The Wind Returns

by melissa on November 20, 2014 | 1 Comment

It’s usually fairly breezy here at Merck in all the seasons. The land around the farm especially seems to funnel the air’s movements. But, come this time of year, with the trees barren of leaves, the wind really starts whipping.

The gusty weather really dictates what we can do on the farm: what kind of structures can be built that will not blow over or blow away, what types of vegetables and fruits will grow (did you know our you-pick blueberries are supposed to be a highbush variety, but because of the wind, they are more stunted in their growth?), where and how we will house the animals when the winter winds really start howling.

Understanding your land and the factors that influence it is incredibly important to designing a well-planned and laid out working landscape. Watching the land as it changes through the seasons can help you make good, sustainable decisions.

Some decisions on the farm take time to make, and often our initial plans are changed to adapt what the land and climate are telling us.

However, on a day to day basis, we know to be as prepared as possible for the wind…even if it means dressing like Nanook of the North in November.

The wind was quite chilling the other day, and big coats and ear-flapped hats were necessary to stay warm. Laughing helps everyone stay warm too.

The wind was quite chilling the other day, and big coats and ear-flapped hats were necessary to stay warm. Laughing helps everyone stay warm too.

The Root Cellar

by melissa on November 12, 2014 | 0 comments

Cricket guarding all the nicely arranged produce. This food will be stored in the new root cellar and eaten by the apprentices this winter.

Cricket guarding all the nicely arranged produce. This food will be stored in the new root cellar and eaten by the apprentices this winter.

With a great harvest from our storage garden this past season, we’ve been working on some carpentry projects to help us preserve these crops for the coming months and for the new apprentices coming in January.
First, we added a root cellar to the lower part of the Harwood Barn. There was no need to dig a hole or build a new structure: we took advantage of the barn’s below-grade back corner to create a small, well-insulated room. This room uses the temperature-moderating effects of the soil and a passive ventilation system to keep our produce refrigerated. We also installed some strategically-placed wire mesh, which will hopefully keep out any rodents who want to share our winter provisions!
In addition to temperature and critter-control, the ideal root cellar is dark–some storage crops, like potatoes, will sprout if exposed to light–and has good airflow and moisture control. Our passive ventilation system uses the simple principle that warm air rises and cold air falls to keep air moving inside the cellar. However, we realized without the proper containers to store vegetables, a ventilation system might be for naught.
Enter our beautiful new produce crates.
Made onsite, these stackable wooden crates allow for the stored food to ventilate  well and keep fresh.

Made onsite, these stackable wooden crates allow for the stored food to ventilate well and keep fresh.

After a couple of days of work, we have more than 40 handsome and sturdy stackable wooden crates which will ensure that adequate ventilation gets to every beet, cabbage, and onion!
These construction projects were also invaluable practical experience for us apprentices. In building the root cellar, we learned how to frame walls, hang a door, and wire a room for electricity. The boxes obviously involved a lot of task repetition, which taught us tricks like using jigs to efficiently build uniform products.
Not only were they fun to make and highly functional, but all of the wood used in the construction of the crates was grown here at Merck and then locally processed! With Fern and Arch, our wonderful draft horses, we dragged the ash trees that we apprentices had helped to fell during Game of Logging training out of the forest. They were then milled by Chris Stone, the Rutland County Forester, and the Stafford Tech students,  and returned to us as boards ready for construction (and because we took home the imperfect boards too, some of our boxes have lovely bark edges–with moss and everything!).
(The Winter newsletter will contain a guide to how we made the root cellar boxes.)

Authenticity of the Chicken Coop

by melissa on October 14, 2014 | 0 comments

The old chicken coop was no longer meeting the needs of the farm or of our visitors; we hope the new coop in the barn is more visitor-friendly and authentic to our visitors' needs.

The old chicken coop was no longer meeting the needs of the farm or of our visitors; we hope the new coop in the barn is more visitor-friendly and authentic to our visitors’ needs.

I visit Merck’s chicken coop several times a week, usually when I walk up to the farm to take pictures and see what the farm staff is up to. On Tuesday, I went up and snapped some shots of the growing chickens to use on our social media pages. I didn’t have much idea of how these images would be used. However, later, as I was sorting through several images of just-born chicks and the pullets now on pasture, it occurred to me that Merck’s chicken operation is right on target with our audience’s needs.

Let me explain.

I started working at Merck three falls ago as a three-month intern. At that point in time we had close to 40 chickens living in a close-quarters coop. It took a lot of time to maintain a comfortable standard of living for our free-range hens. The coop had to be moved to new pasture weekly, roughly 35 eggs (if we were lucky) had to be washed each day during the warmer months, the coop needed to be kept clean, and our customers happy with a steady supply of eggs.

It may not seem like a large operation (and in perspective with many other farms, it most certainly was not a big-scale project), but with apprentices moving through, teaching a variety of classes, and upkeep on the farm–it just was not profitable…Nor, was the reality of keeping upwards of four dozen birds something that appealed to many of our visitors.

