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Landcare

Dairy cows have been dubbed “the heart of the homestead” throughout American history because of their high productivity and ability to provide sustenance for so many other beings on a small farm.  On a diet of grass, hay and perhaps some supplemental grain, a dairy cow can produce enough milk to feed her calf and a small human family, with enough left over to share with pigs, chickens and other omnivores on the farm.  Her calves can be raised for beef or as future dairy cows, and her manure can be recycled into the landscape as fertilizer.  On some traditional New England farms, the cattle shelter was built under the family home to utilize the heat that the cow produced from ruminating to help heat the house in winter.  With so many benefits in one domestic animal, it’s easy to see how dairy cows have become a beloved staple on so many farms. 

The Robinson family of Hardwick has loved their 270 acres in central Massachusetts since before the turn of the 20th century.  Ray Robinson is the fourth-generation farmer to care for Robinson Farm and make it his own.  From a young boy playing and helping in the fields to taking the reins and steering the farm in new directions, Ray was raised to care for this piece of earth and all its living things

It’s a major transition time here at Wild Browse Farm and we’re feeling both excited and terrified. We have made a commitment to moving and have just finalized a “Purchase & Sale” with a couple of young farmers and their 3 children!  We couldn’t be happier with the future owners, yet we find the transition to be both exhilarating and terrifying, not to mention overwhelming.   Our closing date is May first. Which, when we let ourselves think about it, is just around the corner and alarmingly soon, with so much, much, much, to do in between.  

We’ve cared for this special land since 1980. Between 1980 and ‘88 we cleared land, built soil, planted orchards, vegetable gardens and many permaculture crops, and finally building and moving out of our little camper/cabin and into our “real” house. You can imagine what our next move will entail.  Not only 40 years of our accumulated personal possessions, but also tools, equipment, homesteading essentials, materials and supplies and of course all sorts of other bits & bobs. Everything needs to be sorted, recycled, composted, discarded or moved. 

Why Do We Graze?

Humans literally evolved to follow other animals around and participate in their environmental systems. There is no wonder we have devoted a huge portion of our society to domesticating animals; we are holding on to the partnership that has historically provided sustenance.  Unfortunately, we are currently working in a system that displaces the true meaning of our relationship with livestock by reducing it to an economic transaction. 

Many livestock farmers know-- and the research is increasingly backing them up-- that animals thrive when they have access to quality pasture and are managed in a manner that stimulates their natural behaviors. Moved regularly through diverse pastures, livestock can transform the landscape.

For me, the arrival of the NOFA bulk order is, like the arrival of the seed catalogs, a harbinger of spring, and an opportunity to stock up on things I know I will use all season long. The bulk order also appeals to the Yankee in me, because I know I will get great prices, especially with the member discount, and loading up my pick-up with a season’s worth of soil amendments feels like thrift rewarded. There are hundreds of items to choose from, for the back yard or the back 40. Here are some favorites of NOFA farmers this year:

Butterflies enjoying native flowers Photo credit: Caro Roszell

Communities across Massachusetts are standing up and taking action against toxic biocides and the dangers they pose to all living things-- from the smallest insect to those of us at the top of the food chain. Local leaders and concerned citizens are mounting a defense of the vulnerable members of our ecosystems, from the Statehouse to the schoolyard. 

With a raft of bills on pesticide reduction and pollinator protection before the state legislature (Pollinator Protection Act (Neonic Restrictions), Neonic Ban, Local Option on Pesticides, Protect Schoolchildren from Pesticides, Restrict Glyphosate use on Public Lands, Glyphosate Ban, Protect Groundwater from Pesticides) and with 29 Massachusetts communities that have already established some level of municipal action on pesticide reduction/pollinator protection, there is no better time to join the movement to protect our ecosystems and our health!

A farm worker sprays a foliar application on a freshly hoed bed

A farm worker sprays a foliar application on a freshly hoed bed

No matter how early I think about adding fall amendments, this job always falls to the bottom of the to-do list below some bigger priorities. Harvesting crops remaining in the field prior to frost, bagging up all the row covers, and removing all the poles and trellises, for example, all take precedence over the spreading of fall amendments.

Fortunately, this year I sent my soil test into Logan Labs in October, so after receiving the results, all I had to do was calculate the amendments I needed to order, order them, pick them up, and broadcast them on the fields.  If you have a Logan Labs soil test result, NOFA/Mass will analyze it and give you soil recommendations. You can see the details of that program here or check out this article to calculate your own amendment needs.  You can order a variety of soil amendments through the annual NOFA Bulk Order.

 

 

weed large garden bed

Soil test results are the key to planning your soil fertility program. Adding the right amendments in the right amount can dramatically improve your plants’ health and your garden’s productivity. But once you have your test results, it can sometimes feel daunting to figure out how much of a particular amendment you need to add to get to your goal--and I say that as a former math and chemistry teacher!

In this article, I will try to greatly simplify that process with a few conversion factors and formulas. With these, you should be able to use your results to easily figure out what you need to order—from the NOFA bulk order or elsewhere—and apply your findings to fine tune your garden’s fertility.

Manage your landscape organically to have an impact on your wellbeing and our larger environment.

Manage your landscape organically to have an impact on your wellbeing and our larger environment. 

Accreditation Course in Organic Landcare, Amherst, MA, January 6-9, 2020

As we go about our daily lives, we might not consider the myriad functions of the landscapes we inhabit.  The way that the landscapes that surround us are managed have an impact on our wellbeing and the function of our larger environment. How a landscape is managed impacts our air and water quality, our exposure to systemic toxins, the insect, bird, and other wildlife the landscape supports, the amount of water the landscape absorbs and the amount of carbon that the landscape emits or absorbs and stores, along with many other functions.

Ellena discusses the oats and peas cover crop

While spring planting of cover crops is not an uncommon practice on organic farms and gardens, many farmers and market gardeners are experimenting with extending cover crop overlaps with cash crops through the creative use of easy-to-manage species (field peas, buckwheat and oats, all of which can be ordered through the annual NOFA Bulk Order) and leaving them in the ground until just prior to bed planting, or even allowing them to share bed space with cash crops or new perennial plantings.

Emerging research on soil microbiology and soil carbon sequestration shows that the number of days/year that soil has living roots in the ground with photosynthesis happening (i.e. “days in living cover”), the density of living plant roots, and the diversity of species of plants present are all contributing factors in increasing soil health and building soil organic matter / soil organic carbon.

These insights from the scientific community and healthy soils movement have spurred growers to start experimenting with ways to increase living root density and species diversity on as many beds and fields as possible.  

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.

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