After break, we came back to 10 inches of snow after a nice long cold snap at Maggie’s Farm, which is excellent news. Without a deep freeze, disease and pests can overwinter and haunt the next growing season. Disconcertingly, next week’s high are forecast in the 50’s – not normal.
Our wood-fired boiler is now operational and provides 1oo% of the heat for our farm house as well as other buildings. Figuring the darn thing out and keeping it stocked with wood was quite a chore this week. Each load-in gobbles up a yard of wood (the size the bucket on the front of a tractor) which burns continuously for 24 hours. The temperature inside the fire box fluctuates depending on demand, but it can reach over 1,000 degrees as it heats the 400 gallons of water circulating around the boiler. This straightforward system is astonishingly efficient, and after loading it eight times, all that’s left over is a mere five gallons of ash.
A recently completed timber frame project – our new shop extension – is now in use (and fully insulated and heated courtesy of the wood-fired boiler)! Our morning and afternoon meetings have been quite sauna-like compared with our previous with meeting place under the gazebo.
On Wednesday, we ventured into the wooly world of fiber arts, which is the process of turning various animal and plant fibers (wool, cotton, linen, silk) into sweaters and socks and such.
This is the fleece from a sheep shorn by the last year’s class. We quickly found out that the very hay that our sheep so love can penetrate their wool and make it nearly unusable. This is why sheep raised for wool spend the better part of their lives wearing coats to keep out burs, hay, dirt and other detritus. After wrestling the shreds of hay out of mountains of wool, I think we’ll be a bit more careful when tossing flakes of hay into their manger.
I have enough patience to wait an entire season for a tomato, but for some reason this patience doesn’t transfer to a single afternoon of carding wool. Several of my other classmates, however have more of a knack. These awesome little creations came from a technique we learned called ‘dry felting.’
Over the course of the year, we’re responsible for cutting, splitting and stacking 20 cords of wood for various uses on the farm (one cord is 4’x4’x8′). We had our first full day of cordwood work this week. One oak + fourteen students + two chainsaws + three mauls, an axe and a hydraulic log splitter + one VERY sore back (mine) netted us just ONE cord of wood. Which we will likely throw into a fire, ha ha. Here, Anne rolls a log to the splitter with her usual enthusiasm. If we’d had two Anne’s, this chore would have taken half as long and we all would have been twice as happy.
Coolant checked. Oil changed. Hydraulic fittings greased. All thanks to Monday’s tractor-maintenace class with machine guru Warren.
Bongi had the job of loosening the screw to the oil pan.
We’re also making steady progress on our chicken tractor. When we’re finished, it will house our laying hens and travel behind the cows’ field rotation so the girls can pluck tasty bugs from cow patties and scatter the manure in the process.
Our week wrapped with a visit to one of the largest organic farms in Massachusetts, Red Fire Farm in Granby Mass, to see their winter greenhouse operation. They have 80 acres of land in production split between two towns, and a half-acre in greenhouses. At the peak of the summer, Red Fire employs 80 workers to produce 1,500 CSA shares. This green house was planted in November and will be ready for harvest in mid-late February for their 300-member deep winter CSA shares. Here the farm’s owner, Ryan, shows us how well the soil retains water in the winter.
Thanks to her a lightened teaching schedule this semester, Dina got to spend a day with us this week and enjoy some sweet greenhouse baby bok choy.
We also got an archery lesson courtesy of Kim. It’s way harder than it looks.