Taking Soil Samples
You should take soil samples every 2-3 years. Just take a shovel into the field, dig out the sod, grab a fistful of dirt, put it in a labeled Ziplock bag and send it to the lab. Okay, so the official instructions talk about probes, depth of sample, areas of sampling, taking a representative sample, how to label the containers, how not to label the containers, etc. But this is the essence.
Anyway, we now have a box of baggies full of dirt ready to go the University of Maine Soil Testing Lab in Orono. We’ve used UVM’s testing service, but I don’t find their reports to be too helpful. The point of this is to learn how to improve the health of the soil. What amendments should we apply to make the grasses and legumes grow better? Is the soil too acidic? Is it lacking phosphorous? How does this test compare to the previous one -have we improved the soil health?
As we took samples from several spots around the hay fields and vegetable garden. I noticed two things. First, all the soil samples were dry, brittle. None of the dirt would clump together if you squeezed it in your fist. Secondly, there was not a single earth worm. Earth worms are a sign of healthy soil. That we have none close to the surface indicates poor soil conditions -in this case, not enough rain this summer.
Anyone know how to perform a rain dance?
Another Intern Alum Reunion
There seems to be a confluence of mystic energy at the farm this week: not one, but THREE of our previous interns showed up for a few days. Ronit, who was with us two years ago, is going to UMass. This is her fourth post-visit. Caroline is a wildlife biology major at Colorado College. She spent last summer with us, left, then came back for a couple weeks. Now she’s back again. And Ella drove up from CT to hang out with us for three weeks before she starts to think about going back to UMaine. Ella’s a repeat offender. I’ve lost track of how many times she’s showed up (5 or 6, I think).
The concept of future time is still a bit nebulous to these young 20-somethings. Caroline gave us two weeks’ notice, Ella four days, and Ronit 6 hours. I once counted an extra car in the driveway as I headed out to the barn one morning. Turned out it was Ella, who had, on a whim, decided to visit.
As we’ve told them many times, come visit whenever they want. Our home is always open for them. And to borrow a phrase, “We’ll leave the light on for you.”
(Or we would if they’d let us know they were coming).
The soil is too dry and grass is not growing. I’ve been looking around for any neighboring fields we could hay. However, there are none available. A friend knew of some in East Barnard (about 4 miles from the farm). We drove around one morning with his two little kids checking these out. Unfortunately, most were very small. All were sloped (not an exciting characteristic for round bales).
So this week I started haying one of the larger fields on Balla Machree Farm on Broad Brook Road -i.e. 25 minutes by tractor from the farm. About half of the 12 acres produces hay; the other half produces an extraordinary amount of ferns.
I was hauling the bales back to the farm yesterday when a tire on the hay wagon blew and shredded. Arrgghh! Wait. Do we have another 15” tire somewhere? Yes, on the little blue wagon. I try to take one off, but the lug nuts are seized. Arrggh. A torch to the nuts finally loosens them. Okay, good. Load the tire, wrench and jack in the car and we’re off! I take the wheel off the hay wagon, go to put the temporary tire on and…. The lugs are not in the same place. More aaarrrghhhh!
After more trials, which all fail and I’m intentionally trying to forget, I'm reduced to hauling two bales at a time, which is as many as I can take with just the tractor. And after sending out this blog, I’m back on the tractor to fetch the last 6 bales from the field. Lisa will wrap bales while I’m doing this. Then she’ll spell Ida in the creamery and I’ll try to get a new tire. The joys of farming!
We’ve had another first on the farm. One of Heather’s sisters and her boyfriend came up for a visit. Unknown to the sister, her boyfriend had planned an outing to a local flower farm, where he was going to propose. Heather, who was in on the secret, was to be the photographer.
However, they first visited our vegetable, herb and flower garden. All the colors, varieties, sizes, and shapes fill your senses. The parallel rows of plants, the morning glory trellised gateway, the electric fence surrounding and defining the garden, plus the green hill and blue sky in the background set the scene. The cows, who happened to be grazing nearby, along with a killdeer on her nest of four as yet unhatched eggs witnessed what happened next.