We laid out the needs and goals of the farm and decide how those objectives reached our visitors before finally deciding to downsize to the small, stationary coop now in the Hardwood Barn.

The chickens are still allowed to roam through the grasses, but they do have a base that is easy for visitors to find and access. For visitors that are looking to raise their own poultry, the current set-up is much friendlier, much more authentic to the current ideals of small-scale sustainable farming.

Chances are that in the future the idea of an authentic farm may yet again change. We may increase or decrease the flock and change the hens’ residence. Part of having a good educational farm means that we are able to adapt to the needs of the land and of our of visitors–and in order to do that, of course, we always need your feedback.

To read more about small-scale poultry productions read these!

http://alloveralbany.com/archive/2010/11/10/changing-albanys-chicken-laws

http://shop.maryjanesfarm.org/Magazine

Fall Foliage Hikes

by melissa on September 27, 2014 | 0 comments

 Fall foliage is here! The leaves on the sugar maples are beginning to turn hues of yellow, red, and orange. Oak leaves are deepening their hue, red maples are a blaze of green-tinged red, and soon the beech will morph into their fall suit of yellow.

As the leaves change colors and successively begin to fall, the viewshed around Merck Forest opens up. Trails, which in the summer are a wall of green, become a shifting, opening, landscape of color.

Merck Forest certainly has a variety of trails for you to hike. Explore some of southern Vermont’s best in fall foliage! Here are some recommendations (bold trail names indicate the highlighted trails on map):

FallFolaige2014_Map

  • Green Trail: Begin from the Visitor Center and hike up Old Town Road to Antone Road. Just before you reach Clark’s Clearing, turn right onto McCormick Trail, and loop back down to Old Town Road. The views from McCormick Trail get better and better as more leaves fall and the views open to the northwest. Approximately 2.5 miles, moderate difficulty level.
  • Blue Trail: Take in the vista from two of the best points on the property: Viewpoint and Gallop Peak. Starting from the Visitor Center, walk up Old Town Road. Bear left on Lodge Road and follow until you reach Hammond Road. Hammond Road, itself, has several good vantage points! Continue on Hammond until you see the sign for the Barton Trail, which will take you up over the Gallop. Be sure to rest at the small rock outcrop at the top before continuing back to Old Town Road via Viewpoint. Approximately 4 miles; moderate to difficult level due to a short scramble and elevation changes.
  •  Yellow Trail: The Lookout is one of the best-kept secrets at Merck Forest. While the hike, starting from the South Gate, is relatively short, it’s worth the uphill walk. The Lookout stands at the edge of a rock ledge in a dry upland oak forest. Approximate total distance to and from the South Gate is 2.75 miles; moderate difficulty level.
  • Pink Trail: The Master’s Mountain Trail is probably the most challenging hike at Merck Forest. The switchbacks are steep, but if you take the trail all the way to the top, and then continue to the top of Mount Antone, the view is worth the effort. Approximate total distance to and from the South Gate is 4 miles; difficult level.

Pig on Pasture

by melissa on September 19, 2014 | 0 comments

Cybil in her forested pasture.

Cybil in her forested pasture.

If you are looking for the Merck piglets after this week, you won’t have much luck looking in the Small Animal Barn, their home since they were born two months ago.  Instead, take a peek down Discovery Trail. You’ll catch them rummaging around, rooting up insects and plants, and munching on all sorts of piggy goodies in the brush, all the while helping us keep that area clean and manageable.  Their mom, Peggy Sue, will rejoin our gilt Cybil a bit further down the trail, where they too will share a patch of forest.

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When they are old enough (roughly around two months) and the weather permits, our pigs our weaned and move out on pasture or in the woods, a management technique that benefits both us and them.  Their bull-dozing noses help dig up large stones, roots, and logs, which we can then remove after the space is no longer occupied.  In return, they get a balanced wild diet to supplement their feed regimen, keeping them healthy and happy, and later, deliciously flavoring the pork they produce. This year, in addition to the usual menu items, the pigs will enjoy a bumper crop of one of their most beloved treats: acorns.

Every few years, different tree species have what is known as a “mast” year.  Masting  is defined by uncharacteristically high fruit production of a particular species in an area, and the time between mastings is determined by the type of tree along with other environmental factors such as weather.  Many different hypotheses have been posed as to why the masting cycle exists in nature, from predator satiation to coincidental carbohydrate stockpiling of trees after their summer-sun gluttony.  Regardless of the cause, the results are unmistakable: more consumption by predators and higher populations of the beneficiaries of these fruits.  This year, we are seeing oaks produce high quantities of mast and leaving their acorns all over the place.  While Peggy Sue, Cybil, and the piglets will certainly be eating their fair share of acorns.

Acorns for Cybil?

Acorns for Cybil?

