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Cover crops

Cover crops

I’m just back from another fantastic Winter Conference where it was great seeing so many of you, learning so much and having fun.

I was fortunate to be able to present a well-attended workshop for gardeners on the topic of soil improvement and carbon sequestration. Folks were really enthusiastic about the topic, and many plan on implementing some of these techniques in their own gardens.

Oats, field peas & buckwheat cover crop

Oats, field peas & buckwheat cover crop

It’s that time of year when the days are beginning to lengthen and the seed catalogues have started to arrive.  I’m still glad it is winter and I am hoping for more nice deep snow to keep my garden soil protected from the harsh winter temperatures and to inspire me to indulge in more cross-country skiing.  However, when not availing myself of an opportunity for a great aerobic workout, I’m happy to do my indoor gardening!  Time to dream and plan, while curled up next to the wood stove, with a cup of tea and the seed catalogues. 

cider pressing

Some of the pressing gang

Transitions and gratitude have been on my mind a lot lately while watching the change of seasons and the concurrent changes around the homestead, especially in the garden.

Many of the garden beds are still green with cover crops though the recent temperatures in the teens and 20s have begun to weaken them. Soon they will be dead and will have turned into a deep layer of mulch on their respective beds. I watch this transition with gratitude. I planted the seeds in August; the mixed cocktail of oats, field peas, field radish, barley, sorghum, and buckwheat grew and photosynthesized, vibrantly feeding the soil life, sequestering carbon, preventing erosion while retaining soil moisture, preventing weeds and providing habitat for pollinators. The transition will continue through winter and early spring. The dead plants, both tops and roots, will protect the soil throughout the winter, slowly decaying and becoming soil.

With apples producing on an every other year cycle this year will have a lot of apple processing!

With apples producing on an every other year cycle this year will have a lot of apple processing!

While I write this article, I’m sitting outside in the sun between our house and the garden looking at the incredible beauty surrounding me.  Mid-October and we still haven’t had a killing frost in the garden, though there was a light one in the pasture two nights ago.  The tomatoes are dead, as we were hit by late blight.  The cucumbers and squashes, both summer and winter are spent and ready for the compost pile, but everything else is still green and vibrant.   Especially the cover crops planted in August.

I’ve been busy preserving the harvest: canning, freezing, fermenting, dehydrating and storing in our root cellar.  Actually the root cellar is an old refrigerator we use until we redesign and build a new cold storage space.  Our previous one became nonfunctional after an addition to the house raised the basement temperature.  I’m looking into coolbot technology  (A gizmo that allows an air conditioner to cool a space down into the 30’s).  Maybe that will be my winter project. 

Mixed flock on pasture

We are away from the homestead, right now, doing some repairs on the house where Pru grew up on the Cape.  It’s much harder to think of a topic when I can’t be inspired by looking around the homestead!  But you can never really leave the homestead at home, and in a way our chickens followed us here…

The day after arriving here, we got a call from our friend Lilly who is taking care of the place while we are away.  Somehow some kind of critter breached our high-security system and got into the pasture.  One hen was killed but not eaten and another one was badly injured.  All were freaked out and flighty. Lilly collected them from their hiding places and locked them in the coop, buried the dead one and placed the injured one in the house in a cozy box.

1) Young cover crop planted on 18” space at end of onion bed

It’s been a great growing year, so far, and we’ve had an abundant harvest of delicious vegetables. The apple and pear trees are loaded with fruit soon to be enjoyed. Every year our soil becomes richer and healthier, yielding more nutritious and delicious food while removing CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering carbon in our soil. This is a continuous cycle of life creating and sustaining life.

I’ve been preparing a presentation about this biological growing technique (No-till and Cover Crops for us gardeners) for both a NOFA/Mass webinar and a workshop at the Summer Conference. If you are interested and missed these talks, you can view the YouTube video of the whole talk.

Today is the first really warm sunny day we’ve had in weeks. Walking through the garden and orchard I am grateful to hear the buzz of many flying creatures, and no I do NOT mean the black flies, though they too have their role in nature. However, I’m thinking of the many tiny native pollinators who are going about their business of living. And in doing so, they are also helping to make my life more abundant. There are over 4,000 native pollinators in North America and approximately 4,00 here in the Northeast. They are amazing creatures ranging in size from very tiny insects up to butterflies. Of course, hummingbirds, bats, birds and even mammals can also act as pollinators, but I’m focusing on our smaller, winged friends: bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, beetles, and flies.

On Earth Day 11 homes throughout the state hosted more than 170 folks – gathered at homesteads, farms, and gardens to share food and conversation. The purpose of the NOFA/Mass sponsored event was to promote connection around a vision of organic food, community, soil and land health, ecosystem vitality, and building a restorative future.

At 91, Mrs. Anderson still sells her garlic at the Farmers' Market behind Thornes in Northampton. She is also a part of a group of gleaners who clean up farm fields in the Amherst area, ensuring that good food does not go to waste. She cooked up fine Tennessee ribs to bring to the NOFA/Mass Earth Day potluck in Hatfield, held on April 22. When at the table, she struck up a conversation about soil, about the difficulty of assessing one's farm as a whole when there are so many variations from spot to spot and, of course, variations in what each crop needs.

(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.


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