Bob Dash

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Rebecca keeps a copy of The Birders Handbook on her bedside table and every time an unusual spring visitor shows up outside our window she grabs it to check out the new arrival.

townsend's solitaire

We’ve had plenty of avian visitors this spring and the handbook is well thumbed. A red breasted finch showed up recently and we thought we heard a barn owl hooting a few nights ago. Rebecca definitely spotted a Townsend’s Solitaire last week.

 We’re not really serious birders–no lifelists or anything like that.  But one of the side benefits to raising a smorgasbord of chemical-free crops is the profusion of birds that show up to feast on the leftovers. Arguments may still flare between pro and anti-organic supporters but those birds know what’s good for them. 

It is early in the season–most of our plant starts are still in the greenhouse or huddled under row cover–but each morning these days we wake up to a cacaphone of calls from the local flocks of breakfasting, mating and nesting robins and chickadees. The sparrows are everywhere. You can just about set your watch on the arrival of the first Violet Green Swallows–April 16 last year. (Rebecca once insisted we do a Google search to check for possible swallow kills along our flock’s migratory route from Central America after they were week late arriving.)

The little birds scour the fields for leftover seeds and snatch early insect hatches on the fly, providing a wonderful display of avian aerobatics. Everybody seems to dig into the feeder we put out on the porch for Cleo, our resident pea hen. The big birds, hawks and owls, show up to feast on the little guys and on the rodents who foolishly poke their noses out of their burrows looking for seeds.

A young eagle has been cruising our fields for several days now, stopping here and there to pick up bits of straw and branches for a new nest up in the tall firs that fringe the hillside and, perhaps incidentally scouting the chickens who are busy scratching up their areas. At night, a couple of bard owls sit down by the farm gate, waiting and watching in the dark, and regularly sounding off  like tiny foghorns.

All this, of course, in addition to the hens, turkeys and ducks scrambling their own turf on the lower pastures. Some days it sounds like the Bronx Zoo birdhouse around here when the sun climbs over the horizon.

But the real actors are the crows. We have mixed emotions about these guys. They can destroy a newly planted row of starts and they occasionally scare the bejesus out of the chickens when the fowl are still small. The only thing we have found to be successful in scaring them away is to hang a crow carcass on a branch. Our neighbor and uber-photographer Bob Dash has been gaining some fame with this shot he made a couple of years ago.

Scarecrow and silver chimes.

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Every evening, late in the season, we try to make time to watch the sun go down. The light at the end of the day can take your breath away; suddenly, the leaves on the trees are on fire and then, just as quick as it came, the fire disappears and the air takes on a new chill. Usually, this warmth/chill pattern would result in some fine fall tree colors. This year is far from normal and the Big Leaf Maples either haven’t turned yet or have turned a dull yellow. We’ll settle for a few stunning sunsets.

Low tunnels

We’re closing in on the end of the eighth month of this season and as it winds down it’s nice to make time  for these brief, fiery displays. The rest of it is going fairly smoothly–the corn is gone, replaced by new garlic beds, the other beds are mostly ready for winter. We’ve put up new low tunnels over the salad garden to wring as much heat out of these final weeks as possible.

Meanwhile, the apprentices have been busy sowing winter cover crops of rye vetch, wheat and some Austrian field peas. Next week will be the final farmers market and CSA pickup. And then–well, the appentices are already planning for the future (more on this in another post) and running down a final list of field chores to prepare for winter. Our neighbor and uber-shutterbug Bob Dash caught Caitlin yesterday as she dug out some of the last of the old sunflower stalks.

We’re still not finished. Early next month we will kill the lambs–yes, that’s a harsh way of putting it, but this is a working farm not a petting zoo, and we will do it as quickly and painlessly as is possible. Their meat will feed us through the winter and their wooly coats,tanned and fluffed, will make lovely Christmas presents next year.

Lambs in October

On the other side of the ledger we just installed 25 baby chicks in the brooder pen in the barn. They’re spending their first days warming themselves under the heat lamp and are already learning to peck food and drink water.

The New Chicks

These little girls (and a couple of guys we suspect) will stay in the barn for a month or so and then go into the upper chicken run to wait out the winter. Until the spring they’ll spend their time in and under the henhouse. The hens in that run now will get shifted to the lower pasture.

