Wacky weather, happy critters, and more…

Sunny and cool is the current pattern, but it’s not an exaggeration to note that the weather has been all over the damn place these past few weeks.  This past Monday, the kids and I were running around the yard in t-shirts, and of course two big storms have come and gone.  Sandy had little effect on us here…2 or 3 hours without power, and the wind knocked our farm sign off its pole…but the run-up to it was actually a nice kick-in-the-pants to get the farm picked up.  We sealed the greenhouses up, got all the wash station tubs, buckets, bins, and totes into the barn, and generally wandered around picking up tarps, wheelbarrows, toys, and all the other odds and ends that seem to wind up everywhere after a farm season.  The storm a week later was also pretty uneventful…some wind and an ever-changing mix of snow, sleet, and rain throughout the day.  My main concern was for the sheep.  If a lot of snow fell, they would suddenly have no food, as happened last year just before Halloween.  Luckily, this year we have our winter supply of hay on hand, and as it turns out there wasn’t enough snow to warrent moving the flock in anyway.  We continue to send postive thoughts and good vibes to the folks south of us in New York, New Jersey, and elsewhere who are still struggling with a lack of power, housing, and other essentials.  What a disaster, and unfortunately I fear that the appearance of big, disruptive storms like Sandy are becoming the new normal.

Other farm projects continue, regardless of weather.  All of our garlic is in the ground and fully mulched for the winter, and now I’m trying to focus on getting greenhouse fabric off of beds in Fields 1 and 4 and stowing them away for the winter.  This involves pulling up anchor clips with pliers, scooting the fabric off the beds, folding them over, and rolling them up.  It sounds straighforward, but it’s a lot of work, especially rolling up the 100- or 300-ft lengths of heavy fabric.  Also, we continue to harvest some things (greens, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) each Friday for Square Root here in Poland and Axis over in Auburn.  If you’re itching for some SSF produce, please visit these wonderful local stores!

In animal news, everyone is fine…and on the move.  The sheep are still out on pasture for the most part but will be going into their winter pen for shearing this weekend and will stay there while we go out of town for a day or two next week.  The chicken coop has made its way onto the Field 1 beds closest to the house, and there it will stay for the winter.  Next year, most of our veggies will be over in this area, and by then, it will be well fertilized!  Though the snow will soon limit their movements, I’ve put the portable fencing away and am allowing the chickens to free range.  Their coop isn’t moving and there really aren’t any veggies nearby for them to get into.  They’ve been spending much of their time in and around the raspberries, digging and scratching about, and amusingly, Winnie the Guinea has been hanging out with them.  The hens don’t seem to mind her, and she seems to enjoy their company.  She’s still roosting in the trees, though, most recently up in a tall, skinny, half-dead pine near our mailbox.  She’s also taken to spending time up on the roof of the house!

The young guineas are also doing well in their new digs, a larger crate equiped with a heat lamp out in a corner of the sheep shed.  They made the move out there from our porch a few weeks ago.  They are growing larger and stronger each day, and I’ve been moving their lamp up a few notches every few days to get them more acclimated to the cold that’s coming.  Winnie must know they are there, but I have yet to see her inside checking out the young’uns.  A few chickens have wandered in, and one has even decided to start laying her eggs under the guinea cage (the cage is up off the floor of the shed atop a few concrete blocks).

Back to sheep for a bit…  As most of you know–and my posts this past season have made it obvious–I am perfectly comfortable owning up to the considerable limitations of my shepherding.  It’s still quite new to me, and though I’ve gotten great advice from friends in the know and guidance from a number of excellent sheep books, there’s still a ridiculous amount that I need to learn.  Help is, however, on the way, in the form of a program hatched by the Maine Sheep Breeders Association and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.  The idea is to develop a 30-month educational project for emerging sheep entrepreneurs in Maine (the tentative name for this project, or perhaps more accurately for the group, is Emerging Maine Sheep Entrepreneurs) with the goal of enabling neophyte shepherds like me to get a better handle on all aspects of sheepness:  breeding, health, marketing, etc.  I attended an exploratory meeting on all this a couple weeks ago at Northstar Farms in Windham and was impressed by the presentation.  About 40 folks from all over southern Maine listened as UMaine’s Dr. Richard Brzozowski explained the goals and make-up of the program, which is scheduled to begin in January 2013.  The plan is to educate and empower shepherds via webinars, on-line courses, in-person discussion groups, farm tours, and more.  I’ve signed on and hope the program gets a lot of support.  I was also really impressed by Northstar Farms.  We went on a quick tour after the presentation.  Phil and Lisa Webster have over a thousand (!!) sheep…mostly Suffolks and Hampshires, but around 40 Icelandics, too…and farm off Stevens Rd. in Windham (they also lease additional land).  Just seeing the scope of their enterprise…the fencing, the pastures, the out-buildings, etc…was impressive, though I have no desire to get THAT big.

Last fall, we were pleased to participate in the Norway Winter Farmers’ Market.  Alas, we don’t have the time or the veggies to do it again this year, but I have been asked by the folks who run the market to play some music there in the months ahead.  My first gig will be on Sat. Dec. 1st, so come and see me ramble through some songs and buy some yummy produce, meats, baked goods, crafts, etc. from the vendors!  The Norway Winter Farmers’ Market will be happening every Saturday from 10 AM until 2 PM at the First Universalist Church in downtown Norway until the end of the year.

Finally, I suspect I won’t get another post in before next week, so we want to wish everyone out there a very happy Thanksgiving!  Remember to try and source as much of the feast’s components as locally as you can!  This is a celebration of the harvest, after all, so give your support and dollars to the farmers and businesses in your community!

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