A Look At Last Summer

I’ve been spend­ing some time recently look­ing back at pic­tures and video I shot last year.  It’s amaz­ing how much the farm has changed in such short time.  It’s also remark­able how much fur­ther along we are this year than we were at the same time last year.  For exam­ple, last year at this time we had JUST started form­ing the rows of our main garden.

 

I also came across some video I shot one morn­ing last August with my sister’s Canon 60D.  It’s excit­ing to think that the gar­den will soon look like it does in this video.

 

Some Pictures of Spring!

Tom Erick­son mod­el­ing our new bee suit with accessories
our geor­gian fire gar­lic start­ing to sprout 
the ducks enjoy­ing fresh green grass
the good news: our ducks have start­ing lay­ing eggs
the bad news: they’ve been lay­ing them in the pond
prepar­ing beds to plant sugar snap and snow peas 
fenc­ing in a wood­land pas­ture in antic­i­pa­tion of our new breed sow com­ing home!
fix­ing up the garage
orga­niz­ing the garage (very VERY excit­ing)! There’s noth­ing like spring cleaning…
Egg­plant and tomato seedlings enjoy­ing the indoor light table

February 22nd

Black Brook Farm Grow­ers 2012 CSA has been filled! We’re all get­ting really excited for this year, and we’ve all got a lot to do to get ready. Our seeds have all arrived and we’re going to start plant­ing this week. My mom has been bravely tack­ling a fresh set of spread­sheets (in order to set up our plant­ing and har­vest­ing sched­ules), Dave and I are work­ing on a new web­site that we’re hop­ing launch­ing this year and we’re talk­ing about clean­ing out a sec­tion of the barn for our new CSA pick up spot. 

The sheep are all doing well and are (hope­fully) preg­nant. We started trim­ming their feet this week, which requires catch­ing them and flip­ping them, not the eas­i­est feat, espe­cially when they’re as large as this one:
Lau­rel: the sweet­est sheep in the world
Carlisle Grows Green the new Carlisle School gar­den­ing and com­post­ing pro­gram has been nice enough to give us their com­post. Yes­ter­day Dave and I shov­eled it into the hoop house, where the warmth will hope­fully speed up it’s progress.
That’s all for now! Pic­tures of our first lit­tle seedlings com­ing soon
…and just for fun. Last Feb­ru­ary 22nd:

The Month of October (in brief) So Far

Well the leaves are finally turn­ing col­ors, even though the tem­per­a­ture is stay­ing warm. Mean­while, the gar­den con­tin­ues to pro­duce a impres­sive amount. Our toma­toes, sum­mer squash and cucum­bers may have long since been com­posted, but egg­plants and pep­pers are still going strong and we have more than enough beets, car­rots and turnips to go around. The last Carlisle Sum­mer Farmer’s Mar­ket is tomor­row, and Mom and I have been har­vest­ing all day.

Brus­sel sprouts, leeks, car­rots and beets

We also have tons of greens that are enjoy­ing to cooler weather: let­tuce, pak choy, kale, swiss chard, cab­bage, col­lard greens, arugula, the list goes on. In order to extend our greens sea­son, we bought a Quick Hoop High Tun­nel Ben­derfrom Johnny’s Selected Seeds web­site and erected a very rudi­men­tary hoop house.

Dave bolt­ing two bent pipes together
The first hoop

Basi­cally, the hoop house is just fence rails bent to the same curve and then bolted together to form a half cir­cle. They are then inserted into shorter, wider sec­tions of pipe that are ham­mered into the ground. One last rail along the top of the hoops pro­vides stability.

Next week we are plan­ning on installing the plas­tic over the top, which will then be lashed to the frame with para­chute cord. With this added cover, we are hop­ing to keep grow­ing greens well into the winter.

