Sunday, January 23, 2011

Winter Conference

Ahhh...the long-awaited conference. Right when you need a boost of motivation, ideas, and farm-people the most. Three days in Saratoga, NY - excellent organization, food, and program. Perhaps the most well organized and diverse conference I have ever attended. (In any subject) They manage dozens of small workshops, intensive long workshops, silent auctions, vendor areas, wonderful meals (all with donated food from participating sponsor farms), child care, music, social events, and networking.

Photos would be pretty uninteresting for the most part, (lots of crunchy-granola types dressed in natural fibers, earthy colors listening to speakers in front of PowerPoint presentations and sipping organic tea or munching on organic peanut butter sandwiches...)

But I can share some of my take-aways:

Friday: Cheese making intensive workshop. Should have been a full-day, limited numbers workshop. But, that said, it was led by an excellent presenter, Cliff Hatch. He led the class through the making of 8 different cheeses, using much the same milk, but varying the process, the enzymes, and the molding. Our group made Brie. I have done this plenty of times; but Cliff did a more thorough job of explaining the process and curd handling than any book (or previous employer), so I was happy with the day. Made some very nice friends in our little group, and we nursed our cheese through the three days of the conference, trying to allow adequate time for the mold to form and ripen, but conditions were less than perfect. In the end, it was still cheese, although more feta than brie. The absolute best temperature for ripening cheese: 72 degrees. Great site for cheese making tips and recipes: here.

Saturday: Introduction to Greenhouse and Transplant production. In the greenhouse: never let the end of your hose touch the ground or it transfers disease agents to the seedlings as you water. Making your own planting mix: look here.

The 1/4 Acre Farm. Lots and lots and lots of food production on small plots. Row cropping is inefficient, go with raised beds. Use a four year rotation with three complementary crops and one year of rest (ex. peas, corn, potatoes ) in your boxes.

Visiting the Trade Show/Vendors. Really wanted a custom-made scythe, but it's not in the budget right now. (Will be drooling frequently here.) We will be applying for certification for our laying flock from Animal Welfare Institute. Make your own hoop houses and secure the plastic sheeting around the poles with PVC cut in 6" lengths and split lengthwise to open it up so it fits around the purlin like a clip.

Raising Heritage Turkeys. Best when done on pasture. Turkeys like shiny and reflective things (might be why ours head for the neighbors to sit on their pool...). Use cardboard, barriers or steeply piled shavings in the brood box to avoid piling in the corners by the skittish poults.

Processing Beeswax for sale. Got a recipe for beeswax salves with herb-infused oils. Can't wait to try it. Running 9 frames in a 10-frame box yields slightly larger amounts of beeswax during honey harvest. Beeswax retains very high levels of toxins, pesticides, etc. so rotate out frames with new foundation within 3-5 years.

Sunday: Growing and Marketing Cut Flowers. The 5 most popular flowers from a U-cut operation were Sunflower, Zinnias, Gomphrena, Rudbeckia and Lisianthus. Cut flowers for the Farmer's Market when they are just barely coming out of bud, not in full bloom.

Beginning Seed Saving. You can make your own equipment for much of the small scale seed saving. Place pads of stair runner material in the pan and on the surface of the paddle to crush seed pods. The small seeds hide in the "valleys" of the runners, and the larger vegetative matter is crushed by the "hills". Make your own winnowing boxes with different sized screens to clean chaff as well as dust and dirt after seeds are released. Good source for seed saving containers here.

I purchased two books: Four-Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman and The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan. Now all I want to do is curl up and read. And plan. (When it's almost 20 degrees BELOW zero, that's not a problem.) World go away - I'm busy.

: - )


LindaG said...

I don't know why, but 'natural fibers' and 'powerpoint presentations' just seems like a strange combination to me...

Wish I could have been there. Would have loved to have seen it. :-)

melanie said...

Exactly! We noticed a couple of other odd how the fervently organic seem to have a love affair with greenhouses, high tunnels and plastic to grow food...but at least we didn't suffer too many smart phones/texting at the conference...

kristi said...

You know I have LOTS of sick time and I could have gone as a buddy! Sounds like a very interesting & rewarding time...a good way to refresh the mind & reconnect w/my lil'farm. I am feeling the teaching burnout now and have been plotting revenge on my students.....

melanie said...

You know, Kristi, I am counting on you for the 2011 AGM because it coincides with the Vermont Sheep & Wool Festival (where Shetland just happens to be the Featured Breed) and best of's in VERMONT!!! See you in October!!!

Elysbeth said...

Mmmn, beeswax and oils. Lots of ideas there.