Some interesting information on mast seeding can be found on the U.S. Forest Service’s website at http://www.fs.fed.us/ and the Mast Tree Network released an article on the process, tradition, and benefits of feeding pigs acorns and other mast crops.  The article can be found here: http://www.mast-producing-trees.org/2009/11/acorn-finished-pork-an-ancient-tradition/ .

Bennington County Conservation District Work Begins

by melissa on September 13, 2014 | 0 comments

Merck Forest and Farmland Center is the start of the White Creek watershed. Support of resilient ecosystems upstream, allow for healthy ecosystems downstream. The Bennington County Conservation District is helping to preserve the waterway along Route 315.

Merck Forest and Farmland Center is the start of the White Creek watershed. Support of resilient ecosystems upstream, allow for healthy ecosystems downstream. The Bennington County Conservation District is helping to preserve the waterway along Route 315.

For many of our more local visitors, this may interest you:

Drivers who commute back and forth along Route 315 are well acquainted with the “hill”. From Dorset side cars scale a more or less steady uphill for nearly three miles before cresting the top (right where Merck’s driveway starts). At the apex, if you continue along the road toward Rupert, the hill very quickly drops for a quarter mile. The steep descent can be thrilling and a little nerve-wracking in icy conditions, or a good way to burn out your brakes if you don’t shift down gears.

On the steep side of the hill, water runoff in lesser weather events is diverted to ditches one side of the road or the other, and usually over the course of a year minor erosion takes place. However, during Hurricane Irene, the roadside eroded much more quickly. Some minor repair was done in the aftermath of the 2011 storm, but now the real repair is taking place.

The Bennington County Conservation District received an Ecosystem Restoration Program grant from the state of Vermont in 2011 to prepare a river corridor plan for the Mill Brook and White Creek watershed, part of which begins on Merck Forest’s property. Through a series of four steps, including GIS analysis, field research, interviews with landowners, and work on site, as well receipt of a Vermont Stream Alteration permit, work has started on several areas of the watershed in and around Rupert. The ditch along the top of Route 315, and partially on Merck’s property, being one of the projects.

The reason this project is important is that remediation of the banks will improve water quality, flood resiliency, and wildlife habitat for a variety of species. Eroding banks cause streams to gather silt, which, over time, harms the ecosystem present in the watershed.

This fall the ditch will be dug again, the stream bed harden, and the banks armored with rock, and in 2015 willow tree slips will be planted to help stabilize the slope.

For a broader understanding of the project and what the work entails, email melissa@merckforest.org.

 

Potatoes, Part Two: The Taste Test

by melissa on September 9, 2014 | 1 Comment

Potatoes, Part Two: The Taste Test

Last month apprentice Rose wrote about the varieties of potatoes that the farm planted this year (click here to reread that article). She promised to include a follow up article, once those varieties had been cooked and consumed. Here it is: 

Bubbie Karabush's famous latkes were made at the Lodge!

Bubbie Karabush’s famous latkes were made at the Lodge!

After digging up a plant each of our seven different potato varieties, we were left with a heavy bag full of muddy, unassuming tubers of various sizes. But knowing what beauty hid inside each dirt-covered potato, it was no chore to carry such a bounty back home–even up the steep hills of Old Town Road!

Over the next couple of weeks, the potato rainbow found its way into many delicious dishes at the Lodge: they were fried in skillets, cut up for a beet-and-potato salad, and baked plain to be savored in their unique flavors. And our piece de resistance: multi-colored potato pancakes (latkes, as my family calls them)…but more on that later. We all had our favorites: Sarah loves the Peter Wilcox variety, Bryan the bright colors of the blue- and red-fleshed potatoes, and I was really impressed by the fragrance and texture of the LaRatte fingerlings (“This potato tastes like a French bakery smells!”).

Tales of our beautiful potatoes made their way over hundreds of miles of telephone wire, too, and into the ears of my wonderful grandmother, who lives in the suburbs of Chicago near where I grew up. Bubbie Karabush (as we call her) just turned 90, and is famed in my family for her delicious Jewish-American cooking. But despite her mastery of traditional cooking, she was hardly shocked by my talk of purple potatoes—in fact, she loves them! Last Hannukah, after my first year as a farm apprentice at another farm, I brought back an assortment of vegetables to share with my family during the holidays. Since no Hannukah celebration would be complete without Bubbie’s famous latkes, my whole family trooped over to her house one cold and snowy evening, and I brought along the potatoes I had carried all the way home from New York. These potatoes were Adirondack blues, and they were a beautiful, bright purple.

At first, Bubbie was a little scandalized. “Purple potatoes?” she asked, clearly doubtful. “Won’t that make purple latkes?” Well, they certainly did, but the delicious taste of these funny-looking latkes won my grandmother over. So, with all of our red and blue and yellow potatoes this month, I just had to get her famous latke recipe and with her blessing, make some very-un-traditional-looking potato latkes.

