NEW FARMER JOURNAL: Sol-e-Terre Farm, Suffield CT

Spring has sprung
With the farmers under the weather and the cows under the fence, the busy season offers up its challenges.

By Daniel Duesing

Farm-At-A-Glance

Sol-e-Terre Farm
Suffield, Connecticut

Farmers: Daniel and Bethany Duesing

First season: 2004

What they raise: Pastured poultry, pork, beef, dairy products, some mixed vegetables

Marketing strategies: Farmers’ market

April, 2005. The snow is gone. The yard is full of daffodils and crocuses. The grass is green and growing fast. After what seemed like weeks of rain and snow, we’ve been over 60°F for a week (Sunday was 74°F). My wife and I spent much of the last week in bed with a horrible respiratory virus. The birds were singing, the kids begging to go outside, but we could barely stand up for more than 10 minutes at a time.

In a couple of bursts of energy we managed to get the cows and layers out on the pasture with the electric fence. Sunday afternoon as I was lying on the couch dreaming of all the work yet to be done outside, I heard a cow bellow. It sounded awfully close so I opened my eyes, and there was Daffodil, looking in the living room window. Thankfully, our three cows are very mellow and all I had to do was open the fence and walk behind them to get them back in.

The state of the fence was another matter altogether...One of the cows had gone through it and into the woods, dragging the top wire with her. The wire was now only attached to one of 10 posts along that side; the rest twisted and knotted wrapped around trees and bushes and all tangled like an overstretched spring through a brush pile which hadn’t been cleared away yet. So our “pasture fed” cow got a few pounds of grain while I picked up the insulators that had been yanked from the post and were strewn all over the place, untangled, reattached and re-tensioned the wire, and tried to figure out why the electric fence had not kept the cows in. With the fence all in place, I went to check the voltage (there was none). Check the charger and–aha!–I discovered that it had come unplugged. In my haste to get something done during the short bursts of energy, I had I forgot the cardinal rule of setting up electric fence—always check your voltage.

Out in the greenhouse we’ve been harvesting and eating scallions, kale, pac choi, tatsoi, hon tsai tai (purple pac choi which is harvested like broccoli raab), and my favorite edible weed, lambsquarters. We’ve also started a second batch of these tasty greens to be transplanted outside and harvested for the market. Most of the seeds seem to be germinating well despite the apparent unreliability of the germination box, which I was so proud of last year. I wonder if the winter damaged the thermostats in the heating cable, because it doesn’t hold the temperature overnight as well as it had. I think that a larger chamber with multiple zones would be preferable in the long run, so I’ll bump that up a couple of notches on the priority list.

The warmer weather and longer days have had the anticipated impact on the hens: We are inundated with eggs. While at the moment we have many more than we are able to sell, the local health food store has become a very reliable customer, and we look forward to the opening of the farmers' market and Holcomb Farm CSA’s season, when we will again be selling out every week. In the meantime, we continue to force the surplus on family and friends and share with the local soup kitchen. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks we will have some pigs, and they can share in the bounty as well.