Frith Farm

Friday, May 31, 2013

Chores & Carpentry Skills

This week has been a busy one, but oddly enough, the focus of our time and efforts hasn't been directed at our plants. 

One of the things that all three of us value about our apprenticeship at Frith has been the extremely varied opportunities we get, to learn, not just about growing plants, but about planning and building everything from Eggmobiles to broiler shelters. 

This week we were working on two bigger projects that have been looming over us for quite awhile it seems. 

Above you'll see Josh, constructing the frame for two additional broiler shelters that were needed to put our meat chickens out to pasture. This year we will ultimately be raising 500 broilers in all, and so now we have four shelters on pasture, each fitting 50 chickens. 

For me, constructing anything at all is a new experience as I was not brought up with many power tools and handsaws lying around. I'm quickly learning the difference between a socket wrench and a regular wrench, along with how to use a circular saw and Great Stuff! 

Above you'll see Will putting chicken wire along the perimeter of the broiler shelter with a staple gun. And below he's working on the walk-in cooler that is becoming more and more necessary with the 90ºF weather we've had the past two days. 

This walk-in will allow us the luxury of not waking up at 4:30am every Wednesday morning to harvest for the Portland market! When it's completed we'll be able to harvest on Tuesday evening and wake up like normal farm workers at 5:30am. 

And speaking of the early mornings, I wanted to shed a little light on the chores that Will, Josh and I are responsible for each work day. Every month we switch, so for the month of May, I was in charge of our laying chickens, Josh our meat chickens (also called broilers), and Will the pigs and sheep. 

Although this changes throughout the season, our chickens currently require the most time and energy to care for. 

The layers not only eat a lot of food, but the eggmobile must be moved weekly and then there's those eggs!

In case anyone is curious, this is what 164 eggs looks like. We get around that many each day, hand wash them, and put them into egg boxes with the Frith Farm logo. For an experienced egg washer (like myself, now that May is almost over!) this process takes roughly an hour and a half, beginning with collecting the eggs from the nest boxes, feeding and watering the chickens, then washing eggs and boxing them up. 

The other chickens now require special attention as well. Each broiler shelter must be moved twice a day to give the chickens fresh space to fertilize and new grubs to eat up! Moving a shelter of this size single-handed is an art in itself, but a perk of the job is that the broilers are located in a picturesque pasture a short bike ride down Ash Swamp Rd. 

Saturday is June 1st, meaning that all three of us will be switching up chores once again! The past few days have felt like summer has finally arrived to Maine, so it feels right that a summer month is about to begin. Enjoy the summer weather everyone!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Harvesting (at last!)

This coming week marks the end of the second month that Will, Josh and I have been at Frith. When we arrived there were still piles of snow on the ground and we could see our breath in the mornings in the kitchen when we were having breakfast. But no longer!

Now everywhere we look there's lilac in bloom and this past week saw us harvesting our own produce for the first time this season!

The rows above are four different kinds of kale, to the right is a row of collards. Add to that the radishes and turnips that are begging to be pulled from the soil and two rows of spinach below and we're up to our eyeballs in freshness!

We've actually got more than we know what to do with at this point...the CSA doesn't start up til June 11th and there's only so many greens we four can eat on any given day. 

This week we did sell a bit of everything to our local natural foods store, Lois' in Scarborough and for the Portland market on Wednesdays. So we got to harvest, wash and pack everything to learn the ropes of that process. 

We were all so starved for green things (after eating mostly eggs, bread and cheese for the past two months) that we all devoured a fair bit of kale, raw straight from the fields. It really is that good!

Next we learned how to set up the wash station at the barn and how to pack everything in bunches and into crates. 

I'm sure we'll all get sick of harvesting at some point this season, but this week at least it really was extremely gratifying to see the end product of all the hard work we've put in so far. In the midst of the daily grind of composting, seeding, transplanting, raking, weeding, watering and feeding animals, it sometimes slips my mind what exactly we're doing here at the farm and that the result of all this hard work really is worth to me, and to Will, Josh and Daniel as well. 

Then there are other valuable moments for all of us on the farm that come about just because we are always outside, close to nature and interacting with our environment on a daily basis. 

On Friday we were all kind of stunned to see a hawk chasing a smaller bird into the barn. 

Onza (our cat) quickly relieved the hawk of his prey and promptly ate the bird, which only added insult to injury because the hawk then couldn't figure out how to get out of the barn. 

Even though the hawk wasn't happy about its situation, for me it was one of those cool moments on the farm, to find myself watching a hawk at very close range and getting to see its beauty and power up close. 

And, yes, the hawk did eventually get out of the barn and hopefully trapped another bird for its supper. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Full Bloom

On Wednesday evening we had a perfect thunderstorm. Work was done for the day and whatever we had planted that day got a good soaking before the sun set. 

All the rain has made our trees blossom and bloom. 

And we're definitely enjoying some color in the trees and hearing the wind (constantly!) in the leaves. 

Our asparagus and rhubarb patches have been showing themselves and we've gotten our first taste of green this week as a result!

We've mostly been eating it raw, right out of the ground!

This became a cake, baked by yours truly, and four pies, baked for us by a very generous CSA'er!
If you've been out and about in the past few days, you might have noticed that the dandelions are in full bloom at the moment. In fact, the peak of dandelion madness at Frith was somewhere around Tuesday. 

According to Daniel (and other people too I'm sure), when dandelions are out in their fullest force, it's time to plant potatoes, so on Thursday morning, we planted ours, all twelve beds!