Bubbie’s Latkes 

Makes 8-10 potato pancakes

  • 3 lbs. (or about 4 large) peeled potatoes—and if you can get your hands on some purple potatoes, my Bubbie approves!
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 egg, lightly whisked
  • 1/3 c flour or ¼ c matzoh meal
  • 2-3 tsp salt
  • A dash or two of pepper
  • Vegetable or canola oil to fry in

Finely grate the onion into a bowl, and then grate the potatoes (the onion juice keeps the potatoes from browning). If you have a typical four-sided grater, grate half of the potatoes on the finer side, so they make a mash, and half on the side of the grater with the large holes, so that it makes shreds of potato. Drain the onion and potato mixture in a colander, then squeeze it even more in some cheese cloth, so the remainder is as dry as possible. Put this into a mixing bowl with the rest of the ingredients, and mix. Pour oil into a skillet so that it is about 1/8 inch thick, and heat it until it’s very hot. Spoon in ¼ cup of the latke mixture, and press it flat in the pan. Fry them until they’re golden brown on one side, then on the other. Thin latkes will cook through more easily, and don’t worry if they’re not perfect circles—the ragged edges will get crispy and delicious! If your latkes are not cooking through before they brown, try turning down the heat. Add oil as needed to keep the pan covered, and keep the latkes warm on a cookie sheet in a low-temperature oven until you’re ready to eat. Serve with applesauce or sour cream…or even better, both! (Just don’t serve them with ketchup. Then they’d be hashbrowns, not latkes.)

Enjoy!

Rose

 

 

 

Sap House: A Multi-Use Space

by melissa on August 26, 2014 | 0 comments

The Frank hatch Sap House will be the event space for the bluegrass concert on August 30th.

The Frank hatch Sap House will be the event space for the bluegrass concert on August 30th.

The Frank Hatch Sap House was built over a decade ago. It houses everything from Merck Forest’s sugaring operation in the late winter and early spring to the Pancake Breakfast, Sheep Dog Trial events, and various classes through the rest of the warmer months.

Unfortunately, the building–named in honor of  Francis Hatch, a son-in-law to founder George Merck, a former Massachusetts politician, and who advocated for Merck Forest and Farmland Center after George’s death–does not get used as often as it should. The beautiful, open space with wide windows that look across our pastures toward the Adirondacks is underutilized for most of the year. Lack of heat make it a chilly space during the colder months, but, during the summer, the sap house is a great space for visitors to use for picnics, a rainy day gathering spot for hikers, and for concerts.

Music sounds especially nice in the sap house; the acoustics are good. There have been concerts in the past held in the building. We are excited to host another concert next weekend: Snake Mountain Bluegrass and the Connor Sisters will perform Saturday evening, August 30th. The timing will be wonderful for a family picnic during the show, and weather-permitting, the sunset will be another great show a little after seven p.m.

The show, from 5 pm – 7 pm, is free and family-friendly. We hope that you will be able to join in an evening of fun and good tunes, good times.

 

 

Maple Syrup Sales Season

by melissa on August 25, 2014 | 0 comments

Glass maple syrup bottles make a statement. We have all maple grades in stock!

Glass maple syrup bottles make a statement. We have all maple grades in stock!

The start of September marks the beginning of the holiday shopping for some. We certainly start to see an increase in the amount of shipped syrup. The new glass bottles are selling well, which has been exciting.

The staff in the Visitor Center was wondering something though, and we hope that you will provide some input.

Is there any interest for a holiday maple package: syrup, candies, maple sugar, and maybe a notecard or other item mixed in with a gift box set?

Even if you have no interest in a maple package, don’t wait to purchase your holiday syrup…we tend to sell quickly out of some grades!

 

Never Lacking for a View

by melissa on August 24, 2014 | 1 Comment

Visitors don’t have to walk very far to be treated to spectacular views at Merck Forest. Anyone that has been up to the farm on even a moderately clear day can attest to the view. We are getting close to the time when the view in the morning is especially great. As the nights become cooler, yet the day still warms, the mornings usually host a bank of clouds that hovers in the valleys, gradually rising and dissipating as the sun makes it over the hills.

View from the apple orchard looking toward the Adirondacks.

View from the apple orchard looking toward the Adirondacks.

There are multiple viewpoints to hike: The Gallop, Mount Antone, Lookout, Viewpoint. Those are the big names, but many of the trails have great vantage points (take Hammond in the fall, when the leaves have started to drop. You won’t be disappointed).

Do you have a favorite view? Share it with us, if you would like!

Reading the Landscape

by melissa on August 23, 2014 | 0 comments

Wood chips left under an aspen. A woodpecker had been scouring the tree looking for insects to eat.

Wood chips left under an aspen. A woodpecker had been scouring the tree looking for insects to eat.

We often talk about “reading” the landscape. How can you look at forest and understand some of the many natural interactions that take place every day?

Often, it is so easy to walk a trail and not even notice what is happening around you.

Take, for instance, a walk I took with Patty the new education director early in the week. We were hiking up to the farm to have cake for Rose’s birthday, talking about this and that. In mid-stride, Patty looked down, saw a smattering of wood chips scattered across Old Town Road. She looked up above her where a dead aspen stood amongst the other road-side trees.

