Published in The Delaware Gazette May 5, 2012
Timing and weather is everything on a farm and Stratford Ecological Center on Liberty Road is no exception. It was gratifying to reach the end of April and know the spring planting has gone as well as possible. Thanks are due to everyone who recognized the need to work the land and plant the crops while conditions were favorable.
The disc harrowing was finished by the early part of April on two acres in Field 3 near the asparagus, 2.5 acres in the North Pasture, and another 2.5 acres in Field 7, allowing us to plant oats for a high quality hay crop. The oats are growing strongly, with competition from the weeds, also flourishing in the moisture and warmth of 80 degree days.
Staff, Interns, and a couple of volunteers bent to the task of planting two rows of rhubarb in Field 3. A helpful machine pulled the soil into raised beds but it could not quite master flattening the top, so everyone set to and completed the task. The rhubarb sat in black plastic pots outside the greenhouse all winter. They are in excellent condition and we anticipate a profitable return in future years. Farmer Jeff Dickinson grinned in triumph when he finished stepping off the planting holes and had accurately assessed the amount of ground needed for planting. The plants were tucked in, watered and straw mulched.
During the last week of April and just before a steady rain, farmer Jeff and assistant farmer Gabe Ross planted 8 double rows of Pontiac and Yukon Gold potatoes, as well as cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli plants. One drove the tractor, and the other sat on the back, and dropped the plants through holes on a rotating disk, once in the ground, arms pulled the soil around the plants. It was a very efficient method of planting.
We are grateful to 40 high school children for planting early vegetable plants in the PIN garden. These were started from seed in our small greenhouse. Earlier in the year the students had planted seeds of warm weather crops for their own school garden and were using Stratford’s greenhouse to raise them. They transplanted their own seedlings into bigger pots and took them back to grow-on until the frost free planting date in mid May.
Not only were seeds growing at Stratford this month but our animal and bird numbers increased by leaps and bounds. The first to arrive was a Llama, which has been on our wish list for some time. Curzon, a tall five year old male, with a white and brown face and thick brown wool covering his body and legs was delivered by breeder Barbara Baker of Baker & Company Llamas. Curzon came to us courtesy of a Friend of Stratford who feared for the lives of the March-born lambs without a protector. Thank you.
Farmer Jeff thought he was going to have a choice of two animals and Barbara agreed to bring a second llama a few days later. Predictably, Jeff was unable to choose between the two. We ended up accepting another gift from the same Friend, this time an eight year old dark brown male, who looks like a very large teddy bear. The Stratford staff named him Jefe, pronounced in the Spanish way Hefe, which means leader.
Leadership ability is yet to be determined, but both animals were a magnificent sight as they initially paced the fence with their heads held high and ears forward. Despite some uncertainty, they were soon nose to nose over the fence with the cattle, and when allowed total access they danced together in the field. The bonding with the goats and sheep was a piece of cake.
On Saturday, April 21, Roxy added nine chocolate-colored piglets to the farm family as she gave birth over a five hour period with Farmer Jeff acting as mid-husband. Not unexpectedly Roxy (and finally Jeff) was in a bit of a daze during this marathon. Roxy was not at all careful where she laid or stepped and Jeff had to rescue more than one piglet. She lay totally on top of one and it was a struggle for Jeff on his own to move her body to release a fortunate piglet. Roxy was totally recovered the next day, although the same cannot be said of the farmer, and now she carefully roots around in the straw before lying down or standing up. As usual the piglets’ antics beat any television show.
On the same day Ruby, with the purple color, led off the birthing of this year’s kid goats. She had been bred to our new Boer/Nubien buck and produced handsome boy and girl twins. Luca also kidded and produced a full-bred Toggenburg girl from her mating with Fuzzy. Her daughter Lucy has produced a pure white cross, a girl already named Luna, the naming identifying her as a sure keeper for breeding. To date there are eleven kids and three more nannies expected to kid.
Culminating this wonderful month Sugar, our Jersey cow, gave birth to boy and girl twins early Sunday morning. This time Laura Anne, Stratford’s horticulturalist, was in charge and had to deal with the befuddled calves as they climbed through or lay down on the mild electric fence as they sought their Mom. The same morning Nanny goat Nessa, a daughter of much favored Nadia, also birthed a boy and a girl whose facial features resembles her grandmother, and will take her name. Finally, chicken eggs have been hatching in the classroom and five kestrels hatched in the box on the outside of the barn.
The wild hyacinths are blooming so come out and see them and all this new life.
“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.