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Healthy monster tomatoes

Healthy monster tomatoes

I write this on September 26, the day after a pretty serious frost on at least half of our farm. Today I want to talk about the use of wood chips in beds as mulch. We had some stunning successes with the method that we devised to plant, do an initial weeding and then mulch with wood chips that were partially decomposed, acquired from our local DPW. We had best ever crops of onions, both long season and spring green onions, lettuce in wood chip mulch, spinach, carrots, parsley, basil, Swiss chard, kale, and tomatoes. Beets, which generally were not as beautiful as I would like them to be, and cucumbers did not fare as well. Winter squash did fairly well. The chips that we used around the cucumbers and winter squash were fresh last fall, and I think that it was a mistake to use them, perhaps because of too much mineral tie up.

In some of our chard and basil beds we sowed crimson clover on top of the chips, which germinated nicely, and seemed to provide great ground cover and a constant fertility drip to the crops. I look forward to how crops grow in these beds next year.

The NOFA Summer Conference this past month was a great success. Many beginning farmers came out to attend workshops and farm tours, meet up with friends and enjoy two very inspirational keynote speeches.

Attending conferences like ours is one of the many ways beginning farmers can build their knowledge base and skill-set, helping them further along a career path that, unlike most other careers, is not clearly laid out.

If you want to be an electrician, a doctor or a teacher, there are very well defined ways to go about obtaining the certifications and experience needed to work in those professions. One can feel confident that after completing those requirements they have the skills needed to archive success in their field.

UMass team runs several tests at Many Hands Organic Farm, digging, sifting, sampling and measuring our soil for water infiltration, earthworm counts, microbial mass and active carbon. The infiltration rate was good, the earthworms and microbes were lower than expected (perhaps because of the extended heat and drought during July), and the active carbon was off the charts!

Many growers who have adopted soil carbon restoration methods (minimal tillage, cover crop cocktails, rotations with animals, green plants growing year-round, etc.) have expressed a desire for feedback on whether or not they are doing a good job. While arguably the best feedback is looking at and tasting the crops which are the result of your efforts, such a metric does introduce an element of subjectivity into the process and many folks would like a more objective and even numerical way to measure their progress.

Harvest of Copra Onions - August 24

Over the past several months I’ve been profiling no-till farmers. I thought that for this issue I would write up where we are in our progress on the topic at Many Hands Organic Farm. We are a family farm in Barre, MA in the middle of what would like to be woods. 14 acres of our rocks, trees and swamp are open and mostly tillable. (Interestingly, I guess I need to change that reference to no-tillable.) We are certified organic and have been since 1987. Here I’ll describe each aspect of our no-till system to give you a sense of our practices and philosophies.

Photo by Sarahdera. Available under a Creative Commons License.

A pre-proposal was submitted to “Northeast SARE Research and Education Grant” which has been approved by the reviewers. A full proposal has been requested and the due date is October 1.

Ricky showing off one of his dibble tools

Ricky Baruc is the head farmer at Seeds of Solidarity Farm in Orange, MA where he lives with his wife Deb Habib and son Levi. Jack and I have known Ricky, and Deb before him, since the 80s. We are lucky to live only about ½ hour away from them. Here is a nice overview of the farm taken from their website:

Seeds of Solidarity Farm was initiated in 1996, on land in the middle of the forest that had not been cultivated for many years, and the original inhabitants of the region being the Wampanoag, Nipmuc, and Pequoit people. A conservation restriction on our 30 acres ensures the land will always be used for agriculture, education, and wildlife habitat. With nature as teacher, the land has been transformed into fertile fields and hosts five solar hoophouses brimming with our signature greens, fruit and perennial crops, garlic and sacred, traditional crops such as Hopi blue and Narraganset flour corn. The tapestry of our site includes energy efficient and off the grid home, office, and farm outbuildings, including Solidarity Handworks, a solar powered farmstand, and celebration art and words of inspiration along the paths.

Photo by beauconsidine, available under a Creative Commons license.

While we sit and wait for our legislators to move forward with the agricultural omnibus bill, the GMO labeling bill, and much else, let’s take a moment to zoom out, scan the horizons, and find inspiration in some unexpected places.

Massachusetts tends to pride itself on being first in the nation on a number of landmark pieces of legislation. First on health care reform, first on gay marriage, etc. But there is much we can learn from the efforts of other states too.

This workshop reviews methods for manufacturing the following on the farm: indigenous micro-organisms for biologically inoculating agricultural fields; different types of compost for use in no-till as well as for use during specific periods of crop growth, i.e., leaf growth, flowering, and fruiting; liquid fish extract; liquid calcium extracts; and various plant extracts. These preparations are inexpensive to make and of superior quality. There are 2 parts to this workshop.

Do you consider nature one of your best teachers? Are self-reliance and closed-looped systems part of your farm or garden design? Do you like to get your hands dirty and make your own compost and worm castings, or natural insect repellents from soap, hot pepper and garlic? If yes is your answer, then you may be interested in Korean Natural Farming!

This winter I am infatuated by a new book, “The Wild Wisdom of Weeds” by Katrina Blair. I will give a full review of it in the upcoming edition of The Natural Farmer, but wanted to share some thoughts about chickweed here.

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