Thursday, February 28, 2013

auction (Amish); farmhack at northland (soon); seeder (Earthway)

Daniel and I went with our new friend Ferd to an Amish auction near Ovid, NY today. We pulled up to the farm where the auction was being held and were greeted first by the auctioneer's ramble, constant, rhythmic and punctuated by the frequent HO! and YAHH! of the ringmen (yelling each time they saw a new bid). With this background noise we watched (and were adrift in) a sea of straw hats which moved through the mud (it's mud season now, I suppose) from miscellaneous goods (with a brief stopover in the kitchen area, where we procured hot chili soup and doughnuts) to the sale of equipment, and finally the sale of horses, for which Ferd had traveled to this particular auction. We watched Ferd expertly assess a pair of Belgians and decide a mare named Jenny (item #93 at this auction) was right for him, and watched maybe a hundred thousand dollars worth of goods and equipment sell before we made our way to the area where horses would be sold. About 100 men, mostly Amish, had crammed into the basement of a barn, leaving space for teams to be driven past the audience.  A pair of Belgians, 18 and 22 years respectively, were sold for almost $2000 each. A beautiful 5 year old gelding (whom an auctioneer ran back and forth down the track, very exciting in a space as enclosed as this) sold for $3000. Then Ferd's team came up. The auctioneer started the bidding at higher than Ferd said he'd pay for it, and we left briefly after. "You win some, you lose some," was Ferd's final assessment of the affair.
We watched a whole farm sell, all of the equipment you'd need to start a diverse operation (as this one was), all over the span of a few hours. The circumstances behind this auction were very sad- a young farmer with a family had died in a tragic accident involving the fumes from fermenting silage in his silo. Ferd said everything was selling high because the community wanted to support the affected family. Aside from being mostly horse farmers and thus huge potential allies for the draft/ sustainable farming movement, the way the community interacts is really interesting and I think we can learn a lot from them about living in communities.
On a lighter note, many members of this community were wearing Muck boots. Which means that (along with bicycles, scooters and the Amish shave pattern) Muck boots and their spin-offs are an appropriate technology for the rest of the world. Cool. I'm a recent convert, the only thing I don't like about them is that they don't have very much traction on the bottom and I have fallen more than once. Embarrassing. 
Also, there were some great potential photographs there, sorry there are none here but we were unsure of this particular community's thoughts on photography and didn't want to offend anyone. You'll have to go to one yourself to see. 

Northland is hosting a Farm Hack event! We're going to convert an old Allis Chalmers tractor to a ground driven PTO forecart.
Donn's description: 
A forecart is a simple two wheeled cart that allows the horses to pull lots of equipment that would have been hitched to the back of a tractor 30 or 50 years ago. A basic forecart will pull ground driven manure spreaders, hay rakes, and lots of other stuff. For a horse farmer that wants to pull a PTO driven piece of equipment there are two choices: a small motor (24 hp) on the forecart or a ground driven forecart. The ground driven carts are commercially available for $4000-5000. I think we can make one from the parts of an old tractor for a lot less. The tractor we have in mind is a Allis Chalmers WD 45. This tractor has about the right overall weight and a good set up between the transmission and the PTO. I hope to use the new ground driven PTO cart to run a modern hay tedder and rake. There are other possiblities -- a snow blower, a combine?
So, awesome, and you should totally come. Farmhacks are really cool, just ask Daniel, he's more or less a Farmhack groupie (but now he's organizing one now so I don't mean that in a derogatory way). Not familiar with Farmhack? Check out, and the National Young Farmers' Coalition while you're at it. 
 I'm about to buy an Earthway seeder because we need a cheap one unless someone comes out of the woodwork and says they want to sell us their used seeder. 
The bad (controversial) mamma jamma at work in the field. Sell us yours? 
I understand I am prone to a liberal interpretation of the proper use of parenthesis, and that my sentence structure can be, at times, byzantine. I have recently received both negative and positive comments on this subject in relation to this blog. For those belonging to the former camp, I am working on it. For those in the latter, thanks for your support as I aspire to be the David Foster Wallace of parentheses (or to be for parentheses what Michael Chabon is for the comma. I'm reading Kavalier and Clay right now, MAN does that guy use a lot of commas). I used to use semicolons with the same frequency as I use vowels, we should all be glad that phase is over. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

driving competition + animal photos + tapping trees

1) Today Northland hosted a friendly competition which involved driving through an obstacle course with a team of two and a team of three. A bunch of cool people came of all types of driving experience, it was fun and we learned some things. Daniel and I both completed the course without losing too many points, though I don't believe anyone was keeping score anyway. For the record, Daniel beat me, but technically we weren't competing in the same class.

