don’t know how well things have overwintered with the frigid temperatures, but we have our fingers crossed for early early spring veggies.

Desiree has been spending the last month organizing field rotations and plans for the 2011 gardens, she’s also been ordering seeds and supplies,planning greenhouse rotations and making seeding charts for the garden transplants and for the 3rd annual Plant Sale coming up in May. Look for postcards in the mail about the sale- we’re making it bigger and better this year, with lots of great bedding plants and veggie starts.

We will soon be gearing up for sugaring season, let’s all keep our fingers crossed for a great syrup run this year- it has been a little disappointing the last couple of years and we’ve sold out of most of our syrup before February rolls around again. Lots of work has been getting done on the sugar-bush throughout the fall- replacing parts of the saplines and making lots of repairs, hopefully this will make for a better season (that and no January thaw might mean we actually get some of the lighter grade syrups for a change).

Posted 6/4/2010 1:32pm by Desiree & Jesse Robertson-DuBois.


It has been a stressful winter here at the farm. We have suffered loss and tragedy, but we are striving to move forward carrying blessings in our hearts for all the goodness that remains with us.

A rundown of the events from November through December: Our beautiful silver Leicester ram, Raven, died defending his younger counterpart from coyotes early one morning in November. Arlo survived without a scratch and has been busy ever since breeding all our ewes.

In early December fire destroyed our pig barn/office/shop building along with Pinkie and Penny our two oldest (and favorite) sows and their piglets. Our brand-new payloader was also destroyed having been parked next to the barn for the night. All were a total loss, but by far the most horrendous was our sows. Contrary to initial reports (newspaper and rumor mill) the cause of the fire was not the heat lamp that we had over the piglets but was instead a section of un-conduited wire running inside the cavity under the loft on the western end of the barn. It was most likely rodents chewing through the wire that caused it to burn.

It is sometimes hard to explain how much we love, respect and honor our breeding stock. There are a lot of tough choices that go into deciding to keep an animal and pass on their genetics because we raise their offspring for meat. The decision to keep an animal means that they have a combination of traits, one of the most important being gentle and trusting personalities (if they trust you they won’t be stressed and scared and will be better mommas). Because we raise meat animals we aren’t allowed to form attachments until so many tests have been passed that when we finally decide to keep them, we lavish those few with as much love and attention as most folks do their in-home pets. Even with those animals that we are raising for harvest- we treat them with respect, we go to lengths to provide them with the highest quality care- and then, to lose our two oldest, most beloved sows to a fire. It is our job to protect them and we let them down. Raven, Pinkie & Penny all died in fear, desperately hoping we would save them, and we had a hard time reconciling ourselves to that.

But in the face of all of that- nobody else was hurt and that was the only barn we lost, it could have been so much more unimaginably worse.

Tulip, Lily & Jake, along with all the growing hogs were still out on pasture and the two girls needed a place to give birth in just a few short weeks which meant clearing out space in the hay shed and building pens strong enough to hold them. Everyone else needed water and feed during an unusually cold winter. Arlo rose to the challenge of breeding 20 ewes while still only 8 months old. We needed to build strong, heavy and ‘hot’ fence for the sheep to keep the coyotes from deciding they were tasty enough to try eating them again and get the barn ready for them to be run in every night.

Sheep are in their winter paddock next to Cooper Barn with constant access to the outdoors and we’ve found that even on some of the coldest nights, as long as there is no wind, the girls prefer to be outside and sleeping in the snow. We really need to get some good pictures of them happily munching away on their hay and covered with an inch of snow.

Lambs started arriving on the very last day of March! Our first two were an incredibly small pair of lambs (we keep calling them ‘the kittens’ since they are about the size of 3 month old kittens). They were so small we called our vet, Yoanna Maitre to come out and check the ewe for a possible third lamb, but they were it. They were a little weak at first and so small that it was hard for them to reach their momma’s milk, so we gave them a little assistance for the first couple of days, but now they are thriving and looking forward to when they are big enough to go out on pasture with their younger half siblings (we’re a little concerned that a hawk will come along and take them away).