All the win­ter squash has been har­vested from the sec­ond field and put them into the green­house to dry and cure. Now that the sec­ond field has been com­pletely har­vested, we’re get­ting ready to till it next week. We’re plan­ning on expand­ing it out towards the pig a bit to give our­selves a bit more room for next year.
We went up to the Com­mon Ground Fair  in Unity, Maine a cou­ple weeks ago (a really good time for any­one inter­ested in local food, rural liv­ing and/or home­steading). The fair, aside from hav­ing craft and food tents as far as the eye can see, also includes a lot of work­shops. We took the oppor­tu­nity to learn a lit­tle bit more about sheep care and lamb­ing, and I bought a drop spin­dle so I could start prac­tic­ing spin­ning wool. It’s not easy.
Our five ewes are set­tling in nicely. In prepa­ra­tion for the ram that’s com­ing in the end of Novem­ber, we have plans to fence in the front pas­ture — and are in the midst of try­ing to find the cheap­est, eas­i­est and most effec­tive way to accom­plish this goal. We were cau­tioned not to try to keep a ram behind flimsy, tem­po­rary elec­tric fence, and any­way we need to cre­ate a per­ma­nent pas­ture for our preg­nant ewes to live in all win­ter (since the portable elec­tric fence is also too flimsy to stand up to snow).
The front pasture

Look for­ward to the thrilling con­clu­sion to this fenc­ing story in a cou­ple of weeks…

As well as an update on our pigs…
And my thoughts on how won­der­ful CSAs are…
All com­ing soon.
But until then…
Happy Fall!

After the Hurricane

Hur­ri­cane Irene didn’t hit us too hard, but she still man­aged to do some damage.

The morn­ing after
Top­pled Corn — I just staked these up and they were good as new.
Tomato Trel­lises
We woke up yes­ter­day morn­ing dread­ing the task of rebuild­ing our tomato trel­lises (I think we’re going to go about sup­port­ing our toma­toes a lit­tle dif­fer­ently next year, but that’s a topic for another blog post). I envi­sioned spend­ing the entire day cut­ting strings, dis­man­tling bro­ken pieces of wood and rip­ping out dead tomato plants. How­ever, per­haps because our trel­lises are so delight­fully wimpy, they all just fell over instead of break­ing, and so did the tomato plants. All we had to do was stand them up and bang in metal U-posts to sup­port the uprights. We were also lucky enough to have TONS of help. My dad was there, my friend Geeta (who’s been help­ing us out a cou­ple days a week) showed up with her boyfriend, Sam, our other ded­i­cated vol­un­teer, Fan, also arrived to help, and my cousin Blake was in town. With so many hands, the tomato trel­lises were raised in no time, and by 10 AM we were look­ing around for things to do!
Blake and Sam bang­ing in some U-posts
An Old-Fashioned Trel­lis Raising
Wait­ing for U-Posts (and eat­ing sun­gold tomatoes)

 

Chicken Processing Day Meets Hurricane Irene

The last two days have been pretty excit­ing. Yes­ter­day we processed our 75 meat chick­ens, which would have been a daunt­ing enough job with­out the threat of Irene bar­ing down on us.

Fri­day, Mom and I har­vested as many toma­toes from the gar­den as we could in antic­i­pa­tion of the storm and sorted them out to store in the garage. We also rushed to stake down and secure the gar­den. Mean­while, Dave set up every­thing nec­es­sary for pro­cess­ing day. Our last pro­cess­ing day went pretty well (see here for details), but it took about 16 hours and there were clearly improve­ments to be made. Also, this time we were pro­cess­ing 75 birds instead of 36. We wanted to make sure that we were com­pletely pre­pared for so many birds and so we made sure that every­thing was in order before we went to sleep Fri­day night. Very thank­fully, our bravest friend Marka Kiley came out of Boston to help us for the week­end. Sat­ur­day, we all woke up extra early and Dave and I went out in the dark to catch the chick­ens. We got off to a good start, started the pro­cess­ing at about 6:30 AM and were done by 1 PM. Thanks to Marka’s help, as well as sev­eral oth­ers, we were able to qual­ity con­trol and pack­age the birds as we went, so the sec­ond half of the day went quickly and we were com­pletely cleaned up by 5. Mother nature helped us clean by pro­vid­ing some drench­ing after­noon rains. It was a long day, but sat­is­fy­ing. Pro­cess­ing chick­ens is never fun, but we did the best job we could. We made sure that the chick­ens went to their deaths with min­i­mum dis­com­fort and that their meat was treated with the respect it deserves. All of Dave’s work plan­ning and prepar­ing really paid off.

