Monday, August 4th
This week’s morning chore was to work with the rabbits. Polyface’s rabbits are housed in a few different spots; the Racken, which is the hoophouse where the older laying hens sanitize the rabbit droppings, the big barn and in Hare Pens, mobile rabbit shelters placed in different central spots on the farm. My duties entailed feeding and watering all the rabbits in the Hare Pens and in the barn. When those were done, I’d check in with Hannah, our apprentice in charge of the rabbits, who was usually in the Racken feeding, breeding various pairs, keeping records and checking on the new babies. Some days I’d need to fill the bulk feeders for the hens that live in the Racken and other days entailed gathering comfrey leaves to feed the rabbits who aren’t on pasture. I really liked working with the rabbits. They’re quiet and cute and a nice way to start the day.
After breakfast, Hannah and I went to pick up calves at a farm about an hour from Polyface. I was really excited to go partly because I am a big fan of Hannah, but I also wanted to check out another cattle operation. This particular farm had a really nice sorting and loading area all under roof and the calves very calmly loaded up onto the trailer. Originally, I had been a bit apprehensive about how it would be hauling twenty +/- 500lb calves over an hour on the freeway, but they were well behaved the entire way back. Once we returned to Polyface, we sorted out the heifers from the steers, weighed them and gave them a new ear tag. Since the calves were so calm, it was a good chance for me to learn how to remove the old tag and put a new one in through the existing ear tag hole. We then brought the steers up to join the Polyface herd while the heifers went to a different herd at one of the rental properties.
Tuesday, August 5th
Tuesday was a comfrey day for the rabbits. After giving them their feed, I would take two five gallon buckets and harvest comfrey from one of the several comfrey patches on the farm. I like giving the rabbits their greens. It gives me a chance to check on each one and get to see the new babies.
The rest of the day we spent chipping, stacking and unloading wood. I did notice we were messing around with some logs that had these peculiar looking vines on them which I believe lead to a rip snorting case of poison ivy that manifested a day or so later. Oh well, such is the life of someone with sensitive skin. It was a good day and we got a lot done, but I was definitely tired. And itchy.
Wednesday, August 6th
I canned my first green beans with Teresa Salatin today! Yay! But more on that in a moment. We started out the day processing about 450 birds and I was on the quality control station. We check the birds for stray feathers the plucker may have missed, the odd lung or windpipe that was left behind and basically give the carcass the once over to make sure it is ready for market.
After lunch, when we usually bag and sort the birds, I got the opportunity to work with Teresa, Joel Salatin’s lovely wife, on canning green beans. I had never canned before and had asked if I could help if there was any that needed to be done. Initially, we snapped the beans and made them into bite site pieces. We then washed them many times in cold water, put them into clean jars, put ¼ teaspoon of salt and added boiling water. By no means is this a recipe on canning or a tutorial, since I’m definitely a newbie. The cans then went into Teresa’s pressure canner. (I want one of those!) Canning was a lot more straightforward than I was expecting and I’m looking forward to canning more.
Thursday, August 7th
Rabbit duty got a little less cute today. It was rabbit processing day. After chores and breakfast, Hannah and I picked seven rabbits (The number is based off pre orders placed through restaurants and buying club. Sometimes it’s more than thirty and other times it’s only a few.) and brought them to the processing shed. I then learned how to dispatch, skin and gut a rabbit. I have rabbits of my own (Don’t worry guys, I’m not going to eat you.) and I anticipated that it would be difficult to butcher such a cute little fluffball, but it wasn’t.
Hannah’s rabbit processing set up and procedures are pretty simple. The rabbits are taken from their crate, hit with a pipe on their forehead to quickly stun then and then bled out. We then put their feet into these little slipknots that are already hung from the ceiling, remove their skin and organs, leaving the livers with the rabbit and bag them up for clients. Hannah can process three rabbits in the time it takes me to finish one, but she gave me the chance to work on three of the seven. I ran into trouble separating some of the joints, but I think that I will get more proficient with practice. As I write this, I’m envisioning the surprise many who know me will feel reading that I have butchered rabbits. I have always been a big animal lover and had lots of pets, so I’m sure this new skill seems odd. I take comfort, though, in knowing that the process by which the rabbits are butchered is fast and low stress. These bunnies are for food, not for pets, and the way I can express love for them is to provide them with a good life and a quick departure.
