Free Range

Alright, as usual these days I don’t have a lot of time, so I’m going to jump right in…

With the addi­tion of a new back­yard dog fence, we’ve finally been able to let our layer hens really free range. We’ve been putting the dogs away mid after­noon every day and our chick­ens have been wan­der­ing around as they please.
free chicken!
Our dark cor­nish chicks are get­ting really big and are almost ready to go out into the chicken trac­tor. We’ve moved the chicken trac­tor out into the pas­ture with the pigs and Dave’s been mak­ing improve­ments, more on that later.

Mean­while, despite some pretty crazy weather this June — 90 degrees one day and then 50 degrees, cold and rainy for the next five (thanks global warm­ing!) — the gar­den is look­ing good.

Teepees for pole beans, and in the top right hand cor­ner you can see where we’ve cov­ered the kale with row cov­ers — to keep pests away
Despite a rough stretch after trans­plant­ing (you can see that the lower leaves look kind of unhealthy) the new growth on this egg­plant looks great!
baby pak cho
a very happy look­ing tomato plant
…and baby tomatoes!
brus­sel sprouts

There’s so much going on here every­day that I’ve had a hard time keep­ing up. I real­ized that I’d for­got­ten to men­tion that we’ve been sell­ing at the Carlisle farmer’s mar­ket all this month! It’s been a slow start to the sea­son for us, mostly because we were so behind till­ing the field, but we’ve man­aged to have enough greens and eggs to hold our own. This last Sat­ur­day we had sugar snap peas, beets, let­tuce, herbs, flow­ers and strawberry-mulberry and goat-cheese and dill scones.

We’ve also been sell­ing our deli­cious eggs to a restau­rant in town, 80 Thoreau, where they’re fea­tured on their farm salad. See the menu here.
This week­end we’re going to be one of the ven­dors at Old Home Day in Carlisle. In addi­tion to our rapidly grow­ing pro­duce selec­tion and scones, we’re also hope­fully going to be sell­ing some of Dave’s freshly baked bread. Come visit us if you can!
Lovely lit­tle sour­dough loaves being proofed

The Three Sisters

Dave and I finally got around to plant­ing some­thing in the far field today. Even though we wake up at the crack of dawn, it never seems like the days are long enough.

We wanted to try grow­ing a lit­tle bit of corn this year, just to see how it goes. In my per­ma­cul­ture (per­ma­cul­ture: a sys­tem of cul­ti­va­tion intended to main­tain per­ma­nent agri­cul­ture or hor­ti­cul­ture by rely­ing on renew­able resources and a self-sustaining ecosys­tem) book I’ve been read­ing about cre­at­ing poly cul­tures, or in other words, com­pan­ion plant­ing. The idea is that instead of main­tain­ing clas­si­cally straight and monot­o­nous rows of one kind of plant, you mix veg­eta­bles together that are mutu­ally ben­e­fi­cial. One of the most famous guilds (plant com­bi­na­tions) is the Native Amer­i­can “three sis­ters”: corn, beans and squash. The corn cre­ates a trel­lis for the beans, the beans fix nitro­gen in the soil and improve it, and the squash cov­ers the ground and inhibits weeds. Together, these three plants cre­ate a bet­ter prod­uct, using less space and requir­ing less effort.

                                                                                         The Legend:

