Tuesday, May 28, 2013

video, "two options", trellised peas, natural roots horse powered CSA workshop, and our transplarty!

First, I'd like to share a beautiful video from the Perennial Plate, Two Options, about Vandana Shiva's seed saving and anti-corporate agriculture efforts in India and globally. She is one of the most hopeful voices in the sustainable agriculture movement, speaking out against Monsanto and making the powerful connection between corporate agriculture and farmer suicide rates globally. For me, it's a powerful reminder of why we're doing what we're doing.

Here at Two Spruce, we've been busy with pea trellising, travelling to Massachusetts for a workshop on horse powered CSAs, and putting lots of plants in the ground with the help of friends.

This week, we've been hard at work first cutting stakes, then pounding them, and trellising with tomato twine.  Two lines of stakes run parallel to the two rows of peas per bed and the first string goes on about 12" from the ground. See the pictures below:

Scott, our friend Kat, and I also traveled to Massachusetts this past Sunday for a horse-powered workshop. My friend Julian's parents, were nice enough to let us stay at their house in Shelburne Falls and the workshop was in Conway at Natural Roots Farm, a 190-member, all horse powered CSA farm. It was inspiring to see the farm, which David Fisher started in 1997 as a one person, small acreage operation that has grown into one of the most well-respected horse powered vegetable farms in the Northeast. David shared an incredible amount of knowledge in the four hours of the workshop, talking about his crop rotations, cover cropping, bed system (everything on 32" rows), pig composting, custom built tools, and the mysterious two horse cultivator which he found in the hedgerow when he started the farm (it has no markings on it and he's never seen another one like it). What impressed me most was the way that David linked the smallest details of the ecosystems on his farm to the big picture of his operation. He seemed to have a carefully considered, intentional, and detailed understanding of his whole system, from nutrient management for encouraging fungal and bacterial growth in his soil, to the way he manages his apprentices. Photos below.

Natural Roots' chicken coop, automatic roll out egg boxes to gutters on the outside, and rain water catchment from the roof to large diameter PVC pipes underneath the coop.  

Custom built horse pulled waterwheel transplanter (I really want to build one of these this fall)

David Fisher demonstrating the spring tooth harrow with three abreast.

David and his cultivator getting ready to demonstrate bed shaping. Custom built center shank, custom built board drag to even and firm the seed bed. 

Custom built horse drawn boom sprayer. 

We were also lucky enough to have some friends over yesterday for a transplarty (coined by Scott Hoffman, official Two Spruce Neologist). We got 200 tomato plants in the ground plus a bunch of lettuce, chard, squash, and fennel. Thank you so much Mary Kate, Kat, and Jess! Afterwards, we had a really fun meal with Donn and Maryrose and the Kingbird crew, Karma, Michael, and Rosie. Not only did Jess help us plant, she also did an awesome job of documenting the day on her blog, taking the pressure off us :). Thanks Jess! 

Milking begins tomorrow which means lots of noisy, weened lambs and a big transition into the main part of the season, milking twice a day and making hay. Here we go! 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

the end of plowing + 5 abreast + pasture clipping

Hello everyone,

Lots of horse fieldwork going on around here lately. For one, Daniel and I finished plowing the big field a few days ago. For the most part we were working together with one of us on the plow handles and one driving the horses but we each made a few trips around by ourselves. We're happy to have that done, though plowing is fun and challenging and we would certainly do more. I harrowed yesterday with the three mare team of Connie, Polly and Lady so we're ever closer to having the whole field prepped. Meanwhile the alliums and brassicas we have in the field already have been doing well, and we're preparing for a big wave of transplanting of melons, summer and winter squash, tomatoes, peppers, celery etc etc sometime in the next few days. There are also some photos below of Donn discing with 5 animals, and Daniel and I clipping pasture.
Clipping at this point is serving two functions as far as I can tell, one being the curtailing of pasture growth so that it'll be at an optimal level for sheep/ horses when they move back to a clipped area, and the other being to allow Daniel and I to become proficient at using the mowing machines so we'll be ready to cut hay when the time comes. The mowing machine has been my favorite implement to use so far, I think because of the speed at which mowing happens and that the way the mowing machines are designed is simple enough for me to understand readily but complex enough to be an impressive feat of engineering. The sound it makes as you're cutting a swath of grass (perfectly straight, of course. Just kidding haven't got that down yet but it'll be all the more satisfying when I do) is cool too.

The last strip of sod to be plowed in the big field
The field at mostly its final size
A relatively straight furrow (I think we made this one together, I can't remember which of us was on the handles)
Donn has been discing newly-plowed ground across the street. This is an arduous task for the animals, and here are all the available animals in one hitch.
Discing with 5 abreast. 
Polly, George and I do some clipping.
Daniel with Lady and Connie

For Elizabeth, if you haven't already seen this one. And of course for everyone else. Lee is being weaned from Connie right now so there are lots of vocalizations expressing her discontent with this fact. Part of growing up, Lee. Sorry. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

newspaper + field prep + green

Two Spruce Farm and Northland were featured on the front page of the Cortland Standard on Saturday. This is mostly for my mom, so she can print it out and hang it on the fridge like when I was a kid and got a hit in T-ball. The only difference, really, is that now I'm pulling dandelions with intention instead of absentmindedly in the outfield. Jokes there are a lot of other differences. Also sorry if you're interested in which parts of Cortland are going to be included in the upcoming film released by Left Coast pictures, you are only going to be able to read like a quarter of that article.

