Coverdale Farm

All posts tagged Coverdale Farm

By Michele Wales, Farm Program Coordinator

“Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Coverdale Farm in the deep snow this morning.  Photo by Michele Wales.

Coverdale Farm in the deep snow this morning. Photo by Michele Wales.

Much like the unofficial motto of the United States Postal Service, nothing keeps the Coverdale Farm staff from making their daily deliveries to the resident livestock.  Our deliveries take the form of hay & grain to eat, straw for bedding, and fresh water for drinking.  Our routine chores happen twice daily for 365 days each year for the last 14 years.  But not every day is routine.

Come one, breakfast is ready!!  Photo by Michele Wales.

Come one, breakfast is ready!! Photo by Michele Wales.

This morning, Michele and Dan made the rounds to cows, sheep, and chickens atop many, many inches of new wet snow.  The morning began by breaking snowshoe trails for the ruminants from the pasture barns to water sources, feeding troughs, and the great stone barn.  Shoveling followed as the snow made opening gates very tricky!

Thank heavens for wool coats!  Photo by Michele Wales.

Thank heavens for wool coats! Photo by Michele Wales.

Eager to be fed, all of our “girls” braved the snow (they actually do just fine in the cold temperatures) and gobbled up their morning rations.  Snug in their barn, the chickens were alert and talkative happy for fresh water and a sprinkling of extra grain on the ground to scratch and peck.  Despite the wintry cold our Araucana, Rhode Island Red, Barred Rock and Leghorn hens left a nice cache of freshly laid eggs.  

Happy ruminants.  Photo by Michele Wales.

Happy ruminants. Photo by Michele Wales.

Farm Life may not be for everyone but it certainly is for the staff at Coverdale!  Nothing beats a day at our “office.”  Enjoy this Valentine snow…….

By Michele Wales, Farm Program Coordinator

Spring has just arrived…HOORAY! However, at Coverdale Farm, we have been working as if this verdant season has been here for weeks! Our 352-acre preserve is a dream-come-true for the green thumbs on staff that grow food for our CSA members; grow gardens to teach children about food plant life cycles; grow feed for our livestock; and manage the natural areas for biodiversity.

Timing is everything to make these gardens and fields thrive. Working early in the cold winter months we comb through seed catalogs; make field maps and garden plans; and devise management strategies to generate abroad range of desired products: organic vegetables, plant based “classrooms,” nutritious hay, and wildlife habitat.

Here’s a brief peek into what it takes to make the farm a booming center for food and ecology.

Community Supported Agriculture Program

By the time we have rung in the New Year, CSA Farmer Dan O’Brien has already ordered his seeds, planned his field rotations, and created his planting timeline. Several weeks ago Dan sowed several hundred vegetable seeds indoors in starter trays sandwiched between heat mats and lights. He worked with a local grower in Pennsylvania to raise thousands of plants that will eventually find their way into our 7-acre CSA site. Within the last month, as soon as the soil could be worked, Dan was out preparing the field for planting. He has already sown hearty cool- loving crops like peas, potatoes, carrots, and beets.

In February Dan and DNS Land Management staff members Steve and Josh, built a 2,000 square foot hoop house. This unheated, protective structure will allow Dan to extend the season of certain crops like tomatoes and cucumbers. The hoop house enables these “high summer” crops to be transplanted out earlier in the spring and remain in the field longer in the fall. In addition to this new house, Dan has 2 other hoop houses that he will use for season extension and seed germination. We still have shares available for the 2013 CSA season. Please visit our website under “conservation corner” for registration details.

CSA Farmer Dan O’Brien with his shiny, new hoop house. Photo by Steve Johnas.

Education Gardens

Grey winter months set Farm Program Coordinator Michele Wales to dreaming of purple carrots, orange eggplant, and hundreds of heirloom tomatoes in all colors but red. Striving to show the genetic diversity of common and not-so-common foods that can be grown in our region, Michele focuses primarily on growing heirloom varieties. The goal of the 1 ¼ -acre education garden is to show all stages of the plants’ life from seed to flower, to fruit, and back to seed. This area of the farm grows an endless list of earthly delights like strawberries, rhubarb, and grapes to tomatoes, basil, potatoes, saffron, and lots of flowers. Seeding begins in the dark days of winter in an 80-degree greenhouse space generously provided by Gateway Garden Center. Michele sowed close to 900 seeds in mid-March, will transplant the thriving seedlings in April, and bring them to the farm in May. The garden will come alive through the work of children and farm education staff sowing seeds and heeling in transplants after the danger of frost has passed.

Thanks to Gateway Garden Center in Hockessin ( for the greenhouse space and seeds to help our gardens grow!

Farm Program Coordinator Michele Wales seeding heirloom tomatoes. Photo by Jim Wolfer.

Feed Hay Fields

In late January and early February, Farm Steward, Jim Wolfer keeps his eyes on the ground and ears tuned to weather forecasts. Jim is looking for snow-free acreage and temperatures that reach above the freezing point. During periods of freezing and thawing, Jim will sow the seeds of red clover in our 9-acres of feed hay fields. This is known as frost seeding and is a method that this plant needs for successful germination. By March, on dry ground days, he is mowing down crop “residue” like corn and sunflower stalks from last year as well as spreading our farm-generated compost. By late May he will be mowing the hay, bailing it, and storing over 15 TONS of it in the stone barn to feed our cows and sheep next winter.

Farm Steward Jim Wolfer surveying the winter hayfield. Photo by Dan O’Brien.

