Tuesday, May 20, 2014

WWOOFers Meet Bison

We have had a whole lotta fun stuff going on at the farm lately, but I will come back to that later and skip ahead to today, which was our first full day with three young WWOOFers from Pennsylvania, Ross, Evelyn and Anna.  They will be here for two weeks, immersing themselves in farm life for their high school senior projects.

This morning they weeded in the greenhouse, clearing out the grass that has been creeping in from the edges and along the paths. Then we headed to Shepard Buffalo farm for a little adventure.
Last summer when I interviewed Ron Shepard for my Prairie Air radio show, he told me his favorite day of the year is the day the bison are released to the spring pasture, giddy and joyful after the long winter. I asked if I could watch this spring and he kindly agreed. Today was the big day, and Ross, Evelyn and Anna happened to be here for it. The ground was too soft for Ron’s truck, so he built a special platform for his skid loader, for all of us to ride out to the pasture on and use as a viewing platform, safe above the bison herd. We set up our observation post where the bison would run past and then Ron went up the hill to open the gate to the chute.
The bison had been eagerly watching from teh top of the hill, ready to head down to the pasture, so as soon as he opened the gate Ron raced straight back downhill to the skid steer as the bison wound their way through the chute, then down the hill to the pasture.
Ron has about 20  adult cows, the herd bull, plus yearling and two-year-old  animals and 17 new calves so far this year. Some years the  bison run crazily, leaping and frolicking, happy to be in the new pasture, but this time when they reached the tall grass, they stopped and began grazing.
Ron seemed a bit disappointed they didn’t give us a big show, but it was  pretty impressive to us just to see them galloping across the field, and so close.
The calves are so darn cute.
The bison are in various stages of shedding their winter coats.
Contented grazing on lush grass. Surprisingly,  the bison did not really seem to mind when we drove up close to the herd, even with the young calves.
Some waded out into the pond.
The adventure was not yet over... Ron allowed the interns to take turns driving the skid steer back up the hill to the farm yard.
Profile of a skid steer operator.
Ross expertly maneuvers through the gate.
Then they got to  drive the ATV.
Probably nearly as much fun as weeding the greenhouse.
We cannot thank Ron and Bonnie  enough for this awesome experience.
Tonight we topped off a memorable day with grilled bison burgers from Shepard Buffalo Farm for supper-- absolutely delicious! (You can purchase Shepard Buffalo Farm meat at the Rochester Downtown Farmers Market on Saturdays.)

Now the only problem is, it is going to be hard to top this first day of WWOOFing!

Monday, May 12, 2014

May Daze

This is my favorite time of year!!  It is exhausting and overwhelming, but all the green and growing and spring fragrances make me so happy. I wish computers were in smell-o-rama so you could get a whiff of this magnolia.
This summer we are hosting a series of WWOOFers  who already are making me feel more like we may actually be able to handle the demands of this little farm this summer.  Jessica is our first WOOFer/intern, who plans to work with us four days a week the entire summer. She is an accomplished baker (bonus for us!) and eager to learn the ins and outs of farm animals, dairying and gardening. Already she has been invaluable in helping us bake breads and pastries for the Farmers Market.  Here she is, putting a pizza into the wood-fired oven--our traditional supper on Friday bread-baking night.
Sourdough loaves rising.
Jessica’s reflection beams in the  bakery case at Saturday’s market. We sold out two weeks ago at the first market of the summer season, so  increased our production significantly last weekend and still sold out early. So, if you want one of these delicious goodies, better come to market before 10 a.m.!
Yesterday, Mother’s Day, Rog made a wonderful farm breakfast - farm eggs scrambled with garden asparagus and chives, bacon, Rog's sourdough bread, toasted, with Jessica’s  strawberry rhubarb jam, and rhubarb coffeecake.
A great power breakfast for a hard-working Sunday!
Rog hauled in several loads of topsoil to fill in bare areas and bumps in the farmyard, then fenced out the poultry and overseeded with grass. This is where weekend concerts happen and we especially want it to be green and lush for Laurel and Darin’s farm wedding at the end of June.
While Rog worked on the lawn, I transplanted three boxes of Lily of the Valley and Hosta roots my friend Jonya had  thinned from her garden and kindly given to me. Daughter Cadence and I weeded a large section of the greenhouse. And I shoveled many hundreds of pounds of muddy hay and manure from the incredibly deep,  muddy cow feeding area. (Will it ever dry out so we can get some equipment in there?!)
I strung temporary fence in the front yard and moved LaFonda and Jitterbug there all afternoon to mow the grass. Little did they know, the fence was not connected so had no zap to it. Happily, they did not test it.
Probably they just appreciated being in fresh, delicious grass and out of the mud and did not feel the need to go anywhere else.

