There’s another Winter Storm dropping snow on the state of Maine this morning. My muscles and joints have finally stopped aching from the last storm, but I’m ready to go again, shovel in hand, to face whatever Mother Nature has in store for me. This winter has been something of a mixed bag for Runamuk─and for me. Some good, some bad, but I’m facing each day with gusto and looking forward to my first growing season on my new #forever farm.
2019 came in like a lion at Runamuk, with burst pipes and some unexpected repairs to the car to usher in the New Year. This old house and I are still getting to know one another, and I’m gradually learning how her internal systems work; stuff like: how quickly it uses oil and propane (there is no woodstove or source of wood heat in this old farmhouse─yet), where the drafts come from, and what parts of the roof need help with snow removal. Thankfully I was at home when the pipes gave, but I was beyond mortified to realize I didn’t know how to turn off the water systems in my house. I was in a sheer and utter panic at the time, and had to resort to calling a friend for help at 9 o’clock at night to get through the emergency. The damage was minimal however, and I can now say that I know how to fix a burst pipe─and how to shut off the water systems in my house.
To help cover the heating costs of this big old farmhouse, I’ve applied for heating assistance with the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program. It was a 4-month wait, though, for my appointment, and another 8-weeks before I’ll see any help─if I qualify; so perhaps in March I’ll find some relief on that front. In the meanwhile, I’ve rented out my 6th bedroom─I don’t really need 6 bedrooms afterall, and the extra income has been a godsend this winter.
Initially my baby sister, Marie, was using that particular bedroom, which is rather separate from the rest of the house, and ideal for guests or housemates. When Marie got her own place in early December, I had to decide whether or not I wanted to rent that space to a stranger; with a business to run, kids in the house, and a special needs child all to consider, I knew that getting the wrong person in there could be potentially disastrous. Ultimately though, I felt that the heating costs warranted taking a chance on someone, and I posted an ad to craigslist, but was very selective.
The young woman I’ve let the room to has turned out to be reliable, respectful and quiet. Currently she’s working up at Sugarloaf, the ski resort just 30-minutes north of New Portland, and intends start taking classes at the University of Maine at Farmington in the fall. We’re both passionate about the environment, and have gotten along well. I think I made the right call on that one.
On the Farm
The farm itself has been doing well. I’m very satisfied with my choice to base all of the livestock off the garage; keeping them close to the house through the long winter months allows me to keep a good eye on everyone, and it means I’m not hauling water too far. I’ve set up bins for food storage, dedicated a space for hay, straw, and bales of pine shavings, put up thermometers, and run lights on timers. It feels good to have these farm-systems in place, and allows me to work more efficiently.
The hoop-shed I built for the sheep is holding up even in the face of the wind that barrels down off Mount Abram to the west of us; it sweeps across the field to pummel the backside of my buildings here. There was one super-frigid night when the wind was so intense that it whipped around the entrance of the shed and was blowing snow into the interior, which prompted me to provide the girls with a “door”. As expected, I do find myself having to manage this little shed for snow, but it’ll hold a good 8-10 inches of heavy, wet snow without buckling─some sagging, yes─but she doesn’t give in (kinda like me, lol!).
Inside their Winter Coop the chickens are fairly cozy, though after a particularly brutal cold spell, I did see a touch of frostbite on the combs of the Leghorns. That breed has much taller, fleshier combs and are prone to that sort of thing; it doesn’t really hurt the bird in the long run and the girls are otherwise fine. I’m running a heat lamp at night, a lamp for light early in the morning, and collecting an average of 4 to 4.5 dozen eggs a day.
Runamuk @ Meridians!
I’m pretty excited to announce that Runamuk’s eggs are now available in an actual retail store!!!
I’ve partnered with Meridian’s in Fairfield, where locals can now find Runamuk’s uncertified-organic, grass-fed, non-gmo eggs among this neighborhood shop’s fine wines, beer, and local foods. Check out Meridian’s online to learn more about this unique Maine store, which specializes in products that are produced using biodynamic, organic, or sustainable methods.
