Saturday, May 23, 2009

Goings on...

Life is getting easier and more routine these days. Ben is here now, he moved in on Wednesday, but he's still getting settled.

The lilacs are in bloom.

The greenhouse is full of little plantlets right now. I've got 97 trays seeded, so our tables are at capacity. I transplanted 4 trays of salad turnips yesterday to make room for the rest of the flowers... They seemed really happy despite the heat.

I discovered this old lawn mower in the barn and decided it was time for him to earn his keep... he's been trimming the grass in front of the hoop house for a couple days now...

Things are running smoothly...

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Great Pig Escape of 2009

The pigs arrived yesterday, and proved within the first hour home that they are a force to be reckoned with...

Allow me to introduce Herkimer (the token male in the middle), Florence Griffith Joyner a.k.a Flo Jo (the oldest girl on the left), and we haven't found a name for the littlest girl yet. She's quiet, so I'm still getting to know her... I'll let you know what I figure out.

My brother Jake and I brought the little guys home in Dora's crate, and set it in the middle of their pen. They were quite shaken, so we didn't force them out right away. When they finally came out (after a little coaxing from Jake and I), they emerged only to run around their pen and find the one place where they could slip through the 3 strands of electric fence to freedom, led by Flo Jo. Jake and I, never having had pigs before, did the only things we could think of. I scrambled to grab some grain and Jake tried to get ahead of them to keep them from running up into the woods. 

After herding them around the pasture for a good 15 minutes, we were finally able to get them into the back side of the barn where Jake immediately caught one by the middle. It was wiggling its way out of his arms, so I run up, grabbed its hind legs, and carried it, upside down, (the way you carry piglets without hurting them or yourself) and we put it in our old chicken coup which I had, luckily, cleaned out earlier that afternoon in case the storm was too bad and we needed to put the pigs in there. Jake was then able to catch the other smaller piglet, and we quickly put that in the coup as well... the only one left was Flo Jo, the ring leader... I tore out of the back of the barn and couldn't see her anywhere... but I could hear her. She was really stressed, and breathing/oink-ing loudly behind the well house. She saw me coming behind her and ran for it... fast (thus the name Flo Jo came about). She stayed down in the pasture as we continued to try to herd her down into the barn, but after another 5 minutes of that we were both losing steam... she took off up the hill toward the pond. I was close behind her but she got past the pond before I could head her off. I followed her up into the woods, keeping her in sight the entire time. I didn't have my phone on me, and I didn't know where Jake was. It was just me, alone with Flo Jo, in the woods. My only hope was to get her to head back down the hill... I ran uphill as fast as I could without keeling over, glasses fogging up the whole way, tearing off layers of flannel as I went. Finally she found a patch of something she liked and stopped for a snack. At that moment I heard Jake call up the hill for me. We yelled back and forth as I directed him south before turning up the hill to herd her back... it worked perfectly. She booked it back toward the house... I lost sight of her but Jake could see both of us and yelled directions to me so I would know where to go as I scrambled down the hill. When we got out of the trees, she was way ahead with Jake. We followed her down the hill past the barn, as she headed around the back of the house and headed toward the road. I sprinted from the driveway, rounded the front corner of the house, and was about to turn the next corner when I came face to face with Flo Jo... we both stopped in our tracks, shocked to be in front of the other. Flo Jo turned right around and ran back into the flower garden in front of the kitchen window... It's got a 10ft retaining wall going down to the basement level on one side... she was trapped... or so we thought. Flo Jo jumped off that wall in a split second and hit the ground running, olympic running athlete pig that she is. 

At that point Jake and I had been running as fast as we could for about a half hour and I didn't have anything left in me... we gave up as we watched Flo Jo run off behind the Sugar house and into the woods toward the brook... Jake walked after her and I decided to follow... the only thing we found was a hoof print in the mud... she was gone.

I came in the house feeling really discouraged, my first day as a pig farmer and I couldn't even manage to keep them in a fence... I took a shower and ate some dinner, feeling like a total failure the entire time. We called all the neighbors and the state police to let them know we had a piglet on the loose... we hoped someone else might have better luck capturing her than we did...

After dinner I headed out to the hoop house because I hadn't gotten a chance to check on the seedlings at all that afternoon. I slipped on my Crocs and headed out to the barn. I was half way up the driveway when I heard what sounded like a squeaky car engine, and then a really short squeal came after it, and I knew immediately it was Flo Jo. I whipped around to see her standing in the field between out house and our neighbors. At that moment I heard my mom, who was standing at our kitchen window (that overlooks that field) doing dishes, scream, "CLAIRE!!" "I see her!" I yelled in reply. I booked it in the back door to the breezeway, threw off my Crocs, jammed on my rubber boots and headed out into the field. In the time it took me to get out there, my mom had gone out the side door, around the house, and was standing in the middle of the field.. it couldn't have been more than 20 seconds... that surprised us both! That woman can move! At that point Flo Jo was standing at the back corner of our neighbors house, so I ran as fast as I could in front of their house and when Flo Jo saw me she ran  back up the hill.