Mean­while, Dave’s mom Tammy had four pots of our toma­toes bub­bling on the stove all day and into the night, work­ing hard to can, freeze and oth­er­wise pre­serve as much of our crop as pos­si­ble. Between her hard work, and my mom’s efforts to secure us some big restau­rant sales, it looks like none of our toma­toes are going to go to waste.

This morn­ing we got 4 inches of rain, but luck­ily, the hur­ri­cane was tamer than we had feared it would be and, other than a few blown down tomato trel­lises and (pos­si­bly) the loss of our corn crop, it looks like the gar­den is going to be okay. The chick­ens are safely in the refrig­er­a­tor and freezer (we didn’t even lose power!) and we can relax — and blog.

Our tomato bounty and Mom’s new vespa
Sort­ing cherry tomatoes
Before (tune in tomor­row for After pics)
Artsy Pic: to remem­ber them by in case they were all blown over
CHICKEN PROCESSING PICTURES (you’ve been warned…)
Kill Cones
Scalder
Plucker
Our bravest friend Marka
Lynda, another brave friend
Hur­ri­cane Irene

Hasso Explains Eco-ganic vs. Organic and More!

Hasso Ewing (lead grower at BBFg):

It is hard to believe it’s the mid­dle of August and this is the first time I have con­tributed to
this blog! The gar­den is at it peak, the pigs are joy­fully chomp­ing on a new field of Sudan
grass, chick­ens are fat­ten­ing up, while oth­ers con­tinue to lay faith­fully. The mid­dle of the
sum­mer, the point at which we are draw­ing the most from the earth by grow­ing plants
and animals.

This piece of land we have come to farm has been very pro­duc­tive. Partly
because it abuts a wet meadow and because it’s aspect is south­east. It hadn’t been
farmed for more than 20 years and even then it was likely just ani­mals, not veg­eta­bles.
It’s deep and organic in nature, lots of decom­pos­ing plant mate­r­ial, as opposed to
min­eral (rocky or sandy) soils. It holds water like a sponge , con­se­quently we haven’t
had to rely on irri­ga­tion, thus far.

Our prox­im­ity to the wet­land brings in insects, drag­on­flies and but­ter­flies. Our
tomato trel­lis may not have been strong enough to han­dle the weight of the many large
fruits, but the trel­lis did sup­port the land­ing site for many fledg­ling barn swal­low clutches
out on their first flight. Blue­birds, too, used the wooden posts to hunt for early spring
bugs.

The elec­tric fence that sur­rounds both the veg­etable patches, the pigs and the meat
chick­ens pro­tects our charges from ani­mals that would also like a local source of fresh
organ­i­cally grown food. Dave did his home­work on the best fence plan for our site. Our
fences aren’t high (2 ½’) but they were baited with peanut but­ter. Appar­ently, most
ani­mals like peanut but­ter and will go for the PB before they jump in for the ani­mals or
vege. But when they lick the PB on the foil, hang­ing over the elec­tric fence, they get a
shock­ing response! Hap­pens once, they don’t come near again and what’s more, they
tell their fam­ily and friends. So, we have been lucky, again… thus far.

We have exper­i­mented with walk­way man­age­ment to lessen weed pres­sure and
increase soil fer­til­ity. Some rows are card­board from the bike shop (nice big pieces) with
old hay from Con­cord DWP projects on top. We planted white clover in oth­ers and then
mowed when weeds were top­ping the clover. That gives clover the advan­tage and it
takes over. We brought in com­post for seed­ing and trans­plant­ing in the rows from a local
farm and amend­ments (rock dust, myc­or­rhizal organ­isms and sea­weed mixes) from
away. We decided to use some plas­tic as mulch in the rows, as much as I hated to. The
area clos­est to the wet­land would have been weed hell if it were not for black plas­tic
mulch. That’s under the toma­toes, egg­plants, pep­pers and squash. They love the extra
heat and mois­ture reten­tion plas­tic offers. We also use row cover, which is spun plas­tic.
That pro­tects our plants from pests with­out using pesticides.