There’s a point to all this shifting around. The young chicks will be protected from the harsh weather in the upper run’s sheltered henhouse. And after the lambs are gone we’ll turn the older hens out onto the sheep pasture where they can forage, pecking out the parasites and larva from the sheep manure.

The hens love that stuff and digest it efficiently, fertilizing the land with their own droppings. At the same time they clean up the pasture so those parasites and eggs don’t find their way into next year’s flock of lambs. We suspect we lost our lamb, Weakie, to worms that infected this year’s flock from leftover manure.

There’s a nice sense of conclusion to all this. And to top things off our giant pumpkins, Zeke and Tink, became birthday presents this weekend. Rebecca offered our neighbor Clara a choice for her personal pumpkin to celebrate her eighth birthday.

Clara & Zeke

Clara chose Tink and her folks hauled both giants over to Wise Acres common house for her birthday party. We held a contest to guess Zeke’s weight with the winner getting to take Zeke home. The guesses ranged from ten pounds to 500 pounds, which probably reflects how you see the world if you are eight years old or 50 years old. Zeke weighed in at 94 pounds and the winning guesser–Elizabeth Unsel–posed for a picture.

Elizabeth & Zeke

So that’s where we are at this late stage in the season. Harvest mostly in, winter fields planted, lambs munching their last grass, chicks keeping warm, apprentices pondering the future, kids growing older–well we’re all getting older–and Elizabeth, she’s trying to figure out what to do with 94 pounds of pumpkin.

The wheel does keep turning.

Persephone

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We have known Bob Dash for a decade, both as a neighbor and friend. He’s a member of the Wise Acres community across the road, a dedicated teacher, and a photographer with a telling eye. He’s also imbued with that wonderful quality, patience, which all the best shooters possess.  

A while back, we suggested that Bob and his camera spend some time looking at Persephone Farm. The results, we think, are often stunning and we’d like to share them with you. You can see even more of Bob’s work, and more of his farm photography, on his website, http://www.robertdashphotography.com/

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Back in March when I was first asked to photograph Persephone Farm for The Season, I was intrigued by the assignment. Living across from this property for two decades, I’ve witnessed a tremendous influx of energy and productivity since Persephone began. Although I’ve spent dozens of hours there over the years, I wasn’t prepared for the richness and depth that I’ve found.

Wandering around with my camera at all hours of the day has given me the excuse to pause and find the story within the story. The place teems with intensity; all the cycles of birth and death are played out by untold numbers of life forms, from the two-legged to the hundred-legged and everyone in between. Enter the gate or the greenhouse door into an inspired land where life hops, twists, digs, culls, climbs, flies, laughs, and above all, becomes its best.

Robert Dash

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Scarecrow and silver chimes: Sometimes drastic action is called for to prevent crop loss. Hanging this dead crow in the lower field did keep some of the crows away. I was drawn to the contrast of old silver chimes next to this ominous talisman.

 

 

 

Here’s some detail of the same crow wing two months after the previous shot.

 

 

 

Steamy compost—Louisa’s potent brew. So much effort to create abundant produce goes on behind the scenes. The complex art of soil enrichment with compost is one key to that success. When I taste a delicious strawberry or carrot from Persephone I generally don’t think about steaming straw and rotten plant matter—but here it is.

 

 

 

Kale goes out in flames. I love the “spring colors” of brassica leaves as they decay. Chlorophyll fades first, just like with maple leaves, and a host of brilliant pigments are revealed.

 

 

 

Sometimes the smallest life forms make the greatest contributions– the surface of this compost puddle is covered with springtails, minute hopping insects who are masters at speeding up plant decay.

 

 

 

Persephone never misses out on the chance to create yet another vegetable bed.

 

 

 

Mounds of lavender are remarkably spherical; I couldn’t resist blurring the rim to accentuate the effect.

 

 

 

Joel’s halo just proves what we all know:  that the farm interns are all angels.

 

 

 

Here’s newly-peeled garlic on the way to the drying racks.

 

 

 

During community gatherings at Persephone, it’s hard to find anyone who isn’t smiling.

 

 

 

Rebecca and her lavender gifts–little did I know that this one was for me.

 

 

 

Veiled peppers.

 

 

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