“Woodpecker,” she said.

It was such a little moment, but one in which I quickly remembered to try and be more observant. Noticing what is happening around you takes more that just looking; observing takes awareness and mindfulness.

What have you discovered on the trails?

– Melissa

 

Game of Logging, Part Two: Preparing for This Weekend

by melissa on August 11, 2014 | 0 comments

TIm drove the team as their skidded logs out of the woods

TIm drove the team as their skidded logs out of the woods

Fern and Arch, Merck Forest’s draft team, are champs at skidding logs.

The farm staff took the horses to the junction of Gallop Road and Old Town to finish removing the downed trees from last year’s Game of Logging class. The draft team used to skid logs on their old farm, but they have not had much chance to exercise their knowledge since moving to Merck. However, with the preparation for the Game of Logging at the end of the week, and the additional downed trees that will come from Friday and Saturday classes, the two horses will be getting a bit more work under their belts (or should we say “harnesses”?).

image (10)

 

Game of Logging, Part One

by melissa on | 1 Comment

gol_logo

At the end of this week, Merck Forest will be hosting another Game of Logging class.

What is the Game of Logging, you ask? It does sound like something between a strange video game, and a workshop taught by Paul Bunyan. In fact, “the Game of Logging (GOL) is widely acknowledged as the premier chainsaw safety and productivity training program in the country, offering hands on chainsaw safety training in a competitive environment.  Top instructors across the country combine demonstration with participation to teach chainsaw safety, productivity, conservation and cutting techniques.”

Last summer, GOL instructors came to Merck Forest, and our apprentices, along with members of the community, learned levels one and two of the course.

The Game of Logging website explains the first levels this way:

Level 1 focuses on introducing the participant to open face felling and the development of techniques to safely use it.  Topics covered include personal protective equipment, chainsaw safety features, chainsaw reactive forces, bore cutting, pre-planning the fell, and understanding hinge wood strength.

Level 2 focuses on maximizing chainsaw performance through basic maintenance, carburetor setting, and filing techniques.  Limbing and bucking techniques are introduced, spring pole cutting is covered and more felling is practiced.

On Friday and Saturday, we will once again host the class at Merck. It was not advertised this year, and we already had interest from outside parties, and our staff, but we hope to continue offering these classes in the future. Please, let us know if you are interested in taking the class at a future time!

 

Potatoes, Part One: A Subterranean Bounty

by melissa on August 9, 2014 | 0 comments

photo
Starting in the lower left, the large, deep purple potato is an Adirondack Blue, and continuing clockwise, we have Yukon Gold (yellow skin, with waxy yellow flesh), Cheiftan (red skinned and white fleshed), Laratte (a gourmet fingerling variety prized for its nutty taste), Adirondack Red (red skin and flesh), Peter Wilcox (purple skin and yellow flesh), and Mountain Rose ( red skin and pink flesh).
Though it’s still a little early to be digging up potatoes, today we just couldn’t resist. We were rewarded for our impatience by a muddy, subterranean bounty which, when cut into, produced a beautiful testament to potato diversity.
This diversity was hardly accidental. In planning our garden this year, we hoped to try out a number of different potato varieties: rare and newly-developed varieties, fingerlings, and tried-and-true favorites, all with different colors of skin and flesh. Diversity and a sense of adventure aside, all our potato varieties were selected with an eye to their survival on our hill-top farm. This meant that we chose only early- and mid-season maturing varieties, so that the crop would be ready by the end of our short growing season. We also sought out only potatoes that were known to do well in the Northeast, and under organic growing conditions; pests such as the Colorado Potato Beetle or cutworms can be a serious problem for growers that don’t spray pesticides—the former eat the leaves that the potatoes need to grow, and the latter make ugly holes in the tubers themselves.
Like their cousin the tomato, potatoes are susceptible to late blight as well (in fact, this disease was the main cause of the Irish potato famines in the 19th century). It is largely because of this threat that we avoided “Heirloom” varieties proper, though many of our potato varieties were recently created by crossing heirloom and conventional potato genetics.
The beautiful colors of these potatoes are not just decorative, either. The “Peter Wilcox” potato was specifically bred by the USDA to contain high levels of carotenoid antioxidants, and all colored-flesh potatoes may contain higher levels of nutrition than their white-fleshed peers (http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/oct01/potato1001.htm).
 Coming soon… A taste test!
- Rose

Tree at Nenorod: A Close Call

by melissa on August 7, 2014 | 0 comments

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We often have reports of trees down on the trails, but every once in a while, we find that there is damage done to a cabin. Nenorod took a hit last week. Katie found the downed maple during her weekly cabin check.

The tree must have fallen during one of the brief, but intense storms that come through in the summer. Luckily, no real harm came to the body of the cabin, but the roof over the porch took a punch. And thankfully, no one was camping when the tree did fall.