We also marked out the big field for transplanting/ direct seeding after dragging the spring tine harrow, the chain harrow and a board drag over the plowed ground. We used a custom forecart of Donn's with a 36" wheel spacing (so we can make 36" wide beds, most of which will be single-row) to create shallow furrows for transplanting, and a two-horse cultivator with hilling discs for the first time to create hills for direct seeding and transplanting. 

Donn, Connie and George with the forecart & row marker
The fitted field ready for marking and planting
Row marking/ creating a furrow for transplants
Testing out hilling on the cultivator on the garlic

Tomorrow or Wednesday (depending on rain) will be a big transplanting/ seeding day for us, and we plan to put Napa cabbage, kohlrabi, onions, shallots, scallions, cauliflower, cabbage and our seed potatoes in the ground (as well as doing a bunch of direct seeding: carrots, beets, spinach, radishes, etc). Reinforcements (two friends from PA who do not yet know they will be engaged in agricultural work) will help us make the main field look less like an empty field and more like a market garden. Transplants have been growing great thanks to the consistently warm weather & the application of some compost tea Daniel cooked up. Plus most of the trees have just started to leaf out and the sheep (lambing is done, also, final count: 60) are now on pasture- a large, sudden and welcome influx of green into our daily routine. Bring on the spring. 

Transplants asking to be removed from their sheltered existence
The garden by the greenhouse with carrots, beets, peas, radishes and spinach under cover
The flock with all 60 lambs (not all pictured) on pasture

Saturday, May 4, 2013

plow anatomy + farmhack photos + farm photos


Two Spruce Farm staff has been real busy since the last post,  mostly with that most farmy of farming activities, plowing. To begin, this past weekend we traveled to Connecticut for a plow clinic given by master plowman Sam Rich at We Li Kit Farms. Neither Daniel nor I had ever used a plow before, much less a plow with draft animals, so learning from Sam (who was the walking plow champion at the 2007 USA plow match) was a good place to start.

Secretly, I came into the event wondering how much there could possibly be to learn about plowing. You just pull it behind some animals and it turns over ground, right? Uncomplicated. Turns out it's a very complicated and nuanced skill to plow correctly, and I was humbled by the amount of information Sam gave out that I didn't know. There's an entire lexicon associated with plows about which I was mostly unaware. At one point this weekend Sam was speaking and I realized only someone who was familiar with plowing with horses (or had just learned about plowing with horses) would be able to even understand that Sam was speaking standard English. 

For the sake of public education here's a diagram of a single- bottom walking plow, which is what we've been using and can be pulled behind 1-4 or more animals, depending on the size of the furrow slice it is taking (which is dependent on the width of the moldboard, see below). There are other types of plows used with draft animals, namely sulky plows, which have wheels and a seat on which the teamster can ride. Donn also has a trailer plow, which is pulled behind a forecart. There are probably other types of plows. As I've already confessed, I am a plow novice.
Also the "shin" is the leading edge of the plow.
View of the same type of plow from the other side. The piece of metal on the bottom of the plow is the landside or landslide. The heel is the part of the landside closest to the handles. 
 We also got the opportunity to watch some other teamsters work with their horses- seeing others' style of driving horses was great for us. We got to plow a little with a team of oxen which was really cool/ much different than horses. Oxen are much chiller than horses, based on this one experience. Last Friday, Sam worked on Donn's walking plow, changing the angle of the point dramatically in order to increase the land suction, or the force keeping the landside at the right depth and angle during plowing.

We got back from the clinic ready to plow up the land we'll be using this season- it had been too wet to plow until earlier last week. But despite watching skilled teamsters plow all weekend, it turns out there's still a learning curve. We worked at the beginning of the week with Donn and a couple of teamsters from Essex Farm, and though we're by no means at Sam's level, we're improving. We've plowed up about 2/5 of an acre (or 16,000 square feet, which sounds way more impressive) so far.

Below are more pictures from the FarmHack plus some requisite lamb photos. We've been chipping away at the forecart (Donn put in a couple of nights welding since the event) but the excitement of spring has put it on the back burner a bit. We'll keep working on rainy days and when we have the time and hopefully next time we post about it, it'll be being pulled by horses!

unbolting the front end from the rear end

watching to see if it'll come apart easily

it's starting to separate!

we got it!

here's the front of the tractor, propped up in the right side of the shop. we have a dream to work on the engine and turn it into a stationary power unit that we could use to power basically anything. There's a pully on the other side of the tractor that will run a belt when engaged.
we also worked on making a tongue (part that the horses hold up and pull against) for the cart. we had dragged this ironwood tree out of the forest a week before and we shaped it with a chainsaw and handheld planer. 
Ben and Becca (friends from Dickinson) lining up holes to be drilled into the steel frame we're building.

first piece of the frame bolted on!

And now, the lambs: 

We've also been putting seeds in the ground! We plowed the greenhouse garden, the smallest of our three planting areas, this week, then dragged it with a chain harrow, raked out the stones and clods and straw, and marked it for planting nice, straight rows. Peas, carrots, beets, spinach, radishes, and scallions went in yesterday and got watered in by a light rain today. They were all direct seeded using the Planet Jr we bought. We transplanted kale yesterday, too--our first transplanting of the season! Things are warming up and becoming more busy. CSA customers are signing up and contacting us with questions. Flowers are blooming and trees are budding and the ducks are swimming on the pond. We're plowing and harrowing and discing and preparing to transplant more and seed more and grow a lot! If you haven't signed up for a share yet and would like to, please get in touch with us!