We are grow­ing our plants and ani­mals organ­i­cally and, if we choose, could get
organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pretty quickly, I imag­ine. Gen­er­ally, you have to tran­si­tion over a
period of 3 years to organic because the land has to be cleansed. But since this land
hasn’t been farmed for so long we could prove it’s clean enough.

Organic, nat­ural, and eco-ganic would describe our farm. Organic, because we
don’t use any chem­i­cally (man-made) fer­til­iz­ers, her­bi­cides or pes­ti­cides and we fol­low
national organic stan­dards, but are not ‘cer­ti­fied organic’.

There is ‘cer­ti­fied nat­ural’ being used now in the US. It has been around for a
while in other coun­tries but now some Amer­i­can farm­ers are using nat­ural cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in
response to organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. Organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion poli­cies are very dif­fi­cult for the

small farm to adhere to. They are lengthy, expen­sive and the record keep­ing
require­ments are over the top. Nat­ural cer­ti­fi­ca­tion has a $75 annual fee, has far less
unnec­es­sary report­ing and uses peer review to over­see stan­dards. This review process
is a nice aspect because it is bring­ing local farm­ers together.

Then there is eco-ganic. Eco-ganic is defined by Potomac Veg­etable Farm as a
process by which a farm main­tains rich organic soils, full of ben­e­fi­cial microbes, to
pro­vide the crops with suf­fi­cient nutri­ents and a healthy envi­ron­ment. The farm can’t use
any syn­thetic fer­til­iz­ers or pes­ti­cides, they rotate crops, grow many dif­fer­ent kinds of
crops, and use timely and appro­pri­ate prac­tices to try to min­i­mize insect and dis­ease
dam­age. The idea is to man­age the soil and cul­ti­vate the crops in ways that will allow
the land to con­tinue to be pro­duc­tive now and into the future. I actu­ally like this label the
best. It’s about the mind blow­ing inter­ac­tion of so many parts (soils, insects and ani­mals,
water, sun) com­ing together and under­tak­ing a amaz­ing cycle of growth, death,
decom­po­si­tion and regrowth and, we as par­tic­i­pants, help per­pet­u­ate that cycle into the
future.

All three of us (Gal­lagher, Dave and myself) have been com­mit­ted to main­tain­ing
the health­i­est envi­ron­ment for our prod­ucts, whether they be plant or ani­mal. We want to
eat respon­si­bly grown food, food that is high in nutri­ents and free of dam­ag­ing
chem­i­cals. Black Brook Farm Grow­ers may not have the organic stamp of approval from
big busi­ness, but we are bring­ing to mar­ket prod­ucts that are as good or bet­ter for our
cus­tomers than what they buy from most other cur­rently avail­able food sources.

Now, in the full belly of August, we change much of our focus from plant­ing to
har­vest­ing and stor­ing. Growth has peaked and days shorten. We will har­vest the food
from our plants and ani­mals and return to the earth that which we don’t use., help­ing to
replen­ish what we have taken.

And, if time allows (I am on vaca­tion today), I will write again about our adven­ture
into farm­ing on a small scale bio­di­verse farm in New England

The Second Field and Natural Roots Farm

The sec­ond field is look­ing GREAT! If you look closely you can see the pole beans climb­ing right up the corn stalks, and the squash is doing a great job of keep­ing weeds down. We’ve done very lit­tle to this field since plant­ing it, the idea was to keep it low main­te­nance so we could focus on our more finicky veg­eta­bles in the first field, and I’m happy to say so far it looks like the plan is working. 

