Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Getting Ready for Winter...

Wood is now needed - in quantity.  With the old Kalamazoo cast iron stove running pretty much daily now, it has become evident that our wood stocks are not nearly sufficient.  The chains have been sharpened and the Stihl "Farm Boss" saw has been called into service.

The first turn of the old road bed - now much easier to navigate
In order to have enough wood from our 35 or so acres of secondary growth maple/ash forest, we required better access to more of our property.   Earlier in the year Dave and Al had worked on improving and clearing out the old farm road that heads to the upper reaches of the property, but the handwork done w/ shovels and chainsaws was insufficient for gaining reliable access for the '66 Ford pickup "Hoss".    Sure we could get up there, but without power brakes or power steering, a spotter was required to walk w/ the truck, and even still it was at best a white knuckle experience.

To improve our old road bed, we turned to a local excavator, Bill Pykus.  Bill came highly recommended by our neighbors Jim and Pat Sanders, and we were certainly not disappointed by the job Bill did with his dozer.

A portion of the re-claimed upper pasture- 350 year old sugar maple in center
Not only is the road now much easier to navigate, but we also asked Bill if he could reclaim the 4 or 5 acres up top that had once been nice level pasture but had since filled in with invasive Autumn Olive and shrub Honeysuckle.  The area is now cleared and ready for seeding of a cover crop come early spring.  Bill even carefully skirted our 350 year old sugar maple, while opening up the two fields surrounding it and it really looks great.

We hope to top the surrounding old stone walls with electric fence next spring and "ram" pump some water from the nearby falls, so we can graze some goats, sheep and/or Highland cattle up there come next season.  We'll also tow up a moveable shelter or two that work so well for protection from sun, wind and rain.  Dave has become an expert at constructing these.   We may also plant some more apple and pear trees up here to hedge our bets with late spring frosts - lower down we struggle to get fruit each year.

Our bees did not produce as much honey as we would have liked with the short season this year (we did not get them until early June and have harvested no honey to date).  We are now supplementing them with cakes of sugar formed in pans and then transferred into an empty "medium" honey chamber.  The bees do have some honey reserves, but we felt it necessary to supplement to ensure they winter over.

Sugar cake inserted into bee hive - this will supplement their own honey

The garden is being "brought in".  Potatoes, beets and carrots are now all safely stored away in the old springhouse where it stays damp and cool but does not freeze.  We will continue to harvest kale and brussel sprouts well into December.  Our loan application with the USDA was approved this past summer and come April we will be setting up a large 100' long walk in high tunnel (hoop house) over a few of our beds for crop season extension.  This is a good thing when you farm in zone 5 in a frosty river valley!

Finally, the earthen oven was test fired and it performs perfectly.  The newspaper that separated the sand cone (that formed the open oven area inside) from the cob dome above is almost all burned off, and we are even starting to get that seasoned look on the dome and fire bricks at the opening.   It takes a little doing to get the fires going, but once they take, they really burn.  It will be quite a while until the entire structure is dried enough to make fires with intense heat - we first need the cob dome to cure slowly - super-heating could crack it.

We'll be heading up for some family events at the farm and at Elk Mountain ski area over Thanksgiving and we'll be back in touch soon thereafter with an update.  

We wish everyone a very Happy & Healthy Thanksgiving season !

Your Friends at Old School Farm

Frank Dean with 1 day old Owen Benner at the hospital -2006 
A note from Al Benner:   I would like to dedicate this blog post to a very good friend of mine who passed away a few days ago.  His name was Frank Dean and he was 100 years old.  Frank grew up on a farm in southern Georgia and during his long life, held every job imaginable, working well into his 80's.  He was only educated through the 5th grade, but what he didn't posses in formal schooling he made up for in a deep understanding of the world and mankind.  Frank lived on his own since his wife passed away thirty years ago, he was the current block captain for his neighborhood in West Philadelphia, and he still drove a car.  He got up every morning with a positive attitude and when it was time to celebrate, he would have no problem cracking a cold can of Schaefer beer.

Frank was a sage - his words of wisdom and positive outlook on life will remain with me always.  I am so proud to have been his friend for ten years and I miss him and his infectious laugh deeply.  I know he is smiling down on Old School Farm - he was an "old school" kind of guy - a real class act.   We love you and miss you Frank - the world needs more guys like you.