?nce upon a time very long ago, there were three sis­ters who lived together in a field. These sis­ters were quite dif­fer­ent from one another in their size and also in their way of dress­ing. One of the three was a lit­tle sis­ter, so young that she could only crawl at first, and she was dressed in green. The sec­ond of the three wore a frock of bright yel­low, and she had a way of run­ning off by her­self when the sun shone and the soft wind blew in her face. The third was the eldest sis­ter, stand­ing always very straight and tall above the other sis­ters and try­ing to guard them. She wore a pale green shawl, and she had long, yel­low hair that tossed about her head in the breezes.
There was only one way in which the three sis­ters were alike. They loved one another very dearly, and they were never sep­a­rated. They were sure that they would not be able to live apart.
After awhile a stranger came to the field of the three sis­ters, a lit­tle Indian boy. He was as straight as an arrow and as fear­less as the eagle that cir­cled the sky above his head. He knew the way of talk­ing to the birds and the small broth­ers of the earth, the shrew, the chip­munk, and the young foxes. And the three sis­ters, the one who was just able to crawl, the one in the yel­low frock, and the one with the flow­ing hair, were very much inter­ested in the lit­tle Indian boy. They watched him fit his arrow in his bow, saw him carve a bowl with his stone knife, and won­dered where he went at night.
Late in the sum­mer of the first com­ing of the Indian boy to their field, one of the three sis­ters dis­ap­peared. This was the youngest sis­ter in green, the sis­ter who could only creep. She was scarcely able to stand alone in the field unless she had a stick to which she clung. Her sis­ters mourned for her until the fall, but she did not return.
Once more the Indian boy came to the field of the three sis­ters. He came to gather reeds at the edge of a stream nearby to make arrow shafts. The two sis­ters who were left watched him and gazed with won­der at the prints of his moc­casins in the earth that marked his trail.
That night the sec­ond of the sis­ters left, the one who was dressed in yel­low and who always wanted to run away. She left no mark of her going, but it may have been that she set her feet in the moc­casin tracks of the lit­tle Indian boy.
Now there was but one of the sis­ters left. Tall and straight she stood in the field not once bow­ing her head with sor­row, but it seemed to her that she could not live there alone. The days grew shorter and the nights were colder. Her green shawl faded and grew thin and old. Her hair, once long and golden, was tan­gled by the wind. Day and night she sighed for her sis­ters to return to her, but they did not hear her. Her voice when she tried to call to them was low and plain­tive like the wind.
But one day when it was the sea­son of the har­vest, the lit­tle Indian boy heard the cry­ing of the third sis­ter who had been left to mourn there in the field. He felt sorry for her, and he took her in his arms and car­ried her to the lodge of his father and mother. Oh what a sur­prise awaited here there! Her two lost sis­ters were there in the lodge of the lit­tle Indian boy, safe and very glad to see her. They had been curi­ous about the Indian boy, and they had gone home with him to see how and where he lived. They had liked his warm cave so well that they had decided now that win­ter was com­ing on to stay with him. And they were doing all they could to be useful.
The lit­tle sis­ter in green, now quite grown up, was help­ing to keep the din­ner pot full. The sis­ter in yel­low sat on the shelf dry­ing her­self, for she planned to fill the din­ner pot later. The third sis­ter joined them, ready to grind meal for the Indian boy. And the three were never sep­a­rated again.
Every child of today knows these sis­ters and needs them just as much as the lit­tle Indian boy did. For the lit­tle sis­ter in green is the bean. Her sis­ter in yel­low is the squash, and the elder sis­ter with long flow­ing hair of yel­low and the green shawl is the corn.
–A Mohawk leg­end
First, Dave and I marked off a 20 by 25 foot space in the sec­ond field, and then divided it into six 20 foot rows with stakes and string.


Then, we marked the string every 5 feet to sig­nal where to cen­ter our mounds. Mound­ing the soil is the tra­di­tional way to plant the three sis­ters, at least in this cli­mate and soil, because it allows for bet­ter drainage. We stag­gered the spac­ing in adja­cent rows. Before shap­ing the mounds, we dug a lit­tle hole and buried fish car­casses from my mom’s freezer (you may remem­ber from Amer­i­can His­tory class that this was another Native Amer­i­can trick). Then, a scoop of com­post on top of that, and then, finally, we raked the mounds.
That’s a floun­der, in case you can’t tell.
Dave is 1/32 Chero­kee, in case you can’t tell
The Final Prod­uct!
It’s hard to take good pic­ture of dirt.
In each mound we planted four corn seeds, 6 inches apart. The got a cou­ple nice, soft sum­mer rains this after­noon so hope­fully they’re off to a good start. We’ll wait to plant the beans and squash until the corn is a lit­tle bit big­ger, so the fast grow­ing vines don’t over­whelm the lit­tle seedling.