We spent the rest of the afternoon preparing for a fence line installation at one of the rental properties. Some of the other interns had dug holes for the fence posts while I was chipping on Tuesday and every day since we have been filling the holes with water. We haven’t had much rain here and the ground is really hard. This can make post pounding difficult and annoying, so adding water really helps.
Friday, August 8th
After chores, we interns processed about 500 chickens. This Friday was fresh bird pick up at the farm, where people can pre-order fresh birds and come to the farm to buy them. I was on quality control again and between everyone, we were finished with the birds by noon.
After lunch, we packaged the birds, setting aside some for those who had pre-ordered. I then went with Hannah and Will, a fellow intern, to move some cows across a road on a property Polyface is leasing for grazing. The move went well but once the cows were in their new pasture, we noticed some party games from a kid’s birthday were still out in the field and had to haul them out. I'm sure the people driving by were wondering what the three people in the cow pasture were doing carrying a water balloon catapult through a herd of steers. It's always something.
Saturday, August 9th
This was a weekend where I was working, hence the Saturday entry, but it ended up being a great day. After chores, fellow intern Greer and I were given the chance to work on our tractor skills and were asked to take the feed buggy up to the Eggmobile and fill the feeder. I still need to work on backing up, because it took a few tries to get the buggy close enough to where the arm of the buggy would reach the feeder, but we were excited we got this done without any supervision/intervention. After our glorious tractoring, I went with Hannah to pick up peaches from an orchard about an hour away. The families of Polyface end up buying seasonal produce in bulk and setting it aside. We picked up eight bushels (a lot of peaches) but they smelled so good I bought some for myself. I enjoyed seeing another farm business and the amount of customers they had for their peaches. It gives me hope for my and Dan’s farm enterprise.
The afternoon was spent with Miriam, one of the apprentices, setting up a shade structure for the cows at one of the other rental properties. Since it was the two of us, it took longer than normal. (We usually have about four people helping.) Once we got back, I gathered the eggs and we wrapped up with enchiladas at Daniel and Sheri Salatin’s.
I hope you all are enjoying reading about how things are going. Next week will be a lot of work with turkeys, so check back in if you’re looking to talk turkey. (Sorry. Bad pun.)
One of my routine screening questions when a person approaches the APPPA booth at a trade show or calls the office is, “Are you raising poultry on pasture now?” Many times, I get an affirmative response, but the person substitutes free-range for pasture.
What Does ‘Free-Range’ Mean?
I know you may not see the problem. Who can argue with free-range? But I’m not a member of the American Free-range Poultry Association. And there’s good reason for that. The mainstream implementation of free-range is anything but ideal, and it typically violates the visual of a flock of chickens foraging across an open range. It short, it has about as much meaning as the “natural” label.
Yes, I’m talking about free-range CAFO chickens and turkeys, and it’s a real problem that the confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) get away with labeling their products as free-range with nothing more than access to the outside. There is no mandate to make the birds go outside.
Since becoming APPPA’s mouth piece, I’ve made the pasture-raised difference one of my key educational issues. Like most obfuscated issues in food, this starts with marketing. The marketing problem of pasture-raised versus free-range is a very simple one, and people who produce poultry and people who eat poultry should do well to understand the nuances.
Free-range is a USDA label which basically means the birds have access to the outdoors and consequently they aren’t raised in cages. That’s a broad definition and it’s abused by the large poultry integrators who cater to consumer intent with a government sanctioned production loop hole. Free-range implies a bird on range or pasture, but it’s not actually required.
In some cases, a CAFO organic broiler might not get access to the outdoors until they are six weeks old. That’s move out day for most of those young meat birds.
