Change of Season

We’ve slipped right past spring into early summer this week, with temperatures over 70 degrees on Wednesday.

Frozen pastures and logging roads have fully melted into mud, and our firewood crews are racing to get their work finished up before doing serious damage to the ground. Luckily, without deep snow this winter, we were able to generate a lot of firewood really quickly, and we are just about finished with our yearly production goal at this point. We count on the frozen ground to protect our pastures and woods-roads from damage while we are doing firewood work, and once the ground thaws the dormant grass and forest floor is easy to damage before it gets growing again.

This also has become an issue in our winter cow feeding system. We set up round wrapped bales in large grid patterns out on a pasture that we want the cows to put manure on, and the frozen pasture stands up to the cow pressure really well. We usually try to get the cows off the pasture by the end of March, when it typically starts to thaw, but this year we got caught a few weeks early and the cows are tearing up the grass with their hoofs. We consolidate their area down to a smaller section that we know is going to get torn up, feed hay in there for a bit, and chain-harrow and seed the rest of the winter pasture to get it growing well for the grazing season. This approach has worked really well for us, and it gives us the chance to spread a lot of manure on a field, and establish a fresh pasture community made up of the varieties that we want to promote for good grazing.

The warm weather also probably means the end of the sugaring season for us as well. Sap collection depends on the sap running in the maples, and the sap run depends

on warm days and cold nights. Once evening temperatures stop going below freezing, the sap stops moving up and down the tree in a regular pattern. The warm weather also promotes insect action in and around the sap buckets, and turns the sap yellow. Sap in buckets also grows bacteria much more quickly when the temperatures are in the sixties and seventies, leading to marginal syrup. We got a strong last run on Monday and Tuesday, and should get close to twenty gallons of finished syrup by the end of the process.

The focus of the Learn to Farm Program is shifting from firewood production and classes to the greenhouse, and our first seedlings are sprouting. Alex and the students have been out checking in on all of our veggie fields, picking another year’s crop of rocks from those that will be planted first, and getting ready for the initial cultivation of the year. Issues like soil temperature and moisture, hours of daylight, wind speed and direction, and rain fall amounts become vital stats as we anticipate getting tractors out prepping beds for planting.

The sheep were sheared last week, and we have been working this week to get the ram’s summer area ready for them. The rams are removed from the flock just before lambing to ensure that they are not interfering with ewes in labor, newborn lambs, or farmers in the pen assisting with births. Unfortunately the rams have to stay away from the ewes until next November so that we can control our lambing schedule. Although sheep cycle more seasonally than most livestock, we want to make sure lambs are born exactly when we want them. For us, April lambing means that the weather is not so cold that we need to worry too much about warming newborn lambs, the grass is not quite ready for grazing so the ewes are still accessible in their winter quarters, and we have a pretty long grazing season to get the sized up for late fall processing. The rams will be together in their own pen for the summer and fall, and by November they will be ready to be back with the flock.

Everyone is busy here buttoning up winter projects and shifting over to spring work and summer preparations. Most of us have been caught a bit off guard by this quick spring, but we’ll get things right on line as quickly as we can!