The winds were gusting at 45-50 MPH on Saturday, Dec.11, at Stratford Ecological Center on Liberty Road. No one was walking in the woods, as the possibility of mature trees falling has increased in recent years. Some of the windfalls are left to decompose, and they become home to numerous woodland inhabitants like slugs, snails, salamanders, insects, earthworms and, in a big way, fungi. Other trees become firewood for use at maple sugaring time, benches around the sugar shack campfire, or are cut into planks and used in various ways on the farm.
The animals continue to graze outside. The eight hogs make their way from their pen to the corral, where they heave up the soil with their snouts looking for grubs. The eight piglets are consuming a lot of feed and piling on weight. The farmhands now make feed every three weeks, rather than monthly, to keep up with the demand. Our hogs have forgotten their manners and no longer make much effort to relieve themselves beyond their bedding area. Consequently, their bedding gets wet, requires frequent replenishing, and necessitates mucking out more often. They are scheduled to go to the processor in February, and Farmer Jeff has decided to keep less offspring from the next litter!
The east side of the Paw Paw coop has been closed to allow the newly planted rye seed to establish. The west side is occupied by the colorful hens, purchased as chicks in the fall of 2020, to lighten our mood during COVID. They are the best layers of all our 100 hens. Egg production has fallen off considerably since the days became shorter and insects harder to find. We miss them, and Farmer Jeff may increase the amount of soybean protein in their diet from 15.5% to 16.5% to stimulate laying.
At least 35 birds, including hens and roosters, should go to the processors in the near future. In the past, we have processed the birds ourselves on the farm, but it is a time-consuming effort and not the most prized of jobs. We are better off paying $5 per bird and having them returned to us for sale to folks who relish a good chicken stew.
Cooper’s hawks continue to be a concern for the hens but until recently, have never actually entered a building to seize a bird. Last week, Volunteer Coordinator Emily Kridel literally caught one in the act in the Paw Paw coop. He entered through the open door to the Children’s Garden and killed a handicapped hen that was sheltering there. The hawk became disorientated and flew into the window, stunning himself. Emily was able to hold him and have their photo taken before releasing him.
The portable coop is now located in the Children’s Garden, and the hens are allowed free range. The raised beds have been heavily mulched with straw for protection from the weather, and in some cases from the hens! They like the strawberry beds and exert considerable effort pecking through the straw.
The big greenhouse is producing fine round heads of lettuce, and spinach and kale are growing steadily. On Dec. 7, the temperature was 24 degrees Fahrenheit, and the vegetables were frozen. They could not be harvested for People in Need in Delaware, by the Garden Ladies, until the afternoon. Of late, there has been some concern that their title is inappropriate, as occasionally some men join the team. It was decided that henceforth the Garden Ladies will be known as the Garden Crew!
The crew busied themselves that cold morning hauling the hefty cider press into the classroom to make cider to freeze for the Messages from the Earth students when they return in February. The press was not used this fall because a combination of heavy pruning and a late frost resulted in a small apple crop, which was eaten by the orchard hens or children. However, a donor sent over four bushels, and the crew were able to use the last two to make five gallons of cider.
Farmer Jeff has decided to take our 23-month-old bull to the processors on Dec. 22, rather than sell him at auction where he could be purchased for breeding or meat. He looks a champion and weighs around 1,400 pounds. He is grass-fed, and the meat will be so good we cannot pass up the opportunity to have it available in our freezer.
It is a sure sign that our ewes are in lamb when they cannot fit through the gap from the farmyard into their pen in the barn because of their size! The space is deliberately small to prevent the cattle getting in. Those roly-poly ewes will produce early lambs at the end of January.
The Education Committee met to review plans for next year’s programs. Our annual Maple Sugar Breakfast, scheduled for March 5, has been renamed the Maple Sugar Celebration. The “eating” format is different with frozen sausage, pancake mix, and maple syrup available for purchase, rather than breakfasting on site. An abundance of activities, including visits to the barn and sugar shack, will still be available.
The bee program is strong in 2022, as well as Farmer Jeff’s Regenerative Agriculture program. Farm camp registration starts via snail mail postmarked beginning Jan. 8. Please check our newly designed website regularly to keep up to date. Stratford will be closed for the holidays from Thursday, Dec. 23, until Tuesday, Jan. 4. We wish you a safe, warm and happy holiday.
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.