For those of us who have raised meat birds, especially Cornish Cross, we know that the longer we wait to introduce them to pasture, the less likely they are to venture into the grass, let alone graze. A typical pastured poultry farmer will have a meat bird on pasture between two and four weeks, where it lives and forages the majority of its life on fresh, green grass, giving life to the free-range ideal.
Are Free-Range or Pastured Poultry More Nutritious?
For the broiler nutritional study APPPA conducted in 2013, I sampled a non-organic free-range CAFO broiler along with another free-range organic CAFO broiler for some comparative numbers. There were several key differences compared to the pastured samples. The pastured samples showed elevated levels of vitamins D and E, whereas the free-range samples were negligible. Depending on the feed type, the pastured raised samples had an omega 6:3 ration of 3:1 (non-soy feed) or 8:1 (soy feed) compared to 11:1 for the two free-range CAFO samples I purchased for the test. Vitamins D and E and the omega profiles are a few of the often-cited differences in grass-based production systems.
This is part of the story we tell about our products, and it’s the type of things that sets our meat and eggs apart from the status quo. People can quibble about what the differences mean, but they can’t quibble with the repeated clinical demonstrations that pasture-raised poultry has unique qualities.
Marketing Pastured as Free-Range
What about pastured poultry producers who market their products as free-range?
Sadly, this is a reality that many producers must realize. I’ve heard many stories from pastured poultry producers who have had problems selling pasture-raised in the past because their customers wanted free-range. The romantic visual of chickens or turkeys free ranging in a pastoral field, unencumbered by any boundary, gets in the way of making informed decisions.
Producers need to draw a line and ask themselves the tough question, which goes something like this. “If I raise a superior product on pasture using a managed rotation that benefits the poultry, the land, and the customers, then why market that superiority using the same terms found in a commodity CAFO chicken?”
Thankfully, this marketing trend is changing, and consumers are asking for pastured poultry by name with an increasing frequency. Consumers are wising up to the difference, and I field an increasing number of questions throughout the year from people who turn to APPPA’s members in search of pasture-raised chickens, eggs, turkeys, and more.
Producing Pastured Poultry is More Than Chicken
Going through the expense and labor of producing small flocks on pasture demands a different descriptor than the watered down free-range reality. Joel Salatin gave us that label in the 1990’s. It’s called pastured poultry and it embodies the difference between the CAFO chicken and the local pasture-raised kind.
I typically boil pasture-raised down to a very simple idea. The birds are given fresh, green grass as part of a managed rotation as seasonally appropriate. The nice thing about pastured poultry is that there is no central body defining what pastured poultry is and there’s no conventional poultry integrators claiming to produce broilers, eggs, turkey, or anything else on pasture. This is a point of difference that should be marketed.
The lack of a centralized, and therefore controlled, definition is that it inspires innovation. That innovation creates a number of production models and housing methods that can be adapted to meet the circumstances of breeds, farms, and geographies.
Free-Range is Not Manageable, in Most Cases
Unless you’re rotating a free-range flock of hens through 50 acres or more for pasture cleaning, I’d argue that there is nothing manageable about turning out a flock to run through the barnyard at-will. The 50 acres is a number borrowed from Joel. I can say with certainty that free ranging is not suited for a couple of acres.
I’ve tried free ranging a few chickens by turning them loose to run the farm and neighborhood. They’d return to the barn to roost at night. The result was neighbor complaints, poop everywhere, scratched up flower beds (or gardens), holes where grass used to be, disappearing hens, and an endless list of potential downsides that appeared on a regular basis.
The free-for-all-free-range method was not manageable. My land recognized no benefits from controlled grazing; the birds overgrazed their favorite areas which eventually denuded those areas, and I still had a coop that needed purchased bedding and cleaning. And who knows if I ever got all my eggs.
One year, I recall we lost a Speckled Sussex only to have her reappear two weeks later looking like she escaped a fox’s mouth. My only guess was that she laid a clutch of eggs somewhere on the perimeter of a neighbor’s property and then went broody.