The bees were busy  hauling in pollen and nectar. You can see the big yellow pollen packs on the back legs of a couple of these bees.
Dandelions and violets have finally popped out, giving the bees plenty of food sources.
Last year, I discovered a nearby ditch totally carpeted in  one of my favorite spring flowers, bloodroot. They are in bloom now, and I dug up some for my wildflower patches. (I hope it is not illegal, but my wildlife expert friend assures me it is not a bad idea to establish new populations.) I only took a few plants and did not make a dent in the ditch flowers.
The nice thing about the gray, rainy weather is that it makes for painless transplanting and prolonged blooming. The bloodroots seem very happy in their new homes. I hope they eventually expand into large drifts.
It has taken six years for the  Virginia bluebells to begin to expand, but now they are beginning to form a carpet of blue in my back yard, just as I hoped.  So many new baby plants, although most won’t bloom this year.  The blossoms should open any day now.
Birds are nesting all over the place! I love seeing the birds flying around carrying nesting materials, grass and twigs trailing behind them. We have wrens in the bluebird house, robin nests on the barn and house, and yesterday I discovered a cardinal nest in the honeysuckle vine that climbs the windmill.  There are two eggs in the cardinal nest so far, blue with brown speckles.
I haven’t found any of their nests yet, but we have a bunch of orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks and hummingbirds frequenting the feeders.

Such a glorious time of year!!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Making a Mushroom Patch

This morning,  I finally had a chance to plant the mushroom patch in the garden. I ordered this jar of Winecap Mushroom  spawn growing on grain from Detroit Mushroom Co via EBay a month ago.  It arrived almost immediately- while we still had a foot of snow on the ground, so I kept it in its dark  shipping box, hoping it will be no worse for the waiting.

I have never grown or even tasted  Winecap Mushrooms before, but I recently met a new friend, Teresa Marrone, the author of a just-published book: Mushrooms of the Upper Midwest: a Simple Guide to Common Mushrooms, and she encouraged me to try them because they can be grown easily right in your garden. They are supposed to be are similar to portobello mushrooms in taste.

I decided to create a  small mushroom bed at the end of the stoop of the Unbearably Cute  Garden Shed. I used some vintage  wood logs that we found in the barn to create the border. The spawn did not come with any instructions and I found several different approaches in my online search, so I tried a blend of a few  suggested planting techniques. First, I laid down wet cardboard.
Then, I mixed half wood chips with half  semi composted compost. Getting the compost was the hardest part because i had to carry it by shovelfuls from the compost pile through the extremely muddy cow yard to my wheelbarrow.  The wheelbarrow never could have made it through the deep mud.  For wood chips I am using purchased pine bedding for chickens. I figure it is unlikely to be contaminated with spores from other mushrooms. I suspect the little blue mushrooms that always pop up on the compost pile might show up, but they will be easy to tell apart from the winecaps.

The compost-woodchip mixture is layered about 6 inches deep over the cardboard.
I added another thin layer of wood chips because the pine bedding is so fine, I was worried it might decompose too fast. Then I spread the mushroom spawn over the bed and covered everything with a layer of compost. I watered lightly because we are supposed to get rain this afternoon, but the bed should be kept well-watered.
The reading gnome and a toad have taken up residence in a corner of the mushroom patch, waiting for the mushrooms to emerge. If all goes well, we will have  mushrooms for our wood-fire pizza in just a few weeks.