Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The High Tunnel - It's Finally Done!

Farm Manager Dave Campeau is a very happy man.  Why you ask?  Mainly, because the ongoing
labor intensive task of laying out and assembling our 96' x 28' crop season extension high tunnel (a grant from the USDA) has come to an end.  He is also pleased because our two apprentices have recently
arrived to assist on the farm for the summer.  Katherine is from the University of Virginia, and Tyler from the University of Kentucky.  We'll have a bio on each of them posted shortly.
Tyler Hess - First day on the farm

With the deadline for the high tunnel completion/ reimbursement being June 1st we were under the gun to finish construction in time for inspection by the local NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) office.  On the last day of May the inspection was completed and the money out of pocket will now be reimbursed - phew :)  Thanks again to the guys from Ant Hill Farm for their extra hands with a couple of the important phases of the set-up and to Dave for seeing this project through to completion.  We will now be planting inside with tomatos, peppers, cukes, sweet potatoes, and melons.  These will be followed by early fall plantings of spinach, broccoli, peas, carrots, chard, lettuce, and other greens.

Our asparagus was frozen for the 2nd time and we have now lost a fair amount of the initial vegetative growth.  This could set us back a season for harvesting as it will certainly effect the strength of the plants.  We harvested immediately what got frozen and were able to still enjoy it for lunch.
Some of our newly planted fruit
trees in the upper orchard are blooming in this their first season, and they have been joined by a lot of peaches, some apples and a few pears that survived a pretty hard frost in the lower orchard around May 10th.  The upper pasture area is also starting to fill in nicely with the wild game mix of grasses and clover.  Our lower pastures are beginning to look much more lush due to cutting, liming and a year's worth of sheep droppings.

Our three lambs are getting big fast. Watching their tails wiggle rapidly as they nurse and observing them bounding across the pasture is a real treat.  Our first hatching of chicks continue
to thrive, and our broody wyandotte hen should be hatching out a dozen or so chicks of her own very soon. (don't even bother trying to feed a broody hen on the next by hand - they
aggressively will peck at you - no real interest in the food).  The 2nd batch of incubator eggs will be hatching in a week or so as well.  All told we'll be adding around 60 more birds to our flock.

The Benners had some friends up to the farm Memorial Day weekend.  Their son attends the same charter school in Philadelphia, and for a second time in as many weeks, the earthen oven was a huge hit.  Several pies were fired, with enough for another round the following afternoon for lunch!  

We also began harvesting water cress for salads from the handfull of patches Al had transplanted along the banks of the spring and small pond back in early April.  The growth rate has been so phenomenal, and this is such a delicious and valuable wild crop, that Al will soon be transplanting along the entire 1/4 mile length of the spring.   Water cress is also delicious in soups.  If you haven't tried this coveted culinary green with a peppery tastes that grows only in very pure spring water, then you should.

Another project that Al and his boys took on recently was inoculating a good sized bed of pre-soaked/partially fermented straw and some added sawdust with Wine Cap mushroom spores.
The layered bed could begin fruiting as early as August or September if conditions are right and could continue for a few years to come.  These mushrooms can get large and are supposedly quite flavorful.  We'll keep you posted on our success.

Good food is where you find it, and lately we've had some good fishing success in our neighbor Katlynne Thompson's farm pond.  The Benner boys have been bringing in a lot of sunfish and Al, Dave and Tyler landed enough black crappies ("bream") to have a delicious fish fry on Tyler's first
night at the farm. If you enjoy fish and have never experienced fresh crappie fillets dusted in cornmeal and pan fried in olive oil, then you should really try to figure out how to partake in this experience ;)
Watch out for deer ticks this year.  Young Coleman Benner had to undergo and unpleasant tweezer removal session with Doctor Dad to extract three deer ticks from some sensitive areas.  Be sure to do strip searches before bed of the groin area, torso, under the arms and neck areas.  Deer ticks like the warmest areas of the body,and will lock on and dig their heads in fast.  Provided you remove them within 24 hours it is very unlikely that the spirochete that causes Lyme Disease will be transmitted.  

Be sure to remove the ticks by the head with a tweezer or preferably with a specially designed "tick lifter" , without squeezing their bodies.  Deer ticks are smaller than wood ticks and a bit more oblong in shape - they also typically have a slightly lighter color to them.  Al Benner has had early stage Lyme Disease, and it is not a pleasant experience.  If you are in the woods check thoroughly each night before  bed for ticks.  A deer tick nymph can be as tiny as the smallest freckle.
On a more pleasant note, enjoy the rest of our photos from the farm, stay cool, and make sure you get those remaining seeds and transplants in the ground and watered in - now is the time to plant out those warm weather crops.

Be well...

Your Friends at Old School Farm

Results of his labor - winter rye seeded by boys in December holding bank in place

Our lower pasture is ideal for kite flying

Blueberry Blossoms

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Watercress beginning to flower - seeds will help it spread
Weed barrier and sawdust inside fence to keep poultry from raspberries

Inside the high tunnel prior to planting
Dave, Tyler, and Katherine

Uncas and his daughter, Olive graze a fresh paddock

Our one hive is really bustling with activity - look closely

A Yellow Swallowtail

Buckwheat  (sunflower in center) in the new
 planting area in main pasture 

Lush forage

Freshly tilled beds with Peas/Fence to left

End view of high tunnel with plexiglass  sheeting on hemlock frame

Interesting looking catipillar

As of yet unidentified wild flower growing beside trout pond

Turkeys enjoying lush vegetation

A sawdust mound is fund for 7 year olds

Friends enjoying pizza in the barn

The turkey coop - invaded by chickens during the day

A vist to with the sheep

Pickup truck ride to Tanner's Falls

Tim McDonald was a natural with the pizza peel

Our pizza staging set up