Tag Archives: volunteers

Crops Update: Week 21

We’re doing our best in the mud and the rain, lethargically slithering through the rot and the veggie guts like chilled garter snakes. Our coolest morning so far this fall was a relatively mild 43 degrees, and so we continue to pick tomatoes, peppers and even the occasional summer squash—although these frost-sensitive crops have greatly slowed in their production. Three cheers for the farmers this morning who made beautiful veggie bunches for chefs despite having cold hands and feet!

Last Tuesday’s soaking rain meant that we couldn’t dig sweet potatoes on Thursday when volunteer groups visited the fields. Instead, morning volunteers from Wellpet’s corporate office pulled weeds from the perennial garden (pictured below; that’s a mountain of weeds in the bed of the truck behind them), before harvesting tomatoes and peppers.

Wellpet Volunteers

In the afternoon, volunteers from National Grid’s legal team harvested eggplant and potatoes (from a field with lighter soil), before clipping and shucking popcorn for drying. All that wonderful help made for a more relaxed Friday market harvest, and we even had time to wash lots of pumpkins and ornamental gourds in anticipation of a busy weekend. Many thanks to the admissions staff and the stand volunteers who did a fantastic job selling so much produce on Saturday and Sunday to an incredible number of visitors—over 1,000 on Saturday alone!

Harvesting difficult sweet potatoes

On that busy Saturday, we finally began the penultimate harvesting odyssey of the season—14 beds of sweet potatoes. The last will be potatoes, and compared to spuds, sweet potatoes are much more difficult to extract from the soil because several vines emanate in all directions from each initial transplant, and as these vines creep along the ground, they root in multiple spots like strawberry runners on steroids. Underneath the leaf canopy, the entire field becomes a fibrous woven mat. In mowing down the leaves to clear the way for harvesting, we try to grind down some of the vines as well, but there is the danger of hitting the potatoes, which are often just below, or even protruding above the soil surface. The remnant vines often get tangled in the harvest bar as we try to undercut the roots. Even after we’ve loosened the bed, we still have to wrestle with the vines and saturated soil as we search for sweet potatoes across the entire five-foot width of the bed. The digging is hard on the hands and forearms, and so we were grateful when volunteers from the Cambridge School of Weston and Boston Trinity Academy teamed-up to help us harvest 500 pounds of sweet potatoes on Saturday (pictured above). Two beds down, twelve to go. Many thanks to all who helped that day!

See you in the field.

Your Farmers

Local Business Lends a Hand

Drumlin Farm is a lively and active place, filled with big and small jobs throughout the farm completed by staff, program participants, and volunteers. As a nonprofit, we rely heavily on the generosity of local volunteers who donate time, and funds, to maintain our crops, care for our animals, handle operational tasks, and more.

Last week, employees from Green International Affiliates, a civil and structural engineering firm based in Westford, visited the farm to learn more about what we do and lend a hand in the fields. As a corporate member of our Community Partners Program, Green International employees receive memberships and passes to Drumlin Farm and opportunities to get more involved.

Sandy introduces Drumlin Farm’s screech owl to the volunteers.

Their visit started off with a presentation by our educator Sandy and animal ambassador Screech Owl. Sandy introduced the small owl to the group and told them the remarkable story of its recovery. This owl was hit by a truck and lost vision in one eye, which deemed it non-releasable to the wild. Screech Owls can be found throughout Massachusetts, and have exceptional camouflage. This one has been a great help as an animal ambassador, teaching children and adults all about owl habits, life cycles, and ecological services.

The volunteers were present for a special treat when the owl coughed up a pellet right in the middle of Sandy’s talk! Owls produce pellets as part of their digestion cycle and by studying them we can see what the animal has been eating.

This lucky group got to see an owl pellet in the making.

After the owl visit it was off to the field to meet Matt, our Crops Manager. Matt provided a brief history of Drumlin Farm, including notable visits from Henry David Thoreau and a long tradition of using the land for agriculture and cropland, which makes our soil remarkably fertile.

 

Matt explains to volunteers how they can help with weeding.

Next, it was time to get down to work! Today, we needed to weed out the strawberry rows. Matt explained how weeds can take over an area if not properly removed and how to distinguish between them and smaller strawberry plants. Rain began to set in, but it was a cool break from the humid heat of the day and our volunteers grabbed a basket and got right to work. At the end of the day, the team weeded strawberries, planted 600 summer squash and 700 lettuce seedlings, and helped harvest tomatoes for the following day’s CSA distribution. Thanks to all at Green International for their help in furthering our mission to protect the nature of Massachusetts.

Despite some rain, our volunteers welcomed the cool-down and started getting their hands dirty.

