A lot of excitement is building on the farm and there’s lots to share. It’s that time of year when the projects come fast and furious in a rush to getting the farm setup for the growing season. Of course, in the midst of special projects, on an almost daily basis we’re continuing to direct-seed in the garden and in flats, and we’ve even done some transplanting already!
Shall we talk about the weather? Not. Other than to say it’s snowing today, on this May 8. At 7000′ ASL. In the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. ‘Nuff said.
The past week saw us move our layer hens out to pasture. In all, the hens have been split into five different flocks, each housed in their own mobile chicken coop, or “chicken tractor.” (Why is it called a tractor? We don’t really know!) The tractors are mostly converted horse/stock trailers, each equipped with a roost, nesting boxes and a feeder and drinker. We park the trailer in one spot on pasture and then setup electric fencing around the trailer in what, over time, appears to be a wagon wheel pattern. Once the grass within the area inside the electric fence is eaten down, we move the fence to a new spot, keeping the trailer parked in its existing location. This assures that the birds are always on fresh pasture, which for you, the consumer, assures that the eggs will be second to none in good health (in general, the deeper the coloring of the egg yolk the healthier the omega fatty acids and Vitamin D content of the egg). Store bought, industrial eggs are usually a pale yellow, while pastured eggs are a deep orange.
Room with a view. Layer hens enjoying their first morning in fresh pasture. The electric fence is attached to a “chicken tractor,” in this case a converted 4-horse trailer. The fence is then rotated around the trailer, always assuring fresh pasture for these layer hens, and, in turn, the best eggs available!
Baby goats, as we highlighted in the last post, aren’t the only young ‘uns on the farm. Every week we take in another batch of roaster chickens as day-old chicks (we don’t incubate them ourselves). They’re eventually put on pasture as well, in an intensive rotational grazing system and then processed right here at the farm. Already, three batches of roasters have made it out to pasture from their cozy brooder confines. We were also able to locate and bring to the farm two very cute piglets, each of them weighing about 20 pounds. These are York/Hampshire, which we brought home from Bayfield a couple days ago. Finding healthy piglets this season is a challenge. The Porcine Diarrhea Virus is sweeping the country and has affected pigs on Colorado’s Western Slope, as well (mainly in the Uncompahgre River Valley). PEDV has impacted an estimated 60 percent of the US breeding herd. Overall US pork production is anticipated to decline 6-7 percent in 2014, the most in more than 30 years (ACRES USA), surely driving the price of pork up for consumers. (Pork is available for sale through this website, under the “Farm” button. Go to the Meat Order Form. Supplies are very limited!)
The Berta Rotary Plow, which we’ve already raved about in a previous posting, was put to work again this week. This time, the new hoop house, which housed the layer hen flock this past winter, needed to be readied for planting after the exodus of the layer hens into their summer homes on pasture. The before and after pictures are stunning. Unfortunately, we didn’t take a photo of the 1000 sq ft hoop house with the 150 layer hens scattered about, but after mucking out their fertilizer (it’s too hot for the soil if left in there), the beds needed to be raised and reshaped. Berta Plow to the rescue!
The two beds on the right have already been run through by the Berta Plow, while the bed on the left awaits its turn, showing what the entire hoop house looked like post-layer hen exodus. When used in the proper application, it truly is an amazing implement to a walking tractor. A couple days after this image was taken, the three beds were planted with various early-season vegetables!
Also adding to the excitement on the farm this week was the introduction of two beehives, brought to the farm and managed by CSA member Laura Duncan. Raising bees at Indian Ridge Farm is a new endeavor for us, and we’re excited! We’re raising them in both Langstroth and Top Bar Hives. As we’ve all read, bees are in danger throughout the world, victims to Colony Collapse, thought to be caused by all the pesticides, insecticides and fungicides in use by commercial ag producers. We’re doing our small part to change that, and also use the bees for pollination. Already, one looks at flowering “weeds” in a different light with the bees around. Right now the dandelions are in full bloom, and the White Top is closely following. The bees seek out whatever flowers are around for food. Some of our fruit trees are in full bloom, too. We had a bucolic moment earlier this week when standing amidst a glorious Crab Apple tree in full bloom, with a sweet scent in the air, and the buzzing of bees in the air. All was well in the world.
There’s so much to learn, and in the short week that the hives have been here, we’ve already experienced some awe. Granted, the weather has been challenging for the little flyers (strong winds and cold nights). But they seem to have settled well in their new setting. Well, sort of. Tony observed early Tuesday morning a low hanging branch in a Juniper tree close to the Langstroth hives and went out to investigate further. What he discovered was that the bees had swarmed! A swarm is actually an exciting, positive development. It’s how the bees expand their population. It’s the result of a healthy hive. It’s how they grow. As bee guardian Corwin Bell has written, “From an ecological standpoint, swarming is a natural process. It makes the bees healthy and happy, promotes genetic diversity, and encourages them to be productive. Suppressing a swarm discourages the population growth of the bees. It also forces a higher number of bees to live in the same space. Cramped hive conditions produces stress which lowers the immunity of that community of bees. And finally, suppressing a swarm prevents genetic advancement. We love the concept that swarming helps to re-establish bees in the wild, thus maintaining the genetic diversity of the bee species.”
Laura Duncan working the bee hives. That’s a Langstroth Hive in the back, with an open Top Bar Hive in the front.
A swarm! Lots of peaceful activity, the bees are gathered around their queen, searching for a new home. We all thought there was a certain sensual quality to this photo.
Tony and Laura placing the swarm in a Top Bar Hive.
And now, for some news updates from around the world of organics. The Environmental Working Group, one of our favorite pragmatic environmental groups, published their list of the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables that are the most sprayed upon with chemicals. Here is their list, in order of amount of chemical used: apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, nectarines, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, potatoes and snap peas. Shop organically, join a CSA or shop at farmer’s markets. Of course, as small farmers we advocate the latter two!