 

We have hired two apprentices, Susan & Tony Wood, who arrived on April 1st with their three pups. And we’re so excited to have them- we’ve been struggling these last few weeks to keep up and so they came just in the nick of time.

Brochures for the 2010 CSA are available- it has sign-ups for both Veggie and Meat CSA (you don’t have to sign up for both!) and I’ve also managed to put them up on the site. We’re expanding again so tell friends and neighbors who might be interested to check us out.

The ACRES Education Program got some funding to cover additional CSA shares to be distributed to needy families by the West Cummington Church (also devastatingly destroyed by fire this winter!) and through the Hinsdale Food Pantry. Whoo hoo! More food for those in need- we love it! Farm tours for local schools have ramped up this year and we’re really enjoying all the delighted faces of the kids that visit the farm.

Veggie News: The end of the growing season wrapped up beautifully last November, with raised beds going into the larger greenhouse and being planted with winter greens which we have been harvesting since January. And now we’re back to spring planting- starting transplants again in the greenhouse, getting geared up to spread compost and amendments on all the fields and plant the first of the peas and potatoes. The amazingly warm weather we’ve had in the last few weeks has pushed up the greening and brought a rather quick and decided end to our sugaring season. Another crappy year for maple syrup, so don’t be surprised when prices go through the roof again this year.

Posted 7/20/2009 1:43pm by Desiree & Jesse Robertson-DuBois.

deanlotnightshades


So, last year, June was the coldest, wettest June on record and there were news reports talking about how the weather was really affecting farmers and their crops. Well. This year, it is again, the coldest, wettest June and most of July on record. wow. We’re pretty done with all the rain. The weeds were taking over, the hay was uncut and falling flat (called lodging) in the fields and in fact, even the poor sheep were getting stuck on their backs from all their very wet, unshorn fleece. So we’re done, thank you very much, with the constant state of wet. We were ready for a little heat, a little sunshine, some time in shorts and t-shirts, instead of foul weather gear, and we finally got it last week. We had five straight days of gorgeous sun, a little heat even and poof, we caught up with the weeds, made hay and actually got to hang our raingear up in the house long enough for it to DRY out! So far, it seems like we get rain here and there, but nothing like the days and days of it we had before. Hopefully the current weather pattern will continue and we can continue to stay ahead on top of everything that needs to get done and maybe even catch up.elblanchingcauli

Farm news: Well, we haven’t had any babies born in the last month or so. Surprise, surprise- that has become quite a rarity around here. In fact, the earliest any babies are due for anyone aren’t until August (unless one of our steers was part bull). But the four ladies that are due are starting to look as wide as a house out there, so they can’t be that far off.

We sold many baby piglets this spring so we don’t have quite the overload we’ve had in the past at this time in the season. All the pigs are out of the barn and busy rooting up the rose bushes in the old Christmas tree planting. Jake, our boar, is off visiting another group of ladies at Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst and will be gone for another few weeks or so. Lily is due sometime soon and will have her litter out in the pasture under the trees, followed soon after by her sister Tulip.

sheepweeding2The sheep are on pasture and fence clearing duties for a while. We are trying to reclaim a couple of areas of the farm that would make nice pasture for them and the cattle, but have been wild and overgrown for years. The sheep are doing their best, but we need more to be really effective. Still they are making a good inroad for now. They got their desperately needed haircuts at the end of June by Kevin Ford, the guru of hand shearing. It is always such a joy to watch someone who is so amazingly good at their job. The girls were very very happy to be rid of all that fleece, and now we just have to do something with all that wool (or I do, at any rate).

