It is good to be back at Stratford Ecological Center on Liberty Road after my trip to England to stay with family and close friends. As a gardener, April was a good month to go, as I would not miss the first flush of spring at home. England blooms ahead of Ohio, and there was a satisfying amount of greenery and flowering plants. The weather was as temperamental as we experience here, with cool days, clouds, April showers, and the occasional perfect sunny day. However, with a huge umbrella and wellington boots anything is possible. A walk in Winnie the Pooh country, and a hot drink in a quintessential English Tea Shop, turned out to be wonderful.
My sister moved to south Derbyshire, in the middle of England, in 2019, from a glorious village with a castle and endless sand dunes, beside the North Sea close to Scotland. Her new home is in a rural area but the industrial city of Derby, the home of Rolls Royce, is less than 10 miles away.
I had the opportunity to explore her small village. It was not one of those idyllic ones with a green and a duckpond, in fact it had a short L-shaped high street with a fairly busy road running through it. But it wasn’t long before I discovered the friendly coffee shop, a couple of pubs with women bar tenders who offered a warm welcome, a well-stocked tiny grocery cum post office, and met young mothers pushing prams, some born in the village and others living there less than 10 years. It was the mothers’ stories about village life that made me realize why there were newer homes tucked behind the high street. All these mothers had found their Eden and made their home in what at first glance was a very unlikely place. It made me think of our close community at Stratford.
Life on the education farm has continued at high speed since the end of sugaring season. Kindergartners and first graders have enjoyed their farm and nature tours; lively fifth graders have completed their final two days of the Messages from the Earth Science program; farm school started up again. Now with the approach of the school holidays these will end, and training begins for our camp interns and junior camp councilors, followed by farm camp through mid-August.
Five hundred people turned up on April 22 to experience Sheep Shearing Day. It coincided with Earth Day and Earth Day week, when 80 volunteers from Cardinal Health, Chase Bank, Olentangy Local School District, and individual families turned out to work. They planted or potted 750 trees, prepped the Children’s Garden, seeded flats, pruned, weeded the blackberry patch, and removed invasive garlic mustard. Twelve extra-large landscape bags were taken for composting to Price Organics.
Twenty-nine lambs are thriving with the ewes in the pasture, a record number, but with fewer twins and female lambs born this year.
A new young buck goat named Duncan has arrived. He will mate with our nanny goats in the fall. He is a full-bred American Toggenburg. At the same time, Josie, a full bred in-milk American Toggenburg, was donated to us by Farmer Jeff and Laura. Josie has her own pen in the barn, and Laura milks her twice a day. She uses the milk to make fromage cheese, feta, and yogurt for their family, and anyone fortunate enough to be on the receiving end. Cheese making has not happened on the farm for a long time. Duncan and Josie are the start of a new breeding line for Stratford.
The five piglets are growing well, although with no mother around, they have not learned to make their bathroom at the opposite end of their bedding area, which now looks like an unruly compost pile. The greenhouse is in the process of being turned over to summer crops, and the piglets enjoyed immensely the discarded kale stalks thrown into their pen.
We fed our round hay bales and still have a few of the smaller oblong bales left, thanks to an exceptionally early start to our grazing season. The cows have been munching in fields 5, 6 & 7 on soft clover and alfalfa. They have become spoiled, and now disdain the tougher orchard grass. We have decided not to continue growing it, in part because it grows in a clump, and often the soil around it is bare. The farmhands have continued to build permanent pasture dividers, to enable us to move livestock easily and improve our grazing patterns and soils.
Farmer Jeff has been building up the soil for decades and has succeeded, but in recent years, the nutrients have been steadily decreasing due to the change in weather patterns. He has practiced shallow cultivation of the soil for some time, but it is not proving enough to maintain the nutrient level.
He is ecstatic that we were recently donated a 2009 10-foot Great Plains no-till drill along with a roller/crimper. He will be able to renovate pasture and hay fields without tillage, which destroys what is growing there. He can plant corn directly into a cover crop after he crimps it, thus sequestering greater amounts of carbon, conserving moisture, organic matter, soil calcium and structure, and he will not have to re-enter the field and cultivate the weeds. He can add seed to our prairie after a mow or burn and plant vegetables with a greater rate of success. It is a great lift for the spirit.
The wildflowers have been a picture this year and the hyacinths are at their finest right now. We continue to be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on a Saturday. Programs for children and adults continue and details can be found on our website. We hope you can find the perfect one.
Pauline Scott is a farm and nature guide at Stratford Ecological Center, 3083 Liberty Road, Delaware. She can be reached at 740-363-2548 or by email at [email protected] Website: StratfordEcologicalCenter.org.