Coverdale Farm

By Megan McBride, Farmyard Coordinator

Winter at Coverdale Farm Preserve is always a beautiful time of year. With the vegetables fields in the CSA safely planted with cover crops our main focus becomes the health and happiness of all our unique animals.

Winter on the farm can provide many challenges regarding our animal husbandry. Even when the snow falls and the roads are frozen, all of our cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, and pigs still need lots of care. Every day all of the animals receive fresh hay or grain, and special attention is paid to their water. The animal’s access to fresh and clean water is critical to their health. Every day, sometimes multiple times a day, the animal’s drinking water is refresh and de-iced. Water is the most important necessity for all of the animals here at Coverdale Farm Preserve, including the farmers. All water, including ground, rain, and snowmelt here at Coverdale eventually drains into the Burrow’s Run creek.  The Burrow’s Run is a vital tributary of the larger Red Clay Creek. Special attention is paid to limiting the amount of wasteful runoff here at the farm. Water conservation practices at Coverdale include planting native trees, shrubs, and grasses along riparian buffers and surrounding animal areas to minimize wasteful runoff.

Water conservation is one of our primary ecological objectives at Coverdale Farm Preserve. Photo by Christi Leeson.

Water conservation is one of our primary ecological objectives at Coverdale Farm Preserve. Photo by Christi Leeson. 

One might think that all of the animals that are living outside in the winter here at Coverdale might be cold.  Each animal has it’s own natural defense against the cold.   Pigs grow extra fat and burrow in the straw to stay warm.  The sheep have a wooly coat that insulates them.  The goats grow an undercoat of downy hair, known as cashmere.  The cattle grow extra thick hair and their fat helps shield them from winter’s icy wrath.  Extra hair might not seem like much extra warmth, and on it’s own it is not.  The hair traps thousands of tiny pockets of air, which aids in insulation.  Chicken feathers trap pockets of air much like an animals fur.  Most animals can stay out in the cold and not be bothered.  However on a windy or rainy day they seek shelter so the wind and rain do not flatten their air pocket insulation.

Goats at Coverdale Farm Preserve.

Goats at Coverdale Farm Preserve. Photo by Christi Leeson.

The sheep, goats and chickens have a hard time walking in high snow and prefer to stay in their shelters when the snow is deep. When this happens, as it so often does, the farmers strap on their snowshoes and break a path to their feed and water. The cattle however can easily move in the snow and will be seen more frequently outside on a snowy day.

Sheep on the "snow trail" at Coverdale Farm Preserve.

Sheep on the “snow trail” at Coverdale Farm Preserve.  Photo by Christi Leeson.

Although it is cold and snowy now, we are preparing for a very busy spring. Our first lambs and piglets are due in late March and shortly thereafter the vegetable fields will be bursting with life. Remember to eat more vegetables, drink lots of clean Delaware water, and sign up for one of our amazing programs today!

Raising Broiler Chickens at Coverdale Farm Preserve

By Dan O’Brien, Community Supported Agriculture Farmer, Coverdale Farm Preserve

This season, the farmers at Coverdale Farm Preserve are trying something new. Farm Director Michele Wales and Community Supported Agriculture Farmer Dan O’Brien have started a small pilot program of raising broiler chickens for our farm-meat chicken production. These chickens live in a protected hoop house that is used for growing cucumbers and tomatoes during the CSA season. The chicken poop provides an excellent source of nitrogen to the plants throughout the growing season.

Our Hoop House provides a living quarters for our Chickens, and their droppings will provide fertilizer for crops grown here next year. Photo by Dan O'Brien.

Our Hoop House provides a living quarters for our Chickens, and their droppings will provide fertilizer for crops grown here next year. Photo by Dan O’Brien.

