Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Incredible Sap Day

Wow. This morning when we went out to check the bags, most were over half full. It had frozen hard last night and we were promised a toasty day today. Perfect sap flow weather. Doug brought a group Junior High students, and they went right to work collecting the sap. They collected more sap than we had in all the rest of the month! Thank you!

Then Donna and I went to Minneapolis to visit the Childrens House classrooms and bring the maple syrup story to them. When I returned tonight I was amazed that the bags were half full again! We will be boiling this weekend for sure. Please check in to schedule a time to come out and help.

P.S. We seeded the bell peppers, hot peppers, eggplant, and okra for the garden today. They are all happy on the heat mat. Any requests for veggies? Post a comment.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Greenhouse Season Starts

Today we started the greenhouse up. We checked the furnace and ventilation fans to see if they work. We taped up any holes in the plastic and chipped the ice out so the sliding door closes. The broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, basils and cauliflower for the plant sale were all seeded today. Also we picked up 21 flats from our neighbors' greenhouse, including parsley, celery root, onions, leeks, and tomatoes and peppers for the plant sale. Everything looks good so far!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Do Chickens Feel Sadness?

This is a polka dot, like the one in the story. This breed is technically known as the silver spangled hamburg.

by Andy

Once upon a time at the Land School there was a year when several chickens died. Some died when the fox came in the spring and some died due to old age and some died of a mysterious disease, but by the end of the winter we had decided to get some more baby chicks. We ordered 25 chicks of the exotic laying mix from the McMurray Hatchery and when they came we discovered that they had included an extra polka-dotted rooster chick. That was fine except that we also got another rooster chick on the same order, of the cochin type.

The polka dot rooster grew to be skinny and speedy, while the cochin rooster grew to be a monstrous fluffy heavy bird. Our polka dot would strut around and when people would have lunch outside, he would come over and jump on the deck and crow. He seemed to be saying that this was his area, but he never came any closer than the deck ledge and he would run away when we shooed him off. He was given the name of Mr. Sir, for his proud and dignified presence. Occasionally Mr. Sir and Louis, our cochin, would fight, but Louis was bigger and stronger and Mr. Sir would run away, because he was faster.

As the winner of the fights, Louis had won the right to mate with all the hens. However Mr. Sir had one polka dot hen who admired him and the two could always be seen together. He would show her the best wild food and then stand guard while she ate. One day she disappeared. We thought that maybe she had been killed by a predator, because sometimes the two of them would spend the night outside of the coop. But no, later that spring we discovered the polka dot hen walking in the yard with four baby chicks trailing behind her. She had been hiding to sit on eggs. That night, we tried to find where she had hidden them, but we could not. So the next day when she was walking around with only two baby chicks, we feared that something had eaten the other two. We decided to catch the momma and two chicks and move them to a safe place in the red barn. Catching them was not easy, but we did it to try to save the lives of the two baby chicks.

The two chicks were raised in a separate pen in the red barn with their momma and soon they were big. One was a hen and the other was a rooster and they were both white with black polka dots. When they were big enough, we moved them to live in the chicken coop with the others. The momma quickly re-formed her bond with Mr. Sir and the coop, but the chicks had developed bonds only to each other and both were attached to the red barn. No matter how many times we put them back into the coop, each night we would find them roosting in the rafters of the red barn, above where the llamas lived. They lived as if the other chickens did not exist. Eventually, when winter came, we were able to lock them in the coop for an extended period of time during the cold weather and they finally switched their bond to the coop. But they never really connected with the rest of the flock.

So then this past summer everything was turned upside down. Mr. Sir had beaten Louis in a fight and reigned supreme for a while. He fathered three more rooster chicks, which were hatched by Ms. Endsley’s class, and they grew during the summer. One day, about mid summer, we walked out to harvest veggies and there was Mr. Sir, dead on the ground. Our best guess was that Mr. Sir had been defeated in a fight with his son, known to us simply as Mr. Sir’s Son. If it had been a predator, the body would have been eaten or taken, and up until that moment, Mr. Sir was healthy, so it probably was not a disease. The power dynamic had shifted considerably in the course of a few short months, and now Mr. Sir’s Son found himself the only mature rooster in the coop for a while.

