Posts Tagged ‘high tunnels’

Wednesday, January 9:

The temperature was above freezing today and the sun came out, so the men split three truckloads of wood this afternoon and replenished the woodshed.  The lane is a sheet of rotten ice over ruts of yellow mud running with snowmelt.  Although the thaw means fencing the cows off the pasture – again – it does at least reduce the size of the snow drifts piled up against the sides of the tunnels, high and low, making it easier to remove two or three sandbags, pull up the plastic covers and get a sieve full of carrots, or to squeeze through the keyhole doorway into the high tunnel where the spinach is and get enough leaves for a salad.

Forecast says the temperature will get up into the sixties on Saturday, but I hope not.  Let the ground freeze and stay frozen until the beginning of April, say I, so that the cows can be fed in the sliding manger out on the pasture without damage to the sod, not in the barn where nutrients will pile up and leach away where they can do no good.  In the big pasture at the monastery there is no such problem; low stock density and plenty of room mean we can give the steers enough space to graze without excessive wear and tear on the forage.  And the steers love it; although they accepted the two bales we threw out to them for a Christmas treat, they have no trouble pawing down through a foot of snow to the good, nutritious standing forage stockpiled in that pasture.

Would we had another hundred such acres.

We are gearing up for the beginning of our spring semester of Practical Farm Science by pulling out all our seed catalogues and laying out plans for the gardens in 2013.  More feed for the pigs is a high priority; we will see how much of the big gardens we can plant in late summer to mangels, beans, and turnips, and we want to order all of our seed at once to save on shipping.

Our spring workshops on fermented whole grain bread baking, seed starting, and maple sugaring promise to keep our weekends full over the next couple of months – see our Classes page for dates and details.

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Monday, November 12:

An afternoon at the auction barn is entertaining and informative.  Cattle prices are down, farmers unloading extra animals now to avoid feeding them expensive corn and hay over the winter.  Nice first calf Holstein heifers, bred, were going for something between seven and eight hundred dollar, good family cows if someone wanted an animal that gives the volume of a Holstein – this herd averaged about eight gallons a head per day – and didn’t mind the low butterfat.  Buy one of these girls and a couple of pigs and you have milk, pork, and, if she drops a bull calf, beef for the next year.  Find a stock or security that offers such dividends.

Looking down into the lanes of animals from the elevated walk leading into the auction arena is like looking over a solid sea of furry backs, red, black, black and white, brown, and an odd dull grey-brown that looks like teddy-bear fleece.  Many men in ball caps, sweaty shirts, jeans, and thick leather boots chivvy them around, opening and shutting gates, urging the animals along with a brisk “come UP, boss,” or a quiet “move, dumbitch,” directing their courses with long switches like a blind man’s cane or a conductor’s baton.  Men and women of few words lean against the wooden rails of the elevated walk, seeming to absorb information from the scene without the need for words.  Lunch may be purchased in the coffee room from sneakered waitresses with tiny veils pinned over hair drawn up in smooth buns:  chili soup, coney dogs, burgers, pie.

Brought in singly or in groups, cows and heifers are touched up with the long canes so they turn and turn again, giving potential bidders every chance to take a good look at them.  We sit on tiers of wide wooden steps or bleachers, the intent observers hunched forward, elbows on thighs, those for whom nothing is new leaning back, one leg cocked up on the other knee.  Only eyes move, heads nod the slight nod that commits the nodder to another twenty-five dollars on the bid.  It is interesting to learn how much we actually know about dairy cows now; the cows we like go high, the ones we think look wry or pinched or spooky bring lower prices.  One or two proud beauties bring considerably higher prices than their only adequate sisters.  Not a few are knocked down to men in the front, regular bidders from the locker buying low price animals for the burger mill.

Home at four-thirty to milk, we find the high tunnel over the spinach, covered only yesterday with six-mil plastic sheeting, half-collapsed by the high winds of the early afternoon.  Now rain puddles fill the sagging folds of plastic, weighing the cover down.   It is obvious that the stock-panel hoops will need some reinforcement, a dreary thought in this chilly rain.  More pleasant to find the cows waiting at the dairy stall, to thaw chilly hands on their warm udders; a dairy cow radiates heat like a stove, uncomfortable in the summer, delicious in cold weather.  The girls are making dinner up at the house to be ready when the milk is strained, the buckets washed.  It is growing dark out.

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Tuesday, September 6:  

The beds that grew onions and tomatoes this summer are dug over and composted.  Two of the beds were sown with carrots in early August, and as the lacy seedlings unfolded, the grasshoppers were there to nibble them off.  Only about a quarter of the carrots escaped; in the spaces where the carrots are no longer, we have sown spinach for fall consumption.  Belatedly, we have added row covers to foil the insect pests.  September is really early for covering the garden, but we are afraid if we don’t protect the small plants they will all be eaten, and they are meant to provide us with our winter carrots.

Today we sowed another six feet of spinach, and an equivalent in buttercrunch lettuce; the weather is perfect, coolish and damp with the wrack from a hurricane spinning out of the Gulf.  We will continue to sow a few feet of salad greens every week until the end of September, and perhaps a little longer.  These will be covered with hoops and row covers, and then again with sheet plastic when the snow comes.  Some of the greens should be ready for harvest in November or December, God willing, and there should be succession of harvest into early spring.   God willing, because no one is more aware than we are of the uncertainties of gardening. There are flats of buttercrunch in the greenhouse, waiting to be big enough to set out in one of the raised beds by the house; covered with stock panel hoops and plastic sheeting, these should be a little better insulated than the low hoops, and we hope will be our insurance in case anything happens to the latter.  If everything does well, there will be a little lettuce to sell this winter.

The cool, damp weather we are having makes it easier for the school age children to hit the books; not that they are overflowing with enthusiasm, but right now ditching in the rain is less attractive than a cup of cocoa and a math lesson.  If we are to have ware ready for our two fall sales, we will have to get the kiln wiring overhauled and get to work in the clay studio.  From raw clay to finished ware is a weeks-long process that can’t be hurried, and demands close attention to timing.  We hurry from one thing to the next; there are few breaks in the work load of a revolutionary, but there is a lot of diversity.

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