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”?).

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Game of Logging, Part One

by melissa on | 1 Comment

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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

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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.

Sarah Finds Spring Ephemerals

by melissa on | 0 comments

Spring Beauties

Spring Beauties

Sarah and Rose have been helping Chad to clean out the sap lines up in the sugarbush, and they’ve been seeing quite a few of spring’s early plants. The sugarbush, with its marked steep slopes, is a great place to find spring ephemerals. These early growing plants thrive in undisturbed soil. You can often tell the history of the landscape by noting where spring ephemerals are found. In places that may historically have been pasture, you are not likely to spot Spring Beauties, Dutchman’s Breeches, Trout lilies, and more. Grazing, even done decades ago, can compact soil and disturb the dispersal of spring ephemerals’ seeds (see this awesome article on ants and plants). On the steeper slopes of the sugarbush, historic sheep grazing probably wasn’t so prevalent, and so the vernal plants remain.

Trout Lily

Trout Lily

For more information on Trout lilies click here and for more info on Spring Beauties click here

 

Goofing Around

by melissa on May 10, 2014 | 0 comments

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Colene is strong, but she certainly isn’t as strong as an ox. This picture was just too good to pass up! 

Preparing the new garden

by melissa on May 9, 2014 | 0 comments

The garden is moving this year…

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Rose, driving the horses. They spread lime and manure over the turned soil to help prep the site for planting.

The new location will be east of the wind turbine, a location originally selected for the expansion of the blueberries. We decided not to plant the blueberries there after all, after more consideration of how they will grow (or not grow) in the wind. Since the soil was already turned, and the location is easier for visitors to access, it made sense to move the garden. You’ll still be able to come and taste the plants that grow there this season.

Mae and June were great help in prepping the soil for this year.

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As Sarah said, this photo was taken from “behind the lines”.

Hopefully, it doesn’t snow again…

by melissa on May 7, 2014 | 1 Comment

Colene and Sarah driving the horses to pick up the snow fence.

Colene and Sarah driving the horses to pick up the snow fence.

We’ve finally picked up the snow fence along the driveway. The ground has been clear for a few weeks, but they are reporting more snow for the Adirondacks later this week…hopefully, we are safe from the weather.

Mae and June got some exercise today as they took the flat bed down to the field.

 

Return of the wool

by melissa on May 6, 2014 | 0 comments

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Sarah posted last week about the raw wool we took up to Green Mountain Spinnery weeks ago. On Friday, Colene drove back up to Putney to pick up the processed wool.

We received six large boxes full of the double worsted yarn, much of which Katie was able to wrap up into skeins on Monday.  The dark grey, light grey, and white are all back in stock!

A Thread In A Fabric

by melissa on May 2, 2014 | 0 comments

Here’s a post from Martha, a past apprentice. We’ve been following her as she works to process raw wool from Merck Forest.

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Most days, everything I wear is either knitted or woven, and so is the bedding I sleep on. With the exception of synthetic materials such as a “fleece jacket” (not to be confused with a “sheep’s fleece”), knitted and woven materials dominate fabric construction. Knitted fabrics, which includes most cotton shirts, socks, nylons, sweatshirts, pillow cases and bed sheets are made up of one continuous thread that starts with a loop pulled through a loop, pulled through a loop, and so on. If you pull the tail of the last loop, the knitted fabric effortlessly unravels*. Woven fabrics, i.e. most duvet covers, rugs, jeans, and plaid shirts, are made up of many threads over- and under-lapping each other at 90-degree angles. Fold your hands with your elbows out like wings. Keeping your fingers interlaced and your elbow wings out, slowly straighten your elbows and your fingers will weave.

Why does this all matter? Because clothing… 

(Click the above link to finish reading Martha’s fantastic article)

Visit Martha’s website: http://www.marthabrummitt.com/

Recap on Lambing

by melissa on May 1, 2014 | 0 comments

Ewes are placed in a "jug" prior to giving birth. Lamb and mother are left in the jugs for a few days after birth to bond.

Ewes are placed in a “jug” prior to giving birth. Lamb and mother are left in the jugs for a few days after birth to bond.

The lambs are all here! We greeted the last one to arrive on Saturday, April 19th—a little guy with jet-black wool and a very protective mama. All of our ewes and their babies are now out on the hillside behind the maintenance building, enjoying the fresh grass and warming weather. Stop by and see the lambs doing what lambs do best: running, leaping about like mad, climbing all over their mothers and baa-ing with surprising volume.

It seems like a long time since the first lamb was born; though, it was barely more than a month ago. Their little wooly faces marked an exciting new season at Merck: the long-awaited beginning of spring…or, at least the promise that spring was just around the corner!

The farm had been preparing for the new arrivals for a while: in the Small Animal Barn, we set up seven small pens (called “jugs”) to house delivering ewes and their newborns. We were also gradually increasing the nutritional density of the ewe’s meals, to deliver the larger amount of nutrients that their bodies needed despite the shrinking of their stomachs as the unborn lambs grew larger.

Setting up the Small Animal Barn for lambing involves gathering towels, tools, and vaccines at the ready.

Setting up the Small Animal Barn for lambing involves gathering towels, tools, and vaccines at the ready.

To the apprentices, the approach of lambing season also meant poring over books on sheep husbandry, learning how to spot a ewe in labour, and listening carefully to Colene’s exciting stories of sheep births in the past. As the flock’s due date drew closer, we helped set up the lambing bucket, full of the tools, towels, and vaccines we would need to take care of the lambs as they came into this world.

This year, about two-thirds of our flock were first-time mothers, and the first couple of births were complicated ones with no surviving lambs. When our third ewe gave birth, just a couple of days before the Maple Breakfast Celebration, we were all very happy to see an easy birth—and a healthy lamb!

In the next two weeks, we saw as many as seven new lambs each day, and for each one we carefully recorded the birth day, weight, parentage, whether they were male or female, and went through our process of “Clip, Dip, Flip, and Sip,” to make sure that each lamb was checked out, cared for, and had started nursing. About three days after they were born, the lambs went with their mothers back out to the flock, now sporting a bright yellow ear tag that we use to keep track of each one.

Sarah, helping a lamb to nurse for the first time.

Sarah, helping a lamb to nurse for the first time.

The roughly scheduled nature of lambing season means that there are many long nights—whomever is on duty will check the newborn lambs and the main flock every three or four hours. Especially on cold nights, it was critical that the newborns were dry and nursing, and some lambs needed help starting out. It can be frustrating to get a slimy, squirmy little thing to start drinking, particularly when it’s 2 am, the inexperienced mama won’t stand still, and the lamb seems inexplicably determined to do the exact opposite of what ever you want it to do… But there’s also nothing like the coziness of a little barn brightly lit against the cold, dark world outside, with all the mothers and babies inside sleeping warm and peacefully. And when you walk into the barn the next morning and all the lambs are healthy and growing bigger each day, there’s an amazing feeling of shared accomplishment in having helped the ewes bring all these tiny, adorable new creatures into the world.

- Rose