Our potatoes will be pink, purple and yellow beginning in August!

Below you'll see the potato plot that had been recently tilled. And since we're on the subject, this would probably be a good time to explain how tilling works at Frith. 

At the vast majority of farms, tilling up the soil is a part of the normal process of preparing a bed to be seeded. It's a conventional wisdom that has been accepted for years.
For a number of reasons though, Frith only tills in rare instances, such as when a plot has been in pasture and is being cultivated for the first season. 

Although tilling introduces a lot of oxygen into the soil and encourages a lot of growth initially as nutrients are released, the soil loses a lot in the process mostly in terms of the rich ecosystem that has been created and maintained underneath the soil layer we can see. Wormholes are destroyed, root systems are upended and the respiration of millions of microorganisms is increased, sending soil carbon up in the atmosphere. 

To add to all that, weed seed is stirred up by tilling and you often wind up with more weeds than you started with. 

So why did we till up this potato bed?
Well, unfortunately, there just hadn't been time at the end of last season to properly mulch the beds before winter and the weeds were out of control by this week when it came time for potatoes. Tilling isn't something that this farm labels as evil, but it is definitely something that we strive to minimize when possible. 

Tilling and tractor work in general are not something that we rely heavily on here on the farm. In fact, today Josh and I were saying that our expectations of other farms we may work on in the future is going to make us realize how spoiled we are here this season!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Our First School Group (And Rain!)

A few weeks ago a teacher from Wentworth Intermediate School came by the farm to talk about some groups of 3rd and 4th graders coming to Frith on a field trip in May. 

I decided that a scavenger hunt would be a fun way to introduce the kids to the farm and get them thinking a little more about what they were seeing here. 

We talked about what the animals eat; why there's only one rooster; why the greenhouse doors are open in the daytime; and why the pig pen has tons of holes dug into it. 

Some of the questions led them to beds that were labeled with some of our more exotic veggies - kale, collards and kohlrabi. The kids were supposed to compare their appearance and describe what they saw under the row cover. 

They went into the greenhouse and found some basil seedlings. 

They were most interested in the chickens and the pigs and had lots of really good questions; how many eggs chickens lay each day; where they lay the eggs and how we get over the electric fence!

We got a group photo next to the pigs and then headed over to the lambs. That's right, we got our lambs last weekend!

Afterwards, the kids presented me with a bouquet of dandelions with some turkey feathers, and one even said that he wants to be a farmer when he grows up!

Overall the kids were extremely engaged and truly interested in the different aspects of the farm. Most of them had not thought before about the process that goes in to getting the chicken that they eat for supper and there were some interesting moments when it registered that animals must die in order for us to eat them. 


In other news, Wednesday marked the end of a dry spell that had lasted for over two weeks. We are still in the process of setting up our irrigation, so our newly-transplanted kale, collards and spinach had been looking especially parched.  

Wednesday night all that changed though and we woke up Thursday morning to a mist-filled farm. 

I think these shots are particularly beautiful.

Two beds of lettuce, planted Wednesday were especially glad for the perfect transplant weather. 

And we've gotten around ten more beds planted since the rain - brussel sprouts, turnips, bok choy, Napa cabbage and rutabaga!

Onza's kittens are sprouting up like weeds as well and all have opened their eyes in the past week. 

We'll likely have two kittens available for adoption in the coming weeks. Let us know if you're interested!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Chicken Feed and New Roofs

It's been an exciting week. 

There's the grain bin's continual progress.

Above was shot on Tuesday. 

I elected to hoe some beds instead of helping with the grain bin construction!
Below on Wednesday. 

Look closely you'll see Josh's hand sticking out of the center!

This grain bin will save us from driving two hours twice monthly to pick up feed for our poultry - the layers, the broilers and, eventually, the turkeys. 

It holds over four tons of grain, which is delivered to us, saving us on gas money and time wasted in the car! 

It's a pretty big deal and was almost single-handedly constructed by Josh. He would argue and say that the other boys helped out, but he was the one who knew the instruction manual frontwards and backwards. 

Also this week we had our very first trip to the Portland Farmers' Market!

I was the lucky dog that got to accompany Daniel on his inaugural run to the Wednesday market on Monument Square. Although we don't have anything growing yet to be harvested, we did scrounge up some overwintered parsnips, some celeriac from the root cellar, plus tons of fresh eggs and meat. 

Daniel and I woke up before 5am in order to reach Portland and set up by the market's start at 7am. It was the first time I had actually seen the sun rise over the cedar trees on the farm. 

In the midst of all this we have still managed to accomplish lots of transplanting this week. Above you'll see Will toiling over our first bed of spinach. 

The greenhouse is not as cram-packed as it was last week. And today I got some tomatillos seeded, summer is definitely on the way. 

The most noticeable event at the house the past few weeks has been a sizable carpentry/timber-framing project to reinforce the roof. A local timber framer, Robbie, has led an amazing effort to make the apprentice's part of the house more sturdy and today, we started on the roof itself! 

Will and I (but mostly Will) worked to pry off the shingles from a roof whose angle is a bit more steep than would appear at first glance. 

Robbie and Will then pried off the old, rotted boards and replaced them. 

Although at the moment (6:42pm on Thursday) about half of our roof is still gone! 

We definitely have a much airier house today and thankfully there's no rain in the forecast for the weekend!

Enjoy the roofs over your head folks and send us some good wishes that we'll get ours back soon!