It doesn’t seem possible that it’s still February and we’re enjoying nearly two weeks of balmy spring weather. This fickle month has seen some of the biggest snowfall that we’ve had in years and for the past several days I’ve been wearing short sleeves! I’m sure the cold will snap back into place before too long, but it is restorative to remember what it’s like to feel the warmth of the sun and the energy that begins to pervade every living thing during springtime.

Working outside all winter makes the spring seem even more magical and empowering than ever before and already I can feel the excitement that warmth and growth are bringing to the farm. It’s not just an mysterious feeling either. There are real signs, life that is beginning to well up, green tipped buds,  delicate snowdrops and pale crocuses. Last week we had two new additions to the goat herd and already there have been seven calves born this month! Watching them stumble around the pasture in all their ungainly enthusiasm is as sure a sign of spring as anything I know.

There is a certain vitality that I think gets covered up in winter. It hides itself deep down in the roots of trees, below the frozen dirt, under layers of protection and warmth. In spring though, it bursts out. Jubilant. Like all that life has been just waiting for a little encouragement. Even if the weather does turn cold again, spring has begun. There is not holding back the tide of life that has begun to flow. I’m ready!

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happy budding!

Sweetbread

Some of the farm crew decided recently that, when it’s time to really settle down and build a house, we’re not gonna go with wood, or brick, or stone, or even the slightly more hip clay and straw mixture for our material. We’re going with plastic!

We’ve been in the hoop house building game for the past few months and, not only are these structures large, clean, open, and bright, they are also cheap and amazingly resilient. I mean, the roof blew off our barn just a few weeks ago but the hoop house that is up behind the barn stayed remarkably intact.

Hoop houses, for those who don’t know, are basically greenhouses without any kind of temperature or humidity controls. They’re meant for animals. We recently built two that are 30ft wide x 108ft long x 16ft high. We’re housing 1000 laying hens inside each one for the winter. They are simple structures of metal hoops, spaced four feet apart down their length with a kind of end wall at the final hoop. A sheet of thick plastic stretches over top and on the ends to create a completely enclosed building that heats up quite nicely with a little sun and the body heat from all the animals.

We had quite a time getting the plastic over the first house. Walker, Zach and I chose a relatively calm day after we’d finished building the basic structure of the house. We unrolled the giant sheet of plastic and tied several ropes to one side so that we could toss them over the hoops and pull the plastic over from the far side. As we were pulling up the sheet, as slight wind began to blow and our hoop house cover became a massive, impermeable sail. Walker and Zach held on for dear life but, since I didn’t have a rope in my hand at that moment, I dove onto the plastic and tried to act as an anchor. For a few minutes I thought we were going to get lifted off the ground but eventually the wind died back down and we were able to pull the plastic over our hoop frame and get it secured before any more big gusts could tear it out of our control.

When chickens and pigs are inside a barn for the winter it’s dark and stale, much less appealing than the bright, warm interior of the hoop houses. They are also large enough that, when spring comes around and it’s time for the animals to move outside, we can use the tractor to clean everything out. My recent blog post about deep bedding the pigs in the barn through the winter also applies to the hoop houses. Chicken and pig manure is too concentrated in nitrogen to make good compost by itself but the added biomass of carbon from the hay we spread in the buildings provides for a great composting milieu.

So far, our experience with these houses has been very positive. They are relatively easy to build (if you have the right tools) and sturdy (though I suppose a few years wear and tear will be the true judge of that). I do hope they work out for the chickens though, because there are a lot of birds strutting about in there and they seem pretty content right now!

Best,

Sweetbread

When I rolled up into the barn lot this morning, I couldn’t help but scoff at all the predictions of snow that I’d been hearing all weekend. The air felt warm and breezy; none of that stiff, sharp electricity that so often precedes snow here in the mountains. One of my friends in high school used to claim he could smell snow coming. He maintains to this day that his percentage for accuracy far outstrips the weather channel.