 

My last week in pictures

 

Installing the irri­ga­tion system
The trans­plant­ing begins! Lettuce…
Egg­plants…
Toma­toes, toma­toes, tomatoes!
The trel­lises start going in (thanks to Bob Hannan)
The egg­plants must be cov­ered to pro­tect against bugs and wind
And this morn­ing, baby chicks! Dark Cor­nishes, they look like lit­tle tigers

Readying the Field

This last week has been pretty bru­tally hot, sunny and humid — it’s sum­mer time! It feels good to be dirty and sweaty after so many months of star­ing out at the field waiting.

At the same time, I’m real­iz­ing that I should have worked a lit­tle harder to get myself in shape this win­ter.    We laid down black plas­tic mulch the other day over the bot­tom 6 rows in the gar­den. That’s where we’re plan­ning on plant­ing the toma­toes, pep­per and egg­plants, and the black plas­tic warms up the soil and sup­presses weeds. After a full day of bend­ing, stand­ing and squat­ting my legs were screaming.

The black lines along the rows are drip tape, part of the irri­ga­tion sys­tem we bought at Brook­dale Farm in New Hamp­shire. Each row has a line of tape that will slowly drip water through­out the day. They all con­nect at the end of the rows to a main line that we’ll run down the side of the field and will hook up to a gar­den hose. This sys­tem uses much less water than hand water­ing would and will save us a lot of time  and effort.

Rolling out the plas­tic mulch
We dug a trench and buried it on either side of the row
Notice the drip tape lines going under the plastic
Fin­ished!
Mean­while, our tomato, pep­per and egg­plants are hard­en­ing off out­side, get­ting ready to be planted tomor­row. We’ll just cut a hole through the plas­tic and put them in the ground. It’s good they’re going in the ground, they’ve got­ten really big.

Hooray, we have a field!

It took two days but the fields are all laid out and we’re going to start plant­ing tomorrow!

We made 30 inch rows  (so we can work in them and step over them eas­ily) and 16 inch walk­ways (16″ because that was the size of our biggest rake). The rows curve with the topog­ra­phy of the land because there’s a pretty sig­nif­i­cant slope and we want to catch as much water as pos­si­ble as it flows down­hill. If the rows were straight, a lot of water would just col­lect in the paths and flow down into the wet area in the mid­dle of the field, but this way the water will col­lect against the beds and fil­ter slowly through.
We used a cou­ple dif­fer­ent meth­ods for rak­ing the dirt, every­one had their favorite ways to do it, but basi­cally we laid out the 30 inch beds using a home­made “scrib­ing tool” (basi­cally a cou­ple of stakes drilled onto a piece of wood 30″ apart)
and then we pro­ceeded to alter­nate between rak­ing up the dirt on either side and rak­ing it down the mid­dle to cre­ate path­ways. It was pretty exhaust­ing dirty work, but also very sat­is­fy­ing, the gar­den is finally com­ing together and it’s so nice to be out­side in the sun! We all got sunburnt.
In a cou­ple of the walk­ways we put down card­board and straw to keep down the weeds and cre­ate a path. The card­board we’ve been get­ting from super­mar­ket pro­duce boxes and from a bike shop in Con­cord (bikes come in big card­board boxes). It’s going to be pretty hard to col­lect enough card­board to put down on these rows, how­ever, so we’re going to plant some in clover instead.
Our Aer­ial Shot: from on top of the lum­ber racks on the back of Dave’s pickup
The bot­tom cor­ner is going to become one big tri­an­gu­lar bed, prob­a­bly for cucumbers.
It’s been a long cou­ple of days but we can finally start planting!