I decided that it was time to stop chasing. She obviously wasn't going to go far, I thought if I got some grain she might come around... I walked into the barn to get some grain, which is stored right by the chicken coup that the other pigs were in, and found Flo Jo standing outside the chicken coup door, staring at her siblings through the chicken wire, oink-ing loudly with them, wanting to get inside. After initially scaring her outside accidentally, she came back in and stood 10 feet away from where I was standing at the door of the chicken coup. I unlatched the door, opened it wide, and talked quietly to her, all the while keeping an eye on the other little ones inside... they were perfectly still, and terrified, poor things. After a couple minutes, Flo Jo gave up and ran past me right into the chicken coup. No catching necessary. All three pigs were back home safe. Thank goodness!

Shortly thereafter I talked to Nancy from Hogwash Farm on the phone. We laughed about how ridiculous my first day was. She congratulated me for surviving. She said that in the future, there's no need to chase them. She said that catching at least one of those pigs in that specific situation was a good idea because they don't know this is home yet and also don't trust/know me either and therefore wouldn't just come to food. She said that as long as you have one pig, the other pigs won't go far. Pigs are herd animals so they will stick together. She also suggested keeping them in the chicken coup until we get to the point where they come toward me instead of running away when I enter. The other recommendation she made was to put a physical fence around the electric one so that when they are bigger they can't get out and eat our crops! Needless to say I plan on doing that!

All in all, yesterday was pretty intense, but looking back on it, it's pretty entertaining. I got a run for my money, literally.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Be in awe...

This will be a quick one...

The hoop house tables are finished! Everyone admire their loveliness... oooooh aaaaaaaaaaah

Okay, now that that's out of the way, I just have to show you how gorgeous the crabapple trees are right now...

Stay tuned: the pigs arrive on Thursday!!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Season is Under Way!

Well, I moved to the farm almost a week ago, but I've only been farming full time for the past two days since my last exam was on Tuesday... which means that I am officially done with my college career! Life has begun! I can't tell you how amazing it is to be living each day, doing what it is I love, on my own terms, at my own pace! This has already been such a great experience for me, but it has had no shortage of challenges!

Before I get into the craziness that has been my life as Farmer Claire for the past couple days I'll just say that the garlic continues to get bigger and more beautiful every day. It feels so good to see something growing as we get the season started. It's a reminder of all the wonderful things that lie ahead!

Before I begin, let me say that this is me being completely real about my learning curve in an attempt to keep things honest and open... I'm having a blast but I don't know everything. So this is as much a discovery process as it is a very familiar comfortable way of life for me...

Alright, so this week I realized that I needed to lime our soil heavily before Fred came to plow on Wednesday since we need to raise our pH by a full point! However, Wednesday morning arrived, and since I had been in Burlington the day before finishing up my exam and running errands I totally forgot to purchase the lime! So I frantically called Ben at 9:00am (who was still in Burlington) in an attempt to figure out how we could calculate the amount of lime to use... after consulting many books, our brains, and our soil test we decided that I only had a couple hours til Fred would arrive and it was more important to have some lime on than none at all (We've since figured it out and will apply the rest soon).

Instead of continuing to freak out I pulled myself together, picked up some lime from Central Supplies and spread fifteen 40 pound bags of lime over the first half acre. We know that's far less than we will need, but at least it was something. Our soil looked like a light snow had fallen on it...

Fred arrived that afternoon and did a fantastic job roughing up the ground. He went back over the area we limed with his plow and then turned over the new parcel I marked out behind the barn.

When Fred was done, my worst fears were reality... there were huge rocks everywhere. 
So today I spent the better part of my morning out there with a demolition bar, trying my darndest to get as many of the big ones moved as I could... but with it being so muddy and the ground being so uneven the tractor was no use. I had to give up... Hopefully after the rain lets up I'll be able to make a bigger dent in the boulders out there. For now I've decided to focus my energy on other things.

Like the plants! I think I've got about 40 trays seeded at the moment. 
I've been using a soil block maker which takes a bit longer than the plastic seed trays to set up, but it has a much smaller ecological footprint which is why I'm sticking with it! 

Those little seedling trays have taken up all the temporary space 
I had set up for them in the hoop house, so today Jake gave me some carpentry lessons as we constructed our first hoop house table out of the hemlock we got from the Howards! Soon the whole greenhouse will be full of those tables. I have to be honest, I'm really happy with how it turned out. I can't wait to make more!

Finally, before I head to bed I have to let you know that our t-shirts have arrived! We got them done at Green Mountain Imprints in Shelburne. 

They've got our farm logo on the front and a great line drawing of the barn and the hoop house that Jake designed for us (it may look very familiar as it has appeared on this blog once before) on the back.
These lovely shirts come in red, navy blue, chocolate brown, or a mossy-green color. They are printed on organic cotton and are $18.00. Shoot me an email if you'd like one!