Tuesday, June 8, 2010

June - Summer Beginnings

Scrubbing Names off Cups

Our intern from last year was so wonderful that we decided to hire two interns this season.  We are fortunate that Susannah returned this year to help us. The search for a second intern began in January. We received 30 applicants and narrowed it down to five to interview. From the interviews, Tom selected an enthusiastic, smart, adventuresome, twenty-something female who agreed to start in May. In preparation for her arrival, we scrubbed down the camper and washed towels, sheets and the dishes that were stored in the camper for the winter. We picked flowers and placed them in vase in the camper’s kitchen table. We assigned her a green, plastic cup for water and wrote her name on it. She stayed less than 12 hours; I scrubbed her name off the plastic cup. I scrambled to find a replacement. The interns we turned down had already found positions so I reposted on the agriculture websites. Within 48 hours I hired a new intern over the phone. He arrived this week. We again readied the camper, picked flowers for his table and wrote his name on the scrubbed over green, plastic cup. He stayed 18 hours. I scrubbed his name off of the cup. So your immediate reaction is that something is wrong with us that we can’t keep interns. Or why after several years of hiring interns, we are lame at weeding out the emotionally unstable, physically unfit applicants with extra baggage. We are beginning to lose faith in ourselves. So while we need an intern as quickly as possible, we are taking a different tactic and hiring an intern via a friend or acquaintance. So when the intern turns out to be a loser, we can blame our friend’s ability to pick a loser, not us. In the meantime, I know someone out there wants to join our family this summer and learn lots of fun ways to farm, market and create new products. With the economy in the tank, private housing, meals and a $100 week stipend, it’s not a bad deal. Heck, I’d take a job on another farm for the summer if the food was great and the work was fun. Let us know if you have any thoughts on candidates and we promise not to hold you responsible for your recommendation. Promise.

Many Huey Duey and Lueys

Last year Tom bought me three ducks at the poultry auction and named them Huey Duey and Luey. They lived with the turkeys and did a superb job of alerting us to any dangers or informing us of when they were hungry. The plan was to slaughter them when we harvested the turkeys for Thanksgiving. The ducks were too skinny and did not have enough meat on their bones to make it worthwhile. We gave them to a friend who gave them to a friend and they are happily swimming in someone’s pond wondering where all the turkeys have gone. The family named one of the ducks Trisket because he is a little “quacker”. Tom became so enamoured of ducks that he ordered 50 Peking ducks to raise for meat. I never knew ducks were so yellow, fuzzy, friendly and so darn cute. The first batch graduated from the brooding pens and are happily quacking in their marsh spa canopied by wild irises. We scoot them into their hut at night to keep them safe from owls, coyotes, skunks and other predators.

The Chicken Vault

We are raising hundreds of chickens for meat and laying hens for eggs. The poultry is in constant danger of assault during the day by hawks and foxes and at night by owls. During the day, the maremmas, the livestock guardian dogs, are used to bark away predators but they are on lamb duty during the night to protect the livestock from coyotes and neighbors’ dogs. Our combat weapon is a chicken vault. At dusk, we shoo the chickens into the vault and latch the gates. In the morning, when the dogs are back on poultry watch, we open that gates and let the chickens out. They spend the day happily foraging and stream hopping.

The Portable Rabbit Pen

Susannah built a portable rabbit hutch from scraps of wood, wire fencing and wire mesh. It is moved every day onto fresh grass. The feeder rabbits love it; they have a lot more space and 24 access to fresh grass. We are trying to train them to move into the box at the end of the pen when we move it. There are some design problems that will be corrected with the next pen. We need to have six more so by the time we build the last pen, we should have the design perfected. Firstly, it is too heavy for me to move. Even Tom strains when he picks it up. The tractor needs to be lighter and we need it to easily slip onto a hand truck. A lot of the designs we looked at have wheels but it makes more sense to use the hand truck for each one. Secondly, the only entrance into the pen is at the box end. So when I need to grab a rabbit for harvesting, I have to crawl inside the pen to get it or get Tom to tip the pen so the rabbit scurry to the box. Thirdly, when it rains, the feeder full of pellets gets wet and the rabbits won’t eat wet pellets. The feeder needs to be protected by an overhang or ideally a box needs to be built around the feeder. I think the feeder is attracting wild rabbits because there is rabbit poop outside of the pen near the feeder every morning. I can imagine a chow line a mile long of wild rabbits.

East Meets West Meets East Meredith

The peas I planted in mid-May are tall enough to need a pea fence. The pea fence is a very large roll of wire mesh. I rolled it up and carefully stowed it in the garage at the end of the growing season. The pea fence is missing. I looked in the garage, all of the barns and even in places that a pea fence would never be, which in my experience after many years on the farm, is usually where it ends up. The pea fence has disappeared. As it turns out, the pea fence was used for the portable rabbit pen. Instead of buying another fence, I decided to make do with what we have. I asked Tom to cut down the sumac near the garden. I cut the sumac into 3 foot lengths and pounded them into the ground. I lashed the sumac branches together will baling twine. The fence is sturdy and has a throw together, rustic look. When Shane saw the fence I created in the garden he said that it looked like a something you would see in Vietnam. I was so inspired by my pea fence that I used more sumac branches to make bean teepees. Shane said it has an American Indian look. Now east meets west in my garden on the southeast side of the house.

The World of Welwyn

Katey is graduating from Delaware Academy High School in a couple of weeks. Her last day of school is Friday. She got a scholarship for a jumping clinic at Cooperstown’s Farmer Museum 4th Annual Horse Clinic this weekend. On Tuesday, she and her horses, Monty, her 17 year old thoroughbred and Peter, her 8 year old off the track thoroughbred, head to Welwyn Stable in Rhinebeck, New York. Katey will be a working student for the year and is excited about getting the opportunity to learn, show and work at the stable. My heart is light when I think about all expenses we won’t have such as horse board, hay, feed, farrier, vet, show helmets, boots, tack and horse show entries and the time spent hauling her horses to lessons, horse shows and clinics. Katey worked to pay for many of these expenses. As a horse mom, it has been an amazing experience watching Katey grow and excel in the equestrian world and my heart is heavy when I think about not having her in our everyday life and no longer being a 4H horse mom and a Pony Club mom. Then my heart is lightened again when I think that the non-stop bickering between she and Shane, the endless laundry, the unpassable back stairs, the collection of dirty dishes in her bedroom, the wait for the shower, the wait for the computer, the obsession with facebook and the cell phone. And then I grow sad again realizing that her new adventure is the first step out the door of which she will never return as our child but will return as our child adult as a visitor, but always as a joy in our lives. If you see Katey, please wish her the best of luck and happiness in her new adventure.