The new barn is under way, looking like a giant puzzle along the edge of the field. We still haven’t started the grading (a massive project!) yet, but are looking and relooking at the site to make sure all is as we want it. Until the excavators, haulers and bulldozers arrive, we are busy moving the shop, the old office and any last remaining bits and pieces out of the old barn. And, of course, working on making all the puzzle pieces that are the timberframe of the new barn. Dave Bowman is on site every Thursday to help assist in transforming big timbers into rafters, beams, and supports.

onionsneedweedingThe CSA is going really well despite the damp and cold weather. The plants were getting pretty stressed out there for a while and the soil lost a lot of its nutrients to leaching, but they are starting to perk up again. We’ve added some composted chicken manures, our own black gold compost and fish fertilizers to some of those plants that were looking the hardest hit (the peppers and eggplant were pretty sad out there for a while). Jan and Ian came up with an experiment to test out the results of various organic fertilizers in the sweet corn. They divided up the sweet corn into twelve sections and are in the process of determining the results of fish fertilizer as foliar feed or drench, compared to side-dressing with Cockadoodle Doo Composted Chicken manure, Black Gold Holiday Brook Compost, or a combination of CPS 7-2-4 & McGeary’s 5-3-4 plus a control which was left alone. All were spread with Holiday Brook Farm compost at the beginning of the season prior to seeding and there are five varieties of sweet corn and two varieties of popcorn in the mix. We’ll keep you posted on how the experiment is turning out (maybe we’ll even try for yields, at the moment we are just trying to get the corn to grow and lose their purpling).

earlyjulyharvest2So we are moving out of the ‘green only’ crops of June and are slowly starting in on the summer vegetables with broccoli coming in beautiful (the only benefit of the cool and wet weather), early carrots and beets of all gorgeous color and we had our first summer squash out there on Saturday. Cherry tomatoes are teasing us with a few here and there, but there will soon be many more. Garlic harvest is on the horizon in the next two weeks and it is a big one this year with hopefully a harvest tripling what we did last year, if not more. We’ll be needing more hands than usual for it, but hopefully we’ll have some volunteers show up to help dig, bunch and pile in the barn for curing.

Sorry it took longer than usual to get out the newsletter- all that rain, you would think that I would have plenty of time to be inside and get it done. Alas, we have many a rainy day project lined up for this season and since it also rained mostly on harvest days for CSA, well, I was out in it. Cheers and look for a new Bull in August!

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Posted 5/27/2009 2:57pm by Desiree & Jesse Robertson-DuBois.

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The days grow longer here at the farm and we have trouble coming in from the fields when the weather is warm. The spring ephemerals are blooming in plethora and we have carpets of trillium, trout lilies and ramps growing out in the woods. We’ve been eating lots of ramps- Jesse made a pesto from them that we were still tasting a full day later. Mostly we eat them gently sautéed with a drizzle of balsamic and maple syrup or mixed into our morning eggs. They don’t last long, so they are a real treat in the spring. We haven’t yet found any beds of lady slipper, jack in the pulpit or (alas) morels. But we carefully tend around our few bloodroot that have found their way into flower beds behind the house. After a winter of muted color, those first bright rays of spring are a true delight that are eagerly awaited.

Jan making blocksOur farm apprentices, Jan & Ian have both arrived and are settling in and we are very glad to have them. It makes everything so much easier just to know that there are extra sets of hands, ready and waiting, to help with even the simplest of tasks and even more so when the cattle get out and are feeling feisty enough to traverse the length of the farm despite the lush pasture they have right in front of them.