We try to conduct cabin checks once a week, but that does not always mean that we will find something that is wrong. As always, please call or step in the Visitor Center, and let us know what you might have seen during your walk. Your eyes help us steward Merck Forest.

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Battle of the Blight

by melissa on July 29, 2014 | 0 comments

The garden has been growing relatively well this year. It seemed that everything took a while to get going–the cooler spring and early summer, plus lots of rain, deterred growth for a while. However, the sunnier weather over the past month has allowed the plants to unfurl and send out their green leaves, flower, and begin to fruit.Each vegetable seems to know how to make up for lost time.

The gardens at Merck Forest are as much an experiment as a necessary staple for the apprentices. We try new things each year, and stick with staple crops. Much of the vegetables grown will be used or stored. Other portions will go to the Rupert Food Pantry.

Image of Late blight from https://www.usablight.org

Image of Late blight from https://www.usablight.org

Because the garden does help support both staff and the community, it’s important that the plants are cared for, irrigated when dry, and disease looked out for.

Last week, we thought that some of the tomatoes had unfortunately fallen to the latter. Several of the tomato plants looked as though they may have gotten blight, potentially “late blight”.

Some of the leaves and stems turned brown, but so far the fruit has remain unscathed.

After more analysis of the plants, we also hypothesized that the tomatoes may have been pruned too late in the season.

We’ll keep an eye on the plants, and hope that the tomatoes themselves are not actually affected. Blight may mean that we will not get to harvest our toms this year; damage from pruning may not be so detrimental to the crop. We’re waiting to see.

Blights are common to certain vegetables. It is good to know why your plants may be turning brown or spotty. For you fellow tomato-growers, take a look at these two links to learn more about blights that can affect tomatoes:

http://www.ppdl.purdue.edu/PPDL/expert/tomato-blight.html

https://extension.umass.edu/vegetable/sites/vegetable/files/pdf-doc-ppt/Recognizing%20tomato%20blights.pdf

 

A Day on the Trails

by melissa on July 25, 2014 | 0 comments

Sarah bucking up a log on the trail.

Sarah bucking up a log on the trail.

Merck is an exciting place because it holds true to its title of a forest AND farmland center.  While we apprentices spend a lot of time working on the farm, every day we also get to play in the woods: be it on our hike down the hill from the Lodge, hitting the trails on our off hours, or getting things done with the sugaring crew and forester during work.

Yesterday apprentice Bryan and I did the latter; we got to work out in the woods with Will up near the Barn Cabins.  The tasks (common ones here at MFFC) were these: clear felled trees off the road, waste as little as possible.  If these tasks require using awesome and fun tools, so be it.

Will (left) and Bryan (right) working the wood splitter.

Will (left) and Bryan (right) working the wood splitter.

The first step was Will giving us a refresher on chainsaw safety, use, and maintenance, which you can never hear too often.  After we checked that we had all our ducks in a row, so to speak, and all of our safety gear on, he showed us the appropriate cuts to use for bucking up the trees into pieces that could fit into our cabin stoves.

Next, we got introduced to our amazing new Timber Wolf wood splitter.  Bryan and I were smitten.  This is a seriously cool and seriously serious machine, and it sure does beat chopping by hand.

By creating three stations: one sawyer, one person running the splitter, and one unloading the splitter and stacking, we were able to get the road cleared off and start the stockpile of wood for the Barn Cabins quite efficiently.  One log at a time, we’re making sure guests have an enjoyable experience in the Merck woods and have warm fires come cooler weather to toast their toes after a brisk day.

It is so nice to get into the woods, and always nice to learn from pros like Will.  Yesterday definitely whet our appetite for the Game of Logging Course we apprentices and will are taking at Merck this August.  Pictures and updates from that to come!

– Sarah

The shed filling back up with split wood. Our campers will most certainly appreciate the heat source next winter!

The shed filling back up with split wood. Our campers will most certainly appreciate the heat source next winter!

Jenna, Cartoon, Sheep Dog Trial

by melissa on July 16, 2014 | 1 Comment

Jenna Woginrich of Cold Antler Farm, a nearby farm, attended the Sheep Dog Trials and Farm Festival both Saturday and Sunday.

She is a local author, blogger, homesteader, and has raised her own border collie, Gibson. For several years, she has visited Merck Forest and attended the annual Sheep Dog Trials.

When I saw Jenna on Saturday, she was sitting under the viewing tent in the late morning. Her collie, Gibson, sitting by her side. Though he wasn’t contending in the trials, he seemed to have that always intense stare that comes with the breed. They know they are supposed to be herding those sheep. They always seem  to be calculating the best move.

Jenna returned on Sunday as well. She was asked to help keep scores during the day.

Patty snapped a picture of the cartoon collie Jenna drew while keeping scores. A good chuckle, indeed.

Caption says: "I'll use sheep-fu". What if all the collies are doing is using a variant form of kung-fu?

Caption says: “I’ll use sheep-fu”. What if all the collies are doing is using a variant form of kung-fu?

