June 22, 2006

I wrote another post about ten days ago, which is why I was very surprised to find out two days ago that…there was no post. Which is really too bad, since I recall that it was long and very informative. *SIGH*

So with the sense of deflation that always comes with realizing that a nice piece of writing is lost forever, I’ll try to recap.

Our solar system is installed and operational. Yesterday was the longest day of the year and we generated 25 kilowatts. We have a new meter, a digital one. We can watch the numbers go forward, and backward. It is great fun to watch the meter run backwards. It is also educational to turn various electrical devices on and off and watch the speed at which the meter changes.

We are in fox hell. There are 3-4 red foxes which have become very active recently in our neighborhood. They have wreaked havoc for a week now. So far we have lost 3 hens and a turkey poult. A neighbor lost all 15 hens. We, and a whole lot of other people, are working to put a stop to the problem. I don’t mind wildlife in my back yard, but I do mind when the wildlife feels that everything we have worked for has a KFC sign hanging overhead. Ken and I have been up earlier than usual the past days, trying to stave off disasters as the turkeys come down from the trees at dawn. Gee, just what a farmer needs, less sleep!

Our second hatch of Beltsville turkeys is underway; thus far we have 10 chicks with 7-9 eggs still unhatched. Yesterday an egg hatched in my hand. It never ceases to amaze me how all that bird fits into the egg. Once the body comes out of the shell, I don’t think it could go back if it tried. We expect more Narragansett chicks to hatch soon as well.

We are in the throes of boysenberry picking, always the worst on account of the thorns. The very first of the wonderful blackberries have come around; the weeks ahead will be full of berry picking and Farmer’s Market.

The heat has moved into the above one hundred degree range very suddenly, which is never fun. I always feel there is something wrong when the temperature on the hot tub is cooler than what is happening outisde. I am trying hard to keep all the plants watered. The garden at Drew’s has yielded the first cherry tomatoes and the first white cucumbers. The plants look incredible and once the tomatoes start ripening, they will be nearly impossible to keep up with, I expect. The market garden at our farm is wonderful. Drew’s irrigation design, which I would not have known to do in a zillion years, is saving huge amounts of labor by keeping the weeds suppressed. The irrigation is buried in underground trenches, so that the water seeps most of the way toward the surface, and then is shut down. The desired plants get water at their roots, and the weeds don’t germinate because they never get wet. The insects don’t know that this garden exists yet, so instead of little headless seedlings I have row after row of young plants. This garden is almost making me feel like I have a chance against the forces of nature this year, but I am not stupid enough to jinx myself by saying that out loud. I still have to plant a row of melons and some pumpkins; I’ve learned not to put the pumpkins in too early because somehow, no one wants pumpkins in August.

This Saturday’s forecast for the Farmer’s Market is 107 degrees. Are we having fun yet?! Admittedly some aspects of this lifestyle aren’t the best, but that bowlful of fresh berries with premium vanilla ice cream and Scharffenberger chocolate sauce goes a long way toward knowing that for the most part, it’s the good life.

Oh, one last thing. We’ve started the Rodent Tally for the summer season. This is where we tally up every little body that the cats bring in, just for our own curiosity. The best one yet was waking up on a weekday and finding a gopher casually belly-up on the bathroom counter near the soap. I suppose the cats thought it just looked better that way.

June 1, 2006

As usual,  many things are happening at the farm. The property now is officially unrecognizable. If you visited even a week ago, it doesn't look the same at all now. Our outer orchard (and significant chunks of our inner orchard) have been worked over for days by a scraper, which has obliterated all non-tree vegetation. But more important than the weeds being dead is that every hole, bump, depression, and undulation is now removed. The orchard floor is perfectly smooth; and as promised, we can play croquet out there now if we wanted to. Well maybe bocce ball, we don't have a croquet set, but the point is made nonetheless.

The solar system is largely installed, after running into a significant snag. The gentleman who acquired and developed our property originally fancied himself rather astute at electrical work. I am told that he was a retired electrical engineer, although I cannot verify this. We have found many…..quirks…of debatable legality on the property; things that were done that are surely not up to code. Well, when the installers of our system went to tap into the electrical system out by our water pump, they found that a splice of two different gauges of wire had been done and tucked away inside the conduit which leads off to a panel over near our back door. Oh, and the conduit was apparently crushed in at least one place, since mud was present. This being all a no-no, we are incurring $1800 in extra charges to get the situation rectified. When we came home last night, we had a mess from trenching down what used to be my nice redwood shavings pathway. But, there is nothing to be done about it. The way I see it, finding out about this may be saving us from a big problem in the future. But once again, we have to shake our heads at the quality of the work that was done here. "Do it once, do it right" is something I like to live by when the construction is of a serious nature.