Our Community Partners Program allows local businesses to give the gift of membership to their employees, as well as providing opportunities like those last week to get out of the office together, and work towards making our communities and environments more sustainable.

Volunteers walking the fields that have been used for cropland since America’s settlement.

Thanks again to Green International Affiliates and all of our volunteers that continue to donate time and resources to the bettering of Massachusetts and the planet. See you next time!

A New Area for Nature Play

Farewell to Our Sensory Tree

Father Time did not pass by Drumlin Farm’s Sensory Tree exhibit. The tree started its life as a beautiful cedar growing adjacent to the admissions window with a bowed trunk uniquely suited to climbing and swinging.  After being enjoyed for decades by climbing children, it was removed in 2008 to make way for Drumlin Farm’s accessible path, but was re-purposed as an educational exhibit.  The cedar, reborn as the Sensory Tree and designed by Sanctuary Director Renata Pomponi, was coated with resin and augmented with features to engage the senses: smell the cedar, listen to bird calls and woodpecker taps, and search for the hidden animals and insects.

For ten years the Sensory Tree provided a hands-on experience for children, teaching them what lives in and around a tree. But when it became apparent earlier in 2018 that the Sensory Tree had followed its natural path of decomposition, we needed to think of a replacement activity for this busy location adjacent to the farmyard entry path and our new Environmental Learning Center. Located at an opportune stopping point halfway down the welcome hill, the site would need to provide a destination for children on their way up or down the hill to run to, explore, or take a break at, all while being aesthetically pleasing and adhering to a limited budget. Thanks to an amazing team-effort from Drumlin Farm staff and volunteers, we were able to do just that.

Plan to Play

Interpretation Educator Norah Mazar designed the area and coordinated the project. Her initial visit provided area dimensions and an appraisal of the site – flat in the center, sloped to the back, partially surrounded by boulders and ledge, a section of partial shade, and an area of full sun. Norah drew-up plans for a nature play area with a spiral stepping activity made from downed trees on site. Nature play areas give people opportunities to connect with nature by encouraging self-directed, unstructured exploration and this winter’s storms knocked over more than thirty trees on the sanctuary, most of them pine, but some hardwoods as well. Naturalist Tia Piney advised on suitable plants for the adjacent slope, with native ferns, perennials and ground covers.

The site of the future nature play area.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Volunteer Coordinator Pam Sowizral worked with Thermo Fisher Scientific who generously supplied both volunteers to implement the project and funding to offset the costs of top soil, mulch, and plants. Meanwhile Property Manager Geoff Nelson and his staff started preparing for the project day by selecting fallen trees to use and removing the worn Sensory Tree. Project Day was a sunny Friday – May 18. The stumps and logs were eagerly waiting in a pile, as the eighteen Thermo Fisher Scientific employees volunteers came, sleeves rolled up, ready to get to work.

Thanks so much Thermo Fisher Scientific Volunteers!

Thanks so much Thermo Fisher Scientific Volunteers! Development Director Polly Reeve and uber volunteer Susan Vecchi, provided instruction on proper planting techniques while the team worked together digging, moving heavy logs, and planting. Once the top soil was moved to provide a bed for the new plantings the volunteers were able to get creative in their crafting a unique garden and nature display. Tia had chosen an array of plants native to New England that would be hardy during winters, good growers, and beautiful as well. Some plants were chosen for both foliage and flowers—sweet woodruff, geranium, lupine, trumpet honeysuckle, asters and foamflower. Others, for foliage alone, which can still grab ones eye—prairie dropseed, pink hair grass, feather reed grass, Pennsylvania sedge, Christmas fern, and lady fern.

Visit the Completed Project Today

Voila! A perfect spot to stop for a snack, a break, or more play!

It is always amazing what a group of hard working folks can accomplish in such a short time. Standing back, at the end of the afternoon, staff and volunteers could admire the finished project—stepping spiral, new seating, and plantings all in place—and feel good about a job well done. What’s more, they can think about the special moments and fond memories that are soon to be made in this area. What neat insects will an curious camper find when stopped here for a snack? Perhaps this will be the spot a young birder is sitting at when they identify their first songbird. Or a new parent may finally enjoy the time off their feet to sit and take in the natural surroundings after exploring the farm loop. Recently, Norah walked by the completed project and saw two youngsters joyfully playing the classic childhood game “The Floor is Lava” on the stumps as they bounded from one step to the next! With teamwork, creative re-use of natural materials, and a vision for what can be, a new nature play area for memory making and nature appreciation has found its home.

The floor is lava!