Trays and trays of seedling veggies are filling and overflowing the two greenhouses. The first round of starts is almost complete and we are transplanting them out into the fields. Onions went out the first weekend, along with seven new beds of strawberries, potatoes were planted and we plan on putting in the first seeding of lettuce on Monday. The fields will rapidly fill up in the coming weeks until they too are bursting with delicious vegetables for the CSA and farmstand.elingh2

This year we have started a lot more seedlings in order to meet many requests for transplants from our friends and neighbors who have gardens of their own at home. Our plant sale was a great success and we will definitely do it again next year, though we will plan for way more flowers and tomatoes (and hope that the mice don’t find the peppers and eggplant the way that they did this season, sorry folks) We still have some transplants left that we will happily part with such as broccoli, basil and other herbs, lettuce, strawberries, squashes and pumpkins and brussel sprouts to fill out your garden with delicious food and beautiful color.

We got really excited about Eliot Coleman’s idea for quick hoops made out of electrical conduit and we applied the idea to make a shade tent for hardening off our transplants (the idea of lugging all those flats in and out of the greenhouse was exhausting). The conduit was leftover from the new wiring of the big greenhouse, all we needed was some short pieces of rebar and a piece of shade cloth conveniently borrowed from our friend Dave Burdick. It worked fabulously! No more lugging flats in and out to harden off, whoo hoo! Thank you Eliot!

quickhoopshadetentThe CSA starts up on the second week of June. We still have a few shares left so tell your friends and neighbors about our wonderful farm share. The peas are up and growing and it won’t be long until their succulent little pods are ready for eating.

Animal News: Lily, Tulip, Penny and Lucy are out on pasture, little ones will follow as soon as those who reserved piglets arrive to take them home with them. Pinky has had eleven healthy piglets and is happily ensconced in the barn for another three weeks or so. Then she too is off to the Christmas tree pasture with everyone else for the summer. Jake is soon off to visit Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst to service a few ladies for them. He’ll be back in a couple of months.

We have a brand new addition to the horse paddocks. Long-legged Skye was born on April 23rd right here at the farm at 8:05am on a gorgeous morning. She has a lovely creamy brown coat, dark legs, tail and mane with a perfect dark dorsal stripe down her back. Take care around her momma, Cookie, though since she is very protective and has a tendency to bite or kick at anyone who gets too close to her little one. Viewing is fine as long as you stand back from the fences and keep your fingers out of the grating of her stall. Denise and everyone in the stable are working hard to get her to relax and not feel so threatened, but she’s still a little high strung.

sheepongreenMore Sheeps- Clun Forest beauties from Mary Gloster at Rocky top Farm in Groton, NY. We went to fetch them at the end of April and they are making their way around the farm. They have done a great job at mowing some of our field edges and around the pond (fertilizing the whole time and making for lush green whereever they have been). Our new girls are still a bit flighty and not used to the whole program, but Elsie and Bessie are showing them the ropes. Thank goodness for a solid older ewe who trusts humans. We are still looking for a nice ram lamb for the fall breeding, preferably a Border Leicester or Romney to add a little color and legginess to the Clun blood.

The cattle began their tour of the farm in the Mitchell field next to the compost site but have finished it in record time and are ready to move all the way back across the farm so that we can get them marching along in front of the sheep. The sheep have not been as happy munching on the grass in the last two weeks since it is all tall and stemmy, but the cattle prefer it that way and are happy to munch it down to the 6 inch level and leave the rest for the sheep. Once the fields have been mown of the first cut, then the sheep will be happier to eat softer, leafier second growth. So running them with the cattle would be the best bet.

plantinglettuce5Education Program has a new name and has hosted two great tours/schools in the past month. We had a lot of fun with the kids, planting lettuce, starting seeds for a new school garden and showing off all our gorgeous animals. We’re looking forward to more tours in the next month, a sheep shearing demo and the planning of some practical rural skills workshops for the summer and fall.

Posted 4/18/2009 2:11pm by Desiree & Jesse Robertson-DuBois.