Between Meridian’s, egg-sales at the office, and a few select locals that I deliver to every couple of weeks, the chickens are paying for─not just themselves, but for all of the animals I keep. That includes the hay and grain for the 2 sheep, food for the 3 cats, Murphy’s premium dog-food, as well as all livestock-related supplies: straw, pine shavings, oyster shell, you name it. I’m really happy about that.
Probably the only negative thing I can say about the current livestock set-up is that the fencing is rather lacking. I was in the midst of erecting a more permanent livestock fence for the winter, when an early November storm dropped nearly a foot of snow on the farm. It’s not uncommon here in Maine to get snow in November, but usually the ground is not yet frozen, temperatures aren’t consistently cold at that point, and the first snow just melts away. That was not the case this year, and as such I was not able to get the fence up. I had to make do with a length of electric net fencing for the sheep, and those chickens who are so inclined, have been allowed to free range in the driveway. You can’t charge an electric fence through snow, so the fence has really just been there for appearance’s sake; the sheep are well-trained and respected it regardless.
They will however follow along the well-packed paths I’ve made with my snowshoes and foot-wear. Eventually the chickens in the coop followed my path across the front of the building to discover the adjoining garage, and have decided it’s a great place to party. I’d already allowed a few of the flock’s rejects to live in the garage, free from persecution (I know…I’m a softee), so it’s an inviting place where Earl the Rooster likes to take his favorite hens to spend the day. Spring cleaning in the garage is going to be a big project come April, and my poor old tractor is sorely in need of a wash. I’ve warned Earl that things are going to be different next winter…
Now, half-way through February, the fence is buried by so much snow that I can only see the tips of the fiberglass posts poking up above it. Neither the chickens nor the sheep will go out into deep snow, so the fence became a non-issue. However, when I came home from Johnny’s one night to some strange poops in my driveway I was pretty puzzled. It took me a few days to realize that they were sheep droppings (in my defense they were totally out of place!); apparently even sheep will follow a path out of curiosity or boredom, and they had no trouble picking their way over the single strand of fence-line that hovered an inch or so above my packed path. I was thankful that nothing severe had befallen the girls during their adventures, but to prevent the sheep from getting out again, I MacGyvered a gate using fiberglass posts and some twine─so far that’s doing the job.
At this time of the year I’m at Johnny’s more days than on the farm. I’ve given them 4 days a week this winter season, with a 10-hour shift on Fridays that translates into 18-hour day for me once farm-chores and parental-responsibilities are factored in. Leaving the farm for the day requires a serious amount of energy and coordination. Farming alone and being a single mom at the same time is a lot of work in itself; but when you add 32 hours employment plus driving time (it’s nearly an hour each way for me to travel from New Portland to Fairfield where Johnny’s Selected Seeds’ corporate offices and their Call Center reside) it makes for an unsustainable situation. Eventually I would burn out.
Thankfully, it’s only temporary; come April I’ll be back to just 2 days a week in the office. The rest of the week I’ll be working for Runamuk.
I am giddy as a schoolgirl at the prospect of Runamuk’s 2019 growing season. Currently 31 of the 32 hives I had going into winter are surviving; it’s still too early to say how many will come through, but if the bulk of these colonies make it I could be very busy in the apiary this spring. …I might even have to sell some of them….
It’s going to be a big year for gardens, too, here at Runamuk’s new #foreverfarm location. I’m planning a large homestead/market garden, and investing in 10 apple trees, rhubarb, elderberries, and a Serviceberry tree. There’s a long list of perennial herbs and flowers going into existing perennial beds, which will all get some loving attention─and Runamuk will be offering bee-friendly seedlings for sale to local growers.
Gotta Get Through March
I’m so stoked! It’s looking to be a really great season─but first I gotta get through March. Currently however, it’s only the middle of February and it’s snowing again. School has been cancelled for the day, and there’s a good 12-inches waiting for me in the driveway. The snowblower that came with the house is beyond my ability to repair, and the banks on either side of the driveway are now so tall that it takes more effort to push the snowscoop up over them, than it does to pitch it with a shovel. I’ll be outside most of the day moving snow with my trusty shovel, and I’ll definitely be sore the next few days, but I’m doing OK. I’m holding my own here, and I’m damn proud of that.
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