January 2013 Archives

Days like these bring the cuddly beast out in us all.

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Enjoy this beautiful, wacky weather!

Do you want to be a beekeeper?

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Of course you do. Beekeepers are rad as hell. At least the ones I roll with are.

MegPaskaBees.JPG (Photo: Eric Tourneret)

I'm teaching a three-part class here at Seven Arrows in at the end of February. If you are in the area and want to learn the ins-and-outs of beekeeping you should enroll! Classes like this one have been perfected at learning places like the New York Botanical Gardens but by taking this class with us, you directly support the farm and get to hang out with a bunch of rag-tag farmers on their own turf.

You can find out more about the class but clicking HERE.

Additionally, I will be taking orders for bees! I've partnered with my good friend Mark Negley, a young beekeeper with hives in Florida and Pennsylvania. He's got a hives ready to start making 5-frame nucs from and expects to have them ready by late March. They are a Buckfast/Pol-line Italian cross. I had some before Sandy destroyed their hives and they were lovely bees. Friendly, productive. If you are interested in getting some early nucs from my friend, please get in touch and I'll give you more info!

Everything Needs a Purpose

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Never before has the fact been clear to me that every critter, human or animal, needs to either fulfill or get a sense of it's purpose in order to be contented. Our dogs, who each day endear themselves more to us, have been teaching us lessons in purpose. Stevie and Peach are both young working dogs, just nearing a year of age. They are a breed called Cane da Pastore Maremmano Abruzzese, or Maremmas as they are called here in the states. If you've never encountered one of these fine animals (you probably haven't, they are pretty rare.) you understand what I mean when I talk about an animal's purpose shaping it's identity and quality of life. Maremmas are born with an natural inclination to protect whatever living thing they consider part of the pack. They spend all of their time with the animals they are meant to defend, and as a result, when they become separated from them, they can become depressed or anxious.

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I'd learned this in theory by reading books on Livestock Guardians and perusing Jackie Church's website for tidbits of advice in regards to training our young pups. I've actually witnessed the phenomenon of livestock withdrawal first hand this week after both of our gals got spayed.

After their surgery, we thought it best to keep them indoors for a couple of days to ensure they didn't pick at their stitches. During that time, we thought the dogs would be overjoyed to be inside with us, sleeping on blankets in the warmth of the house. But instead the dogs were very fidgety and quite depressed. We'd take them for walks to visit their charges during the day and no sooner than they caught a glimpse of the outbuildings, they'd begin pulling with all of their weight, tails whipping and eyes shining. They missed their work. It became very clear to me that they were actually happier outside in the cold doing their job rather than inside, bored but cozy.

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I can relate to this. I was comfortable at my old job. I had plenty of money and never really had to struggle to thrive, but I felt I had no purpose. What I was doing didn't quite fit who I was. I was like a Maremma on the bedroom floor. Idle and out of place. It's been two years now that I've been on my own, making my way on my terms. 6 months now that I've been on this farm, doing work that makes me feel like I belong. I'm often scared, wondering how I'll be able to continue to afford feed and a roof over our heads... I barely can. But I'm happy. Never more so. I've found my Meg-shaped place in the world.

With that in mind, what sort of work makes you feel like you've found your place?

A Rooster in Training

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Shazaam! It's a winter update comin' straight at you!

You can peep updates at our new farm website homestead.sevenarrowseast.com.

But here's a ctrl-c,ctrl-v for you BH blog diehards:

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Not long ago, we looked down across the site of our future vegetable garden plot and thought, "How on earth are we going to get this sod tilled up before it freezes solid?" Luckily, with a little help from our friends and neighbours (namely, Tim, who lent us his walk-behind rotary tiller), we managed to turn over more than a half-acre of thick pasture in a matter of days.

But tillage is only the first step in developing land for sustainable, organic agriculture. Next, we'd need to think about amendments, cover cropping, mulching, and weed surpression, all before we even got to planting.

Our soil is a sandy clay, naturally light on the rich dark humus we plan to build over time as we farm organically; a good amount of humus is essential to big, healthy vegetables. Toward the base of the sloped plot is a band of poor drainage that makes for thick sucking mud after a period of even moderate rain. So, in order to successfully grow good food in just a matter of months without relying on toxic chemical fertilizers and heavy-machinery, we've got to put on our creative farmer overalls.