Then this winter, the three rooster chicks matured and they started to fight with each other and with Mr. Sir’s Son. We don’t like to have more than two roosters during the winter, because when there are too many, they fight too much and it is stressful for the hens to be chased around so much. We usually butcher the extra roosters at Thanksgiving time when our friends butcher turkeys. But this year they didn’t raise any turkeys, and we did not make alternate plans to butcher, so we had four roosters going into the winter. Although they would fight, it did not seem that bad until late this January when Mr. Sir’s Son was badly injured in a fight and died two days later.

The next day after Mr. Sir’s Son died we noticed a polka dot hen just sitting alone outside. We could go right up to her and pick her up and she did not protest. This is unusual behavior. They usually squawk and run away, especially the polka dots, which are quite fast and wary. When a chicken is this unresponsive, we assume that it is sick and about to die. We put her inside the coop and prepared for another dead chicken. We said good-bye and thanked her for her contribution to the farm and her contribution to the lives of the children who came to see her. However, the next day she was not dead. She was not alone either. One of our older grandma hens was sitting right next to her, keeping her company and keeping her warm. I moved the grandma hen to see how the polka dot was, but the grandma hen came back and nestled up next to the sick hen. Then by the next day our polka dot was back up and running around. This is unusual, because usually once a chicken gets so sick that we notice it, the sickness is pretty far gone and the chicken usually dies.

After the first day we made the connection between our “sick” chicken and the recent unexpected demise of Mr. Sir’s Son. Our theory was that when her lifelong companion chicken was suddenly gone, she was alone for the first time in her life. This could only have been a frightening experience. Chickens are creatures of habit. I wonder if she was sad and grieved the loss of her brother. I have little doubt that if she did not receive the support of the older hen, she would have died. I have seen chickens form what to my human eyes look a lot like friendships, both with each other and with humans. It makes sense that a chicken would mourn the loss of a close friend, in this case, a brother. She is now incorporated back into the flock and I can’t tell her apart from the other polka dots.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Maple Syrup - a group effort

Steam rolling off the evaporation pan.

Dale testing the syrup density using the hydrometer.

Syrup in the finishing pan. Almost there.

Finished syrup coming out of the felt filter.

by Andy

Today we finished our third batch of syrup of the season. It was a group effort.

First we must mention the students of Lake Country School and Great River School, who put out the taps and got things ready to collect the sap.

Then we had three families who came out on Friday and helped collect sap and tap a few more trees. Thanks to Ravi and Sofia and their family and friends and to Christine and her family and friends. The highpoint on Friday was getting everybody fitted with snowshoes and then tromping around on top of the snow pack as we collected and tapped. The sap was frozen, but we collected the ice anyway, because there wasn't much and we wanted to have every last drop. This made collection more time consuming, so having all the helpers was a boon.

The next contributor to be mentioned is the weather. The last three days have been absolutely beautiful. Although it has been cold, the sun has been bright and the sky has been blue. The warmth from the late March sun makes a real difference. I have been walking around without my winter coat and despite the temperature, it just feels warm. It is delightful to be outside on days like these. Does your blood become "thinner" or something after a long winter to help it not seem so cold? I do know the sun is actually brighter. A friend who installed his solar panel last fall has been having record days the last couple days. It has been nice weather to be outside boiling sap, but really this past week was generally too cold to cause much sap to run.

We must also mention our maple syrup making partners, Dale and Corinne. We share the jobs of tapping, collecting sap, collecting wood, and boiling with Dale and Corinne. It is fun to have somebody to collaborate with because so much of the work is time-consuming and it is enjoyable to converse while we work. It makes it seem not so much like work and more like this cool thing that we get to do with friends - which it really is. This weekend Dale and Corinne had visitors, Tim and Linda, who helped collect sap and haul wood.   

Today we didn't have much sap, but we had a good boil and ended up making a total of 9 pints. This coming week the forecast is predicting perfect weather for an epic sap run. We will be boiling next weekend for sure, and maybe mid-week. Call or email to arrange to come out and help!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

More Snow Photos before it goes away

Our new greenhouse has shed most of the snow.