Zach and I were surprised to see a few flakes begin to fall as we moved the cows a little after ten. It still felt too warm, too like a rainy day to be seeing snow. With the cows happily munching away at their new strip of pasture, we headed up to Berry Hill to continue pruning the blackberries. By this point the snow was coming down hard, in big, clumpy flakes, the kind of picturesque snowstorm you might see on a Christmas card, though nearly all of it was melting the moment it touched the ground.

Our management of the blackberries has been slowly improving over the years since we planted the canes. Last growing season we hit a bit of a low point. After a particularly brilliant bloom, the fruit began to set far too heavily on the plants. We tried to go through and thin things out, but our efforts were too little too late. Overproduction caused energy shortages in the plants that lead to many of the fruiting clusters rotting and falling off before they ever ripened. It was disheartening to see so many green fruitlets that would remain hard and dry until they shriveled off the stem.

This year we’re trying to stay on top of our game and so Zach, Walker, and I pruned with much less reserve than in previous years. After taking out all the dead floricanes (fruiting canes from last year), we trimmed back the number of primocanes (fruiting canes for the coming growing season) until only the healthiest remained. We then clipped back all the stems that were too small to support fruit clusters or that were situated in unproductive or particularly crowded space.

By the time we’d finished with the first row and were ready to take lunch, the snow, still falling heavily, was beginning to stick to the ground and to the blackberry canes on which we’d been working. It seemed like our blackberries were already bearing new fruit.

 

 

 

Happy Sledding!

Sweetbread

The place was impossible to miss. With painted plaster cows lining the street, colorful lights twinkling from miniature grain silos, and old tractor tires recycled into sign holders and seats, Andres Carne de Res is a fixture of the Bogotano culinary and party scene. The restaurant/ bar/dance venue/ weekend escape destination is a novelty in that it attracts tourists and locals alike, all swarming to the party-style atmosphere and world renowned steak dinners.

I was in Colombia for a two week trip to visit my girlfriend, who has been living in the city for the past four months. She’d been living mostly on the abundantly available fresh fruits and vegetables that are ubiquitous in the city. Every street corner has a guy with a cart selling avocado and sliced mango in wax paper cups. We decided that a night of decadence and red meat was in order, though.

As the waitress led us through the maze of wooden tables overhung by low, smokey lamps, we were amazed at how large the place was. When I finally had a chance to ask her the capacity of the restaurant she replied that, in the course of any given night, they fed 2000 hungry carnivores!I thought about the incredible quantity of meat that one restaurant must plow through every night to feed that many people. The menu, which was just as flashy and crowded as the restaurant, was 30 pages long with its own index and glossary and most of the items in it were meat based dishes. One whole page was entirely devoted to steaks, some so large they were recommended to feed eight people!

Meat, especially beef, is a staple of traditional Colombian food. Most restaurants serving Colombian cuisine offer large platters of meats and fried corn patties called arepas. It made me think about the quantity and quality of all this food. In Colombia, when I told people that I work on a farm that raises grassfed beef, they looked confused. What other kind of beef is there? Feeding cows grass in South America is a no-brainer. In Argentina and Brazil there are millions of acres of pampas with climates perfect for growing lush grazing fodder.

For many South Americans, the amount of meat they consume is a function of availability and cost, not necessarily quality. The same is true everywhere but for now, they are getting delicious grassfed beef at the same cost that people in the US pay for their corn-and-soy-stuffed cows. Eventually, those resource rich places will begin to deplete from overuse. How many times have we heard the mantra ‘you don’t know what you got ‘till it’s gone’? While it’s fun to have a decadent 600 gram ribeye steak smothered in buttery garlic sauce now and again, it should be just that, a treat, not the norm.

I know this post doesn’t have much to do with the farm, but it has a direct connection in my mind. Our way of farming touts sustainability and environmental consciousness, but it must be paired with moderation or it renders itself impossible. Eating meat seems a healthy and natural part of life to me, but, like anything good, If you get too much, its bad.

 

It’s a party every night at Andres Carne de Res

 

The 1000 gram beef tenderloin with bacon is a recommended meal for eight!

Traditional Colombian platters consist of grilled corn, arepas (fried corn), potatoes, and lots and lots of meat!

 

So here’s to moderation, and to quality. And here’s to a little party once in a while!

Sweetbread