The warm weather goes on and on, allowing outdoor work at Stratford Ecological Center on Liberty Road to continue unabated.
Some of the Tuesday farm crew spent a couple of workdays replacing the paneling on the front and back of the big greenhouse. There were gaps where the structure settled and moved slightly, and damage from errant use of the weed whacker. Another crew took down any dubiously leaning trees along the entrance lane, before they create a problem. The wood will be put to good use to heat the maple sap in the evaporator next season.
Gifts of rhubarb starts have been potted and set outside for the winter. Many of the beds in the Children’s Garden have been mulched with straw or chopped leaves. The strawberry beds will be covered after a heavy freeze to insulate the soil. This prevents the normal pattern of thawing and freezing, which can cause the plants to heave out of the ground.
The Tuesday women gardeners have taken on the responsibility of operating the greenhouses. They started vegetable seeds in the small greenhouse, and have now transplanted the seedlings into soil which is the envy of any gardener, in the big greenhouse, and are keeping it weed-free and watered. The amount of watering at any time of the year depends on the weather. With record temperatures right now, the big greenhouse needs heavy watering at least three times a week. There is no hibernating with a good book for very long on this farm!
The result of all this care is obvious when you step inside the greenhouse. It is lush with a variety of greens. They are available for “u-pick” for $4 a pound. There are signs in the beds describing the plants. Every year we experiment with new varieties of favorite vegetables, and a few of the lesser-known vegetables.
You can find Hon Tsai Tai Asian greens which can be eaten raw or lightly cooked in stir fry or soup, Corn Mache, mustard-flavored Mizuna, Toscano Kale – dinosaur-type, with extra-dark green rich tender leaves, mini-Chinese cabbage, dandelions, borage flowers, miners lettuce, cress, spinach, Swiss chard, and many kinds of lettuce. Each week the Tuesday gardeners pick and deliver bagged greens to People in Need in Delaware. Farmer Jeff and all who benefit from their efforts extend their thanks.
After Thanksgiving, Stratford was the beneficiary of an enormous quantity of squash, which was spoiling due to the warm weather, to feed to the hogs. It’s a sight to see them stored in the barn aisle: yellow, orange and white pumpkins, small gourds, large Turks head, and butternut squash. Hogs love to eat and are renowned for snacking. They are really enjoying scoffing this bounty thrown into their pen, and now are never hungry!
The Tuesday crew installed a hog feeder in the small area beside the pen. The larger part holding the feed is on the outside of the wall, with access to the feed from the inside. We had been feeding directly onto the floor, as the hogs would destroy a feeder placed in their pen. Thanks to this new arrangement we are using a fifth of the food due to no waste.
We continue to have lamb for sale. It is the best we have ever produced, tender and flavorful, due to the excellent pasture this year.
The egg supply has increased significantly now that the spring chickens are laying eggs. The Leg Horns are excellent layers. Some of them are all white and others black, but both lay white eggs. The other breeds in our flock produce brown eggs. Each day the white eggs exceed the number of Leg Horns, so some must be laying two eggs. Usually, a chicken lays one egg a day or around five a week, so our Leg Horns are living up to their reputation and paying their way!
Stratford will close for the holidays on Dec. 24 and re-open on Jan. 4. Efforts are ongoing to complete our 2016 calendar and this will be available online in January. For those interested in kid’s farm camp, please keep a close eye on our e-update or website for the opening registration date, as space sells out quickly. We wish you “happy holidays” and look forward to seeing you on the farm in the New Year.
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.