Friday, April 26, 2013

A Sad Night on the Farm

April to date has seen an almost frantic level of activity at the farm as we rush to get plants going, soil beds ready, and our high tunnel greenhouse erected.  We've had some nice successes, and one very unfortunate setback, but all in all Old School Farm is thriving.

For starters we now have 25 holes dug for our wide range of cold-hearty heirloom fruit trees that will soon arrive bareroot packed in damp sphagnum moss from Michigan.  These will be planted in our newly established upper orchard out of the frost pocket found lower down on the hillside where our current orchard is located.

The chickens have been re-directed into the orchard for a few weeks, as they had picked the hillside behind the barn bare (aside from a clump of wood leeks seen in a photo later in post)  We  have since re-seeded this slope as well as a couple of acres that were cleared for pasture up near the upper orchard with a clover/grass mix - good for both chickens and deer/wild turkeys.  We also planted a wildflower mix for bees and other pollinators around the perimeter of the orchard and near other boulders and trees in the upper pasture.  This will help with flower pollination and fruit set on the trees when they  reach fruit bearing size in 3-4 years.

We had a serious micro-burst of wind a few days ago that flipped one of our sheep shelters upside down (fortunately no sheep were using this one)  We used our truck "Hoss" and a tow strap to right it.

Speaking of sheep, we had a horrible incident occur ten days ago, when two newborn lambs died
soon after birth by drowning in a water trough in the wee hours of the morning.  It's a long story, but suffice it to say, we learned a very valuable lesson the hard way and are still reeling from the loss.  Our dark colored ewe Freya had given birth to twins - one black and one white - it was a major blow.  Fortunately Elska and Opala are still very much pregnant and we are very optimistic about having lambs frolicking in our pastures soon.

Egg Delivery to neighbors in Philadelphia

Our chickens are not going broody and the
demand for our free range/organic eggs is out-stripping supply, so as part of the boy's birthday present, a 41 egg, auto rotate incubator was purchased - we have it loaded up with 23 days to go in the 28 day cycle at 99.5 degrees.  Our plan is to start another large flock in the lower pasture along w/ the sheep.

Our heritage breed turkey hens are either out of touch or know something we don't, as they have been diligently sitting on two large clutches of eggs in the coop for several days now.  Although we have no surviving Toms to have made the eggs fertile, we did regularly observe a very "enthusiastic" wild Tom circling round and round our orchard fence enclosure where our hens are kept.  He also roosted nearby in trees.  Did he fly in and spend some time with our girls?  Time will tell !

Asparagus is poking through the ground now - we have 300 plants that are going into their 2nd year. With up to 12 stalks per plant last  year, we are expecting to remarkably make a small harvest in this the first full year of growth - normally you wait 2-3  years.

Roger Hill has been over with his Kubota to till the beds, and Al and Dave were hard at work getting all the hoop insert sleeves driven into the ground for the high tunnel - a lot of hard work, as getting them plumb (straight) is challenging.  Thanks to Ben and Sam from Ant Hill Farm who helped Dave out to get the first five hoops up... we have 20 or so to go!

Spinach from last  year that spent the winter under fabric row covers is pushing forth new growth and Al's first harvest was incredibly flavorful - he'll be bringing and "old school" spinach and egg salad to a friend's house this weekend.  The peas are in and the potatoes and onions go in soon.

Our new sign is up down by the old Norway Spruce at our driveway entrance.  Close to fifty 4' logs have been inoculated with mushroom spawn (logs are drilled and wood plugs tapped in)  We used poplar/aspen for the Oyster
Mushrooms and Maple and Hornbeam logs for the Shitake.  We will soon be inoculating some beech stumps with "Hen of the Woods" plugs as we don't have any oak trees on the property.

Rainfall has been hard to come buy, so we are anxious to get our solar powered watering system revamped and working more efficiently.  The barn has now been plumbed and wired for water and power.

We will be hosting our first "Family Farm Getaway" on Sunday, May 19th.  If you or anyone you know is interested in joining us, please sign up as space is limited.  We will not only be providing a complete hands on farm tour, but will be doing a workshop on how to build an earthen oven and will be mixing up the earthen cob mixture and applying another layer to the oven.  We'll then enjoy a wood-fired farm pizza together.  There will be plenty of activities for the kids if you decide to bring them along.

To learn more and sign up, please visit our website here:
You'll notice we added a slideshow with a lot of photos from the farm. We had this running at our booth at Philly Farm Fest on April 14th where we had a lot of interest in our Farm Getaways.

Time to sign off, but in closing, be sure to get out and soak up this amazing spring weather while we have it and enjoy the photos from the farm... The first of which shows some "old school" forking of of hay stems left behind during the winter by the sheep.  It was used as mulch for the asparagus...

Your Friends at Old School Farm

Chickens enjoying fresh greens in lower orchard

Wild leeks - not a favorite of our chickens.  Remaining area picked clean

Hens enjoying bugs and larvae in compost pile

Big tooth Aspen logs await oyster mushroom plugs

Final batch of syrup - For next  year we will build a large stainless evaporator pan so we can process all our sap before it spoils

Al used river rocks that he and his dad, Dave raked out
of the area that was trenched from house to barn for power
and water lines prior to seeding with grass.  Then topped
with fieldstone to form a "French drain" for the outdoor
shower that will be installed here.

The central distribution point from which 1 ton per acre of lime was spread to
raise pH in the pasture. This will free up more minerals in the soil for the grass - an
important feed source for the sheep and chickens.

An additional plot that Roger just roto-tilled.  Beets, cover crops and
perhaps some heirloom field corn will be planted here this year.

Sleeve/inserts for high tunnel hoops being positioned

Signs of spring in Northeast PA

Al snuck out one warm afternoon and took his old man fly fishing on the Upper Delaware 

Raking up the remnants of feed hay from the winter - to be used as mulch 

You never know what will happen next on the farm !  -  A microburst of wind flipped a sheep shelter

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