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As you may have heard by now, this season’s maple sugaring was a bit of a bust. Turns out that since we didn’t have a January thaw this year (remember that frigidness?) the maple trees didn’t have their chance to concentrate those sugars in their sap and so when the sap started running in March, the sugar content was lower than usual making for longer boiling times, higher mineral content and hence, darker syrup. Now we don’t mind so much since we like the darker syrups, but there are going to be a lot of disappointed folks out there who like light or medium amber. This wasn’t just in our area, this was everywhere and contrary to popular belief, it had nothing to do with the ice storm, since we didn’t have any major damage to our sugar bush from the storm. So the sap started running and it was measuring at 1.5% sugar instead of 2% and we got dark amber which rapidly turned to B and then to what is called ‘commercial’ grade- syrup so dark and rich when it came out of the evaporator that it looked like motor oil. Of course, we love it since we can’t get enough of that delicious maple flavor, and, it turns out, we have some customers that are delighted that we have it this year (we usually don’t offer it- it goes into 5 gallon jugs and is shipped off to a wholesaler). In any case, we’re going to bottle some into ½ gallon mason jars and quarts, so if you like it dark, come on by. The only really disappointing part of this sugaring season is that we didn’t get as much syrup as we usually do (no one did, so expect prices to soar) and we’ll most certainly run out before the end of the year.

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Animal news; We’ve got sheep! Yep, Holiday Brook has finally gotten sheep and no one is more excited than Pippin. Turns out she’s a sheep dog after all. She’s o.k. with cattle and hogs, but she’s made her preference really apparent in the last couple of weeks since our ‘starter flock’ of two ewes and four lambs arrived. We think that she could live in the barn as long as she could watch the sheep all day and if she disappears, well, that is usually where she can be found. She and Des are still floundering their way through learning each other’s language, but together they are learning to work as a team and are starting very small so don’t expect to see them at any herding demos in the near future.

Elsie and Bessie are two grade Romneys (meaning mostly Romney with a little bit of other breeds mixed in) and they came from Crabapple Farm in Chesterfield. Elsie is actually Desiree’s original bottle lamb that she bought (along with Elsie’selsie sister Charlotte) from Hampshire College 5 years ago. Now Elsie has come with her 3 year old daughter Bessie and their lambs from this spring. Elsie has two daughters this season, Flower (silver and black) and Sprite (white with red ears and legs) & Bessie has a daughter, Cleo (a deep chocolatey black/silver) and a boy, Leo whom she rejected- which is supposedly something she did last year as well- but that Des and El and Morgan (and sometimes Jesse in a pinch) have been bottle-feeding. Leo has ensconced himself into the hearts of the kids and since we’d like to find a nice ram and some more lovely ewes to start our breeding flock, Leo might just find himself designated as ‘ram’s best buddy’ and prized for his gorgeous coal black fleece.spriteinhaywflower

All the new heifers are named: Sweet as Milk, Cocoa, Sugar, Treacle, Eclipse & Trickle. As I said before, it took until it was actually warm enough in the pasture for us to stand around scritching them and figuring out their identifying markings especially for the two that always seem to be hiding. All the cattle have grown quite a bit over the winter on our delicious second cut silage bales. It has been quite shocking to stand with what used to be little 7 month old calves and are now yearlings and have them be so big. They still look adolescent but are coming along nicely. River, Froth and Brook are definitely pregnant and are looking very round already, but calves aren’t really expected until July at the earliest.

Penny had her second litter and she is proving to be just as great a momma as her mother, Pinky. She only had 11 babes this go round, which is fine by us. She is gentle and nurturing pennypiglets2without being nervous or aggressive so she is definitely going to be a keeper despite the fact that she is not exactly what we were looking for in conformation (being shorter through the body). Still her good mothering, heath and gentleness are higher on our list of breeder priorities since we don’t like angry, aggressive mothers (these are big animals with sharp teeth and they can do serious damage if they don’t like what you are doing).

We had some overcrowding in the barn, except for mommas and babies, but we decided to sell a large number of partly finished hogs to a farmer in VT and so the barn is cleared out. Everyone else, except for Pinky and Penny will be moving out onto pasture in short order now that the new area is cleared, fence is built and their house has unfrozen from the winter pasture.