1a) Our friend Ben is visiting and documented the event photographically, the results of which can be seen below. He also got the opportunity to drive horses (actually, a mule and a donkey) today. He is going to medical school but we're trying to get him to be a horse farmer before he gets too far into that scheme. You can also see photos of him below (be sure to comment and say how good/ natural he looks driving horses, maybe together we can convince him).

2) Daniel and I got the first opportunity to drive a wheeled vehicle yesterday (the snowplow), which was exciting because there's an added complication of having to balance on the forecart while also trying to drive. Very cool. Ben also documented that.

3) We've been farmsitting at Kingbird Farm in nearby Berkshire, they have a lot of cool animals, including Highland cattle, Fjord horses, guinea hogs, silkie chickens, etc. (What is a silkie chicken?? Great question. check out the photos below & be amazed, astounded, confused? It's sure to be a conversation starter. What is a chicken, really? What is an animal? You may end up questioning how you define yourself as a person. (You may not but they are cool looking.))

4) The weather is getting warmer, which means the sap is starting to run, which means tomorrow we are going to tap a few sugar maples, which for me personally is very exciting but Ben and Daniel also happen to probably be as excited as I. We'll post photos of that as well.

5) Our greenhouse plastic arrived!! Plus we're supposed to go pick up the poles on Tues, so that project is on the up and up. Slated completion date: within two weeks.

I think that's it...except for a huge shout out to my mom for sending a substantial ($8.90 USPS, priority mail, and the contents of this box totally deserved priority mail) box of cookies. Said box is maybe half gone, we got it this afternoon. Check out the photos, all credit Ben.

Miley, one of the two farm dogs. She's an Australian cattle dog. Gets a bad rap around here but secretly she's on my top two favorite dogs list. 

Jack, the other farm dog, who is a New Zealand Huntaway. Of course Miley is invading the shot, this is indicative of the relationship between the two. We haven't seen them work sheep yet so at this point I'm pretty sure the only thing Jack is good at is barking and running down the driveway compulsively. He's cool though

Daniel and Donn driving the snowplow

Two horses at Kingbird. The left is a Fjord, right is a Halflinger.

Sorry, but I really like this photo. A Highland grooms herself. Great portrait of that breed. 

Daniel with one of the guinea hogs, incidentally a small guinea hog (a guinea guinea pig?), incidentally named Heather

The much referred-to silkies. whoa. 

here again

Some very cute Tamworth piglets

We ate this for breakfast this morning. The fact that one eats extraordinarily well is in my top three reasons for farming. 

A great one of (l-r) Lady, Polly and Connie

Daniel navigating the slalom portion of the competition course with George (black mule) and Eddie

Ben on the lines. Yeah Ben. 

At this point no post on this blog would be complete without a photo of Lee, seen here checking to see that a slalom pylon meets regulation

Ben driving George and Eddie. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

driving by yodelling

This has become my favorite video on youtube. We are learning to drive horses with lines attached to bits in the horses' mouths, as illustrated below. Slight pressure on either line combined with a vocal command gives the horses info on whether we want them to turn left or right, stop or go, etc, but the dude above does it with vocal commands only. Impressive, especially at the beginning of the video when he has to knock a block off a pole by getting the horse to barely brush it. The horn intro is also nice. 
A western-style brichen harness. We use a D-ring harness, which is slightly different, but the concept with the lines is the same. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Greetings from a cold (14, 0 with windchill) and snowy Marathon,

We've been up to some things since our last post. Here's a short update to keep everyone informed on the goings-on of Two Spruce and Northland:

1)  We now have a CSA. Hit us up at the NOFA Binghamton CSA Fair on March 16th, and possibly at the NOFA Syracuse CSA Fair on March 9th. We're looking at a 16-week program, more details to follow. Email if you're already interested.
2) We now have an email address (, if you didn't catch that). I think we have 2 messages in our inbox. My inbox hasn't been that empty since I created in fifth grade. So send us some emails already.
3) We now have business cards! Thanks to megan for the idea. 
4) We now have library cards! 
5) We are now really good at making bread. The mystery of bread is over permanently. Thanks to Maryrose  and also Kara & Ryan of Evening Song Farm for turning us on to this concept. Don't click that link if you don't want to have delicious bread for the rest of your life with like no effort. 
6) We are totally going to build a high tunnel, 50' by 12' or something like that. We're currently weighing the pros and cons of a couple designs, if anyone has seen a Hanley-style high tunnel in action or has any thoughts before we dive into building this thing, let us know. 
7) I think we can now consider ourselves beginner/ novice teamsters (whereas before we couldn't consider ourselves any kind of teamsters)
8) Relatedly, the colloquialism "hold your horses" has taken on an entirely new and serious meaning for us. Just ask Lee how easy that actually is:

(It's not, regardless of what Lee is saying. What does she know anyway, she's a mule.)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

driving lessons + soda bottle ice house + farm/animal photos

hey everyone,

We've spent the last couple of days starting to learn the basics of driving teams with Donn, namely by pulling huge ash logs out of a woodlot with a two-horse team. It has been really fun, there is a lot to learn, and Donn is a great teacher. Our friend/ fellow wintern Elizabeth took a bunch of great photos while we were skidding logs today, see below. Also briefly, we went to visit The Good Life Farm west of Ithaca yesterday to get some additional teamster training from Melissa, one of the farmers there. Their farm is really cool but I was most intrigued by their in-construction ice house, which basically consists of a really well insulated room filled with 4000 2-liter soda bottles, each of which being filled with frozen water. The theory is that the bottles will remain frozen and provide cooling to their produce cooler throughout the summer (i.e. no electricity costs), and then will re-freeze each winter by a system of fans and pipes pulling in sub-freezing air from the outside. Here's a story from Vermont Public Radio detailing a similar project, sorry we didn't get any photos while we were there.

anyway here are the photos.

We got six or so inches of snow on Fri/Sat- this is Donn plowing with a  sweet snowplow he designed
We've been working with Connie (L), a Suffolk mare, and Polly, a Percheron mare, for the last few days

Daniel driving the team into the woods to pick up a log

Lee, Connie's 5-month old mule foal. She has been making "mule angels" lately (think snow angel but with a 500 lb mule)

Getting a log ready to skid. We skidded mostly ash logs, some around 1000 lbs
Donn driving the team out of the woods
Scott driving, with Lee in front

Daniel driving

Lee interrupts the process to nurse

A great shot of George, another mule on the farm 

The horse barn, above which Scott sleeps and beside which Daniel sleeps (you can see the back of the trailer to the left of the stairs) 

Some of the ewes in the sheep barn

Monday, February 4, 2013

Seed ordering complete!

Welcome to the blog! We just finished our second and third seed orders from High Mowing and Johnny's, respectively (we put an order in to Fedco a couple of weeks ago). Get excited about what we ordered by  going to the what we grow tab if you're into that sort of thing. Sorry for everyone who loves fava beans and/or rosemary, we couldn't get a hold on organic seeds for either of those crops despite looking through those three catalogs.

Daniel and I were in different cities while we were doing most of the work on seed ordering so we used Skype a lot- super tedious ("Wait, what page are tomatoes on? Hold on, let me switch screens" etc etc). I think we'd do it in person if we could do it over.

In other news, we've moved into the farm in Marathon but right now we're in the middle of a whirlwind farm tour of the Northeast with our friend Ian (formerly of North Mountain Pastures but looking for a vegetable internship for 2013 so if you know anybody, hit him up), visiting friends at Evening Song Farm in Cuttingsville, VT and Evandale Farm in Pittsfield, NH. We also visited Tuckaway Farm and Greenstart in Lee, NH and Sanborn Mills in Loudon, NH, and are presently holed up in Hardwick, VT at the house of our friend Julian, who works for the Highfields Center for Composting. Lots of links in those sentences but the moral of the story is that we've been seeing a lot of cool sustainable ag stuff and meeting a lot of really cool people.

We're driving back to Marathon on Wed to start (continue) work on our crop plan and building a hoop house, and to start our apprenticeship at the dairy. It's not that we haven't been working on this trip but there has probably been a disproportionate amount of sleeping and beer-drinking compared to the rest of our season.

We'll try to keep the blog updated with pictures & news of the goings-on at the farm, probably lots of pictures of baby mules/ baby sheep/ baby vegetables because I'm pretty sure that's all people look at on the internet anyway (baby animals and organic produce? that's close right?).

Just a heads-up, the below photos contain neither baby animals nor produce, hit the back button on your browser if you want to avoid unbearable disappointment.

L-R Scott, Ryan of Evening Song, Daniel, Ian

50 degree weather afforded some barefoot roofing  opportunities (in late Jan!)

Here's Daniel beaming with something he didn't work on. just kidding he put up all those horizontal boards. 

Scott and Ian with the metal roof they worked on 

Ian doing some work. Good job ian. Normally he's just reading that Kristen Kimball book.