Dear CSA members,

 

Spring is almost here and the days are noticeably longer. The birds are singing again, and yesterday we were so excited to welcome the first snowdrops poking their heads out of the melting snow. We hope you are all feeling healthy and enjoying the change of seasons. We received lots of positive feedback after our last newsletter, and we are happy to be writing to you again, to let you know what’s been happening at our farm in February.

 

In a nutshell, we’ve been working in the greenhouse; Ed finished building the rootcellar; we finalized our very detailed soil fertility plan; we attended another soil health seminar; we finalized supply and farming equipment orders; we’ve been working with our two new interns; we’ve been looking into getting more chickens, and alternate sources of compost; and we’ve been doing the Storrs Farmers’ market. Moreover, we took the opportunity at this slower time of year to spend more time with our children, home-schooling, taking a couple day trips to museums, and teaching them how to cook.

If you’d like to keep on reading, below are more in-depth news…

 

The greenhouse

 In February we started 7000 onions and 400 cabbages in soil blocks, in our unheated greenhouse.  They are taking a while to germinate at this time of year, but some of them are already up, which is very exciting. (The tiny green shoot in the picture at the right is an onion. It may not look like much, but for us, the first little shoot is always very exciting.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fields

Our fields are still partly covered in snow. Last year, we planted our first crops in the ground the second week of March, and this year we were planning to do the same. However, that will not be possible. To be able to plant, we need to wait for all the snow to melt, and then wait an additional 3 weeks or so, until the ground is dry enough to work. One of the worst things you can do to the soil is to work it wet, and we’ve heard enough bad experiences from other farmers to know not to do that. Nevertheless, we are anxious to get things in the ground as soon as possible. The way it is looking now, we will be weeks behind last year in planting.

We are hoping to have lettuces, radishes and salad turnips available for mid May, when our CSA begins (in addition to over-wintered spinach). In order for this to happen, we need to be able to plant in the ground by the end of March, so we are really hoping for the snow to be melted and the ground to be dry enough by then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soil Health Workshop

We attended a soil health workshop put on by the USDA-NRCS.   We’ll be adjusting some of our practices based on the conference, such as diversifying our cover crop mix and integrating more animals on the farm, specifically chickens.  It is nice to see our government doing something useful!

 

Climate Change

In addition to soil health discussions, there was a presentation regarding how farmers in Connecticut will need to adjust to climate change.  The presenter started with the predicted impacts over the next 10 to 70 years.  Expected changes by 2020 include: temperature rise of1½ -3oF, zero to 5% increase in precipitation, and, to our absolute astonishment, 2-10 inch increase in sea level. By 2020!  We knew it was coming, but did not know the real consequences of our misdeeds would be unequivocally apparent in less than a decade (although they already are apparent for most of us).  This led us (Raluca and Ed) to the discussion of how we would judge ourselves in the future. Were our efforts enough to help avoid these irreversible changes?  Trying to live and farm very simply, with low energy inputs - is that enough?  We thought that we should try to get more involved with politics, promoting changes at the governmental level that are absolutely necessary to ward off the worst of what may come.  To that end, we would like anyone who is interested, or already is involved, to contact us so that we can try to do something more.

 

Interns

Furthering the environmental discussion, we have asked a Uconn environmental engineering student to evaluate our farm.  He is attempting to look at some of our processes and inputs, from compost to tractor usage, plastic for hoop tunnels, and water usage.  This will be a starting point to see where we are, and what we can reduce.  In addition, we hope to be able to compare our operation with other farms’.

Our second intern is working on an aspect of soil health.  She is taking leaf samples and testing the dissolved solids in the leaf; this reading correlates with soil and plant health. For now she is sampling spinach and working to develop a baseline for future comparisons.  

 

Compost and Chickens

Compost is an important part of our soil fertility program. We are always looking for the best source of compost, clean (chemical-free), and locally produced. Ideally, we’d like to produce our own, but given the quantities we need, that will not be feasible for a few years. Last year we used about 200 yards of aged compost, which was trucked from Blue Slope Farm in Franklin. This year we’re hoping to improve quality, and are currently looking into Baldwin Brook Farm and the old Franklin Mushroom Farm as possible suppliers. We’re also considering increasing our chicken flock by about 50 birds. Chicken manure can be helpful in managing soil fertility and replacing some of the compost we buy, if the chickens are properly rotated over the field (which we plan to do with our movable chicken coops). Taking care of chickens is time consuming, however, and organic feed is expensive. We will sell eggs, but at $5/dozen, it barely covers the cost of production. We were asked in the past why other farmers are able to sell organic eggs for lower than this price. The answer is multifaceted, but we hope the following will give you an idea: One aspect is that the more chickens you have, the easier it is to get organic feed in bulk, at lower cost. Having a thousand chickens versus a hundred makes a big difference. A thousand chickens, however, need more land in order not to cause too much nitrogen from their manure to burn out the soil, and in order to maintain a healthy environment for the birds. With the acreage we have currently available for forage, we cannot have more that 100-150 chickens. For this number of birds we cannot get significant discounts on organic feed.  Many farmers who raise chickens have them in permanent chicken coops, with access to some pasture, if they’re lucky. We believe that this is not the healthiest way to raise chickens, both for the land and the birds, and we use movable chicken coops instead. This allows the chickens access to fresh ground every few days, and does not cause health problems for the soil or the birds. Moving the coops, however entails much more work and management than having them in a permanent location. If you’re interested in learning more on this, we suggest Joel Salatin’s book “Pastured Poultry Profits”.

 

We hope we did not bore you with too much information. We’re quite excited about farming, and want to share that with you.

 

Peace and best wishes to you!

Raluca and Ed.