Advice to Customers
I’ve long held the position that people who seek free-range poultry and eggs are really seeking pasture-raised. That’s my belief, and I’m sticking to it.
The best way to ensure you get what you want is to shop someplace where you can ask the farmer questions because relying on a label alone to authenticate your purchase can be a deceiving game. I’d recommend you look for pastured poultry farmers in your community. Pastured poultry will live a majority of its life on pasture and will be rotated to fresh green grass in a managed (i.e., deliberate) way that benefits the bird, the land, and the eater.
Ask for pasture-raised.
Mike Badger is the director for American Pastured Poultry Producers Association (APPPA), leading the organization’s mission as a nonprofit educational and networking organization dedicated to encouraging the production, processing, and marketing of poultry raised on pasture.
Late summer is the time to be on the lookout for robber bees. Robbing behavior is when foraging bees from one hive enter and rob resources from another, usually weaker, hive. If not prevented, or if not stopped once robbing has begun, the robber bees can completely empty all the stores from the target hive, causing it to starve. Even if the target hive survives, it can be greatly weakened and its remaining bees may become extremely defensive and difficult to manage.
Why Does Honey Robbing Occur?
Robbing occurs during a dearth of nectar. In Middle Tennessee, that can mean before the flowers begin blooming in the spring or it can mean in the height of summer, after the spring bloom and before the fall bloom. The bees have little to forage on and are drawn to the smell of honey in neighboring hives. If the bees can successfully challenge and overcome the guard bees, they will enter the hive and begin robbing. They will then return to their own hive to recruit more robbers. If not stopped, a frenzy of fighting, killing, and robbing will ensue. Soon you may have piles of dead bees and torn-up wax in front of a doomed hive.
How to Prevent Honey Robbing
You can help to prevent robbing by leaving enough honey on all colonies to get them through the times in your area when flowers are not blooming. If you’ve harvested all of their honey, they will be starving and will be more likely to rob nearby hives. If you open the hives to feed them during a time of dearth, the smell of the sugary syrup or honey can incite robbing. At these times, it’s best to minimize your activity in the bee yard, getting into the hives only when absolutely necessary. Using a screen to reduce the entrances can help the guard bees by decreasing the area they must defend without restricting airflow through the hive in the summer.
Sometimes beekeepers mistake orientation flights or swarming for robbing. In orientation flights, the bees are young, fuzzy bees, and they are numerous but calm in their back-and-forth flights in front of the hive. Robber bees are older, slicker bees, having worn down the “fuzz,” and will behave in a frenzied manner, fighting with guard bees on the landing board and in front of the hive. When swarming, bees will be exiting rather than entering the hive and will flying enmass around the queen--not fighting with one another. Once they leave the hive, most of the activity will be high above the hive and not at the entrance. Swarming takes a matter of minutes whereas robbing can go on all day.
If you see robbing in your bee yard, you’ll want to stop it immediately. Cover the hive with a wet sheet (this has worked well for me when I’ve had to do it). Reduce the entrance or screen it up completely for a day or two. Some people suggest taking the top cover off the stronger hive so that the bees will have to stay home and defend their own hive. This seems extreme and I have not tried it; however, I but might consider it if I couldn’t stop the behavior otherwise.
If you hive that has been robbed and left very weak, it may be best to combine it with another hive before winter.
Like other disasters in the apiary, robbing is easier to prevent than to stop. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record (if you follow my blog), it’s another good reason not to harvest so much honey from your bees that you have to feed them!
The other day I went to see some bucks for sale. I have two of Oreo's daughters that I'm keeping, which means I have to find a new buck to breed them to get milk from them. This will be Oreo's third rut, which means he maybe has two more good years.
I looked around and found a possible buck. He was even a LaMancha. So, we went to look at him with the thought of getting him.
He was huge and in rut. Yes, Oreo is in rut, too, but not like this. This buck had his horns and swung them around at me when he was annoyed. He came across as what I would consider a dangerous goat — if there can be such a thing. It wasn't the bucky behavior — it was the lack of respect for humans.