To increase soil humus - that healthy black goodness - we're adding years worth of composted leaf litter, collected from trees right here on the property. Mulch, essential for maintaining adequate moisture levels and buffering temperatures, is applied in the form of mucked-out bedding from our critter houses. Goat, rabbit, chicken, and duck bedding act as both mulch and slow-release fertilizer; over the winter, precipitation, microbes, and creepy-crawlies will pull nutrients from the manure-soaked straw into the soil, so that by spring the left-over dried bedding can be pulled back like a bedsheet, uncovering healthy, active soil below.

compostables.JPG (The circle of life... well, life after decomposition. Clockwise from top-right: kitchen scraps, leaf mulch, rabbit droppings, goat poop, chicken shit, horse doody.)

To improve drainage, which is essential to keeping our crops from drowning in the muck pit mid-field, we're adding sand from higher points on the property, especially the stuff right below our leaf-mold pile, where small stripes of clay have soaked in nutrient over time. We're also layering in composted horse manure from our new friends at Lancaster Equestrian, and composted spent grain from our old friends at Carton Brewing.

mulch.JPG (Moving animal bedding mulch into the field with good ol' human-powered tools)

Speaking of friends down the road, we also just met a neighbor who let us take (not only let us, but helped us load and then unload) some old cedar fencing he'd pulled down to use as siding on our animal houses.

We've got our work cut out for us, but we're happy as clams about it. Farm life is not for everyone, but when it's for you, it's just about all you care about in the world.

I try to keep it posi around here, especially because by all accounts we're living the life. We've got a sweet little place near the sea, overlooking a beautiful estuary. We get to eat great food that we had a hand in producing. We get to do what we love for a living. All good things, I'm sure you will agree.

But there's this other thing going on lately at the farm that really burns my biscuit. I know I shouldn't get too worked up over it but I just can't help it. It's a thing I can't imagine ever doing myself. It's the unannounced farm visit. Unfamiliar folks showing up with no notice at our place of work, which just happens to double as our home. It's been happening often lately and I really need to talk about it because it seems like there is a contingent of folks out there who don't understand why this is uncool.

BiscuitsBurnt.jpeg (These biscuits are so burned)

One one hand, I get it. People are excited to have a farm so close to home. They don't often see goats, chickens and dogs that live harmoniously with both goats and chickens in their day-to-day life. They assume that we, as farmers, are here all of the time anyway, so what's the harm in a surprise visit? They want to support the farm, and maybe offer to help. They are doing a good thing!

Let me explain what I see from my perspective:

Firstly, we are regular people that like to venture from the farm every now and again. We have a system in place that ensures that we can leave for an hour or so for lunch or to run errands, and when we return, things are as we left them. When a random person just shows up, that can all go to shit very quickly. What if someone, upon realizing we are not around, decides to give themselves a tour of the farm and say, falls in the pond or trips on fallen branches or god forbid, gets bitten by one of our dogs who are trained to deflect strange people and animals? What happens then? They get angry and decide to get litigious with us or the property owners? (We have a good lawyer and you'd be trespassing so don't even try it.) They get seriously injured? Or, what's more likely, they come to their own uninformed conclusions about how our farm operates without getting a proper guided tour from us.

The idea of any of these things happening makes me incredibly uncomfortable. This is our business and our home, and while we certainly like to promote transparency in our farm practice and way of life, it doesn't disqualify us from having privacy and being treated like any other person. I wouldn't just show up to anyone's house unannounced, except for maybe my grandmother because she likes those sort of visits and well, she's my Grandma. I'm allowed to do that.

Additionally, we're working! If we had to stop every time someone just "dropped in", we'd never get anything done. We already barely make a living. Try not to make things harder on us.

To be clear, we absolutely love having visitors. We enjoy having interactions with new people, especially when they are excited about our farm. We love talking about these things and sharing our experiences. We especially want our CSA members to feel like they can come see what we're up to and get involved if they feel so inclined. I feel like most farmers in our position feel the same way. We WANT to engage people. We don't get to go out and socialize as much as we used to, so it's nice to have some face time with people.

notrespassing.gif (We don't really shoot people around here, but you get the point.)

But for those of you who didn't get it before, I hope you get it now. Do not show up to a farm unannounced, ever. It's rude. It's presumptuous. It's disruptive to the people who live and work there. We have signs posted stating the property is private for a reason. You can be supportive without letting your excitement cause you to lose touch with your manners. All you have to do is send us an email or pick up the phone and call to schedule a time that is best for both parties. We truly hope that you do. Then, when you show up at the agreed upon time, we will be better prepared to receive you, and you'll have a more enjoyable experience for it.

