Friday, October 11, 2013

Building Unity Farm - Reflections on our First Year as Farmers

While I'm traveling in Asia, my wife Kathy is running the farm, ensuring that all our animals are healthy, our last few harvest duties are done, and our preparations for winter have begun.

Before I left, I did everything possible to minimize her tasks.   I installed heating panels in the duck house so that she could move the duck babies from the brooder to the outside world.   I harvested mushrooms from all our fruiting logs.  I added yeast and nutrients to our fermenting apple cider.  I secured all our gates, cleaned the barn, and finished moving all our building materials into the hoop house.

Thinking about the past year, we're well on our way to a productive, self-sustaining farm.  Here's a status report

Mushrooms - we've gathered our first 25 pounds of oyster mushrooms from 144 poplar logs stacked in two forest locations.   We've finished inoculating Shitake spawn into 165 oak logs housed in the shade house plus 110 logs in the forest.   We've inoculated 10 logs with Lion's Mane.   Next year we should have commercial quantities of mushrooms to sell.

Bees - Our 8 hives built up their honey stores all summer , despite our harvesting of 160 ounces.   Our queens are healthy and the bees are disease free as we head into winter. Given the strength of our hives, we should substantial honey harvests next year.

Apples - we've placed an order for additional trees to add to the orchard in 2014
3 Kingston Black
1 Ashmead's Kernel
1 Newtown Pippin
1 Golden Russet
2 Wickson's Apple
1 Nehou
1 Baldwin
1 Blacktwig

bringing our total to 40 apple trees.   This year we crushed 250 pounds of apples and fermented enough juice for 75 bottles of still and sparkling hard cider.  Above is a look as the fermentation in progress.   In five years, we'll have nearly 7000 pounds of apples per year for eating, selling, and cider making.

Blueberries/Raspberries/Elderberries - our planting of 180 high bush/150 low bush blueberries and placement of permanent bird netting is complete.   The blueberries already yielded a few pounds, but we should have hundreds of pounds within a few years. The raspberries and elderberries should begin producing next year.

Alpaca/llama - Our 11 alpaca and 1 llama are in perfect health.  Two are pregnant.   They understand the routine of monthly "herd health" checkups and trust us to handle them with respect and gentleness.  The barn is fully stocked for winter with all the hay we need to last until next hay season.

Poultry - our 11 chickens, 31 guinea fowl (11 adults and 20 babies), and 10 ducks are completely adapted to their surroundings and the routine of going into their coops at night for protection.    Pecking orders are established, and our poultry community lives in harmony, eating wild foods throughout our 15 acres every day.   Our baby ducks are shown below.

Dogs - Our two Great Pyrenees are now fully grown and protect all our animals.  Admittedly since they weight nearly 200 pounds together, running with them (I weigh 165) can be an adventure

Hoophouse and Vegetable Garden - Our year round indoor and outdoor vegetable gardens are now complete along with watering, fertilizing, and harvesting infrastructure.   We'll grow lettuce, kale, and spinach all winter long.  Next spring we'll plant enough crops to supply half our food.

It's been a great first year on the farm and the daily activities caring for the animals/plants has become so integral to our lives that travel away (like my current responsibilities in Asia) seems completely out of balance.

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