Rainy Week

Those of you who live in the Mass­a­chu­setts area can prob­a­bly empathize with me when I say that this past week has been the absolute worst.

We woke up on Mon­day morn­ing and real­ized almost imme­di­ately that there was no way we were going to be able to per­form the final till on Wednes­day, it was cold, rainy and dreary and — accord­ing to the weather report — there was no end in sight. Nat­u­rally, this real­iza­tion was fol­lowed by a cou­ple hours of mop­ing, finger-pointing and rock-kicking. Why hadn’t we paid atten­tion to the weather report and tilled on Fri­day when it was still sunny and dry? What were we going to do all week in the mud and the rain? Was our sum­mer har­vest ruined by one poor deci­sion? Was it a poor deci­sion? What was worse, to till too soon and face the weeds or to be plant­ing our field at the very end of May? And what to do with all those crazy two month old tomato plants over­run­ning the greenhouse????
Well I’m writ­ing now to say, we did it! We slogged through the muddy, rainy week and now we’re pulling our­selves out the other side alive and well (except for a cou­ple of chick­ens — but that’s a story for another post). We planted some more in the kitchen gar­den, did some Spring clean­ing, built a shel­ter for the pigs and got the tomato plants out­side where they’re hard­en­ing off. Now we’re glued to the weather report  hop­ing it’s going to dry out in the next cou­ple of days so we can get our fields up and run­ning and our trans­plants in the ground. Who knows if we made the “right” deci­sion, or if there even is a “right” deci­sion, but we’re forg­ing ahead.
And as the weather improves, so do our moods. I see sun so I’ve got to get out­side, but here are some pictures.
We’re using a cou­ple empty raised beds to keep tomato plants out­side. We have wire hoops ready if we need to tarp them against the cold at night.
Flower trans­plants
Build­ing the pig shelter

Pictures with captions

 

Our garage-farm-office with self-serve-egg-refrigerator
The green­house and cold-frames in full swing!
The kitchen gar­den being built (we’re going to use it to grow let­tuce, arugula, beets and some other small crops until the big fields are ready to plant)
Frame for the chicken “trac­tor” being built

Plowing the Field

 

Our freshly plowed field!!!

