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Homesteading

Homestead Reflections

Today is another glorious, late summer day. It is especially a blessing in light of the recent weather-related disasters, occurring in other areas around the world.  Having these sunny days interspersed with days of gentle rain, has been great for end of garden harvesting and the re-seeding of cover crops.

Even with my scaled-back garden, there is enough abundance to fill the larder with frozen, canned, dehydrated and fermented vegetables and fruit.  And it continues to be a big fruit year. After the less than stellar spring strawberry harvest, I’m happy to report that the fruit trees have really come through.  Plums and peaches galore! We just harvested and dehydrated 15 pounds of Italian prune-plums to go along with the plum conserve and frozen & dehydrated peaches.  The pear and apple trees are also loaded with fruit waiting to ripen.  Then it’ll be more dehydrating, sauce and cider making!

Some people may not have much love for porcupines. And I understand why. We have experienced the frustration of Erethizon dorsatum ("the animal with the irritating back") attacking our fruit trees. Even so, I felt sad seeing a ‘grandmother' porcupine run over on the road in front of our house. 

I say grandmother because I knew her.

I say grandmother because she was so big and her face was grizzled with white and gray whiskers. 

I say grandmother because I admire how she survived for so many years.

One of the central tenets of no-till organic gardening and farming is to never leave soil bare, especially through the winter. Planting a cover crop at the end of the season is one way to do that, but it can be challenging in the fall to get a good crop started before the cold weather sets in, and challenging again in the spring while you wait for it to size up before planting your main crop.

On my farm, I address these challenges by mostly avoiding seeded cover crops, and instead applying lots of what I call “nature’s cover crop”: leaves, and lots of ‘em. I aim to put about 4” of leaves on all my garden beds beginning as soon as I can get them, usually late October through November.

Worms love leaves and the soil environment that they provide, and the worms do most of the work of breaking them down over time, leaving me with a rich, loose, fertile soil the following spring, still covered with a nice layer of mulch. At planting time I usually rake the leaves on the beds into the paths, allowing the soil to warm quickly, and then add it back by the handful or forkful as the season progresses. Unlike hay mulch, you won’t get stray weed seeds in your leaf mulch, except maybe an acorn or two.

This September we are focusing on Soil Health, with statewide events focusing on healthy soils practices and indicators taking place on the first and last days of the month and many days in between.

Julie Rawson and Jack Kittredge will kick off the month on September 1st with a detailed farm tour emphasizing their methods for increasing the productivity and resilience of their farm through stacked enterprises and farming practices centered on enhancing soil health and building soil carbon.

For the middle of the month, we will offer a free series across the state entitled “What’s Going on Down There? Soil Health & Fertility Assessment for Growers.” The focus of these short, on-site workshops is to help gardeners and farmers understand how to utilize different tests to determine the health and fertility of their soil environment, how to inform their input and management decisions, and how to start understanding the ways that management practices, inputs, and soil biology intersect. Participants will go home with a Soil Health Field Test Manual (instructions and data sheets) and a handout of resources for labs where you can send samples of your soil.

Baby Chicks

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!

Learning Your Way into the Fungal Kingdom

Caro:

Willie, we first met as farm apprentices at Simple Gifts Farm in the spring of 2012. I have this memory of you experimenting with growing mushrooms in the downstairs kitchen of the apprentice house-- specifically I remember you showing off a garbage bag stuffed with substrate that was popping with mushrooms from holes cut in the bag. Was that the year you started learning about growing mushrooms?

Willie:

Yeah, that was still in the beginning of my interest in mushrooms. In the spring of 2011 I inoculated my first logs with a friend. It was this incredibly expansive time in my life in which I was learning about food and how to eat. I was making a shift from shopping at grocery stores toward being actively involved in food production.

Homestead Journey

Last month I started my story about how I became a homesteader.  (Read Part 1 here.)  I wrote about growing up on a small family farm, fleeing the country for a big city job, only to be drawn back to the land by my heart.   I shared my pre-homestead history, up to obtaining this land and the first few beginning steps at Wild Browse Farm. 

This process of reflection has been poignant and enlightening.  Reliving those years of youth, boundless energy and unlimited horizons has been exhausting and exhilarating, while bringing forth both smiles and tears.  I hope you find these memories at least entertaining, if not informative.

During this time of soil creation at the future Wild Browse, I was renting a small place in Wendell, which was located a couple miles away. Even at the rental, I had to start from scratch making a garden in the abandoned pasture, longing for a place to finally put down deep roots.  Having a roof over my head and fresh veggies to eat while still commuting to NESFI (New England Small Farm Institute) allowed for at least some part-time homestead work.  However, with trees cut and orchard and garden prep started, it was time to think about building a place to live.

Homestead Journey

On this sunny but bitterly cold February morning, I thought I’d write about my journey as a homesteader. Since placing our NOFA classified ad seeking to transition the care of Wild Browse Farm to new stewards, I find myself thinking and talking a lot about our history because folks keep asking about how I came to be a homesteader here in Wendell.

I grew up on a small family farm in upstate NY and couldn’t wait to go to college and get away from the country. After graduate school, my jobs in University Administration first took me to NYC and then Ann Arbor, MI. Both destinations were a far cry from the long hours of weeding row-crops, mucking stalls, haying, carrying water, and other ‘’odious chores’’.

soil formation

New England is a weird place to farm. We live in a mostly tree covered landscape of rolling hills, weathered mountains, deep ponds, swamps, rivers, outcroppings of bedrock, and once in a while, some really nice soil. In many areas, soil can change from heavy, wet clay to rocky, sandy soil in a matter of a hundred feet or so. This patchwork effect is increased by the crosshatching of millions of miles of stone walls built by the first European farmers in this area as they tried to eke a living from the rocky ground. It has even been posited that the orneriness of New England’s soil is at least partly responsible for the same trait found in its farmers.

But where did this landscape come from? Why are we blessed with perched water tables, endless crops of “New England Potatoes”- field stones- and house sized boulders seemingly dropped from space in the middle of our woods and fields?

Seeds

For the backyard gardener, a seed catalog can be an exciting resource full of opportunities that cast visions of gorgeous rare plants thriving in your garden and previously undiscovered vegetables that astound your taste buds. But where did these unique seeds come from and why does it matter?

There are different terminologies that are thrown around and each one carries with it an understanding of how plants reproduce and ultimately the way that they are controlled.

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