Gutter drainpipe with icicles

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Late March Snow Photos

The woods are plastered with driven snow.

An Oak tree in the fence row.

Our own stairway to heaven. Not complete yet.

Looks like time to plow.

A fallen elm.

What is she looking at?

Poor robin.

The original flocked tree.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Thunder Snow is Coming Down

Wednesday 10:30 pm.

Wow! After a full day of rain and sleet, in the last hour it has switched to snow. The added twist is the occasional flash of lightening and rumble of thunder.

Tomorrow does not promise to be a good day to work outside.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Spring Phenology

Yesterday we saw sandhill cranes fly over. Also robins and killdeer.

Photo of crocuses by the big oak tree in the Farmstead yard. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Our First Syrup of the Year

by Andy

My day yesterday was inspiring and emotional, but it began with uncertainty. It was to be our first maple sap boil of the year. We had a group from Great River High School scheduled to come out and also a group of E1 students also coming out with Mr. Fitch. In addition it was the last day of Farm Stay 3. We really wanted to make our first syrup before the end of Farm Stay 3 and we wanted the GRS students and E1 students to get the full maple syrup experience. There was just one problem. The trailer we use to haul sap was completely frozen in.

The day before when the whole Junior High had come out, an entire Stewardship group had shoveled and pushed and bounced on the trailer to no avail. So I woke up hoping I could get it unstuck using the tractor. Using the front-end loader I pushed as much snow out of the way as I could. Then I levered the tongue of the trailer up using the loader again. Finally it was free. Shwew!

Of course the uncertainty was not over yet. I wanted to collect the sap before the GRS student got arrived so we could start early enough so we could finish the boil before the Farm Stay students had to leave. We had promised them that they could taste the fruits of their labor before the end of the Farm Stay.

We were in luck. When I drove out to the trees that were the farthest away, I discovered that the sap that was in the bags hanging from the trees was still mostly ice. Because of the unbreakable laws of chemistry, the water in the sap freezes first and the sugar stays liquid. So when there is a mix of liquid and ice in a bag, a thrifty syrup producer can save boiling time by throwing away the ice. We received a second dose of good luck when I intercepted the Farm Stay 3 students on their way to the Bird Blind. They each collected a bucket of sap and we soon had all of the sap. Because we threw away the ice, we now only had about 25 gallons of liquid to boil down and I was sure that the Farm Stay 3 students could taste the first syrup of the year before they went home. We finished collecting just as the GRS students pulled up. What a relief!

The rest of the day was a series of magical moments.

The GRS students were absolutely thrilled to be here. They have typically only come in the Spring or Fall and to be here in the Winter was great. We got the fire going and started the boil. The smell of wood smoke filled the air. We left a trio of students to keep the fire going while we all went out to tap more trees.

The E1 students came and they got to tap the first tree of the day. By now the sun was shining brightly and had warmed the trees enough that the sap started to flow as soon as we put the spiles in. Drip drip drip. Put your tongue under it to catch the first drops.

After that first tree we spread out in the sugarbush and everyone got a chance to tap a tree. It was a amazing to discover thigh-deep snow in the woods. We quickly put up another 20 taps and completely enjoyed being in the forest.

Then came one of my favorite activities. We went back and watched the sap boil and ate lunch. The fire was hot and the entire pan was steaming away in a roiling boil. Everybody found a comfortable spot to lounge upon and we just hung out while the sap boiled. Occasionally we stoked the fire, but mostly we just hung out. I got to catch up with my pals from the GRS staff. I love the enforced slowness of having to wait for the sap to boil down. You can't make it go any faster, so you might as well just enjoy the moment.

The GRS students had to go by 1:30, but Mr. Fitch and the E1 students hung out and the syrup was finished by 2:20. They got to taste the very first syrup of the year. It is a little known fact that the flavor of syrup changes dramatically as the season progresses. The sugars start to convert to starches later in the season and the warmth of the season means that (harmless) bacteria grows in the sap. So later in the season you end up with a darker, more intensely flavored syrup. But my preference is for the first syrup of the year, light in color and delicate in flavor. Jahlil refers to the early syrup simply as "glory" and I agree.

