April showers bring lots of lambs
The spring is always the busiest time on the farm. As the weather warms and the days lengthen, new tasks sprout and grow alongside the grasses. We prepare for lambing in March, making sure the pregnant ewes are well nourished and healthy, with warm, dry places available to birth their lambs. We build jugs in the back greenhouse for new moms and their babies to acquaint themselves and bond. Then, in April, lambing begins and we take turns checking on the ewes and lambs every 3 hours for the next several weeks. It’s the time of year when all of us in the family have an opportunity to reconnect with the flock. We keep a journal of each birth: recording the challenges each ewe experiences, and their strengths as they maneuver their role as a mother.
This year, lambing began on April 17th. We prefer lambing later rather than earlier in the season to avoid severe weather. By the second week of May we had about 60 lambs, with a handful of bottle fed babies living in our kitchen. Our first bottle baby immediately bonded with our dog, Boli, and our daughter, Tavi.
While we are lambing, the gardens also request guidance. We seeded our usual crops – onions, leeks, a wide array of herbs, a few varieties of kale, some chard, romanesco cauliflower, and tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra for the greenhouse – and also added a few new ones including South River Duborskian rice. Following Ruth Stout’s methods and our own biodynamic practices, we planted most of our crops in mulch beds using old silage bales. For our potatoes we used absolutely no soil; just mulch. What a beautiful sight to see the mulch covering and protecting the soil, particularly during one of the driest springs we have seen.
Lambing ends, and the gardens pick up speed. Mulch gardening helps not only with water retention but also weed prevention, and it encourages the biology in the soil to thrive in an incredible way. It requires solid labor to set up, but once the mulch is down there is a lot of what Masanobu Fukuoka would call, “do nothing agriculture.” We really sit back and give the microorganisms the space to build their own resilient ecosystems.
Before we know it, May comes and goes and it is time for shearing. The end of May is also the time when the family does a shuffle from house to barn, and from barn to shack, to leave the main farmhouse open for spring weddings and summer tenants. And, as the island readies itself for incoming tourists, we are busy tidying up and restocking the farm shop with woolens, soaps, and other handmade items from the island and afar. Spring: longer days, just never long enough.
I write this now as we are in the steady hum of summer, past the wild race of spring, and it feels like we can all take a few deep breaths. The flock has welcomed the yearlings, and together with the lambs are about 120 in all. The ram is happy with a companion in his paddock on the south side pasture. The bottle fed babies are weaned, healthy and strong, and greet our shop visitors by merrily prancing along the fence line, open to receiving some pats and the occasional hug from a toddler. The tomatoes are strung in the greenhouse, and the first sungold was tasted, with pure joy, just yesterday. And we’ve been finding time to gather in the garden to weed at a gentle pace, and to kayak across the pond for a dip in the deep blue sea every now and then, and to share our gratitude for the life this farm continues to give.