Published in The Delaware Gazette June 2 , 2012
Potatoes, potatoes, and more potatoes was the theme for the spring Friend’s Reception at Stratford Ecological Center on Liberty Road. We encouraged families to attend and many grandparents responded by bringing their grandchildren. They visited the barn to watch the llamas being relieved of their thick winter coats, and had a chance to get up close and personal with the kids, lambs, calves and piglets. They returned through the woods where the wild hyacinths were at their peak, two weeks early.
Two courageous volunteers, Board Member Devon Cotterman and his wife Becky, donned Mr. & Mrs. Potato outfits and spent the afternoon amongst the children. Naturally, the food buffet was a mashed and baked potato bar with numerous colorful toppings, including Stratford’s own crispy bacon. The victuals apparently helped to keep the children’s energy and endurance high, as they raced in pairs in the one-leg sack race and engaged in a potato stamp activity long into the afternoon. These simple ingredients made for a contented visit and a desire to return to a place that seems right, no matter age.
A window of opportunity opened up the first week in May to plant six acres of spelt in Field 6. This crop provides protein for our winter feed. We were unable to plant the spelt last fall due to wet conditions and it was a relief to finally have it in the ground.
By May 7 we had cut the first of our hay in Field 1 beside the woods. This was a very early start to our haying season. We wanted to get it off quickly in order to have sufficient time to multi-cultivate and plant corn. We were successful thanks to the dry latter half of the month. We sowed seed on May 30, two weeks before the recommended last planting date for corn.
On its first outing the hay baler proved we had not caught all its weaknesses during the spring overhaul, and it broke down soon after arriving in the field. Once we knew the problem it was fixed quickly and baling proceeded uneventfully. Fields 8 & 9, beside Rt. 23, was next, but we held off cutting the thick alfalfa in Field 4 as rain was in the forecast. There has actually been little rain, and the barn loft is already half full.
Farmer Jeff likes to let the pigs graze in the fields if at all possible. They are happier, they eat a more rounded diet, and thus the customer enjoys an even tastier meat. But since they root up the field like a tank going through, thought needs to be given to where they should graze. We decided that the other half of Field 7, near the sugar shack, will be taken out of white clover and planted with fall forage turnips. Roxy and her nine five-week-old piglets, birth weight 4 lbs. and now 30-45 lbs, will act as cultivators.
Meanwhile, the pigs have benefited by enrichment in their pen. At the May meeting of the Nature Club for Kids, ages 6-12, the kids and April Hoy, Stratford’s Education Coordinator, decided that if they were hot, then so were the pigs. Pigs cannot sweat and love to cool off in a mud bath so they decided to make one.
They loaded composted soil into a wheel barrow, added water, stirred and pushed the barrow into the pen. After moving some of the straw bedding, they tipped out the mud onto the pen floor. Roxy was so excited and she rolled and rolled and was in hog heaven. The piglets were more cautious, only pushing in their snouts, resulting in dirty faces for days.
Sugar, our Jersey milk cow, and her twin calves are thriving. We are not milking her. It is somewhat of a rarity for a cow to give birth to a bull and a heifer calf. In such cases a condition called free martinism occurs. The calves share the same placenta; in humans only identical twins share the same placenta. Their blood mixes and the result is that each calf develops traits of both sexes. In the heifer’s case she will almost certainly never be able to produce a calf. They can, however, still be raised for meat and as their father was a Red Devon/Hereford bull they already have the genes that make a desirable beef animal.
Farm and Nature tours finished for the season yesterday. One 1st grader enthusiastically shared tour details with her father. He listened and then said she must have had a very good day. She replied it was NOT a good day, it was a GREAT day.
Farm camp for 6-8 year olds starts the second week of June, with training for 12 Junior Counselors, now too old for camp, taking place two days next week. Desirae Kierner joins spring education interns Kelly and Lauren for a full summer camp schedule.
Matthew Schweller returned to Stratford, this time as our summer horticultural intern, and just in time to plant the tomatoes and peppers before it rains. We welcome new and old faces and we are glad when old faces stay longer. We also encourage volunteers to help out where they feel comfortable, as we move into the most labor-intensive period of the year.
“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.