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Homesteading

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.

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.

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