End rant.

On Children and Farm Life.

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When a child enters the equation of a farm, especially one that isn't yours, you find yourself explaining the function of the place in different terms than you might use for an adult. One would think the terms would be simplified so that a young mind can easily grasp at what you are showing them, but in fact something about explaining a farm to a child feels more complicated.You are essentially responsible for delivering to them what I would consider to be a distilled version of the cycle of life and death and rebirth. Only, the more you explain, the more questions arise. Why do we eat certain animals and leave others to live? How do we know when to plant a seed and when to pull up an exhausted plant from the soil? Why do our dogs live outside when most other dogs live with people? How do you get a goat to make milk?

For a younger child, like Lulha, the daughter of the new on-staff yogi at Seven Arrows, there is a line that one must be careful not to cross. Some topics are easy enough to broach without fear of undermining someone's parenting philosophy, like the conversations about why our dogs live outside. But in regards to matters of life and death, how much truth is too much at once? How do you decide what is appropriate to share with a young, malleable person, dear readers?

The only answer I have that makes sense to me is to live the most honest and authentic way I know how to. I can only hope that somewhere along the way, the answers to the questions bubbling up from that young mind can be resolved through observation and an open heart. When there are questions I am unsure are appropriate for me to answer, I simply won't. After all, I still don't have all the right answers. Lulha and I are on the same path. We're all just trying to see where we fit into it all. I haven't discovered that for completely for myself yet, I'm just catching the trail. But, maybe this kiddo and I can help each other along in some way. Time will tell one way or another. One thing is for certain though, I welcome the perspective of a person still so new to the world. It keeps me reminded of my newness, too.

And they live on our street. Neighbors! 29 more shares to go...let's go, let's go!

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If you live in the Navesink River region in Monmouth County, NJ and are interested in finding out more about our CSA, click HERE!

Forgive the lapse of posting here, folks. It's a busy time, not just because of the holidays. 2/3 of the farm team was away for a couple of weeks. I stayed behind to man the fort for Christmas, ensuring the critters had fresh water, dry bedding and full feeders even before I had one sip of my morning coffee, much less opened any gifts from Santa.

Neil and Michael returned a couple days after Christmas and that's when things started to hit the proverbial fan..all, of course, on the full moon. Whenever the moon goes full, I know I'm in for some trouble. Every full moon so far has resulted in a lost animal. Carrot and Pierogi left this world last time around. And in October, it was Huxley. This time I took the brunt of the moon's wrath. I fell sick with that nasty cold that has been going around, and fell hard. It had me laid up for 3 days while everyone rallied to take on the daily chores. I'm lucky to have back-up when needed, and I'm glad to say that I'm here for whenever anyone else needs a break to relax and heal. A few days of rest, elderberry tea and a few nips of whiskey later, I was nearly good as new.

sickie.jpeg (Ugh.)

No sooner than I washed off the days of bedhead and sickliness, our goat Licorice fell ill. She had been lying around Saturday morning, trembling and not eating or chewing her cud. I contacted my friend Logan over at Freedom Star Farm, who raises Nigerian Dwarf goats, for some needed advice. She gave me tips based on the observations I communicated to her via chat. No fever, no signs of mastitis, no hoof problems...Just no eating or cud chewing. This doesn't sound like much to be worried about, but with goats signs like this mean it can be quite serious.

sickgoat.jpeg (What's wrong, Licky?)

Logan's assessment: her rumen was slowing down for a as yet undetermined reason and it needed a kickstart. B-12, Thiamine and stealing cud from Mocha and jamming it in Licorice's mouth were all attempted to get her back on track. None of these things were as effective as we had hoped as we were administering all of it orally to a goat whose digestion had come to a halt. We decided we needed a vet.

After calling around looking for vets in the county that cared for ruminants and striking out (it was New Year's Eve), Logan suggested we contact a fellow by the name of Jon Higgins, who makes house calls and only cares for sheep, cows and goats. We called him up and the next morning he was at the farm, giving our girl some injectable vitamins and marveling over how handsome our goats were, present health scare aside, and noting the good quality of the hay we've been feeding them.

allbetter.jpeg (All better! Thanks, guys!)

A few days of b-12 injections, some tasty hay and Licorice is just fine. Tail wagging, in standing heat. Chewing cud like it's going out of style. We take that as a sign that things are back to normal.

We're relieved to know we can do right by an animal from time to time. After the past few months, I was beginning to get a little worried.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2013 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2012 is the previous archive.

February 2013 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.