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. 


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