The chickens are fed a mixture of naturally grown grains, such as corn and wheat, along with a high protein mixture of soybean mash and vegetable scraps. The chickens will be processed after about eight weeks. “We want to really connect our Delaware community to where their food comes from” says Farmer Dan. “The goal of this pilot program is to determine the demand in our foodshed for small scale, locally produced poultry. Ideally we would like to be able to offer our sustainably produced poultry throughout the year to all people visiting Coverdale Farm Preserve” says Farm Director Michele Wales.

Join us December 12 and 13 for our course on how to process a chicken.

Join us December 12 and 13 for our course on how to process a chicken, December 12 and 13, 10am to 4pm.  Photo by Dan O’Brien.

Coverdale Farm Preserve is offering a hands on program that will teach all aspects of on farm chicken processing. “This is not a program for the faint of heart” says Farmer Dan. The program will be held on the weekend of December 12th and 13th, from 10am-4pm both days. To sign up for the program please visit Delnature.org or call (302) 239-2334 ext. 134.

By Joe Sebastiani, Ashland Nature Center Manager, and Dave Pro, Ashland Property Steward

The Delaware Nature Society is in the process of converting some of the Coverdale Farm Preserve grassland areas from cool-season, exotic agricultural grasses to native warm-season grasses and wildflowers.  The process takes years, but is well worth the wait.  Our goal is to convert over 50-acres, which will provide a diversity of native meadow species, and create much better habitat for a wide variety of mammals, birds, insects, and much more.  Dave Pro and I led a group of DNS members on a walk through the meadow last week to showcase how it is coming along.  The answer…beautifully!  Wildflowers such as Wild Senna and Partridge Pea were in full bloom, as were native grasses such as Purpletop, Indian Grass, and Big Bluestem.  Wild Bergamot was just finishing up its bloom, and multiple species of butterflies were still nectaring from these plants.

The Coverdale Farm Preserve meadow restoration as it appeared during the second week of August, 2015.

The Coverdale Farm Preserve meadow restoration as it appeared during the second week of August, 2015.

The scale of this project is impressive.  For a project of this size, 50 seeds per square foot are planted, representing over 20 native plant species.  The federal government, through a “habitat restoration lease”, pays the Delaware Nature Society to do this project through the Early Successional Habitat program.  To prepare the site for seeding, we first had to wipe out the existing non-native, cold-season grass that existed here.  Then, the meadow was seeded over late-fall, and a cover crop Winter Rye, was also planted to prevent weeds from getting established.  We then had to mow the new meadow several times in the first year to prevent any annual weeds that did get established from flowering.  The young meadow plants don’t really start to show themselves until the second year of growth.  Now that the meadow is established, we were able to conduct a prescribed burn this spring.  This helped to remove built up thatch from previous winter mowings, giving the young native plants room to grow and photosynthesize.

Wildlife has responded to the meadow transformation.  Many species of birds can be found in this location now, and include nesting Eastern Meadowlark, American Kestrel, and a variety of sparrows, warblers, and other species such as Orchard Oriole.  With the abundance of flowering plants available, butterfly numbers have increased.  Monarch butterflies were easily seen on our walk last week as they nectared on the remaining Wild Bergamot.  Great Spangled Fritillary, Pearl Crescent, Tiger Swallowtail, and Black Swallowtail were all swarming the meadow as well.  In the past, with few flowering plants, we would have had a tough time finding these species here.

A Black Swallowtail is pictured here nectaring on Wild Bergamot in the Coverdale Farm Preserve Meadow.

A Black Swallowtail is pictured here nectaring on Wild Bergamot in the Coverdale Farm Preserve Meadow.

Another butterfly, the Variegated Fritillary, is a common sight in the Coverdale Farm Preserve meadow in August.

Another butterfly, the Variegated Fritillary, is a common sight in the Coverdale Farm Preserve meadow in August.  Disclaimer: this one is feeding on Red Clover, which is an unwanted weed in the meadow.

Some of the wildflower species that we planted in this meadow include Bush-clover, Tall White Beardtongue, Early Goldenrod, Black-eyed Susan, Marsh Blazing-star, Partridge Pea, and Wild Senna.  Now, other native plants are coming in on their own as well, including Common Milkweed, and Butterfly Weed.