I guess I should start at the beginning…

We found a guy to plow our fields over a month ago, and we were hop­ing that he could come last Mon­day to do the ini­tial sod-flip with his mold board plow. A mold board plow cuts the sod and then flips it over, expos­ing the loam and allow­ing the organic mat­ter in the grass to rot beneath the sur­face and enrich the soil.
This pic­ture shows a dou­ble bot­tom mold board plow (dou­ble because it has two mold boards).
Any­ways, we thought we were all set to have the field plowed and then, at the begin­ning of last week, things started going wrong. The trac­tor broke — it had to be taken up to New Hamp­shire to be fixed — and mean­while it kept rain­ing and rain­ing, soak­ing the fields and mak­ing them increas­ingly dif­fi­cult to plow even if we had had a work­ing trac­tor. Finally, after wait­ing on the edge of our seats all week, the trac­tor was brought over last Fri­day and we watched as it plowed a cou­ple passes along the bot­tom of the field. We went to bed con­tent and cer­tain that we would have beau­ti­fully plowed fields by Sat­ur­day afternoon.
I’m start­ing to learn that every time I go to bed con­tent and cer­tain it means that something’s about to go wrong.
We woke up Sat­ur­day morn­ing bright and early. Dave headed down to the field and I lagged behind, tak­ing my time, totally calm. By the time I got out­side, 20 min­utes behind Dave, dis­as­ter had already struck. The trac­tor had hit a rock, a really big one, and the force of the impact had stopped the trac­tor short and thrown the dri­ver hard against the steer­ing wheel. It had also bent his plow. The dri­ver was pretty shaken by the whole thing but we slowly con­vinced him to try another pass with promises of whiskey when the whole thing was over (appar­ently if a trac­tor hits a rock like that hard enough it can flip the whole machine — so he had good rea­son to be freaked out). So he got back on his trac­tor and came around for another pass, he hit another rock almost imme­di­ately. It was over, with less than a quar­ter of our first field turned. Sat­ur­day morn­ing 7:45 AM, already a week behind sched­ule, and we were back to the draw­ing board.
I’m not sure why we were so sur­prised by this par­tic­u­lar prob­lem. After all, New Eng­land is pretty famous for it’s rocky fields, and Carlisle is espe­cially famous for being dif­fi­cult to plow. We’ve been told by mul­ti­ple peo­ple that the rea­son Con­cord was set­tled first was because its soils are clean and clear, while Carlisle is all either swamp or rock ledge. But for some rea­son it hadn’t really crossed our minds that we might hit huge rocks in the mid­dle of our field. This was par­tially because the nearby stone wall had con­vinced us that the pio­neers had already taken care of all the hard stuff and also par­tially just plain old wish­ful thinking.
So, we started call­ing every­one that we could think of that might have an opin­ion, or a trac­tor, and after review­ing a bunch of dif­fer­ent options, it became clear that the major prob­lem was that the trac­tor was only 2-wheel drive. It was too small, and there­fore hadn’t been able to go slowly enough to drag the plow safely. In addi­tion, some mold board plows are spring-tripped. When the plow hits a large rock, instead of stop­ping the trac­tor short, the spring on the plow breaks and swings it up and back, pre­vent­ing the plow (and the dri­ver) from being dam­aged. A 4-wheel drive trac­tor with a spring-tripped plow could creep through the field, find­ing the rocks with­out caus­ing harm to the plow or the dri­ver.  But then what to do about the rocks? It might have seemed fine to leave them, as long as they were 6 inches down or more, but appar­ently once you start loos­en­ing up the soil the rocks start to rise more quickly. We needed to get them out or get stuck with a field full of boulders.
Luck­ily, Dave’s par­ents are build­ing a new trailer park­ing lot next to our new field, and so there was a huge exca­va­tor sta­tioned right next door. If we could find a 4-wheel drive trac­tor, than we could slowly plow the field, and every time the trac­tor hit a rock, Rick could come in with his exca­va­tor and dig it out.   By call­ing around we found a hand­ful of dif­fer­ent guys will­ing to do the job, but there was an easy win­ner. One of Dave’s parent’s friends hap­pens to own all the equip­ment we needed (he uses it to turn and re-seed horse pas­tures) and he was will­ing to lend it to us for free and let Dave plow the fields him­self. The offer was too good to turn down.
So, Mon­day morn­ing (exactly one week behind sched­ule) Dave and I went down to the fields and he plowed the whole thing (with no pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ence!). It took him a cou­ple passes to get used to it, but we man­aged to turn over a pretty con­sis­tent 6″ to 8″ of sod and soil. Rick moved all the big rocks (there were A LOT) and we tried to take care of the lit­tle ones. It may not have been the pret­ti­est or more effi­cient plow job, but it is our blood and sweat all over the field, and that’s nice to know.
The first field
Fin­ish­ing up the first field
Dou­ble bot­tomed mold board plow at work
Start­ing the sec­ond field (soil looks great!)
Movin’ rocks
It was pretty exhaust­ing and not very easy. In the first field we hit a rock on almost every pass. And some of them were enor­mous. I fol­lowed behind the trac­tor and marked any prob­lem areas so we could go back and suss out the sit­u­a­tion. It makes you think about those pio­neers drag­ging those things out with horses. The sec­ond field had a lot less rocks. The stone wall kind of peters out as it gets nearer to the house, so we think maybe the pio­neers either ran out of steam or didn’t need all that area for agriculture.
The good news is that we got both fields done by 2 PM on Mon­day. The bad news is that we are now pretty seri­ously behind sched­ule. The sod is very very thick and dense, prob­a­bly owing to the fact that this field has lain fal­low for so long. It’s been rec­om­mended that we allow 2 weeks for the sod to rot and then go back and disk the whole thing, break­ing up the soil and mak­ing it plantable. After that we’re sup­posed to wait another 10 days before we start putting seeds in (to allow the sod to rot some more). That sched­ule means we won’t be plant­ing until mid to late May, which is too bad since we were plan­ning on start­ing May 1st. We do have a smaller kitchen gar­den in the works, how­ever, so hope­fully between that and the green­house we should be able to keep grow­ing and be totally ready to plant when­ever the field is. The other bad news is that we had to let the exca­va­tor drive onto our field in order to get the rocks out. We’ve been try­ing very hard to not com­press the soil, as this can squeeze out oxy­gen and water and suf­fo­cate and crush a lot of the help­ful microbes and life in our deep organic mat­ter. We can only cross our fin­gers and hope that we haven’t done too much dam­age, and that our soil can spring back to health by plant­ing time.