Beans crawl­ing up corn stalks
Sun­flow­ers in the foreground
Win­ter squash keep­ing down the weeds. We planted pump­kins, del­i­cata squash, acorn squash and but­ter­nut squash.
We went to the NOFA (North­east­ern Organic Farm­ing Asso­ci­a­tion) Con­fer­ence last week­end at UMass Amherst. It was really fun and inspir­ing. I went to some work­shops on grow­ing mush­rooms and farm finan­cial man­age­ment (thrilling), Dave learned about ani­mal pow­ered log­ging and forestry and build­ing root cel­lars and we all got to visit a cou­ple of larger organic farms.
Our favorite was Nat­ural Roots Farm in Con­way, MA. They are totally horse-powered, which is great for envi­ron­men­tal (grass as fuel) and aes­thetic rea­sons (no trac­tor smells and sounds). We were also impressed by their inten­sive weed con­trol pro­gram. It was by far the most weed-free farm we’ve seen so far.
Look how clean!

First CSA Pick-Up and Some Summertime Thoughts

It’s August! 

These last cou­ple of weeks have been so fun! Watch­ing the plants we’ve been labor­ing over since early Spring finally begin to ripen into beau­ti­ful red toma­toes, yel­low pep­pers and pur­ple egg­plants, or curl up into lit­tle cab­bage heads, or lengthen into zuc­chi­nis, has been incred­i­bly satisfying. 

Our first CSA pick-up is tomor­row. Yes­ter­day we cleaned up our work area to cre­ate a nice space for our mem­bers to come get their shares and today we will begin to col­lect veg­eta­bles. And we have much to offer!
The farm share this week will have:

      Mixed let­tuce greens
      Egg­plant (large share only)
      Red and White Russ­ian Kale
      Cherry toma­toes
      Baby sum­mer squash
      Fresh basil
      Super red cab­bage

Inside a sun­burst patty pan squash plant
Sun­gold cherry tomatoes 
Our basil patch

With August has also arrived a host of new con­sid­er­a­tions and prob­lems to solve. These last cou­ple of weeks I have started seed­ing the fall crops: stor­age cab­bages, hearty win­ter­bor kale, onions, lots of beets, asian greens and let­tuces. Despite our irri­ga­tion sys­tem, we were hav­ing a hard time get­ting enough water on our seeds in the field, so I seeded a lot of our new crops in flats. Soon we’ll have a bunch of trans­plant­ing to do. 


Our let­tuces have been bolt­ing quickly in the heat, and some of the heads have become so bit­ter I’ve had a hard time even get­ting the chick­ens to eat them! It’s mad­den­ing to see crops get wasted in the field due to poor plan­ning and tim­ing. Next year, I have vowed to been more dili­gent about plant­ing suc­ces­sion crops con­sis­tently, and in smaller batches. I’m pretty sure a lot of my Feb­ru­ary and March 2012 will be spent design­ing spreadsheets. 

Our per­sonal lists of equip­ment we want for next sea­son grow steadily longer, and a seeder is def­i­nitely at the top of mine. There’s a lot to be said for doing things by hand, expe­ri­ences like kneel­ing among the beds plac­ing beet seeds one by one in rows has forced me to really under­stand and appre­ci­ate every part of the grow­ing process. I can, for exam­ple, imme­di­ately iden­tify a beet seed vs a kale seed vs a let­tuce seed (frus­trat­ingly tiny!). At the same time, if small scale organic gar­den­ers had any time to write songs, I’m pretty sure most of them would be odes to well designed tools. 

We also are think­ing about con­struct­ing a hoop house this fall, to help us extend our sea­son and give us more space to start seedlings. This deci­sion in turn begets new deci­sions: How should we build it? Where should we build it? How big should it be? Where to get the money? We’ve been con­sid­er­ing dif­fer­ent grant and fund-raising options but each comes with it’s own set of prob­lems (and paperwork). 

