Thursday, April 17, 2014

Unity Farm Journal - Third Week of April 2014

Last weekend was in the mid 60’s so we had two full days of animal, produce, and land activities.   The animals welcomed the end of snow and ice and the beginning of sunbathing season.

We had a vet visit and our alpaca and llama received the immunizations that I am not licensed to deliver - rabies and tetanus.   They had full body exams including teeth and reproductive systems.   The good news - 10 are at ideal body weight, one is slightly underweight and one is slightly overweight.   We’ll make the necessary dietary and care changes to ensure all are optimally well (call it our patient centered medical home for camelids).   We also did a parasite exam on the underweight alpaca.   Two alpaca appear to be pregnant from last July’s breeding, so we’ll likely expect cria in late June/early July.

We bottled 20 liters of cider #2, our less tart, less acidic fermentation.    Based on our experience thus far, I think I’ll take all future batches of cider through malolactic fermentation over the winter to soften their acids.

The 65 degree temperatures enabled us to perform major bee yard maintenance.   We removed every frame from every hive, inspected all the bees, removed excess wax, and placed the frames in newly painted deep boxes.    Each hive has new young brood and eggs, except one.  Clearly the queen did not overwinter.   We’ll likely merge that hive into another.   The bee yard is off to a great start and we expect a very productive honey season.

Winter moths are about to emerge and we sprayed the orchard with organic pyrethrin, avoiding contact with the bees and spraying before the trees have flowered.

The major project of the weekend was clearing vines, invasive plants, and brambles from a second of the property near the orchard.   During construction of the driveway 20 years ago, it’s clear that a section of forest was cleared and as is typical for disturbed land, the area was filled with spindly regrowth, making the land impossible to traverse.   We cleared over a ton of invasive growth and will use the area for another mushroom propagation area.  The spawn arrives next weekend.

The guinea fowl, ducks and chickens are expanding their range for insect hunting, now that the weather is warm and the mud is beginning to dry up.     Ticks are particularly dense this year, so we welcome the guineas appetite for insects.   All our birds overwintered successfully, but the Summer is the time of greatest risk to them.  The guineas begin to lay eggs and go broody - spending time overnight in the forest to keep the eggs warm.   Unfortunately, coyotes, foxes, fisher cats, and raccoons visit those nests and our experience is that an egg laying female does not last more than a few nights outdoors.   We’re increasingly vigilant to find nests and bring eggs back to the safety of the coop or incubator.

The vegetables continue to grow in the hoop house and we’re watering daily.   We’ll spread agaricus augustus (a mushroom with an almond flavor) in two of the hoop house beds, covering it with 3-4 inches of compost.   Agaricus is a warmth loving mushroom and cannot survive temperatures below 35F.   Although it is mid April, we still had sub-freezing nights and ice pellets this week.   In our area of New England, frost risk is present until Memorial Day.

Next weekend will be busy with mushroom inoculation, cider bottling, bridge building, trail maintenance, and creating a zen moss garden in addition to the usual animal, bee, and plant care.

It’s clear that my days of mountain climbing and exploring the world have been replaced with the joyful chaos of farming.   I’m completely fine with that.


pjonwhite said...

John, will there be mead this year to complement your cider?

Allison said...

Why do you over winter your bees outside? My friends in Winnipeg bring their bees indoors for the winter. Just curious, I know nothing about bee keeping.