Welcome Back Wilbur!

Where to begin…?

Although we haven’t quite eked past the last pro­jected frost date (around May 1st in East­ern MA), it feels like it’s offi­cially Spring. There’s green grass, buds com­ing out on the trees, Kimball’s farm ice cream stand is open for the sea­son, and Wilbur, the Viet­namese pot-belly pig (not for eat­ing, although he does sound like he would be deli­cious in a spring roll) has emerged from his den in the back of the barn and I can see him graz­ing in the fields from my win­dow — which is open by the way. I seem to have got­ten in the habit of always start­ing my posts with a com­ment on the weather, but it’s pretty much all we’ve been think­ing about around here. When’s it going to be dry enough to till the field? Is it warm enough to open up the green­house? Is it still too cold for us to buy meat bird chicks and put them out to pas­ture? Every deci­sion we make requires input from Mother Nature. 

Bio­dy­namic Sow­ing and Plant­ing Calendar

There are some that argue that when tak­ing cues from our envi­ron­ment we should be pay­ing atten­tion to more than just the local weather report. I’ve been read­ing a lit­tle bit about bio­dy­namic agri­cul­ture, which is an organic method of farm­ing that empha­sizes how inter­de­pen­dent the plants, ani­mals and soil on a farm are. Like many forms of organic agri­cul­ture, bio­dy­namic farm­ing is about cre­at­ing farms that are closed loops. This bal­ance is made pos­si­ble through the inte­gra­tion of crops and live­stock, the recy­cling of nutri­ents, and the main­te­nance of soil — no out­side assis­tance or pes­ti­cides nec­es­sary. 


In addi­tion, bio­dy­namic farm­ing also con­sid­ers that there are astro­log­i­cal impacts on agri­cul­ture. Most of these impacts are exerted by the moon as it passes through the twelve con­stel­la­tions of the zodiac. Maria Thun (and now her son Matthias) are the author­i­ties on bio­dy­namic astrol­ogy, and have been releas­ing their Bio­dy­namic Sow­ing and Plant­ing Cal­en­dar every year for almost a half a cen­tury. In her most recent cal­en­dar she writes:


“In its 27-day orbit round the Earth the Moon passes through the con­stel­la­tions of the zodiac and trans­mits forces to the Earth which affect the four ele­ments: earth, light (air) water and warmth (fire). They in turn affect the four parts of the plant: the roots, the flower, the leaves and the fruit or seeds. The health and growth of the plant can there­fore be stim­u­lated by sow­ing, cul­ti­vat­ing and har­vest­ing it in tune with the cycles of the Moon.”
pg 10


The cal­en­dar lists the parts of the plant enhanced by the moon and the plan­ets each day. So for exam­ple today, April 14th, the con­stel­la­tion of the moon is Leo and the cor­re­spond­ing ele­ment is heat, so today is a good day for seed­ing veg­eta­bles that pro­duce fruits. There­fore, when I do my plant­ing this after­noon I’m going to seed sum­mer squash and toma­toes. I’ve been try­ing to stick as closely to the cal­en­dar as pos­si­ble, allow­ing for the fact that some­times due to tim­ing and suc­ces­sions I’m going to have to plant a root veg­etable on a leaf day. Many farm­ers that I’ve talked to, even though who claim that they are more con­ven­tional , have said that they’ve noticed huge improve­ments in the qual­ity and yield of their pro­duce when they’ve used the bio­dy­namic cal­en­dar. I guess I’ll just have to see for myself. 