Fun at the Sheep Dog Trials and Farm Festival

by melissa on July 15, 2014 | 0 comments

Border collie running the sheep during the trials

Border collie running the sheep during the trials

This year was a great year at the Sheep Dog Trials and Farm Festival. We had nearly 700 people attend, Sherman’s General Store in West Rupert provided great food, and 10 fiber artists from all over the region brought their beautiful assortment of wares to vend.

Despite the weather reports, Saturday dawned clear and sunny, and though Sunday was muggier, the rain held until 3 pm.

Families, groups, all attended. Some stayed for only an hour, some spent the better part of the day watching the trials, meandering through the gardens, visiting a very pregnant Peggy Sue (the sow), observing chicks hatch in the Outside In, play games, watching the draft horse demonstration, and more.

The viewing tent for the Sheep Dog Trials.

The viewing tent for the Sheep Dog Trials.

More images will follow. It takes a bit of time to decompress from putting on an all weekend affair. Photos have to be sorted, thank you’s written, chairs put away…

But many thank you to all who visited; to the volunteers that made the weekend work so well; to the Northeast Border Collie Association for providing us a reason to host a festival; and to the staff for putting in so many hours in before, during, and after the event.

New Education Director

by melissa on | 0 comments

Patty's view from the back of the haywagon during last week's haying.

Patty’s view from the back of the haywagon during last week’s haying. Patty helped move bales during her first week.

In the rush to get ready for this past weekend’s Sheep Dog Trials and Farm Festival, I neglected to post that Merck Forest has hired a new education director. Patty Wesner joined the staff last Monday, and comes with  a thorough background in teaching and education.

During her first week, Patty took some time to become better acquainted with the property. She took several hikes, walked around the farm, chatted with staff and looked over the work that’s been done before. We are excited to have her here, and Merck will be offering school programs once again in the coming months.

See Patty’s bio on the staff page.

 

Eggs are Incubating

by melissa on July 8, 2014 | 0 comments

Egg incubator.

Egg incubator.

The incubator has been running for the past two weeks in the Chicken Coop. We are hoping to have a few chickens hatching during the Sheep Dog Trials, this coming weekend.

Eggs take 21 days to hatch, and the incubator tries to remain at a steady 99.5 degrees F, the right temperature for the chicks inside of the eggs to grow.

If you come up in the next few days, stop into the coop and see if any of the shells are breaking open. Definitely, by this weekend, little chicks should be breaking into this world.

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Haying in Earnest

by melissa on June 22, 2014 | 0 comments

TIm and Sarah just walked away from the tedding the  hay. You can see the cut  hay on the field to the right.

Tim and Sarah just walked away from tedding the hay. You can see the cut hay on the field to the right.

The weather was absolutely beautiful this weekend, for which we are thankful. Sunny, warm days at this time of year don’t mean picnics and leisurely hikes for most of us; rather, it’s time to start putting hay in the barn.

Last week and through the weekend the fields were cut, tedded, raked, and finally on Friday, the hay bales were put into the upstairs of the Harwood Barn. The bales will feed the sheep and horses through the winter.

A farm’s work is never just “of the moment” tasks. What we do during one season is always in anticipation of the seasons to come.

 

 

 

 

 

Kat Deely: UVM Grad Student at Merck Forest

by melissa on June 17, 2014 | 0 comments

Kat Deely and her dog, Moose

Kat Deely and her dog, Moose

Kat Deely, a graduate student from the University of Vermont, is researching natural communities at Merck Forest.

Three weeks ago, Kat moved into the Lodge for the summer. She has been busy ever since, walking the property in search of various natural community types. Her ecological assessment of MFFC will cover all 3,162 acres of the property. As she stated at the Annual Meeting this past weekend, she is looking for “patterns in the landscape”; the kinds of patterns that Kat is looking for stem from the book Wetland, Woodland and Wildland by Liz Thompson (the link takes you to a full PDF of the book).

Not all of Kat’s work is done on the ground, hiking through the forest; rather, she is also using tools like GIS to find where distinct bedrock types are located and what the soil types are throughout the property. She uses Google Earth to aerially notice similarities in the landscape: where, perhaps, a clear cut was done, or where there might be stands of conifers or hardwoods, indications of different eco-types.

GIS will be the tool she uses to map and document her findings, adding the layers of her work into visual analyses.

Historical research is also a key to understanding how the land was used in the past. Historic landuse affects which natural communities might be present. Old farmsteads with grazed land will grow back differently from land that was once logged, as different vegetation will favor the how the land was left.

The work is important, as Kat stated, because “Merck Forest is part of two different watersheds”. The streams at Merck Forest flow to the Battenkill River which flows to the Hudson; to the Mettowee River, which flows to Lake Champlain.

Kat’s work will also be useful for Merck to understand where it’s important natural communities are located. Having this knowledge will impact our landuse decisions: where it’s appropriate to log in the future, where to put in a new trail or close a trail if it goes through critical habitat, etc.

