Archive for August, 2007

Joel Salatin and Polyface Farms

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Get ready to be amazed and inspired by Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms:

IN 1961, William and Lucille Salatin moved their young family to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, purchasing the most worn-out, eroded, abused farm in the area near Staunton. Using nature as a pattern, they and their children began the healing and innovation that now supports three generations.

Disregarding conventional wisdom, the Salatins planted trees, built huge compost piles, dug ponds, moved cows daily with portable electric fencing, and invented portable sheltering systems to produce all their animals on perennial prairie polycultures.

Today the farm arguably represents America’s premier non-industrial food production oasis. Believing that the Creator’s design is still the best pattern for the biological world, the Salatin family invites like-minded folks to join in the farm’s mission: to develop emotionally, economically, environmentally enhancing agricultural enterprises and facilitate their duplication throughout the world.

The Salatins continue to refine their models to push environmentally-friendly farming practices toward new levels of expertise.


Beyond Organic: The Story of Polyface Farms (Two hour talk; excellent!)

Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal

No Bar Code: An Evangelical Virginia Farmer Says a Revolution Against Industrial Agriculture is Just Down the Road

Compost Pile

Monday, August 27th, 2007

Kevin recently mowed down a big patch of canna lilies. Today we spent a good part of the afternoon gathering up the cut plants and layering them into a big pile just over the fence from the vegetable garden. The mulch from the canna lilies seems to be full of carbon. Tomorrow we plan to gather some cow dung and make a big batch of nitrogen-rich manure tea with which to douse the pile. This is the biggest of several compost piles that we hope will be ready to enrich the garden in the coming autumn.

I spent a good part of last autumn being rather lazy (I like to think this was related to being in the early stages of pregnancy), so did not plant lots of compost crops in the unused vegetable beds as I’d planned to do. As a result, our present composting efforts are not as extensive as we would have liked. Still, we are doing as much as we can, and are on target to keep building up the amount of compost we are producing on the Farmlet season after season. I have already purchased seed for compost/ green manure crops to go in this autumn (broad beans, lupins, mustard, phaecelia, asparagus peas), and have written reminders in the garden diary so that we’ll be sure to plant them.

Compost pile

With the heavy clay soil we have here, it is crucial that we keep adding large quantities of organic matter every time we re-plant the beds. Last season, we were lucky enough to have a number of large bales of spoiled hay from my cousin’s farm, as well as a huge pile of mulched-up tree branches from my parents’ place. That gave us a fine start for building garden beds. This year, we are still in the position of needing to bring in extra organic matter to improve the structure of our soil. We anticipate having to do this for the first few years until a) we have established a good base of garden soil, and b) we have a decent quantity of our own compost coming on line.

Though in principle we dislike the idea of hauling in organic matter from outside, we feel this is a wise use of our “petro-chemical dollars.” Establishing a good base of soil in our garden is one of our highest priorities. At this stage, we are also adding lime and gypsum to the vegetable beds, and are looking into remineralizing the soil on the Farmlet as a whole, by spreading rock dust.

NB: In the photo the compost pile has come out looking somewhat cone-shaped. It is actually rectangular in shape.

Sold: Fabulous Friesian Cow

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

Less than two days after we pinned up the ad for Esmerelda at the local store, the phone rang. Someone wanted to buy her! Of course, we thought she looked gorgeous in that photo on the flier. It was gratifying to know that someone else’s head had been turned by this glowing example of bovine beauty.

After a short phone conversation, the purchaser was keen enough to offer to buy Esmerelda right away, without even seeing her. She would fit in perfectly with the small herd of Friesian cows that they are grazing just down the road from here. Esmerelda’s new owners rushed over with the cash the very next morning, and had the chance to meet the latest addition to their herd. They looked very pleased with her.

Esmerelda in her new paddock

We felt happy to have found a good home for Ezzie so easily. She would be going to a small nearby farm, with kind owners who treat their animals well. Like us, they wouldn’t want any of their diary cows to end up at the meat works or in a big commercial dairy herd. Still, both Kevin and I were reeling a bit with the suddenness of it all. We had hardly had time to get used to the idea of selling Esmerelda, and it had happened already! I looked up the hill from the garden the afternoon after the sale, and saw Kevin spending some quality time with his beloved pet. We were really going to miss that big, bossy cow!

The next evening, Ezzie’s new owners came to move her and the calf along the road to join the rest of their herd. Herman Beefsteak was determined to go with them. It took quite some work to shoo him back up the hill to Rosie, who was bellowing at him in annoyance. Luckily Ezzie is a real bucket-brain, and willingly followed Kevin along the road, hoping for the treat he was carrying in the blue bucket. Her calf followed behind. It was a fine evening, and the move was uneventful.

Our destination was a paddock so lush and green that Esmerelda hardly knew where to put her eager muzzle — into the grass or into the treat bucket that she’d been salivating for all the way down the road. Of course, it was a bit sad for us to say goodbye to her, but we felt good to be leaving her on such a juicy pasture. As for Esmerelda, she was so transfixed by the green grass that she didn’t even turn to glance at us as we walked away.

Farmlet Reader Contributes $150

Friday, August 17th, 2007

WOW! Thanks to IL for his astonishing generosity!

For Sale: Fabulous Friesian Cow

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

Not long ago, Kevin and I came to a decision: We ought to sell Esmerelda and her calf. Esmerelda is our dear pet, and a fabulous beast, so this was not an easy decision to make. We love Esmerelda, and will really miss having her around, even though she’s a bit big and stroppy!

This is the picture we used on the FOR SALE flyer

Why would we sell Esmerelda?

* The size of the Farmlet means that we are not really big enough to run three dairy cows, especially if we also want to keep some of their offspring to raise for meat. (We were really only looking for one more cow when we found Rosie and Coco, but they were only for sale as a pair. That’s how we ended up with three cows.)

* Esmerelda is a big cow. She eats a lot more grass than the Jerseys. Her larger size also makes her less than ideal for the steep terrain on our land, especially when it gets muddy. Her hooves make a real mess!

* For our own consumption, we prefer Jersey milk over Friesian milk.

* It doesn’t seem right to separate Rosie and Coco, who have been together since birth, so Ezzie is the most obvious candidate for a new home.

Since we are so fond of Esmerelda, we wouldn’t like to sell her to a commercial dairy herd. We’d rather she went to a small farm, where she can still be Queen of the Paddock and get treats from a bucket! It’s very important to us to find a good home for her. Two days ago, we designed a fabulous flier to put up at our local store, the “Bush Fairy Dairy.” I also prepared an ad. for the “pets and livestock” section of the local newspaper. At $600, including calf, we think she’s a great buy. (I called a local stock agent, and he advised us as to a fair price to ask for her.) She’s got lots of milk and would be a good house cow and/or nurse cow. She’s friendly, and can be moved around and managed without a dog (All it takes is a plastic bucket with a treat in it.) We hope that the right kind of person is looking for a cow just like Ezzie.