The poults are growing at their usual alarming rate. We ordered a pallet of turkey grower, and we will be sharing this feed with a friend who also raises turkeys. The Beltsville hens are sitting on another pile of eggs, daring anyone to disturb them.

"Orchard School" continues on for me, as well. In the past weeks I have been put on enough different types of tractors/equipment that I am starting to "get it". There are similarities in the controls for most of these machines, and now I can mostly work out which lever does what without needing half an hour of talking about it. And most importantly, I am learning many things about their proper use. Anyone can climb on and drive off, but knowing the nuances of how to care for the equipment, what things to do and what things to avoid….valuable stuff. Although, using someone else's machinery still comes with its moments. A few days ago I drove a John Deere tractor with a scraper attached the 2 miles or so to our place. A large rainbird type sprinkler was placed on the back of the scraper for the ride over. I travelled without incident, except to note that the tractor really, really bounced a lot on our street (the pavement on our road is horrible and has more potholes than asphalt). I parked the tractor, and went about my evening. At 2:30 in the morning I sat bolt upright, suddenly realizing that I had no memory of the rainbird being on the back of the scraper when I parked it. Did it bounce off onto the road and I didn't notice? Visions of a mangled rainbird lying on Marine Avenue went through my head, along with that sinking feeling of having to tell someone that you ruined their belongings. I went out with a flashlight, and there was the rainbird on the scraper, after all. Well, at least I try to be responsible, even if it does interfere with sleep.

And also I am being schooled in the use of the commercial irrigation systems. Pumps, filters, control panels, valves, regulators…..lots to absorb there as well. I apparently don't know a lot about fluid dynamics, because I just don't understand some things quite yet. Like with any kind of learning, it feels good when the light bulbs go on over my head. But more and more I see just how complex, how difficult, farming really is. I never would have begun to understand the details one has to consider, just to not screw everything up completely. The knowledge and experience needed to get ahead and succeed is on yet another level. All I can say is, I'm pretty lucky to be receiving the free education, because it will make all the difference in the world in the coming years.

After weeks and weeks of the Farmer's Market being in the distant future….it begins Saturday. I have 2 days to prepare. I don't have my market certification yet, have little to sell, all my stuff is in storage in the shop, I don't have recipes or fliers for turkey sales ready, never got a banner made for the farm, and I am so far behind at planting seeds I can barely stand it. But, I'll be there Saturday morning, and it will be great to reconnect with everyone. That being said, a difficult thing is happening in the background. Some years ago I worked very hard to gain an Emergency Medical Technician certificate. At the time, emergency medicine seemed like a career direction I might pursue. While I never formally worked as an EMT, I have for years volunteered as a teaching assistant for a local instruction program. This entails giving up roughly 14 weekend days per year, to teach at laboratory sessions and proctor the final exams. This was always a positive experience with a great group of friends. The final exam for the current EMT course is this weekend, both Saturday and Sunday. Right on top of the Farmer's Market. For months now, I have had a growing conflict with having the time to volunteer for the EMT program. Every year the farm demands more and more, and our activity level never goes down. I am being forced to realize that I just can't keep doing all this, and that I have choices to make. Except, there really is no choice, because the farm has to come first. It seems that I will likely not pursue renewing my certification when it expires in 2007, since the assitant teaching provides the main artery by which to keep my qualifications current.  Well, if I am going to manage my time, this is one of the things I am going to have to let go of….but it isn't an easy decision.

The garden at Drew's property has exceeded all my hopes, and there are green tomatoes on the dozens and dozens of plants down there. We have experienced a population explosion of earwigs, which has made for some difficulty in the seedling department. At our farm, the first batch of zinnia seedlings was wiped out by earwigs, and I am afraid my cosmos flower seed has suffered the same fate–I shoulda planted earlier. Fortunately I have a LOT of zinnia seeds and can afford to start over several times. I noticed the second batch germinating today, so if I am smart I will get some vegetable oil traps out there tonight. Planting the seeds for summer vegetables is almost ready to begin. Regrettably, this places many vegetables out to August and beyond, in terms of getting any produce, but the Farmer's Market will likely run late this year so it's all good. And next year, the big garden will be ready and we won't be going through this delay. A lot of work was done. Field workers laid down and buried special drip hose. An implement called a "lister" was used to make the row crop beds. (Side note: the lister has to be the most miserable implement I've ever worked around, and not just because I cut my ankle tripping over it. I want to call it the "Listeria", after a foodborne pathogen that makes people ill). And now there is this HUGE area, all ready to plant. I really can't thank enough those who made this area possible (that would be Drew and Ken)–it will serve us for a long time to come.

We have been enjoying mulberries and a few ollieberries, raspberries and blueberries this week. Emphasis on "a few". As in, fits on 3 tablespoons. Until the blackberries and grapes, that will be about it. And, that is all the news for now, hope you all are enjoying the mild weather and sunshine!