The new chicks are getting bigger and there have been no weird illnesses this year like lastcownose1 season’s fiasco. They will be moving out of their brooder shortly and into the main area of the stall that they are currently in (thank goodness they aren’t in my basement again this year). We will be building some roosts and hoping that that will solve the ‘roosting on the ground’ problem that we’ve had several years running. We have always assumed that the inclination to roost as high as possible was biological, but we haven’t experienced that. The last few years we’ve found that they ignore the roosts and prefer to roost on the ground underneath the mobile units instead of inside no matter the weather, the predators, et al. We’re hoping that by building roosts into this transitory space before they move into the mobile pasture unit will result in birds more likely to want to be inside at night and hence, safer. I got rather tired of going outside every night for the first month and beyond to drag birds out from under the house and tossing them inside onto roosts.

Farm news: The fields are greening up out there. A few more days of warm weather and we’ll be scrambling to get all the animals moved out of winter pastures and onto fresh grass. The smell of rich soil turned over to make vegetable beds will soon permeate throughout the farm, we could have started last week in some fields, but they aren’t designated for peas or spinach, so we’ll just have to wait.

A weasel has made himself at home, probably in the pig barn where he consumes small furry rodents. We think he is also responsible for killing chickens here and there (and maybe even for the mass slaughter of 16 birds last autumn, but we’re not sure about that one). We are weighting the balance of whether or not to let him remain here- he has gotten pretty comfortable around humans, which is not such a great thing, but he also takes out more rodents than the cats do. Our big worry is that if he leaves, another weasel may decide to move into the territory and decide that they like chicken a whole lot more than rat. So far, we’re accepting the gamble.

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Veggie news: The small greenhouse recently got a new layer of earth-mat. We had mistakenly thought that is would be a grand idea to put five gallon containers of used fryer oil in the greenhouse for the winter so that they would have a chance of melting during sunny days and then we could filter it and have it all ready for the late spring/summer months when we use it in our tractors. However, I guess we just didn’t get to it enough and the rodents were very grateful for the high calorie nutrient source. They chewed little holes in the jugs and voila, used grease all over the floor of the greenhouse. YUCK. Cleaning it would have been a chore in itself and wouldn’t have dealt with the awful smell or the fact that the oil had soaked into the soil underneath. So we moved out the benches, ripped up the old floor, re-graded and even put in a little better drainage, and put down new mat. It looks great, was a fun team effort (that unfortunately had to span two weekends since I screwed up the earth-mat order) and the placingsupportsdavegreenhouse got a good overall in the process. In between weekends we got all the alliums started and they are up and growing well. We are even trialing our own potting mix (made with our black gold compost) and it seems, so far, that those alliums are doing as well as the ones in the standard potting mix that we usually buy in. we’re using a standard Eliot Coleman recipe which is good for making soil blocks, only we add a little more compost than peat moss since we have lots of it.

The new Modine heater is going into the big green-house and some repairs are getting made to endwalls (we’re replacing the plastic which was only supposed to be temporary, with wood). The big house will be up and running in the next week which is just about the time when we run out of space entirely in the small house as Dave Burdick moves ‘Florida’ in (his shipment of bromeliads, specialty tropical ferns and other lovelies arrives making it look like a tropical paradise in the house).deswaitingbench1

The CSA is filling up fast, there are only about 25 shares left, so if you have been thinking about it, get your sign-ups in quickly.

We are planning a large Plant sale for the week-ends of May 16th & 23rd. Come by the farm to pick-up all your garden transplants. We’ll have a host of heirloom tomatoes, herbs, flowers and others.

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Compost is being screened and is ready to go! Our beautiful black gold (or brownie mix, whichever seems more wonderful to you) is ready to make your gardens and lawns gorgeous. We deliver in bulk or you can pick up bags here at the farm. Give us a call.