Ready­ing the field


We’ve spent the major­ity of our time these last few weeks get­ting the field ready to be planted. This has involved a lot of brush clear­ing and burn­ing. We had about 10 brush piles on the field, all of which needed to be removed before the first till­ing next week. 


 It was hot and smokey work, but thanks to lots of help from fam­ily we man­aged to get it all done in a cou­ple of days. 

Our soil test indi­cated that we had great soil with a ton of organic mat­ter, but there are some things that it deter­mined we were lack­ing. My mom has been tak­ing a nutri­ent den­sity course with the North­east Organic Farm­ing Asso­ci­a­tion. The NOFA web­site defines “Nutri­ent den­sity [as] a qual­ity goal that is actively sought after in the bio­log­i­cal approach to farm­ing. It refers the nutri­tional con­tent per vol­ume of food we eat.” It seems obvi­ous, but the idea is that the more rich and bal­anced the nutri­ents in our soil are, the health­ier the soil will be, and the more nutri­tious and deli­cious the veg­eta­bles grown in our soil will be as well. Nutri­ent den­sity is a lit­tle bit of a tricky sub­ject, and I don’t yet under­stand it wholy myself, but suf­fice to say we have been col­lect­ing the ele­ments that our soil is lack­ing and we are plan­ning on spread­ing them on the field this week­end before the first till. Hope­fully, these addi­tives will make our soil and our veg­eta­bles health­ier — and, nat­u­rally, those of us eat­ing them health­ier as well. I’ll write more on this later but, if you’re inter­ested in read­ing more now, NOFA has a lot of good infor­ma­tion on their web­site: http://www.nofamass.org/reference/nutrientdensity.php.

Chick­ens

Our chick­ens have been set­tling in nicely and been pro­duc­ing eggs like crazy. After the ini­tial trauma of mov­ing to Mass­a­chu­setts (and the lin­ger­ing trauma of their barn burn­ing down), the new ladies from New Hamp­shire seem to have decided that they’re happy enough to start lay­ing again. In addi­tion, we man­aged to snag another 7 chick­ens from a woman in Con­cord who was mov­ing, and so now our flock is up to 33 birds! 

We had been feed­ing them plain organic feed, but one of the guys from Erickson’s Grain Mill in Acton rec­om­mended that we try organic soy-free feed. The jury’s still out on whether or not soy-free food is bet­ter (espe­cially if it’s already organic and not genet­i­cally mod­i­fied — as most con­ven­tional soy in ani­mal feed is), but there are many argu­ments in favor of soy-free, the best being that it makes our eggs safe for those aller­gic to soy. We were con­vinced as soon as we opened the bag, how­ever, and saw how much bet­ter the feed looked! Finally, food that didn’t just look like lit­tle homoge­nous turds, but instead clearly con­tained pieces of dried corn, grains and all kinds of dif­fer­ent good look­ing stuff! In addi­tion, the chick­ens seem to love it and they’ve been lay­ing like mad since we changed them over. Unfor­tu­nately, they love it a lit­tle too much, we went through a 50 lb bag in less than a week. In order to reduce the amont of money we have to spend on feed, and there­fore keep the price of our eggs rea­son­able, we’ve started sup­ple­ment­ing left-over pro­duce that we get from dif­fer­ent restau­rants and super­mar­kets in the area that oth­er­wise would be throw­ing it away. Now our chick­ens are feast­ing on apples, greens and bananas every morn­ing in addi­tion to their deli­cious new feed, and they seem pretty happy about it. 