Then I brought the pail of syrup back to the Homestead and the Farm Stay 3 students sampled it as they were finishing their packing and check-outs. Then we decided the weather was so nice we could have the final ceremony outside around the syrup fire. Our final ceremony is always touching, and this one was no exception. During the last part, we looked up and saw at least 10 bald eagles circling on thermals right above us. That sort of thing doesn't happen inside.

All in all it was a magnificent early Spring day.

Group Photo Farm Stay 3

Farm Stay 3

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March 12 the Pancake breakfast

By: Cailyn

              When the day of the pancake breakfast came, we were ready.  Our projects were done, the batter was made and shifts were all figured out. We each had two shifts, we could do set-up and also serve during the second half of the pancake breakfast, or serve during the first half and then do clean up at the end. I chose to do set up and serve during the second half.  
              The first customers came right on the dot. We served them with smiles and as many pancakes as they wanted (as we did all the customers). However, pancakes were not the only things we served, you could get two sausages for free and you could pay extra for items like: quiche, scones, banana bread, caramel rolls, fruit cups, hot chocolate, 2 extra sausages, and coffee.
              The highlight of the pancake breakfast for me was doing dishes. Yes, I don't think that would be most people's first choice, but it was fun for me. I did the dishes with Alice and my sister. We had a great conversation about how Alice always has a song stuck in her head. It was also great to see my sister (and do dishes with her). I had not seen her for a week and a half. Before now the longest time I had gone without her was 2 days.  
             After the pancake breakfast we had some time to relax. We sang some songs with Dave and generally had a great time.

A day with birds, with photos

By Ora with photos by Sophia;

It was the day before the pancake brunch. We all needed a break from the micro-economy work. Andy's occupation group headed out for a little relaxing hike.

We strapped on our snowshoes and put on our mittens to head outside. I stepped and squinted my eyes because of the sun shining brightly. The rest of the group came out with squinted eyes. We took steps on the snow, not sinking. It was amazing that you wouldn't sink into the deep snow. It was because of the great invention of snowshoes.

Our group walked and walked, staring at all of the frost imagining what it would be like with still frost covered on you. We kept walking till we reached the bird blind. We filled the feeders, but since we had snowshoes on, we did not go into the bird blind. Instead we stood silently. It was the first time the birds trusted us. All we did was stand there and the birds came. They flew everywhere, eating, sitting, looking, listening, chirping. It was like a dream, as if we weren't there. That moment was a moment that I have dreamed for, and there it happened. It was amazing. That feel of connection to nature was unspeakable.

That moment was a dream. As one of my friends has said; Don't just dream your dream live your dream.

Hoarfrost on the prickly ash.

Filling the feeders

watching the birds. Still as a statue.

The chickadees come in first.

Downy Woodpecker

Patience pays off. The Cardinal came at the end.

Junior High Visit

by Annie

Today the rest of the Junior High came out and joined the Farm Stayers for a Land School visit.

In the morning we worked on our stewardship projects, which included cleaning out the Llama Pen, Chicken Coop and Greenhouse; pruning the fruit trees around the Farmstead; continuing to tidy up the Long Barn; tending to the bird blind and beehives; and getting the bottles and buckets ready for the syrup season.

We then had lunch and, as today was Laci's birthday, we had cobbler and ice cream. After lunch, we had an hour of free time until they had to go back to the urban campus. During free time many people went out to the tree house, some went to the bird blind, some played football and some went on a hike.

After they left, we had a rest, then got to deep cleaning and packing and readying for our departure tomorrrow.

Farm Stay Essay

by Ora

Why do we live? Why do we climb the tallest mountain? Why do we chew gum? Mr. Shaefer asked us these questions, I thought about it as hands went up in the classroom. Then, I stretched my hand up and asked why would we do nothing? No one had an answer to that question because there most likely isn’t an answer for it.

These questions can relate to most anything such as the Land School. Why would I choose to do a Farm Stay? I choose this, because it is an opportunity, an opportunity that will open me up. Why do we do the Land School? Pride, accomplishment, sharing, helpful, thoughtful, followers, leadership, independent, caring, connecting, and loving, loving nature and the community. Those are some words that I think stand out about the Land School and that I think will come up during the time I will be there.

