It was good to return and catch up at Stratford Ecological Center on Liberty Road after my long overdue and restorative May trip to England to visit family and friends. Their season was about two weeks ahead of our own, and I was surprised by the thick tree canopies and blossoming trees and shrubs. Most days were sunny, which made it even better when exploring favorite places in Yorkshire and finishing our day in a café with a cup of hot tea, and, of course, a slice of cake!
Back home, the first week of farm camp for 45 kids between the ages of 6-8 began on June 6; camps last until mid-August. Two weeks earlier, six new senior camp counselors were trained by the staff. During the second week, 45 junior counselors arrived for training. Many have experienced farm camp themselves and were eager to move into a responsible role. The J.C.’s work out a schedule that enables 10 of them at a time to assist for two weeks of camp. Farm chores are a favorite, especially throwing hay from the loft to the goats below and finding the courage to search for an egg under a sitting hen. Farm camp is the thing we do best, and the weeklong experience allows plenty of time to get to know a child and immerse them in outdoor life, wherever they feel most comfortable.
The extensive rains and the creation of a Solar Way beside the machine shed has led to new drainage projects. Trenches were dug and pipes laid around the Paw Paw chicken coop, linked with another on the east end of the Solar Way and finally joined to a line buried in front of the equipment shed. The consolidated water will continue eastward under the lane near the hay elevator and across the field to dump into the wooded ravine we call the rabbit ear, and it will eventually make its way to the creek. A most welcome anonymous donation of a backhoe attachment for the Kubota tractor made the job a lot more manageable. The front-end loader can carry gravel and disperse it, but it cannot dig more than a few feet deep.
The long parking space on the north side of the entrance lane has been extended. The top soil was removed and used to cover the new drainage trenches and less expensive gravel used to level the parking area. This should allow for better angle parking with no fear of getting stuck in the grass. The increase in traffic during farm camp, especially on a Tuesday when 16 farm hands and 10 gardeners spend the day, necessitated action.
Avery Benjamin, an innovative Boy Scout, has utilized water runoff from the Paw Paw chicken coop as his Eagle Scout project. Avery is no stranger to Stratford having attended three farm camps where he first learned about chickens and planted the Paw Paw trees to gain a merit badge. He and members of Troop 299 in Dublin attached guttering to one side of the A-shaped roof to feed a diagonal downspout to three connected water barrels, with an overflow to the new drainage system. A thin, long pipe attached to the chicken coop and dotted with tiny red drinking bowls extends from a barrel which automatically fills the bowls. His efforts are much appreciated as like any livestock, chickens will succumb quickly if they don’t have enough clean water available.
The Garden Crew have been working hard every week in hot conditions to plant the big green house with summer vegetables grown from seed. Fortunately, they were rescued from heat exhaustion when the ceiling fans at either end were repaired. The variety of produce and the design is pleasing to both the taste buds and the eye. Produce continues to be delivered weekly to People in Need. During the afternoon, the crew hunker down to remove weeds and mulch the flower beds. The new beds in the Memorial Garden are maturing and add to the ambiance.
The goats spend a lot of time in the barn. Their beautiful kids don’t grow as quickly as lambs and are more friendly. The sheep and cattle are only too happy to be out in the lush pastures. We continue to wait for an in-pig sow to fill our pen with piglets.
First cut hay has been slow to bring in. The intermittent storms make a farmer’s life a real headache. The underside of hay absorbs water from wet ground, and bales of wet hay are a fire risk and can mold in the loft. Field cultivation in preparation for planting corn and oats has been delayed. The middle of the manure pile in the south pasture has provided rich soil for our raised beds with the remainder pushed together to further mature. As of May 31, the vegetables were all planted in the Children’s Garden, and I tasted my first sweet strawberry.
During our summer farm camp, Stratford is closed to visitors except on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and during events. Story Time, Herbal Study Group, Hatha Yoga and Book Club meet during the third week of the month, and the third Saturday offers many different experiences. The Spring Honey Hoist is scheduled for June 25 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and shortly afterwards, it will be available for sale. Details can be found for all events on our website. May you find a cool opportunity to tend your own yard or simply sit and enjoy it, maybe with a glass of iced tea!
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.