What made his behavior worse was that there were at least five other intact bucks running around loose along with several does in season. Of course, the people didn't think that the younger bucks could breed their does (Oh, yes they can!) and the younger bucks were sure trying to. I guess they didn't believe in wethering bucks that they wouldn't use for breeding.
My husband now looks at Oreo in a different light. By comparison to this free buck, Oreo is a gentleman. Sure, he's bucky, but then, that's what he is. And I'm not concerned that he's going to hurt me.
I was interested in one of her younger bucks, but they haven't called me back, so it may be just as well.
Maggie Bonham is a multiple award-winning author of more than 30 books and the publisher of Sky Warrior Books. You can check out her blog Eating Wild Montana about her adventures with hunting, raising, and growing her own food in Montana.
So we hear these questions nearly every day on LGD forums and Facebook pages and they go something like this - Can I use a Great Dane as a LGD? Or a St. Bernard? How about a heeler and Golden crossbred? My neighbor has some great pups that are a cross between a Great Pyrenees and an Aussie, so would they make a good LGD? We also see lots of dogs advertised as LGDs – but they aren’t.
Livestock guard dogs or LGDs are a group of similar dog breeds just like herding dogs or hunting dogs belong in their own groups. Being a LGD is not a job you can train any other breed to perform. Developed over centuries by working shepherds, livestock guard dog breeds possess a specific set of qualities and behaviors that make them excel at this very special work.
North American Livestock Guardian Dog Breeds
These are the only breeds of livestock guardians readily available in North America. Other breeds are used in different countries and may occasionally be found here as well. Nothing else is truly a livestock guard dog.
- Akbash Dog
- Anatolian Shepherd Dog
- Caucasian Mountain Dog
- Central Asian Shepherd
- Estrela Mountain Dog
- Great Pyrenees
- Kangal Dog
- Karakachan or Bulgarian Shepherd Dog
- Maremma Sheepdog
- Polish Tatra Sheepdog
- Pyrenean Mastiff
- Slovak Cuvac
- Spanish Mastiff
- Tibetan Mastiff
What Makes a Breed a Livestock Guardian?
This is what is crucially important to remember – the livestock guard dog breeds have been selected for a very low or non-existent prey drive, a longer period of social bonding than many other breeds, and a physical appearance that suggests “friend.” They have also been selected for the essential traits of attentiveness, trustworthiness, and protection of their stock. LGDs are exceptionally nurturing and tolerant of their charges. LGDs also possess instinctual responses to first warn off threats rather than immediately attack. Successful owners take these natural LGD behaviors and carefully monitor and encourage them as their pup grows. These inborn traits can be so strong that some adult LGDs, who were never socialized with stock as puppies, will still make outstanding guardians – because of the strong and correct instinctual behaviors they possess.
Due to their size and appearance, members of the public sometimes confuse LGDs with protection breed dogs. However, many LGD breeds have been tested by police, military and schutzhund trainers, who have repeatedly found them unsuitable because of their important lack of strong predatory behaviors. Conversely, this is why protection breeds do not make good LGDs – they have a strong predatory instinct.
The inherited LGD traits are the reason why you can’t take a Lab or a Border collie or another non-LGD breed and easily train and trust it to behave properly as a livestock guard. The prey or chase drives in many breeds are just too high to make them reliable guardians. Some breeds are excellent watchdogs but lack the nurturing instincts a LGD exhibits towards its charges. Other breeds lack the protective coat to work outside in difficult weather. Still others do not possess the size, agility, or sense of responsibility to take on serious predators. These are also the reasons why crosses with a LGD and a non-LGD breed are just not reliable as working livestock guardians. The pups can certainly possess the traits of the non-LGD parent. Yes, many breeds make great all round farm dogs, but they should not be trusted or expected to live reliably with stock 24 hours a day.
If you are looking for a real livestock guard dog, which possesses ALL of these valuable traits, choose one of the recognized breeds or a cross between two LGD breeds. There is no better guardian of your flock or herd. To learn more about each of the different LGD breeds, check out the posts here and here.
