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Homestead Reflections June 2019

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2019 June Issue Newsletter

By Sharon Gensler for NOFA/Mass

The baby chicks arrived today- May 16.  We got the call from the post office at 8:30am and shortly there after they were installed in their new home.  We’d already prepared their coop having cleaned it and added fresh pine shavings, repaired the back door to their newly mowed run and turned on their mother hen surrogate heater.  After cuddling and welcoming each one, we dipped their beaks in fresh water and then mash and set them free.  Oh, the excitement of a large space after the confinement in a small cardboard box! We’ll keep them in the coop a couple of days, depending on the weather, before opening the run where they’ll get to experience sunshine, wind, and pasture. 

It’s always exciting to watch the spring unfold and compare it to previous years.  We’ve been lamenting the cold wet spring and totally rejoicing in the few sunny days we’ve had.  It makes it hard to follow my planting schedule.  Our soil is holding its own in regard to the rain/moisture levels.  The rich crumb and aggregate is like a sponge absorbing & holding water preventing erosion.  However, the sponge (and all of us) could use a bit more sunshine & warmth!

Green living cover of oats, peas and cloverBecause the soil is still quite cool, I’ve slowed down much of my planting; so far, only peas, salad greens and some brassicas are in the ground.  Oh, and also many beds of an early cover crop of oats and field peas, which are doing very well.  My goal is to get the heat loving veggies into the ground in early June.  The perennial veggies and “weeds” are doing well.  We have been eating delicious, succulent asparagus, garlic “volunteers”, sea kale, Egyptian onions, wild mustard, nettles, and dandelions as well as many greens from the greenhouse.

Another problem with this cool rainy weather is that it probably is interfering with tree fruit pollination.  The trees have been a bit slower to flower, but they have been putting forth their glorious sweet-smelling display.  We keep hoping that the pollinators will have braved the few gloomy hours between showers and those even fewer hours when the sun has shown, to visit the blossoms and pollinate accordingly.  If so, we will have an abundant harvest of plums, peaches, pears and apples.  The berries are leafing out but haven’t begun to flower, but maybe that’s a good thing and they are smart enough to wait for some heat!  Until fruit fruition, we’ll continue to enjoy peaches & berries from the freezer and canned applesauce, pears, & plums, yum!

Wind is another unbalanced weather factor that we’ve noticed, both in its intensity and frequency.  This makes sense in relation to the major shifts in the jet stream that I’ve read about.

So, as gardeners and farmers, how are we to plan ahead for our growing season?  One thing that comes to mind is diversity.   By planting species and varieties that do well in various conditions, hopefully we will get some plants that thrive as others might languish.  I’ll also continue to plant as many cover crops as I can.  Keep the soil covered with green living plants or with mulch.  Let the cover crops grow so that their roots hold the soil in place while being battered by wind and water. The mulch will also help prevent soil compaction from heavy pelting rain.

I’ll also think about giving more support to my trellises and the vegetables growing on them.  If it continues to be wet, air movement through the trellised plants will help deter disease.  Also, I’m going to increase the frequency of foliar feeding both to help replenish any “washed-out” nutrients but also to colonize the vegetable leaves with healthy colonies of indigenous micro-organisms.  These techniques will also increase soil health and help sequester more atmospheric carbon.

A Baltimore Oriel enjoying a sweet snackOther Wild Browse Farm neighborhood news:  the Orioles are back and demanding oranges; the Robin hatchlings in a nest on the corner of the house are making a lot of racket; Swallow sex out in the pasture; a fleeting glimpse of the Scarlet Tanager; I can hear the Rose Breasted Grosbeak & Cardinal but haven't spotted them yet (this is now possible for me as I have new hearing aids and it is very nice to hear many of the birds, a pleasure that I've missed over the last few years); and to add balance, the ticks and the black flies are here in abundance.

The sun was finally shining a few minutes ago, and Pru headed out to install a new birdhouse in the upper orchard, and now it just started POURING, so hope she makes it back before drowning!   On that note, I’d better go out and do a welfare check on the baby chicks.  Hope the summer weather evens out to a nice mix of sun, rain and gentle breezes and that we all grow the garden of our dreams this season.


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