Kat and her dog, Moose, are a welcome addition to our staff this summer.

Invasives Workshop

by melissa on June 10, 2014 | 0 comments

Sarah, looking over the invasive plants common at Merck Forest.

Sarah, looking over the invasive plants common at Merck Forest.

On Friday, Tom, Will, Sarah, Rose and Melissa went to an invasive plants workshop at Emerald Lake State Park. Colleen Balch, a great educator that works with the VT Department of Forests, Parks, and Rec (and who also use to teach at Merck years ago), led the workshop. The four hour workshop was both hands-on and lecture-based.

Colleen and her co-workers, Heather and Elizabeth, met us under the pavilion with hot coffee ready to be consumed; a great treat since Friday was a little damp and rainy. Our group got organized for the day: picked out appropriate sized gloves, and each person was put in charge of a tool for the day. After Colleen signed out everyone’s borrowed equipment, we gathered back under pavilion for an introduction.

With one volunteer being an exception, all of the participants in the workshop were from Merck, and Colleen catered the information to items that would be particular to our group. Her discussion honed in on the invasive plants that she has seen at MFFC: garlic mustard, honeysuckle, buckthorn, and barberry.

Will talking to Heather during the removal of the garlic mustard.

Will talking to Heather during the removal of the garlic mustard.

While our staff is knowledgable about invasive plant species (invasives are plants that are non-native to an area and harmful to the ecosystem of that area), it was great to learn more about the major plants that are threats to the region. We spent time pulling garlic mustard, cutting out japanese barberry and muliflora rose, and watched a way to remove common buckthorn–all the techniques can be applied where there are invasives here at Merck Forest.

The workshop was informative and fun. We each had a great time. VT Department of Forests, Parks, and Rec did a great job with this program, which is available to all interested parties. Anyone that is interested in learning about invasive vegetation, and who want to get out and spend part of a day in a Vermont State Park, should contact: Colleen Balch at Colleen.Balch@state.vt.us.

 

And the name is….

by melissa on June 2, 2014 | 0 comments

Antone!

Of all the names submitted, and there were many good names to choose from, the name chosen for the rooster is Antone. He’ll be called Tony for short.

Thank you to everyone that submitted a name. You made it hard to decide on the name of our rooster.

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Busy Sunday

by melissa on June 1, 2014 | 0 comments

There were quite a few people out on this lovely Sunday afternoon. The parking lot was full, even as the campers started to check out at noon. Several groups of horses came through. It’s good to see so many people using the trails.

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What’s in a Name?

by melissa on May 23, 2014 | 4 Comments

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There is a young rooster on the farm, and he is in need of a name. We thought it would be fun to have a naming contest for the bird — would you like to help us out?

He is a Rhode Island Red rooster, and he likes to hang out in front of the Harwood Barn with the hens. He’s got a tall comb on top of his head, and beautiful (or, should we say, very handsome) feathers.

What would you name this fellow?

We’ll take a vote for the best name next Friday, May 30, 2014!

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Welcome Fern and Arch to the Farm

by melissa on May 17, 2014 | 0 comments

Fern and Arch were a little camera shy this morning as they get adjusted to life at Merck.

Fern and Arch were a little camera shy this morning as they get adjusted to life at Merck.

We’d like to welcome two new horses to the farm. Fern and Arch arrived yesterday from Essex, New York. They are the new draft team at the farm, and once they get acclimated to Merck, they’ll be busy out in the fields.

(There will be a longer post, in a few days, about the team).

Out on Pasture

by melissa on May 12, 2014 | 2 Comments

The grass is growing and the animals are happy to be eating green vegetation again.

In the winter, the sheep ate hay that was baled during the previous summer, but as soon as the fields turn green, the sheep are turned out to graze. At MFFC, we rotationally-graze the animals–meaning that the animals are moved every few days to a different pasture. This allows the animals to have a continuous diet of fresh greens, and limits their impact on a single area of land.

Sheep are happy to be out on pasture again.

Sheep are happy to be out on pasture again.

Colene has moved her rabbits back out in their hutches. Right now they are located around the caretaker’s cabin, foraging for food.

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The lambs are in-between nursing and eating grass. Several weeks ago, they were mimicking their mothers, chewing on blades, but not necessarily eating grass as their main diet. Between a month and two months the ewe’s will start to limit the lambs’ nursing. In the photograph below this lamb is still getting mom to provide the meals, but pretty soon she’ll start to walk away or lay down when her lamb tries to feed.

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Spring Improvements

by melissa on May 11, 2014 | 0 comments

Now that winter is over, and the freeze and thaw has abated, it’s time to get the roads in shape. Anyone that visits during winter and mud season knows that the drive in can be a bit hairy sometimes. Once the road has dried out, the potholes are still in need of touching up.

Gravel was spread last week on the road up to the farm. Along with some improvements with the water drainage, it should make the drive a bit easier. Soon the town will come and smooth out the driveway a bit too.

New gravel on Old Town Road.

New gravel on Old Town Road.