A big thank you to the Facebook communities Learning About LGDs, Livestock Guard Dog Project, and Big White Dog Working LGD Forum for their patient support of newbies and others to the wonderful world of livestock guard dogs!
Jan Dohner is the author of Livestock Guardians: Using Dogs, Donkeys and Llamas to Protect Your Herd by Storey Publishing. Find out more about LGDs on her blog, Rare on the Farm, and follow @JDohner on twitter. She is also the author of The Encyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds by Yale University Press.
This week was a lot of fence line and firewood work, fun with turkeys and my birthday on the farm (with a surprise guest).
Monday, July 28th
This week’s morning chore was working with the turkeys and the ladies of the Feathernet. At this point, we have two groups of turkeys, one older with fairly large birds and one of younger. While the others were preparing the nets for the new spot for one of the groups, I went up to feed and check on the older ones. This was when I got my first lesson in how to catch turkeys without getting your bell rung in the process. When I pulled up on the four wheeler, I noticed there were two turkeys out. Since wayward animals aren’t encouraged, I was trying to catch them to put them back in the net with their friends. I grabbed one, and they way I caught him left one wing free. This quickly led to my taking several turkey haymakers to the face. I wasn’t expecting the hit to be as hard as it was, which made it kind of funny. Not wanting to admit I had been beat up by a turkey twice, I grabbed the second one keeping both his wings to his body and was able to escape without further incident. We did have one bird that needed to be moved from this group to the other and after the wing incident, I decided to put my sweatshirt on the bird so should she decide to flap her wings while sitting on my lap on the four wheeler, they would be contained. I wish I had my camera because, while dressing up the bird had practical beginnings, she looked really cute in a hooded sweatshirt riding down the mountain and I would have liked to remember it better.
The afternoon was spent having a talk on water with Joel Salatin. I was really excited for this talk, as Dan and I have been trying to figure out the water situation back at Sugar River Farm. (For those of you who only recently started reading these posts, Dan is my fiancé and Sugar River Farm is the property we own in New Hampshire and the business we are building.) We know we need to build a few farm ponds, but wanted to wait until I had the chance to sit in on Joel’s water talk.
Joel’s talk was very inspiring, as Polyface’s water system is essentially built off some ponds, some ¾” and 1 ¼” pipe, and pumps. It is simple, straightforward, portable and inexpensive. Joel’s position, as is with many other permaculture experts, is that investing in water storage is extremely important. We learned two objectives. The first is that, ideally, surface water should never leave your farm. The second is that you should never end a drought with a full pond. Basically, if you need your water, use it! We learned about the many benefits of a farm pond and where they should be placed on your property (Per Joel, “Build more ponds.” I think Polyface should make a tee shirt that says that.), using cisterns, siphons and springs. We also learned very simple ways of how to move this water (mainly using pumps and the aforementioned plastic pipe). Joel has a great way of explaining how to do things in a very simple yet empowering way. I left feeling like building four ponds was entirely doable. The New Hampshire property also doesn’t have gutters (yet), and learning just how much water comes off the roof makes me excited to get back and get those gutters and rain barrels up!
Tuesday, July 29th
After working with the turkeys and having the chance to move their shade structure with the tractor, Jonathan, one of the apprentices, talked me through using the forks on the tractor to pick up a giant log and bring it back to the farm to be used on the sawmill. I really appreciated him taking the time to show me how and letting me practice. The forks are such a useful implement and it’s pretty amazing what you can do and move with them.
The rest of the day was spent gathering firewood and chipping saplings and dead trees in part of Polyface’s woods. Polyface has a pretty active firewood business and they use the chips for animal bedding and composting. Those of you who are familiar with Joel’s books will remember the phrase ‘carbonaceous diaper’. We were on diaper duty! The carbon we are able to put back into the soil through the chips is so important and I completely understand why we spent so much time working on this.