Chicken break­fast time!
Pigs

One more piece of excit­ing news: we drove up to New Hamp­shire last week­end and vis­ited our piglets! We’re plan­ning on bring­ing them home in the begin­ning of May. 
This is the lit­ter that (most likely) con­tains the
piglets com­ing home with us in May


Look­ing out my win­dow, I feel a lit­tle jeal­ous of Wilbur who is leisurely enjoy­ing the spring­time. But it feels good to wake up in the morn­ing know­ing that, for most of the day at least, I’ll be out there with him, the sun on my back, even if I am drag­ging brush instead of wad­dling and grazing. 


How to Laugh at Winter, Build a Cheap Mini Greenhouse and More

Winter’s death rat­tle. Snow­fall: 0 inches. HA!

The green­house look­ing great! All the flow­ers and herbs have sprouted and are grow­ing like crazy. Once we started plant­ing, how­ever, we real­ized pretty quickly that, as cute as it is, our lit­tle 8′ by 16′ green­house is just not going to be big enough to hold all our new seedlings, espe­cially once things really get going in April and May. So, today Mom and I built three 4′ by 4′ cold frames. Cold frames are like lit­tle green­houses, built low to the ground, that can be used in a vari­ety of ways. They can grown in directly (while pro­tect­ing the lit­tle seedlings from the cold), they can be used as an over­flow space to store trays we can’t fit into the green­house, and they can also be used as a place to “harden off” young plants out­side before putting them into the gar­den — expos­ing young plants to the cold before putting them through the shock of trans­plant­ing. Our cold frames are each roughly 4′ x 4′, and can fit 8 stan­dard size plant­ing trays.

My dad cut all the ply­wood for us. As you can see here, a cold frame base can all be cut from one piece of plywood:

The two top pieces become the sides, and the bot­tom pieces become the front and back. Here’s some pic­tures of our assem­bled bases out­side the green­house.  As you can see, the boxes are slightly angled for­ward, towards the sun. Both the green­house and the cold frames face South.

My dad cut all the ply­wood for us and also built the frames for the tops. To fin­ish the tops we sim­ply stretched heavy duty plas­tic across the frames and sta­pled it to the wood.

That thin piece of wood across the bot­tom is designed to be sta­pled on top of the plas­tic and hold the whole thing together as tightly as pos­si­ble. Unfor­tu­nately, we didn’t have long enough sta­ples, so I’m plan­ning on fin­ish­ing up the plas­tic and putting hinges on tomor­row morn­ing. I’ll post more pic­tures of the com­pleted cold frames then.
In other news, the snow has finally melted enough that we can see what our future veg­etable field will look like. I men­tioned before that I was wor­ried because I had been hear­ing more and more about how wet the field we were plan­ning on using could get in the Spring. A visit to the NRCS (National Resources Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vice) field office in West­ford at the begin­ning of March con­firmed this fact (they have pretty detailed infor­ma­tion on soil types and wet­land areas through­out Mass­a­chu­setts). Well every­one was right, the field is really wet. Right now we’re deal­ing with about this much vis­i­ble water:
Obvi­ously, this puts a lit­tle snag in our plans to build a per­fect 100′ x 200′ veg­etable field (you may remem­ber this pic­ture from an ear­lier post:)
While it’s a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ing that there’s a sea­sonal stream right through the mid­dle of our per­fectly rec­tan­gu­lar 1/2 acre, this doesn’t mean we can’t grow at all. Our new plan is to put in two veg­etable beds, one on each side of the wet area. We mea­sured it out this last week, and we should be able to squeeze a 80′ x 90′ rec­tan­gle on the side clos­est to the house, and a 100′ x 50′ rec­tan­gle on the far side. We’re also plan­ning on putting in a bridge across the stream at some point so that we can get machin­ery across (most impor­tantly for till­ing). This has been my first les­son in being flex­i­ble. I’m sure it won’t be my last.