Wild Senna is a large wildflower that has formed drifts of yellow across parts of the meadow.

Wild Senna is a large wildflower that has formed drifts of yellow across parts of the meadow.

A lucky group of Delaware Nature Society members were able to enjoy the guided walk through the Coverdale Farm Preserve meadow last week.

A lucky group of Delaware Nature Society members were able to enjoy the guided walk through the Coverdale Farm Preserve meadow last week.

This is just one of the many habitat restoration projects that the Delaware Nature Society is conducting on properties including Ashland Nature Center, Coverdale Farm Preserve, Middle Run Natural Area, Dupont Environmental Education Center, and Abbott’s Mill Nature Center.  We will offer more free walks for members in the coming months, and we would love to show you some of these wonderful places.

by Michele Wales, Coverdale Farm Preserve Manager

For 15 years Coverdale has raised livestock in our pastures & barns and grown acres of vegetables in our teaching gardens & CSA. Now we are reaching beyond the farm borders to the woodland to grow…..mushrooms!

Specifically, the delicious Pleurotus ostreatus. Pleurotus (“sideways”) ostreatus (“oyster”) come by their name honestly as the fruiting body grows in a sideways manner from the stem and forms a shell-like cap. These common wild mushrooms can be found growing in forests throughout the world in temperate to semi tropical climates.

Oyster mushrooms are in a class of fungi known as “saprophytes.” Saprophytic fungi (shiitake, oysters, lion’s mane, wine caps) are decomposers that scavenge dead organic matter for their nourishment. In the case of oysters this material is wood. But not just any wood will do, the oyster mushroom thrives in hardwoods like Tulip Poplar and Beech.

Tulip Poplar trees are a fast growing, native, “pioneer” species that can reach the perfect size for growing oyster mushrooms within 5 years, easily. At Coverdale we have a sustainable population to harvest, making oyster mushroom the ecologically sound choice.

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Photo by Shaun Quinlan

Back in March, Shaun Quinlan and I “planted” 38 totems of oyster mushrooms in the woodland above the Coverdale Farm Preserve pond. The substrate, or wood, must be harvested prior to budding out making March prime-time mushroom planting season! The mycelium, the vegetative part of fungus, was delivered to us in blocks of saw dust where it had colonized. We selected a location deep within the woods that would provide good shade come summer and set wooden pallets down to raise our totems off the ground.

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Photo by Michele Wales

Then, down to business matching two like-sized sections of 1’ tall rounds of the poplar tree to form totems.

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Photo by Shaun Quinlan

Once the matching game was completed, we sandwiched a thick layer of sawdust spawn between the two rounds of poplar. The top of the totem had a small “cookie” cut from it to afford one more layer of mycelium.

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Photo by Shaun Quinlan

Once all totems were planted, we covered each stack with a paper lawn bag. This will ensure the moisture level of the wood to remain high, protect the totem from competitive fungi, and ensure darkness during the incubation period known as the “spawn run.” This very important time, which can last 12 – 18 months for oyster mushrooms is the critical stretch when the mycelium begins to colonize the poplar. We will check on these totems periodically throughout the next 6 – 12 months to make certain we are maintaining the proper growing conditions for this experimental new crop.

oyster planting 17 2015

Photo by Shaun Quinlan

Stay tuned for the next installment in the wood-grown mushroom trials. We highlight the bio-control we are preparing for and will be employing to combat public enemy #1 of the mushroom, the mighty slug. Any guesses?

Come visit us and join in the farm fun each and every Saturday from 9:00am – 4:00pm. Meet our awesome staff, tour the CSA fields, visit the farmyard to see our resident livestock, stop in our welcome barn to shop for farm grown vegetable plants, a dozen fresh Eggmobile eggs and pick up the new Coverdale Farm Preserve canvas grocery bag to carry your goods home. Fresh vegetables will be coming soon to the welcome barn!