Seems that both Mollie and Sami thought it was so wonderful that he went off script, got down on his knees, proposed then and there in the garden.
So feel free to stop by, check out the garden, and propose! Ps – she said yes.
Pop Up Farm Stand (PUFS)
This past Saturday saw our first weekly Pop Up Farm Stand, which we jokingly refer to as “PUFS.” Every Saturday morning from 10:00-12:00 we'll be setting up the tent to highlight and offer our fresh, organic vegetables. It’s also an opportunity to chat with some of the Kiss the Cow farmers, who make all this food possible.
We wanted to have a “soft opening” for the first PUFS to ease into it and to give us a chance to dial in the details. So did minimal advertising, which is why I didn’t mention it last week. I’d like to congratulate the folks who braved the 49 degree temps, overcast sky, and gusting wind The free coffee was appreciated! And the kids were way more interested in the calves than the cold (or veggies).
The forecast for this coming Saturday is much warmer. So stop by, get some veggies, visit the farm store, see the calves, drink some coffee, and say hi!
The Smell of the Sea
I love Vermont. It’s strange little place, but it’s a cool strange. You can live in one town, but your mail is sent to a different one. People around here think that’s normal. We have politicians in power across the political spectrum. Our state is practically the same size and shape as its neighbor, New Hampshire, only upside down, standing on its head. You can easily travel north and south, but not east or west.
We have mini-metro areas surrounded by tens of thousands of acres of woods and fields. A plethora of animals, insects and plants populate this rural expanse, though there are few humans. We are blessed with a kaleidoscope of green and an ongoing opera of bird songs; of seasons: five of them. We’ve flatlands, mountains, rivers, little pavement and one long, narrow lake.
What we don’t have is an ocean. This is something I miss. The ocean is alluring, a source of opportunity, of escape. It is alive, dangerous, and too vast to comprehend. It reaches deep within you.
Before we “swallowed the anchor” Lisa and I went through a sailing phase. Based in Salem, we sailed Boston’s north shore and Penobscot Bay. Vermont is amazing, but there is no ocean, the sound of the waves, or that ocean smell.
Then a was walking around the new vegetable garden, looking at all the different shaped and colored plants when a slight breeze came up. Suddenly I was transported back to our sailing days and time on the coast. It was completely unexpected, but intensely powerful.
What set off this nostalgic voyeurism? An organic fertilizer we add to the soil to provide extra nutrients for the vegetables made from the leftover detritus from the fish filleting processing in Gloucester, MA.
I feel more complete with a little bit of the ocean in Vermont.
For the Love of Craigslist
I have a love-hate relationship with Craigslist.
It’s a good, simple tool to get rid of stuff you no longer want, find stuff you think you want, get a job or place to live, find a car mechanic, connect with people or find daycare. All easily done with a few clicks. Craigslist can be a powerful tool for good. It can also become addictive.
Over the years I’ve missed out on some “amazing opportunities” because I didn’t see the advert soon enough. There was that full sized, commercial dishwasher for less than $100 that someone just wanted gone. The two-door cooler that we could have used in the farm store or the hay bale spear for the back of the tractor. Then there are the cute little puppies…. Well, let’s not go into cute little puppies. I probably don’t need one.
At times you look and look for something that is never there. Occasionally, the stars align and you suddenly find something you’ve been searching for. Like our round baler. I didn’t see the notice until a few days after it was posted. It was exactly the baler I was looking for, and the price was right. I was certain it had already sold, but just had to call to confirm. “Yes, it’s still available,” the guy said. Crap! I was kind of hoping it was gone so I didn’t have to deal with it (or pay for it), but next thing I know I’m hauling a round baler with my Subaru from practically the Canadian border.
