Thursday, June 27, 2013


Dear interested parties (pardon me if you are not interested) and supporters of North Branch Farm,

The time to reserve our beef and pork for your freezer is NOW! 

We will be sending two cows and five pigs to the butcher on July 16th, and they’ll be arriving back to us in a more edible form about two weeks later (exact date TBA, somewhere around July 31).  We’ll have two more rounds of beef cows going to the butcher later in the year, around September 9th and November 4th.

A little bit about our meat animals:

Our beef is exclusively grass fed.  Our beef cows are Devon and Angus, and they are healthy, happy critters.  In the summer they graze and fertilize our fields while we busily make hay.  In the winter we put a fence around all the hay, some cozy pieces of forest, and a corner of a stream, and they live outside straight through the cold months.

Our pigs are raised on organic grain, which is processed locally by Maine Organic Milling; a portion of the grain is also grown in Maine.  The pigs live outside on an oak-wooded hillside where they root for tubers and munch acorns.  They have access to food and water 24/7 and can often be found napping in a pig pile in a shady spot on hot afternoons.

We have chosen not to certify any of our meat as organic because of the extra record-keeping, and because we feed our pigs a small amount of kitchen scraps, which are not always from certified organic food.

Continue reading if you think you might be interested...

The numbers—our 2013 meat pricing:

Our prices are per pound for the meat you get, cut and packaged.  Much of the meat that is sold “on the hoof,” by the half or whole, is sold per pound based on the hanging weight—just to give you an idea, if we were charging based on hanging weight (which includes all organs, bones, and sometimes the head and feet) our prices for beef and pork would both be around $3.00 per pound.  To keep things simple, though, we just charge you for the meat that you actually take home.  You can reserve your whole, half or quarter animal with a $100 deposit.

$5.50/lb. for a whole animal, usually 240-260 lbs.
$6/lb. for a half, about 120-130 lbs.
$7/lb. for a quarter, around 60-65 lbs.

When we sell beef by the cut at farmers’ markets and the like, our lowest priced items (burger and stew) go for $6/lb. or more.  So buy in bulk and get your tenderloin for the price of burger!  Get together with friends and buy more bulk and save even more!

$6.50/lb. for a whole pig, probably 150-160 lbs.
$7.50/lb. for half a pig, probably 75-80 lbs.

Your meat will be a mix of fresh pork (chops, roasts, ribs, etc) and smoked and cured cuts like ham, ham steaks and bacon.  If you get in touch with us soon enough, you may even get to specify whether you want sausage or ground pork and what flavor of sausage you’d like…let us know ASAP.
Also, peruse at your leisure:

Friday, June 21, 2013

Solstice photos

Mowing our first hay of the year.  Sickle-bar mower from behind...

and from the front.
My lovely co-farmers on our way home from the Memorial Day Parade.

Mark in the greenhouse
Miriam in the greenhouse

Meat chicks in their tractor, finally out on grass

Calf liberation project:
First we built a fence,
then we turned a window into a door,

and now the calves get to play outside...
and Ada climbs the fence all by herself to bring them fresh grass.

Our new, NRCS-funded high tunnel from Ledgewood Farm Greenhouses--30'x72'.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Grouchyfarm

The last week of May was filled with the more-or-less standard cocktail of mistakes, excitement, progress, and fears.  Maybe today I'll stick with some basic strategies from way back in Conflict Resolution class, which could be accurately subtitled "How to Critique Someone/thing You Love Without Causing Them to Ditch You."  The only one I really remember is the good-bad-good method, and on the farm this week it would go something like this:

The good news is that vegetables are really fun to grow.
The bad news is that we're planting them into quackgrass sod.
The good news is that we know how to weed quackgrass.

Or a variation, good-bad-change:

It's really great that we grow thousands of fruit trees in the nursery.
It's not cool when the stuff we put on them to protect them from getting eaten by bugs actually kills them.
Maybe next time we should not use that stuff.

You get the idea.  We've had some financial, emotional and agricultural setbacks whose ramifications will be reverberating throughout the life of the farm for the duration of the season if not longer.  Most of the farm news I post to the blog is good news--not that I try to put a positive spin on everything, but there's so much good going on here that it's easy to find a whole post's worth of pleasant tidbits.  On the other hand, I don't want any of you lovely readers to have the impression that our greatest struggles revolve around wondering if the rain will fall or what color to paint the barn trim or something like that.  We are fortunate never to have to worry about being warm or fed, but the stakes are still high and for much of the farm the investment-to-payoff time lapse is six to eighteen or more months (or thirty years for the nut trees we planted) with all kinds of pitfalls along the way.  Just ask me if you want to know more.

On a lighter note, there really is some excellent news this week: The remaining two pregnant dairy cows (Ryan and Kenya) have popped their babies out since my last post, and two new bull calves joined our ranks.  We're rocking out in the milk production sector and the waiting game is over.