Wednesday, July 30th
Wednesday was very much like Tuesday, aside from not needing to move the Gobbledego (the turkey shade structure) and the Feathernet. After chores, we went back to the woods and chipped and gathered firewood. I drove one of the larger older tractors with the wood trailer attached, and managed to get it stuck in a dip in the trail (the wood trailer was so heavy that once the wheels got in the dip, it was hard to get out). I was with Gabe, one of the other interns, and we used the bucket on one of the other tractors to push on the trailer while I drove the tractor in front and were able to get it out pretty easily. Situations like these have helped me to not get as flustered as I used to when things don’t go according to plan. Mistakes happen. Things get stuck. There is always a solution. If you don’t get all amped up about that an error was made, it is usually pretty easy to figure out what to do.
Thursday, July 31st
It isn't every day that you get to have your birthday at Polyface Farm, especially your golden birthday. I didn't know a golden birthday was a thing, but you learn something new every day. I turned 31 on the 31st, thus making this a golden birthday. And it was a wonderful day.
I started out by doing turkey and Feathernet chores by myself after being sent to the mineral shed to get turkey grit (more on the significance of this in a minute), set up new nets for the birds in anticipation of the next day’s moves, got caught in a rain storm and went to breakfast. My roommates were nice and thoughtful, giving me nail polish (it hides the dirt under your nails) and a tee shirt, since our clothes get stained so easily. When I went back, Tim and Erik (my intern friends from the Week Two post who sing while they work) asked me to go to the mineral shed to get dog food for Michael, Polyface’s guardian dog. I thought this was odd since I thought the dog dish was already filled, but I love Michael, so I went in only to find they had made a gift basket out of an egg basket and filled it with candy and a tee shirt that had Yoda on it and said “Size Matters Not”. They had put it in there prior to my going in to get grit and I completely missed it in my early morning stupor. I guess all the boys were watching to see what I’d think of the gift and were all confused when I came out expressionless and basketless. This was a big basket prominently placed so I don’t quite know how I missed it. I was very touched as I am usually apologizing to them for not being able to lift as much as they can, so the shirt had special meaning to me.
We spent the rest of the morning and some of the afternoon collecting firewood, chipping and cleaning up along a new fence line we’re making at one of the Polyface rental properties. Later that afternoon, Daniel Salatin pulled me and another intern to head back to the farm to start chores while the others finished up. I was in the middle of giving my broiler friends their evening water when turned around and saw Dan standing there. He had driven twelve hours to surprise me on my birthday. Daniel and Sheri Salatin were in on it and Dan was invited to have dinner with all of us. Our cook had made me lasagna (she lets us pick a dinner when it’s our birthday) and a cake. I am grateful for all the people who came out of the woodwork and sent me cards and packages from home, to the Salatin's for letting Dan come visit and keeping it a secret and to Dan for visiting. It was a great day.
Friday, August 1st
Friday ended up being a rainy day, so after morning chores, we set up more nets for the birds, did some odds and ends around the farm, such as gathering weeds for the piglets (they love greens) and watched while Daniel, Jonathan and some of the others took apart part of the tractor. A very solid looking steel part had snapped in half while they were using the tractor to push wood chips up and needed to be removed.
After lunch, a few interns, Daniel and I went to one of the Polyface rental properties to move some broiler shelters and finish tarping some of the large bales of hay from the other week. The way we move the shelters here takes four people and a flatbed trailer, but could be done on a smaller scale if necessary. We have one person per corner and move the shelters three at a time. It can be heavy work, but I was with strong people so the time went by quickly.
When we got back, I was excused from dinner so I could spend some time with Dan. After not seeing him for two months, I was excited to see him.
Saturday, August 2nd
Saturday was Dan’s behind the scenes tour of Polyface Farm. He has heard so much about it from me, so t was fun to show him around. The farm he worked at last year has many systems modeled after Polyface methods, but I think it’s important to see the original source of the ideas, if you can. One of the most heartening things about Polyface Farm and the Salatins is that they pride themselves on portable, reproducible systems that are easily implemented. If there is a cheaper, simpler, faster way to do something, that’s what they will do. Efficiency and practicality are king here. There are no unnecessary bells and whistles or flashy expensive equipment. Polyface’s way of farming can be done by those of us without lots of starting capital and they are very transparent about how they operate. As new farmers starting a business, it’s a relief to see simple affordable methods are still used at Polyface Farm, even with their fame, because they work.
