Friday, April 01, 2011

Sowing the Seeds!

April 1st and we got about 6 inches of snow.  No fooling!  At least we didn't get the foot of snow like they predicted. It's melting quickly so we didn’t have to clean off the greenhouses or plow the driveway..AGAIN!
We’ve been writing a lot about the chickens recently, and while they are fun for us because they are new, we figured we should also write a bit about the other goings on on the farm that are vegetable related as the vegetables are where it’s at for us.
We’ve been seeding like mad in the greenhouse.  Almost all of the early spring seeds have been sown for transplant.  To give you some perspective on just how much seeding takes place, we thought it would be interesting to give you some here goes.
  • Almost 105,000 seeds are started in the greenhouse. 
  • From these seeds started in the greenhouse, we’ll plant about 87,000 plants into the field. 
  • We direct seed (meaning the seed goes right in the ground) about 195,000 seeds.
  • We plant on over 68,000 feet, or close to 13 miles of vegetables.

When you look at it like that, it’s no wonder we invested in a water wheel transplanter to make our lives a bit easier this year.    A water wheel transplanter is an implement that attaches to the back of the tractor.  There are wheels with spikes on them at set intervals that punch a hole in the ground and fill the hole with water.  Behind the wheels are seats for people to sit on.  The people then stick a transplant into the water hole to plant the plant. 
Here is a picture of one like ours.   Can’t wait to use it this year.

In a couple of weeks we'll be direct seeding peas and carrots, transplanting beets, kale, and collard greens.   So the snow better melt fast as we have a lot of work todo.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Ladies Have Arrived.

Yesterday was the big day!

We rented a little UHaul truck to go get the birds in Concord, Ma.  We took advantage of a delivery that was being made to Pete and Jenn's Backyard Birds in Concord.  We got to meet Pete, who was a great help to us chicken newbies.  The outfit in Rhode Island that coordinated the order brought in 4000 chickens and it was a little overwhelming to see this tractor trailer pull up that was loaded that morning with 4000 18 week old chickens.

We were the last stop of the day so only 600 birds were left on the truck (500 for Pete and 100 for us).  After unloading all the birds and a little tour of some equipment at Verrill Farm (Pete is also a farm manager for Verrill Farms) we headed home to unload.

Everyone made it safely back home and one of the hens decided to lay us a little pullet egg during the ride home.  Here is a picture of them all in the back of the UHaul.

Then we loaded them 10 at a time into our transport coops, through the mud, to the back of the greenhouse and into their new portable coop.  Loaded up the food and water feeders and everyone was safely home and eating.

After a day or so they will make their way into the hoophouses to eat some leftover spinach and kale.

Stay tuned for the availability of fresh, organically fed, free range chicken eggs.  We are hoping to have smaller pullet eggs available in the next week or two!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Chickens !

So we have known for awhile that the missing element for our operation to be completely sustainable is animals, but, we have avoided them for various reasons.  The main reasons for this avoidance are our unfamiliarity with raising them and our desire to take time in the off season to visit family down south.  Well, we have grown our operation to a size that makes it quite expensive (time/labor as well as financial) to build fertility and the addition of the winter CSA has increased our need for off season help.  With this in mind we have made the decision to try our hands with hens.  In the future we may expand to pigs and or perhaps partner with someone to raise beef.

We have always grown cover crops, and with the additional land over the past few years we were able to grow cover crops on land to allow it to rest between cash crop plantings.  However, we still needed to fertilize the soil and mow the fields periodically.  The premise to a sustainable operation is that animals can fertilize and mow the fields in addition to providing a nutrient rich, healthy product.  Thus freeing our time (or better yet re-allocating it) to manage and care for the animals.

The land at our home farm in Pepperell has be grown on intensively for over 8 years.  Some years we would get three to four crops from a single bed leaving little time in the season to get a good stand with a cover crop.  In managing this intensively we relied heavily on organic fertilizer amendments and compost applications.  With the addition of the chickens this year we are viewing it as a small trial.  We will be taking a significant portion of the home farm out of production of a cash crop and allowing the chickens to range on the field eating the cover crop we grow for them along with weed seeds and bugs.

We have built a small portable hoop house coop for them that we will move around  the field as needed.  The coop will be surrounded by electric netting fence to protect them from predators that we will also move around as needed.  They will also be supplemented with organic feed from either Green Mountain Feeds or Morrison Feeds both out of Vermont.  We are hoping this will not only increase the fertility of our fields at home but also provide us with delicious healthy pastured eggs to offer up for sale at CSA pickups.  If the trial is successful we will build a more road worthy coop for next year to move a flock of chickens around the remote fields as well.

Based upon our financial analysis chicken eggs are not a money maker.  Costs are very high for organic feed as well as the start up equipment needs.  However, the survey results indicated that most CSA members would like eggs and we also want to know that the eggs we eat come from chickens that were fed quality feed and were allowed to live as chickens should...outside on pasture.  So our goal is to simply cover the costs and have some eggs for ourselves.  Most likely we will only have enough eggs to sell at CSA pickups to subscribers, but if we have extra we will bring them to the markets we attend.  We will strive to keep costs down but they will most likely be more expensive than the competition as they will be fed organic feed which is almost twice as expensive as conventional grains.  Given that the majority of the protein in chicken feed is soy based the only way we feel confident that the soy in our feed is GMO free is to use organic feed.

Our ladies should be here on March 8th.  We have purchased 100 Red Sex-Link pullets from a company in Pennsylvania in partnership with a farm in Rhode Island.  They will be 18-20 weeks old and should start laying shortly after we receive them.  We have been reading everything we can about raising them and have spent the last few weeks building the coop and ordering supplies for them.  Here are a few pictures of the portable coop construction.

2- 10 hole Nest Boxes

The eggs roll out of the nests in the back to help keep eggs clean.
Nest boxes mounted in hoop coop.  Doors will be installed.
Inside view.  Hoop supports double as roosts. (need another on each side)

Finished view of front
After first move with wheels on. Not bad.  Wheels will be removed when not needed.

Sowing onion transplants

 February 14th we fired up the heat in the greenhouse and started to sow the onion seeds.  We grow onions for early spring harvest, late summer full size bulbs, and new this year a storage variety for the winter CSA.  We just finished them on Friday...all 21,500 of them plus 10,000 leeks !!

Sadie has to watch.

Some early germination

new trial red variety - Red Zeppelin

First round of trays on heat mats