Published in The Delaware Gazette August 4 , 2012
The farm at Stratford Ecological Center on Liberty Road started the month of July bone dry and yellow and ended looking a healthy green, thanks to at least three big storms and intermittent rains. The rains were so welcome that assistant farmer Gabe Ross could not resist dancing underneath the first downpour, with a big smile on his face.
After the fluctuating temperatures of early spring it is amazing how the apples and peaches have survived and loaded down the trees. By late June the peaches were reflecting the lack of moisture, but now they are a sight to be seen, plump and blushing, clinging all the way up every branch and beckoning to be eaten.
The blackberry bushes in field #3 and in the Children’s Garden have produced a bumper crop. The fieldgrown bushes were mulched and some weeds left to conserve moisture. They still had to be watered but the yield has proved the effort worthwhile. The 9-12 year old campers are experiencing picking and simmering some of the berries, and preserving them in small jars. The final touch, before screwing on the lid, is an attractive square of material to compliment the richness of the preserve. The campers are delighted to take their efforts home and share them with their family.
The corn variety research project in field #1 which was stilted by lack of growth has now reversed and there is sufficient crop to be evaluated by the seed company this month. To foil the deer living in the woods from finding the corn, a twenty foot wide strip has been planted on all four sides in sorghumSudangrass. This quick growing annual can survive a drought, digs its roots deep into the soil to retrieve the residual natural nitrogen, grows tall, can be cut for hay before the first frost, and the winter kill improves the soil.
In addition to the strip, a two-strand electric fence, operated by solar power, was erected around the corn to ward off adventurous deer and raccoons. Lengths of tin foil coated with peanut butter were tied at intervals on the wire to invite the animals to test the fence. They found out the solar charger produces more punch than an electric unit and retreated. Farmer Jeff found out too, after he was knocked back when testing the wire!
Field #2 is flush in red clover and a third cutting of hay will soon be taken off. Fields #8 & 9, beside Rt. 23, produced a good first cutting, but the second shriveled in the fields in 100 degree heat. We’re now looking good for a third cutting with timing dependent on a little more rain. This year’s hay crop contains plenty of nutrients.
The spring spelt grew too poorly in Field #6 to produce a seed harvest, so the cattle were allowed to graze there. It was then bush hogged and now is re-growing and producing a seed head on a short stalk. This will either be cut for hay or become a part of our grazing rotation. The cattle have been moved to Field #4.
On hot days they can be found in the barn: the Red Devon beef cows, Sweet Bessie Lou and Annie, look magnificent close up. Sweet Bessie’s son, Buddy, totally grass fed, reached a weight of 1,215 pounds by his second birthday in late June. We are thankful for the flavorful beef he provided for our elegant fund raiser “An Enchanted Evening” on July 21.
Roxy and her nine 100 lb. piglets have spent a lot of time putting on weight in field #7 near the Sugar Shack. They are literally in white “clover.” They will be finished in the fall on chaff and splits, a byproduct after cleaning grain for seed, until they reach 225 lbs.
A high-sided gravity feed wagon, placed in the field to provide shelter for the pigs from the sun, actually blew over in one of the storms. Fortunately there were no injuries to the livestock. The storm caused a lot of trees to fall over the Sugar Shack and Well Loop trails. One of the most beautiful sugar maples on the property, located behind the farm house, had its center destroyed in such a manner one wonders if a tornado came through!
The orchard hens could not find enough ventilation in the hen house during the hot nights, and chose to huddle outside. Regretfully, a weasel discovered this and disposed of eleven of them. They now return without fuss to spend the night in the hen house. Earlier, a skunk had been hiding in the hen house, breaking open and eating the eggs. The white rooster challenged him, as he does aggressively with visiting children, but this time he did not win. Perhaps just as well as far as the children are concerned, although he was only doing his duty. Farmer Jeff baited a skunk trap twice, with broken eggs, without success. He found a better trap and the skunk is now history.
Summer camps will finish in another week. It will be time to say goodbye to the interns, and wish them well as they seek further experiences beyond Stratford. Perhaps there will be a lull, but I doubt it, before preparations begin for the fall school groups. We hope you can visit us before school starts and sample a blackberry, a peach or a tomato.
“Farm Connection” is a monthly article connecting city folk to life on the Stratford Ecological Center farm. It is published on the first Saturday of the month on the farm and garden page of The Delaware Gazette.