Tyler and Elsie hosted a class of eight Waldorf third graders and their teacher for a two night trip last week, and they all got going on some great farm projects.  The Brussels sprouts are planted, the trees in the orchard are starting to be mulched, the brush pile was burned, and s'mores were made by all.  Today we followed up by putting row cover on the Brussels sprouts to foil the flea beetles and planting almost a thousand sweet potato slips.  Mark and Miriam never cease to amaze with their sharp wits, humor, perspective, and hard work.  Life is truly good, and we live around hordes of brilliant, lovable humans on a beautiful, resilient and precious planet.  Thank you for your time and see in the next episode.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

May 25, 2013

I keep looking over at the stove to see why there's a pot boiling, and it turns out to be, in fact, the rain driving against the kitchen windows.  This is new in that for most of the last week we have not had wind with our rain--it's old in that we have had LOTS AND LOTS of rain in the last week.

I'll do the category-by-category farm update, as usual:

Castrations yesterday: one.
Current number of cows milking: five.
Dairy cows due to calve: two.
We're doing our tri-weekly milk deliveries to Jessie, and on Thursday we got a sample pint of her excellent $8-per-pint sheep's milk yogurt.

Hey, we have bees now!  Lohman Gardiner of Gardiner's Honey moved four hives to our farm last week.  Very exciting.

Just kidding!
No goats.  But here's a photo I found as I was sorting and cleaning of the sweet Rove goats at the farm where I WWOOFed in France.


Onions have not yet learned to swim and seem to be surviving on a diet of drowned worms and mud pie.
Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes are next in line to be planted out, along with Irish potatoes and squash.

Doing well.  Here are a few photos from way back when we planted them with the handy dandy tree planter.

Elsie headed up getting the pigs out into the woods a couple weeks ago, and they have been happily getting back to their evolutionary roots as forest dwelling critters.  They are eating trout lily bulbs and lazing around in the shade.

Their blue barrel is for drinking water and is fitted with a metal nipple somewhat like a huge version of a guinea pig or hamster waterer, if you remember back to your elementary school days.  The wooden feeder holds a couple hundred pounds of grain so the pigs don't have to be visited every day, and it has nifty flaps so that rain and crud don't get in, but when the pigs need a snack they just head over, nudge the flap open with their noses, and get a bite to eat.

The SQ cabin:
Gilbert has done a beautiful job with the cabin.  In this photo of the NW corner of the downstairs you can see the Jotul 602 (formerly used to heat the Yentes-Quinn residence), pretty wainscoting, the lavatory corner, the spiffy space-saving staircase, and the robin's egg blue walls.  Sometimes I am tempted to move right in.
Little human:
Ada is so much fun!  She has spunk and feist like no other, loves our whole extended family and friends crew, is taking off with the scooter bike (along with Yukon, below), takes awesome naps, becomes a baby bear periodically and hibernates and catches fish and sharpens her claws, proposes yoga time and dance parties and painting, and generally helps us fill our days with fun, exercise, food, and that lurking question: "If I see no Ada and hear no Ada, should I breathe and relax or should I run like hell for the place I last knew her to be?"

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Working in high gear

In the small, everyday conversations of life at this time of year, lots of people ask each other, "How's your spring going?" and this year more so than ever before I find myself honestly responding with "Really busy.  And really good."  This is our third year growing for our winter CSA members, and the first year that, when it has come time to plant onions, that I've been excited to do it and then excited while doing, and not pestering myself over the questions like:  How did we do this last year?  Was it right or wrong then?  What should I change?  What should I do the same? Am I forgetting anything?

We grew over fifteen thousand onion, leek and shallot seedlings in the greenhouse and, over the course of last Thursday and Friday, planted all of them.  The weather was perfect: cloudy, with occasional precipitation and a nice little downpour at the end, and the planting operation was essentially seamless.  Seth and I dunked each flat of seedlings in fish emulsion water before loading them into the truck; Seth shuttled them out to the field as needed, one or two people stayed busy pulling the seedlings out of their tray and separating them, and most of us spent hours on end digging small holes with one hand (right, for me), tucking in an onion with the other (left), and patting the soil back around it with the first (right).  Fifteen thousand onions in one and a half days of work is not bad, and just as good was doing such satisfying work in such above-average company.  The usual suspects (the farm owners) all participated, Tyler only occasionally when he wasn't busy spreading two semi-truck loads of chicken manure over the back hayfields before the wet weather came, and we got to experience the stamina and conversation of our two apprentices, Miriam and Mark, and our good friend Graham.  Nonnie-Chris spent time making life interesting for little Ada, and that made it all possible.  Thank you, all of you.

On the dairy side of the operation, we have calves coming out our ears.  Five calves have been born in the last three weeks, two girls and three boys, and all are doing well--I think the only definitively named ones are the first two, Daisy and Carlos, who are both half Canadian Jersey and half Devon.  Tyler delivered his first breech calf out of Regan, and the momma is currently being treated with antibiotics for what we believe to be a uterine infection.  Elsie has made the first two milk deliveries of the year over to Jessie at Fuzzy Udder Creamery AND we have recently started eating the gouda that Elsie and Tyler made last fall when Jessie was done cheese-ing but we still had more milk than we knew what to do with.  It is amazing, delicious, creamy, dense...I am imagining cutting a thick wedge for each of you.  We are off and running again in cow world!

