The Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association. NOFA/Mass welcomes everyone who cares about food, where it comes from and how it’s grown

Growing Organically Since 1982

Homesteading

(C) Matt Kaminsky 2016

On April 8 in Amherst, Matt Kaminsky, the author of The Wild Apple Forager’s Guide, will be teaching the workshop Fruit Tree Propagation Practicum: Grafting and Top Working along with Bob Fitz, lead orchardist of Small Ones Farm.

Malus domestica, the Latin nomenclature for the common apple, truly is an aptly-named species. From its early colonial days as the primary ingredient in hard cider, the drink of choice for most early New Englanders, to its current place as a centerpiece in autumn’s culinary delights, Malus domestica tells the story of our endless quest for sugar, intoxication, and control. No other fruit has been as shaped by the needs of the people it cohabited with.

On April 22 individual farms, homesteads, gardens, and homes throughout Massachusetts will host potlucks to build connection and community between us – sharing a meal, walking land, discussing the topics that are critical to our region and world, and inspiring one another with practical ways that we can create a restorative future.

Skiing in a snowy homestead landscape

Finally there has been some substantial snow. I know that for many this is a hardship, what with all of the snow shoveling and commuting to work under hazardous road conditions, but for me it is a blessing. As a homesteader who doesn’t have to worry about driving anywhere until the roads finally get plowed and the conditions are safe, I think of all the positive attributes of these two back-to-back nor’easters.

Here at Wild Browse Farm in Wendell, we received around 30 inches of snow. At the 10:1 standard conversion rate of snow to water that means about 3 inches of much needed rain. Before these storms, the Pioneer Valley and much of Central Mass were still listed in a Severe Drought category. Many of our reservoirs are far below capacity. We use a drilled well for our water supply, so it is difficult to know what our reserves are. The well serves two homes, our gardens and poultry, causing us concern about future shortages and increasing our awareness of our water usage and conservation methods. Hopefully this moisture will help lessen this drought.

As I write this there is less than a week to the presidential inauguration. Trying to keep optimistic amidst the uncertainty of the future of our country and planet is a challenge. However, the light is returning and it helps keep my spirits up as did seeing so many of you at the recent Winter Conference. The keynote, workshops and conversations all were much-needed rays of hope. As is the prospect of standing strong with thousands of others at the Women’s March for America, in Boston.

Over the years, I’ve often dealt with the dilemma between political action and homestead life. But never has it been so clear that a response to both must come from my heart. I know I must put myself on the line in a loving and compassionate way, to say yes to love and inclusion, leaving no room for the politics of hate and separation.

Winter seems to be settling in to stay. Fourteen degrees last night and a minus four tonight. Hopefully this year we will have a “solid” winter without the summer-like swings we’ve had the past few years. Thankfully, we have about five inches of snow on the ground, which will offer a small amount of protection to the soil and the few vegetables still hibernating in the garden. It will help buffer the deep cold and any temperature swings that occur. Luckily, I remembered that there were daffodils still to be planted and got them into the ground in the nick of time. I had thinned a patch of self-naturalizing daffodils and had passed on many of them but had saved some to replant here at home. They are going to be a glorious display come spring.

The seed catalogs have started to arrive which is always an emotional boost at this dark time of year. It’s time to begin planning for the coming growing season, ordering seeds and getting my NOFA Bulk Order order in on time (ed note: get yours in by Jan 31).

Hens on pasture

After many nights of temperatures in the 20s, the tender vegetable plants have been killed, and only the hardy ones like collards and kale are staying green. It’s always poignant to watch the season change. On one hand we'll miss the variety of fresh veggies from the garden, while on the other it is nice to begin to feel a slowing down. Besides, as of November 15th we are still eating tomatoes and peppers that have slowly been ripening in the house. We harvested any green tomatoes that showed a hint of color change, just before the first killing frost. They have stayed spread out in the basement and, as they deepen in color, they are brought upstairs to the south-facing windowsill, where they finish ripening. Of course, the tomato flavor is not quite as good as the ones sun-kissed, fresh from the plant, but they are so much better than those shipped in from far away. Sometime in early December, when these run out, we'll start eating those we've preserved through freezing, dehydrating or canning.

Tomato and pepper trays under south window

Here it is mid October and we are surrounded by beauty and abundance! Two nights ago (October 14) it was predicted we’d have our first killing frost. Pru and I spent the day harvesting and hauling all the tender fruits. The kitchen and basement are overflowing with baskets and crates of ripe and almost ripe tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, tomatillos, and winter and summer squash. Now the task will be to preserve the bounty: the tomatillos and jalapenos plus our previously harvested garlic and onions will become a spicy hot green salsa. As I write this, the delicious, aroma of green tomato, tomatillo and immature butternut squash curry is wafting my way as Pru is simmering it on the wood cook-stove.

Tomato plants- note green leaves all way to ground

Tomato plants- note green leaves all way to ground

It's the third week in September and we've been lucky that frost hasn't struck yet. It has been a hard growing year, with the drought and hotter than usual weather. As I mentioned last month, we had to resort to watering. We soaked each growing area with about an inch of water each week to augment the sparse rain. It seems that they really needed that boost to get through the stress until they could adapt. After about a month, we stopped watering, even though the drought continues. Now, the plants are thriving and still producing abundantly.

Pepper plant with understory of sorrel

Much of the region has been experiencing a very dry growing season and that goes for us here at Wild Browse Farm. In honor of the NOFA Summer Conference, we finally got our first substantial rain since May. Maybe it was because with so many growers gathered, the elements listened and bestowed the blessing of rain upon us. We gratefully received and gave thanks for an inch and a half of much needed moisture. Before Saturday night we had received less than 2 inches of rain since sometime in May, leading to a long period of very dry conditions. Here’s the report of how we’ve been coping with the draught and how we’re faring.

New orchard fence with electric rope; note cylinder on tree trunk

Pru and I were thrilled to host a very well-attended NOFA/Mass workshop on fruit here at our homestead, Wild Browse, last weekend. We were floored by the unexpected number of folks, traveling from far and wide, across the state and beyond (Haverhill, Plymouth, Arlington to West Stockbridge, Conn. and points in between) who found their way here to Wendell. Thank you all for attending. We hope that you enjoyed the day as much as we did and that your effort was rewarded.

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