I hope you all are enjoying your summer. Next week, some of us will get the chance to can, which is a new skill I’m excited to learn. See you all next week!
The actual footprint of a garden is only one of many factors for how much food that can be produced there. I often get the question if the size of our garden (8,000 sq feet) is what's needed to feed two people for 12 months. That is a hard question to give an easy answer to since there are so many factors involved. The quality of the soil, the amount of sun and water, the different crop varieties and also, how the space is used. Over the years I'm developing ways of planning my garden so that I can plant in successions and get two or more crops grown and harvested from the same beds without row covers or other plastic materials. It allows me to use all the available space throughout the entire season instead of leaving some open in the early summer to plant my fall crop in and to not use space that opens up as the season progresses.
So in the middle of everything there is to do in August, here at the Deer Isle Hostel and Homestead, I'm already busy planning for the fall garden. As some of the major crops are being harvested – the garlic, the onions and the early potatoes – new space is opening up that can be utilized for fall crops such as Chinese cabbage, rutabagas, turnips and radish.
Succession Planning Examples
Some series of succession planting looks like this:
Bed #1 Early April – lettuce; Early July – the lettuce bolts and Chinese cabbage seeds are planted; Early August- the garlic is harvested and the Chinese cabbage seedlings can be transplanted to this new space.
Bed #2 Early April – Fava Beans; Late July – The fava beans are harvested and collard seeds planted; August – As we harvest the early potatoes room opens up to transplant the collards to.
Bed#3 Mid April – Onion seedlings; Mid-August – The onions are harvested and radish and turnips planted; Bed#4 Mid to late March – cold frames with brassica seedlings.
Early July – the brassicas are transplanted, the cold frames taken away and rutabaga seeds planted. Early August – rutabagas transplanted and the cold frames are put back out and planted with winter greens such as kale and spinach.
Space-Saving Garden Ideas
Here are some of my favorite ways of making as much use of our garden space as possible:
Build the soil. The same square feet patch can produce vastly different quantities depending on the soil. We use liberate amounts of local and natural materials such as seaweed, horse manure and our own compost as fertilizer and especially so in the beds that grow several crops throughout the season. Both garlic and brassicas are heavy feeder and for that succession to give maximum yield the soil needs to be replenished.
Mulch will keep the ground moist and the weed pressure down and aid the crops in using the energy to produce food.
The fence is already there, right, so why not use it as a trellis for beans, cucumbers and climbing flowers. I also grow my tomatoes along the fence instead of taking up room for cages in the garden beds.
The old-time way of growing winter squash and corn in the same patch works really good, with a few considerations. Corn grows fast once established so it's well advised to give the squash a little bit of head start so it doesn't get too shaded by the corn. Some winter squash are more suitable for this kind of planting, like pumpkins that can tolerate quite a bit of shade. Up here in Maine some squash are already compromised by the short and cool season and will struggle if also shaded by corn.
Winter squash can also be planted along the edges of the garden and trained to grow outwards through the fence. As long as the deer or other animals will eat the crop, this will save a considerable amount of space.
Favor crops that can be stored. At the peak of summer we have so much fresh food ready to eat all at once so when I plan my garden, I plan for some early varieties, like short seasoned carrots, but the bulk of the garden to be varieties that can be stored. For example to grow less celery and much more celeriac that can be stored in the root cellar until next spring.
So the answer to the question whether 8,000 square feet is what it takes to feed two people year round is that it's all about what you make out of it. We grow a vast surplus every year, food that is put towards the Hostel dinners, given to friends or traded for. To see our garden at this amazing season of 2014 and all the food that will come from it gives me the answer that it will feed not only two people, but many more, over the next 12 months.
Photos by Dennis Carter and Anneli Carter-Sundqvist.