Another major part of this time of year, working backwards, are those little baby fruit trees we talked about last time.  Those grafted trees are now planted in long straight rows just a few feet away from the onion patch.  That was an epic project as well, in true Seth fashion--after thinking about how long it would take to plant the eight thousand fruit trees we needed to this spring, Seth decided we'd need a tractor drawn tree-planter.   After thinking about how long it would take to design, build and tweak one from scratch, we decided to import one from Damcon, in the Netherlands.  After it arrived (in the nick of time) we discovered our tractor couldn't drive slow enough for a person to pop the trees in at the desired spacing AND the part that opens a furrow in the soil was unnecessarily wide to the point that it was bogging the tractor down and digging in too deep.  So, naturally, Seth up and welded a new shoe and sweet talked the neighbor into lending us his 20-hp hydrostatic transmission (aka really really slow) Kubota lawn tractor.  And in a few short days, those little trees were out of the sawdust and into the soil.

 Over the last week or two, thinking about an upcoming blog post, I have been realizing that the nature of farming could lead to a rather boring blog for the same reason that I love farming as work and life: the same things happen every year.  Over and over again.  The weather changes, and sometimes the field or the people or the exact varieties of plants and trees and cows, but the more we refine what we do, I think the more repetitive this blog will become.  Sure, the tree planter is a new development and hopefully by next year I'll be able to show you pictures of a barn with new windows and siding, but the reality of the natural world reigns over all.  I basically give you the farmer's picture of the seasons.  Enjoy!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Grafting tutorial and more

Someday, when I create a farm calendar, the months will be: January, February, March, Apple, May, etc...and happily, as of today, bench grafting of apples (and some minor amounts of other fruit trees) is complete.  Below you will find Elsie's photo tutorial of how to make a whip-and-tongue graft.  First, you practice by making hundreds of slices to hundreds of scrap twigs until you can produce the perfectly angled, oriented, and flattened cut with a single-bevel grafting knife.

Then you make these cuts on two identical thickness pieces of wood: one side is the rootstock, which is a baby tree that you've lopped off about eight inches tall, and the other is the scion wood, a two-inch section of a young branch from a desirable variety.  That's the "whip" part.

Then you cut matching slits into each piece of wood, slits that go parallel to length of the scion and rootstock.  You push them together, with their "tongues" interlocked.  I guess you could say they're French-kissing.

Then you bind them together with parafilm grafting tape, and hope for the best!

Our greenhouse is rocking out, and getting ready to have another similar-sized one constructed right next door.  The spinach I was hoping to would supply our needs turned out to be a little too copious, and we've been selling it off the farm to much acclaim.  You may have seen it if you've been shopping or eating at the Belfast Co-op, Fresh off the Farm, the Natural Living Center, or Shepherd's Pie.

Newly seeded alliums
Alliums are up!
Fresh new wood on the barn, now covered up with typar, awaiting new windows, trim, and cedar shingling.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

April showers, check.

The fury of spring, days longer than nights, warmer weather, and awakening earth are all upon us.  Right now you can assume that there is an inverse relationship between the amount of new blogging about the farm and the amount of new projects on the farm.

Our new apprentices, Miriam and Mark, are also journeypeople through MOFGA's journeyperson program, which basically means they are serious farmers-in-training and have spent many years working on farms already.  It has been an absolute pleasure and boost to the workforce to have their strong arms and minds join our crew.

Currently, Seth is heading up the bench-grafting of 200-300 apple trees a day towards a goal of 4000 bench-grafted trees in by April 12, 2013.  The mudroom/CSA room has been transformed into grafting central and our utility-pantry room has become the "healing in" room where baby trees stay warm and protected while the graft union callouses over and begins to grow.

The barn is being given a serious examination and every bit of rot is being amended in some way.  The windows and doors have all been removed and will be replaced with brand new ones, and the day is not far off when cedar shingle siding will start going on those barn walls.

In the world of livestock, the pigs staged a mutiny after living in their freezing mud-filled quonset hut one cold rainstorm too long and Elsie showed up to evening chores a couple weeks ago to find them burrowed under and around a round bale of hay inside the barn.  Coincidentally, we had been wondering how we would move them into the barn, so it was kind of a relief they moved themselves.  But soon they'll have to go back outside since a barn can't have pigs while cows are being milked in it, and the cows are due this month to start calving out, starting first with two Anguses and followed up by the Devons and Jerseys.  All cows except the yearlings are back on the home front as of yesterday in a paddock outside the barn, eating hay and tapping their hooves while they wait for the grass to grow again.

Here are the week's photos:
Filling the soil-blocker...
Stamping out blocks,

Filling blocks with seeds.

Early summer squash experiment.

Moving pigs from temporary to long-term barn enclosures using the well-known "wheelbarrow method."