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…
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
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:


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!

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.