Native Warm Season Grass Meadows

In the late fall of 2012, Land Manager Dave Pro was drilling the seeds of over 15 species of native grasses and wildflowers into 25 rolling acres of former agricultural fields. For the last 15 years Dave has been working to transition farm fields into native meadows that provide rich habitat for ground nesting-birds, mammals, and a wide diversity of insects including native pollinators. Gearing up for the growing season, Dave spent hours in March mowing down last year’s growth to open the landscape to the sun’s rays and to control woody shrub invasion. In addition to mowing, these native meadows thrive and excel against competitors through the implementation of fire. Dave schedules the early spring prescribed burn by paying attention to several key factors: wind speed, wind direction, humidity, precipitation, and the emergence of new plant growth. Once these factors have aligned, a regional team of highly trained wildfire fighters descend upon the preserve to artfully and safely employ this management technique. If all of the necessary criteria are met Dave and his skilled crew will be setting fire to 6-acres of well established meadow as early as this Thursday, March 28 or a date to be determined the week of April 1. We invite you to witness this exciting event. Please call 302.239.2334 to register. Space is limited. This very spontaneous offer is FREE with details to be communicated as soon as we have them to share.

Land Manager Dave Pro keeping a few steps ahead of a meadow fire. Photo by Derek Stoner.

By Michele Wales, Farm Program Coordinator

Two weeks ago everyone celebrated Valentines Day.  On the annual day of hearts and affection most folks are wishing for flowers, chocolates, or one of Cupid’s arrows.  At Coverdale Farm Preserve, we were wishing for a four-legged, red haired, 60-pound bundle of bovine.  Although February 14th passed us by without a gift, February 15th was full of love!

Our beautiful 3-year old White-faced Hereford Beef Cow gave birth to her 2nd calf and her first here at Coverdale.  After 9&½ months of pregnancy, she began to show signs of readiness to calve earlier in the week.  With a due date of February 14th, farm staff began to patrol the pasture daily, checking for the pending birth.  By mid-afternoon on Friday, the cow had situated herself in the small barn located out in the pasture and began to push!

Here is our cow about 30 minutes prior to calving.  Photo by Jim White

Here is our cow about 30 minutes prior to calving. Photo by Jim White

Within about 2 hours she had delivered her bull calf (male); cleaned him; nudged him to a standing position; kept a watchful eye as he took his first steps; and stood still as he took his first meal of her milk.

We stood close by as this event unfolded to ensure the safety and health of both the mother and her calf.  Most farm animals can deliver their young without the assistance of humans but it is important to be present as sometimes there are unanticipated complications.  This was a “dream delivery” and we were fully impressed with how quickly our White-faced Hereford’s motherly instincts kicked into high gear.

Right after delivery, the cow hurries to clean the calf.  Photo by Jim White

Right after delivery, the cow hurries to clean the calf. Photo by Jim White

Although it was a “textbook birth” we didn’t fully relax until witnessed the newborn take his first milk, or colostrum.  This inaugural meal is critical for two key reasons: to provide protection against disease and stimulate development of the gut.  During gestation there is no transfer of these key benefits, so the calf is reliant upon colostrum to safeguard their adaptive immune system and immature digestive system.  Colostrum contains pathogen-fighting antibodies and provides concentrated nutrients delivered in low volumes.

Unlike a dairy cow, this mother will only produce enough milk for her calf and will provide him with all of the nutrition he needs until he is weaned at about 8 months of age.  Once weaned he will graze the 4-acre pasture with his mother and very attentive “Auntie” dairy cow eating grass, taking hay from their outdoor barn, and small amounts of grain in the stone barn during morning and afternoon chores.

A second set of eyes in the pasture, our Jersey Cow guards the calf.  Photo by Jim White

A second set of eyes in the pasture, our Jersey Cow guards the calf. Photo by Jim White

We invite you to help us take care of Coverdale’s new addition along with the pigs, chickens, and sheep on March 23rd from 4:30 – 7:30pm at the Family Farm Chores & Dinner program (pre-registration required).

Also, mark your calendars for Wednesday, May 1st from 12:00pm – 2:30pm.  This is the kick-off “Farm Fun Day” for the 2013 season.

The Delaware Nature Society has designated 2013 as the “Year of Coverdale Farm Preserve.”  We look forward to celebrating this “farmtastic” year with YOU!

By Daniel Malcolm, Community Supported Agriculture Farm Manager:

We recently wrapped up the second growing season of the community supported agriculture program at Coverdale Farm. With two seasons now under our belt we can now look back and see the progress we’ve made.

June crop in the CSA farm field. Photo by Ashley Malcolm

The CSA farm membership was 160 this year and the land under cultivation was approximately 6 acres. We grew hundreds of varieties of vegetables and harvested well over 30,000 pounds (all without the help of synthetic amendments). There were five terrific seasonal farm employees who helped plant, weed, and harvest all the crops. Each Monday and Thursday we would be out in the field by 6:30am to begin harvesting for the shareholders, and by 11am were ready to distribute the freshly harvested and washed vegetables.  Our shareholders are a terrific bunch and through weekly pickups and farm events their support has been truly sustaining.

The hoophouse was a new addition in 2011. The added heat and protection allowed us to harvest our first tomatoes June 20! Photo Ashley Malcolm

Registration for CSA is limited for 2012 so if you’re interested in registering, contact Fiona to get on the waitlist (302) 239-2334 x. 134.

An abundant August half share. Photo Ashley Malcolm