Our egg pro­duc­tion has slowly been dwin­dling, as many of our layer hens grow too old to pro­duce con­sis­tently. Tomor­row morn­ing we are plan­ning on culling our flock, aka killing the hens that are no longer pro­duc­ing enough to jus­tify feed­ing them. Instead, they will feed us now (every­thing feeds some­thing around here). As our old flock decreases, how­ever, our thoughts turn to next year. Lay­ing hens can take between 4 to 6 months to start pro­duc­ing eggs, and we want to make sure that we have lots of eggs for the begin­ning of next sea­son in order to sup­ply the increas­ing demand. We need to fig­ure out how many we should get, and where we are going to raise them and keep them over the win­ter. The hoop house would also be a good place to keep chick­ens after it gets to cold out­side to house them in tractors. 

So as our hands do Summer’s work, thin­ning, seed­ing, weed­ing and har­vest­ing, our minds are two or three or five months in the future, build­ing hoop houses and design­ing suc­ces­sion plant­ing spreadsheets.

Pop­ping a warm just-picked sun­gold cherry tomato into my mouth, how­ever, there’s no deny­ing it’s def­i­nitely August. And we’re doing our best to enjoy every minute of it.

Black Brook Farm Grow­ers lunch

New Roadside Stand

Well, it’s hap­pened, we finally have more pro­duce than we know what to do with.

The Carlisle farmer’s mar­ket has been really fun, and it’s been great talk­ing to other ven­dors and cus­tomers, but we real­ized pretty quickly that we had more sup­ply than the market’s demand. It’s been an inter­est­ing change to go from focus­ing on grow­ing to focus­ing on sell­ing. I imag­ine it feels about the same as get­ting to the end of the swim­ming por­tion of a triathlon and real­iz­ing it’s time to get on your bike (to com­plete the anal­ogy, let’s say the plan­ning last win­ter was the road race, or maybe that’ll be can­ning this fall). While it’s been stress­ful try­ing to off-load let­tuce before it bolts (goes to flower and gets bit­ter) it’s kind of worth it to see a prod­uct all the way from seed to shop­ping bag. We’ve also been sell­ing some pro­duce to Savory Lane in Acton, where I work as the Sun­day brunch chef, so in that case I’ve seen my beet greens go from seed all the way to someone’s mouth.
In addi­tion, we’ve also started a small self-serve road­side stand this week. It’s been fairly suc­cess­ful so far, and we’re hop­ing once peo­ple start to remem­ber our sign…
…and know that we’re here, they’ll start com­ing more reg­u­larly. We’re able to put out a pretty good selec­tion these days.
Kale, beets, let­tuce and eggs in the coolers
Sun­burst squash: beautiful.

 

Posies
We’ve also con­tin­ued to sell to 80 Thoreau Restau­rant in Con­cord, and we’re going to start a small CSA. This year we can prob­a­bly only com­mit to four or five peo­ple, but we’re hop­ing that next year we sell a lot of our pro­duce this way. It’s a pretty nice model for a small farm.
Mean­while, our gar­den is get­ting pretty lush.
Our cherry tomato plants are on the verge of exploding…
First signs of color!
We’ve also been deal­ing with our fair share of pests. Our cab­bages and brus­sel sprouts got attacked by cab­bage worms last week, and we spent a morn­ing pick­ing them off before blan­ket­ing the plants in row cover, and today Mom and I found about 15 of these HUGE horned worms on our tomato plants! The chick­ens loved them.
That’s one of the nice things about work­ing on a farm, you hardly ever throw any­thing away.
It’s pretty scary to see how fast one of these can devour a tomato leaf.
But over­all things are look­ing good. It’s been a hot and dry cou­ple of weeks, but luck­ily our soil seems to hold a lot of water, and with some irri­ga­tion and a lot of mulching we’ve been able to keep the plants happy.
Leeks
Cab­bages, uncov­ered. In order to keep weeds down, we’ve seeded a lot of our walk­ways in clover.
Sum­mer squash, covered.
The Mighty Aubergine
Cool heir­loom eggplants.
In case you’ve ever won­dered what egg­plant plants look like.
Hun­gar­ian black peppers