Remembering and Celebrating Our Volunteers

Drumlin Farm relies on the energy and hard work of our many volunteers to accomplish our goals . In recognition of the importance of this vital community, the Drumlin Farm Sanctuary Committee recently initiated the Jonathan Leavy Award for Outstanding Volunteer Contributions. Jonathan, a long-time livestock volunteer who passed away in 2016, and whose smile and friendship are sorely missed, diligently cared for our animals while using his impressive carpentry skills to make improvements to our barns.

Long-time Drumlin Farm volunteer Jonathan Leavy caring for a lamb

And the Award Goes to . . .

On September 23, at our Moon Over the Drumlin benefit dinner, we presented the first annual award in Jonathan’s memory to Fred Costanza. Fred has dedicated more than 14,000 hours of his time and hard work to Drumlin since 2006. He is a multifaceted volunteer who assists staff in caring for our livestock, crops, and property. On any given day you can find Fred plowing a field, programming the root cellar cooling system, fixing a tractor, mucking a barn, feeding the goats, or lending a hand at a special event.

Our staff turn to Fred not only for help with the everyday tasks that keep the sanctuary running smoothly but also for behind-the-scenes projects that we have come to rely on him for. Need a fence repaired, maintenance for the crops truck, a mobile chicken coop relocated, or someone to man the giant spider at Tales of the Night? Call on Fred.

Fred Costanza, first recipient of the Jonathan Leavy Award for Outstanding Volunteer Contributions

The Jonathan Leavy Award plaque can be found in the tack room of our red barn—a fitting location where much of Jonathan’s handiwork can be found. Fred’s name is engraved upon it as the first recipient. Thankfully, his name will be joined by other wonderfully generous Drumlin Farm volunteers in the years to come.

By Pam Sowizral, Drumlin Farm Volunteer Coordinator

 

Crops Update: Vol. 23

Pounds of Potatoes to Somerville Schools

This week we delivered baking potatoes to Somerville Schools for the first time—around 1,800 individual potatoes, or 720 pounds, to be exact! We chose the Désirée variety because of its prized flavor and interesting appearance: smooth, pink skin and yellow flesh.

Josh and Andrew started digging the potatoes on Saturday with Drumlin’s 4-H program participants and two community volunteers. (We were so grateful the 4-H group chose to trek all the way to the outermost field to help us!) Working together, Josh and Sarah finished the job on Sunday afternoon before the rain arrived.

Volunteers helping out on the farm

It Takes a Village to Make it to Market

Late last week volunteers from Burlington’s 128 Technology and Wilmington’s Securadyne Systems helped us prepare for Saturday’s market in Union Square, harvesting sweet potatoes, baking potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant.

Demand for these veggies and our tomatoes remains high, even though ripening is happening more slowly now with the longer nights. It really helped to have many people combing over the plants to find the cherry tomatoes and miniature eggplants hiding under dense foliage.

Thanks all who helped make this past weekend’s market a success!

Your Farmers

Summer Crops Update: June 7

farmstand

The farm stand is open! There you’ll find hakurei turnips, radish, scallions and lettuce. Chard, beets, carrots and dinosaur kale are not far off; we may begin harvesting some of these crops by the weekend. The inch of rain we received on Sunday should help push these crops along.

The Onions

We believe the onions have reached a size and toughness where they’ll be able to withstand the onion fly maggot. We’ve removed the row-covers and now must battle the weeds that have been growing unchecked for several weeks. Since last Thursday, volunteers have been clearing weeds and doing some planting. Many thanks to Volunteer Coordinator Pam Sowizral for contacting these generous groups!

The Hiller

When potato plants are 8–10 inches tall and dense with foliage, it’s time to control weeds with a hiller. Ours has adjustable gangs of spinning metal wheels—three per gang—that look like many-pointed pinwheels. The more you angle the gangs towards the plants, the more soil they push. The goal is to build soil around the base of the plants so that the tubers forming there are protected from sun exposure. Additionally, the hiller has a fertilizer hopper that drops fertilizer right at the base of the plants as we pass over them. We also use the hiller on strawberries, eggplant, peppers, chard, and summer squash.

We got the timing of the potato hilling and fertilizing right, as the Colorado potato beetle larvae have just hatched and are feeding on the foliage. It’s a race now between the plants’ growth and the damage the larvae will do. The fertilizer (OMRI approved) will give the plants a boost, but we’ll monitor the damage and spray a biological control if necessary.

The Strawberry Struggle

While many crops are growing well this summer, the strawberries unfortunately aren’t. The plants suffered in the drought and entered the winter in rough shape. The whole area we hope to be picking from in a few weeks—including what we planted two years ago—looks weak and pest-ridden. Hopefully the recent rain will cause the berries to jump in size, but we don’t think that’s likely. We plant over 50 different crops as a strategy to balance failures, but it’s always disappointing to have problems with a beloved and central crop like strawberries.

See you in the field,

Your farmers