Sunday, May 20, 2012

Farm Journal: Getting the Garden Started

This year I'm building an organic garden at Windshadow Farm and Dairy in Bangor, owned by Ron and Suzanne Klein.

I started with the cold crops:  cabbage, collards, kale and onions (rows indicated by small white markers) and enclosed them with a light weight black plastic mesh fence (larger white posts) we will also use for our vine crops.  To reinforce the fence and protect the seedlings from rabbits, I buried the bottom of the netting to hold it down around the perimeter of the fence.  (There were a lot of rabbits this year because of the mild winter.)  The watering hose is hooked up to a spigot attached to Ron and Suzanne's house.

Here's the entire garden space, with two terraces on the hill.  The terraces were built up with hay bales and then a mix of composted goat and water buffalo bedding from the dairy barn.  Ron made a couple dozen trips from the compost pile behind the hay barn to the garden to to build up the lower garden and to fill both terraces that measure 12 bales of hay--lengthwise.  We plan to take advantage of gravity to help water the terrace crops.  Only one-third of the lower garden has been planted and there is much more work to do, including building a kitchen garden and potato plot next to the house and between the road and the barns (background).

The soil is heavy clay, so we are transforming it with loads upon loads of compost.  Ron rototilled the lower garden before we put in the terraces, then Mike Sullins came over with the heavy duty tiller he uses on his blueberry fields, which really mixed in the tons of compost we had spread.

Ron roto-tilled the kitchen garden yesterday and it is like powder.  We'll roto-till the lower garden soon.  That beats having to do it with a shovel!

In between gardening I helped Soo with the milking by escorting the goats to the staging area of the milking parlor.  She usually has four goats in the chute where these two white goats are standing.  They will enter the milk parlor by the door on the left side at the end of the chute.  Another four goats wait in the first "on-deck" pen (to the lower right of the photo at a perpendicular angle).  When each set of four is finished, the goats exit the parlor and go into the dry lot area through another sliding door (behind the wooden wall at the end of the chute). It's a slick and intelligent operation, but Ron has some redesign plans to make it more efficient.  One thing non-farmers may not understand is that animal handling can take a huge amount of time and be stressful on the animals.  The goal is to be more efficient and have the handling system be as animal friendly as possible.

The water buffalo calf was born on April 2, 2012 to M-131 and is the sister of Kate, who was born on March 15,  2011.  The dairy water buffalo are all handled daily starting as calves.  They are very intelligent, docile and well-mannered if handled correctly. Ron is training the new calf to halter using a rope halter.  He said that one of the most important things you can do with any bovine or water buffalo is train them to a halter so they are willingly controlled.  It was quite a sight for Suzanne to see Ron leading a 1,500-pound  water buffalo into the milk parlor using only a thin rope halter!  But then again, in cultures where these animals are commonly used, they are led about by small children.

The new calf loves to run around the barns.  And, despite their size and bulk, water buffalo run just like horses.

I also fed the newest water buffalo calf, which is a pure joy, and then walked her around the grounds for exercise.  She is learning how to follow through the use of a small rope halter.

It was a long day (10 to 8) and I was exhausted and sore, but happy and satisfied with my work and the progress made on the garden.  I'm already anticipating the delicious vegetables the garden will produce.

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