Monthly archives "June 2014"

Rain, rain, and more rain!

As far as we can tell from our own experience, the interwebs, and from fellow farmer’s comments, this has been one of the wettest springs ever. Apparently we have already gotten over 80% of the precipitation that we get all summer! It has given us lots of indoor time to consider the strategies we need to put into place on our farm if we are going to continue to grow and manage annual and perennial crops and keep our animals dry and happy – not to mention keeping ourselves dry and happy!


Firstly we have to consider the flow of water on our property – topographical maps help our design process a lot, but living here for years and watching the flow is invaluable. This year we installed a berm and swale on our keyline and planted nut and fruit trees on the lower side to be irrigated by the swale. This keyline will provide a framework for a rotational grazing pattern that we will use for our poultry and cattle.


Then we have to consider the flows of water in our Zone 1 & 2, around our hoophouse and buildings that we have created to shelter our animals, hay, and tools. This has proven to be a bit more complicated, because of the energetic flow patterns of our movements in and around Zone 1 & 2 change as we evolve our businesses and activities. In this case, we are beginning to use swales to divert water from roads and away from buildings in a complicated water tango. We use the French Drain concepts in diversion ditches that mirror our movement patterns – this will be a work in progress for some time.


Now we come to managing our vegetable production systems. We have been growing in three main areas: the hoophouse, the main garden, and the field garden. The field garden was our first garden and it is in Zone 3, and it has better drainage and lower fertility. The main garden has average fertility and bad drainage. The hoophouse has average drainage and great fertility. Tillage with machines in this kind of wet spring is just a hassle at best, at worst it is impossible. Machines break down and compact the soil, and yet we rely on them because the keep our backs from breaking and speed up processes that we need to get done in a hurry as farmers.


As much as we love to tinker and fix things, our priority is biological abundance here, and so we have come to a couple conclusions. The main garden will stay in operation and we will continue to use it and build fertility there, but instead of an endless tillage barrage we will use mainly paper weed barriers and hay mulch to continuously create soil without mechanical disturbance. This garden is small enough to allow this to be doable – even if we have to spend money on paper or hay products, we should still come out even with machine costs each year. There is a lot more labor involved in this strategy, but it is an activity we can do in almost any weather at any time, without waiting for the soil to dry up. We will be continuously adding organic matter to the soil which will help the overall tilth. We will also use annual smaller hoophouses that we take down in the winter on this garden to protect our tender annual crops from the ravages of insects and browsing animals. These hoophouses will also shelter our young poultry, who will fertilize our garden in situ. We will also continue to use the big hoophouse intensively to grow heat loving crops. The old field garden will be allowed to go fallow next year and we will continue to graze our poultry in that area until the fertility has been built up to a better level, and then we may plant annual crops there again – but not before then.


These are some of the main insights that we’ve had with these past few incredibly wet springs. Evolving our strategies is part of being a permaculture farm – we are always observing and trying to create better systems that provide an abundance of ecological functions and beauty – and at the end of the day we want to connect with nature and eat good food.

summer solstice!

P1100666Goslings #9 and #10 joined the farm this morning! While the goose breeding project has not gone as well as we’d hoped, we are so happy to welcome these precious babies to the farm! Here’s a video of their adorably chatty siblings out in their garden playpen:

More of our favorite babies- Napa cabbage for fall harvest!P1100676

Tomatoes and basil in the hoophouse, growing gangbusters! These huge tomato plants are saved from a volunteer we found growing in the garden our second year with HUGE, juicy, sweet orange tomatoes. We call her “Goldie Volunteer.”P1100677

Eggplant and basil in front of a row of tomatoes along the edge of the hoophouse. It’s steamy in there! We’re looking at a great eggplant crop coming soon!P1100678

Where the pigs lived over winter in the hoophouse, we now have planted in more tomatoes, as well as winter squash, tomatillos, eggplant and peppers. Soon to be an absolute jungle. Hoophouses are proving to be a necessity for growing bountiful annual vegetables in this unpredictable and short season climate, something we will be focusing on more and more in the future.P1100683

Our earliest spring garden beds- Kale and broccoli, parsley and spinach.P1100686

Bath time! These are our young lady ducks who will begin laying eggs this fall.P1100687

Tomato row in the garden, interplanted with basil and canteloupes, and brussel sprouts in the front. Trellising is going up shortly, but in this fickle climate, tomatoes grow much better in the hoophouse. We just had extra plants that had to find a place to go!P1100690

Kale interplanted with cukes, buttercrunch lettuce and early cabbages.P1100695 P1100696

Zucchini row, need to mulch the paths obviously!P1100671

The fall planties- napa cabbage, fennel bulbs, broccoli, cauliflower, collards.P1100702

The first zucchinis -will they plump up enough for the next CSA deliveries?P1100703P1100704

Green bean rows, with the gosling playpen. You can see where it was, we mulch behind, to capture all the fertility the goslings leave behind, adding as much organic matter to the garden as possible for next year.


Calves on grass

Our three dairy calves are doing great, Osso, Bucco, and Cutlet – They are a little over a month old now, and we are weaning them off the milk replacer we had to purchase to keep them alive and healthy. At this point, we are milking our one remaining goat, May, to get a gallon of fresh goatmilk to supplement the replacer, and they are loving it! We also have them on some calf starter feed that we purchased at our local feed mill, which looks like some kind of snack mix. After some discussion, we decided it was time to get them on some grass!


We bought a few rebar posts and some insulators, and used the aluminum wire we had leftover that we had for the pig paddock, and made a small paddock, about 20 ft by 20 feet. We put pieces of aluminum tape on the wire so that the calves would be sure to see the wire. We had been training them to a simple twine halter and they have been getting the hang of walking alongside us, although if they don’t want to walk somewhere they resist like a mule! We walked them over to the new paddock and put them in it, and they didn’t really know what to make of it all.P1100611

After a while they ventured to eat a few blades of grass, and like all animals do, walked toward the boundary – which in this case was going to be a shock. The grass was not greener on the other side, but they didn’t know that yet…


After a few quick shocks to the nose and the haunches they quickly learned to stay away from that terrible wire. Then they just settled into grazing peacefully and enjoying the spring sunshine and breeze. We also got zapped a few times in a bit of absent mindedness, so we learned our own lessons!



Overall we love raising these calves and look forward to working with cows in general on the farm- they are very peaceful to have around and so far they are a lot less of a handful then pigs.



It’s A Jungle Out There!

June brings so much life to the farm – Every plant is leafing out and every animal is out on pasture – Babies are being raised, seedlings are being planted, everything is in motion for our short growing season!


The apple trees are in bloom and there is a heavenly scent in the air!


All the seedlings we carefully grow in the house and hoophouse all go into our gardens right about now, in between thunderstorms and cultivating the fields.


The ducks are loving all this green grass and splashing around in small ponds as they enjoy all the different spring weather.


Transplants soak up the rain and grow fast in the sun as we fill every bed we make quickly.


The pigs enjoy muddy wallows on warm spring days.