Those words will be my goal for the Land School. I want to support others and the community I want to connect with nature and have a connection with every person there. While I am there I wish to be a follower and a leader. The Land School is much more than learning and working, it is about finding something in you that are dying to get out like a turtle fighting is way out of its egg. I heard every student will come back a different person, but I would like to add to that statement and say: every person will go to the Land School in their turtle egg but as they are there longer the egg will start cracking and when they come back the egg is open. This is an odd way of saying it and there are many other ways of saying it.

As I am cracking that egg, I will sometimes struggle to crack some parts of the egg.

Overall, I am looking forward to the farm stay and I can’t wait for all of the learning we will get to do. I am so excited to see what farm stays are like and what maple syrup is like.

Sunday March 13th

Sunday was a day of rest. Rest from the Pancake Breakfast, a break from homework and a break from the world. After all of the last minute crunching to get things done and the hustle of the Breakfast itself, some time to sit around and do nothing at all was very nice. Relaxing in trees is one of my favorite things to do. Jahlil and I spent 3 hours climbing one tree, seeing another, and then rushing over to climb that one. After being called back to the Homestead, everyone got into cars and we drove to town to go bowling. After a filling meal of pizza and then bowling, we headed back home for a good night's sleep.

By Evan

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Bird Blind

March 9, 2010
By Ruby
The Bird Blind (Science class):
Behind the bars we watch.
Do they see us or not?
5, 10, 15, 20!
They all fly quickly.
We sit,
Sit, sit, sit.
They fly,
Fly, fly, fly.
Eat birds eat the food that we put out.
Come, come, come.
See them now!
They are here!
Red, yellow, gold, black, gray.
They sing.
Sing, sing, sing!
How beautiful the sound.
We leave them.
We leave all the birds.
They leave when we leave,
They come when we come.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Tuesday, March 8th

By Alice

Today, Tuesday the eighth, we started on a good foot, most of us having got a good night’s sleep after a long day Monday of yawning and blinking back sleep from tired eyes. I started my day by going out to the Farmstead with two thirds of the group to do Farm Chores. Today’s group was larger than normal, because my group, who had been doing Farm Chores since the beginning of the Farm Stay, was teaching the second group how to do the chores so that we could trade off/transition smoothly. We fed and watered the llamas and sheep first, then watered and fed the chickens. Some of the chickens that had been making nests (and spending the night) in the Red Barn took off immediately after we opened the chicken coop door. They scurried up the path made by our boots to the barn, looking over their shoulders at us all the way like misbehaving children. We then collected eggs from the chickens (one off from a dozen!) and headed back to the Homestead for breakfast.
At breakfast, the group finished a delicious loaf of “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes” from the night before, so good that when I decided to make a copy of the recipe to bring home, everyone that heard me asked if I would make a copy for them as well.
We had an early and smooth transition from breakfast to math, very improved from yesterday, when some alarms did not go off and the schedule lagged ten minutes behind.
After math we worked on Occupations/Community Work. Donna’s group made a delicious lunch of risotto, and Andy’s group, after a long conversation on education and our complaints about it, headed to the Long Barn. Andy’s occupation group had been working on permanent directions/trail marks/signs for the Land School’s trails, so we worked on making the wooden sign frames- sawing wood, smoothing it with a planer, drilling the signs, nailing the signs together, and sanding the final product.
After lunch, we began to work on our Micro-economy crafts and food for the Pancake Brunch on Saturday. Lately, we’ve been getting to taste test people’s projects- chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, banana bread, granola… it’s all been delicious.
For “Physical Expression” we went outside onto the driveway and played broomball- it started as an organized game, but gradually evolved into something else, which involved people screaming as they barreled towards the person who had the ball, Annie turning into a snowman (or snow woman, if you insist on being politically correct), and everyone on the Blue Team leaving except for Andy (who had to leave for raising his broom too high) and Jahlil, the goalie. The Red Team won the game after we scored a goal against an almost nonexistent Blue Team.
            After chores and dinner (enchiladas), we had a focused study hall, when Doug arrived. We closed the day listening to some of Katie’s music-  Pachelbel’s Cannon and Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Typical Day

The Land School is currently housing 12 students from LCS (Lake Country School). I am one of them. My name is Delaney, I am in 8th grade at LCS and this is my second Farm Stay. What is currently going on up at the Land School? Great question. Well this weather is great for maple tapping!!!!

