Summer on the Farm

red and green oak leaf lettuce

Within days, the small lettuces barely surviving the ice and snows burst into growth and now feed us, our dairy customers, and the free lunch program offered by The Learning Council here in Paonia.

Part of our work as a support farm for Viva la Vida Foundation is to grow new plants that are adapted to the ever increasing climatic challenges of our times. We save our seeds from year to year, and use seed baths before planting to give a message to our new plants of the capabilities we wish them to remember.

Biologists know that a plant normally only has about 30% of their potential DNA active. A lettuce has the capacity to grow in cool climates, but suffers in too much heat and dryness. A cactus, on the other hand, has the capability to live with little moisture and endures high temperatures without damage. Whilst the lettuce has the DNA to withstand heat within it, it is not “activated” as it is in the cactus. If we can grow new plants which have successfully “woken up” more of the DNA resident within them, we can have plants with the potential to feed us in more diverse conditions.

We allow some of our plants to go to seed every year and, through successive seed baths and planting year to year, we are breeding plants more easily adapted to our particular climate. This spring we had lettuce spontaneously spring up in the gravel paths and even in the rock steps outside our greenhouse. These plants are thriving with no water, no soil, and in the heat against the stones. The seeds from these plants will be harvested and saved for planting later this year and again next spring. We will carefully note their characteristics and ability to grow in different conditions.

The peach trees we planted from whole peaches in the autumn of 2015 grew to 3-4 feet high in 4 months. A year later they are nearly 5 feet tall. Last autumn, 2016, we planted more peaches and apricots and now have a whole row of new trees ready to transplant and hold in our nursery garden until they are ready to be planted in a new orchard being established for them.

Meanwhile, the dairy is growing steadily with the growth of the cows. Our newest calves will be weaned by St. John’s Day and their moms will be dried up before they calve in the autumn. The heifers ready for breeding will go in with the bull by mid-June so they will calve next spring. Our milk production will thus be secured year around for our customers as we have staggered the breeding this year.

We have a new cooperative venture we are participating in this year. A young man, Jacob Desatoff, has a lactobacilli fermentation business building here in Paonia. He creates different ferments from milk which become compost additives and various fertilizers for plants. Jacob’s mission, like our own, is to produce and use only the highest quality products, so he sought out our milk. He ran some trials using our skim milk - a by-product from our cream making which used to only go to the pigs and chickens - to make his ferments. He was well pleased with the results so he has now contracted to buy our skim milk. This helps our bottom line of course, and we welcome the shared commitment to bring healthy and innovative products to farmers and gardeners.