We have been looking for an undercounter commercial dishwasher for a while. No urgency, but if we can someday get our own creamery at the farm then we will need one. Recently, one turned up on Craigslist. Not too old and only used to clean -wait for it- milk jars. What? How is this possible? Naturally, we had to get it even though I’ve no idea when we’ll be able to use it. At 80% savings on a new model there just wasn’t a choice. It’s now sitting in the garage, waiting until we can get the rest of the creamery pieces together.
Maybe I’ll just take a quick look now, while I’m thinking about it, to make sure I don’t miss any amazing opportunities….
PS – if you happen to come across some Basset or Bloodhound puppies, please let me know. We need one of those. Obviously! You know, for the farm.
I just picked Naomi up at the airport. A high school senior, she’s required to give two weeks of community service. Somehow, she chose our community. Even more unlikely, she convinced her parents to fly her 2000 miles to the east coast. She’s crazy about cows. Tomorrow she’ll meet some up close.
We’ll show her how to milk, how to put up CSA bags, restock the store. She’ll help out in the creamery making ice cream, labeling pints, filling milk jugs, cleaning up (haha!) and doing “quality control.” She’ll get her hands dirty putting young plants in the soil, watering and covering them with thin cloth to keep them warm during the cold night. We have more fencing to do, layers still to move into their mobile field coop, the veggie equipment storage area to whitewash. Of course, she should ride shotgun on a CSA delivery or two to see how that works as well as experience the ever greener Vermont countryside. Being from central CA she doesn’t see a lot of green.
If you happen to see her, please say hello!
That's a Lot of Bull
We’ve had six bull calves in a row now. I don’t know the statistical probability of that. It’s not only a series of six with two possible outcomes (male or female), but also a series of six same sex calves out of approximately 80 that we’ve had over the years. That’s more than I can remember from my Intro to Statistics class. One of our interns, Ida who is a math fanatic, tells me she is working on it. But until she gives me a scientifically produced number let’s just say the odds are stretching credulity.
[Update: Thanks to Scott, one of our CSA members, we now know the answer: 1.56%. Each event is .5 probability and all six are independent. .5x.5x.5x.5x.5x.5 = 0.0156].
Another CSA member raises sheep. So far this lambing season her ratio is 5:1 rams to ewes. Last year though ewe lambs dominated. Something in the water? Astrological? Climate change? I’m going to assume that if we zoom out to a larger perspective these are still random events in spite of our small sample trends.
And here is some more bull: California and Texas lead the US in organic dairy production, accounting for more than one third the organic milk sales nationally. Let me repeat that: Two states supply 1/3 the country's organic milk. The average organic dairy in California has 469 cows. Texas, with only six (6) certified organic dairies, produces 11% of the nation’s organic milk with an average of 4,617 cows per farm. You have to wonder how sustainable this is considering that Texas has little grassland and California is quickly running out of water.
In comparison, the average organic dairy farm in the Northeast (Maine, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont) has 58 milk cows. Where would you rather get your milk from?
We have a couple new initiatives this year and the first one is OUR OWN ORGANIC VEGETABLES. Yes! Finally. And no, I cannot believe it either.
We will now be able to offer fresher vegetables, especially greens, which we’ll harvest multiple times a week. Fresher vegetables mean tastier vegetables. We’re growing all the common varieties, including greens, carrots, onions, cabbage, cukes, peppers, tomatoes, radish, etc. And these are all certified organic so they are safe to eat, rich in nutrients, and healthier for the soil.
Did I mention the fresh herbs? Like sage, dill, basil, cilantro, fennel, rosemary, and thyme.
And have I mentioned the fresh-cut flowers? The colors and smells of marigolds, snapdragons, zinnias, sunflowers, strawflowers, etc.?
We will still supplement with certified organic veggies from other area farms, such as Root 5 and Bear Roots, as needed. For example, while we’re growing fresh carrots for this summer we will not try to stockpile for next winter. All these veggies are for you, our farm store customers and CSA members. We're not trying to sell wholesale to retail stores.
Randy Robar, co-owner of Kiss the Cow Farm