What is a normal day like at the farm? Well on a typical weekday, we start with Farm Chores and breakfast, and then we have Math. After Math we have Occupations and Community Work. Then my personal favorite part of the day is lunch. After lunch we transition into CE (Creative Expression)/PE (Physical Expression) or Microeconomy. Then we have chores and after that comes dinner. Last but not least is study hall and closing and then it is lights out and the next day begins before you know it!

Our Farm Stay is Farm Stay #3 and our focus is the Pancake Brunch (you should come - for more information see the Tuesday Memo). For the Pancake Brunch all of the students have come up with a Microeconomy project. For instance, I am making firestarters and bracelets (out of sheep wool) and with Alice I am making peppermint bark and hot cocoa. All of the students have been working really hard to put this together.

by Delaney

Sunday March 6th

Today is Sunday and it has started off great. This morning was a normal breakfast and day for the most part. Then later we went and did more maple sugaring in the woods across the road, where we walked in the woods until we found a suitable maple tree and started drilling. We would usually drill the holes on the south side of the tree because the sap on the south side of the tree would flow better now, whereas the sap would flow on the north side of the tree later in the season. Then after that it was mostly free time. All in all, it is turning out to be a good Farm Stay on my first year here.

By Sam

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Maple Sugaring

by Emma

Yesterday was the first day of maple sugaring. Andy and all of us strapped on our snowshoes, got bags ready, and headed off to tap trees. Cold, and tripping over our own feet, we snow shoed to the nearest sugar bush. A sugar bush is a group of maples that produce sap used for making maple syrup. First, Andy gave us a demonstration on how to tap a maple tree. Drill the hole, clean it out, tap in a spile with a hammer, and leave the bag underneath to let the sap drip. Then, we went out, armed with a power drill and two man-powered drills and a bucket of spiles. We haven’t been back yet, but all hope that the trees will have yielded some sap.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Photos from Farm Stay 3 Thursday and Friday

Photos by Sophia

Making wind chimes for CE/PE
Extreme snowshoeing
Andy demonstrating how to set up a sap sack

Into the woods

Tapping the first tree of the year!

Tapping maple trees
Rolling out the pizza dough for Friday supper
Personal Pizzas ready for the oven


Thursday, March 3, 2011

I love The Tree House

I love the tree house.
I love it’s branches
I love it’s ropes and I am in awe with it’s endless beauty .
I love jumping on it’s ropes.
I love sitting in it’s tight spaces.
When I climb it I am happy and when I do not I am sad.
But where ever I go it comes with me.
And I always remember I love the climbing tree

by Jahlil

Archival photo by Catherine and Emma

The Winds of Change

by Andy

Our Farm Stay 3 students arrived yesterday around noon. As Donna welcomed them in the entryway, she tried to help them notice exactly what season we are in. This is the time of year when the weather can change on an hourly basis. Donna asked them to try to notice the winds. A warm south wind can come in and radically alter to entire feel of a day. The next day winter will assert itself with a chilling northwest wind. This time of transition is fun to notice.

Later in the day Doug did his first of three land-based science lessons. A part of Doug's curriculum is to notice phenology, which is the change in weather, plants, animals and human activity with the changes in the seasons. The students will keep a phenology journal and record every change that they observe.

We also had our first meeting with our mentor groups. Donna and I each took our groups out for a little hike and had lunch with them. We know that the changes that we will be seeing with the season are not the only changes that will be happening at the Land School during this Farm Stay. We fully expect that during the course of the Farm Stay each student will go through his or her own important changes and when we have our final mentor group meetings we will looking upon changed individuals.

Today we choose Occupation groups and have our first session of Creative and Physical Expression. Lunch is chili and cornbread and supper is build your own tacos. mmmm good.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Welcome to Farm Stay 3!!!!

Hello Farm Stay Three families and friends. Today is the big day! We are super excited to welcome the gang out today.

Remember to check here daily for updates and photos.