Friday, October 14, 2011

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 Bender from 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!

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Sheep Story

When Dave and I got the message that a woman in Bedford was looking to sell five of her sheep my first thought was, absolutely not. After all, prudence tells me that we should grow slowly, and so do the majority of organic farming how-to books.

"But isn't part of the fun getting in over our heads a little?" Dave asked. 

True, there are organic farming how-to books that would agree. The Dirty Life,for example (a great read). Well, maybe, I thought. So we did some research, went and visited them, spent hours writing pro and con lists, and decided that it was too late, we had already fallen in love. 

Can you blame us?

Laurel, the most friendly

Plus, we justified, lamb will make our meat CSA that much more desirable next year (if you're interested, subscribe to our mailing list on the right). And I'm pretty excited about their wool as well. 

Luckily for us, sheep are pretty easy to take care of. They eat primarily grass, are very hardy, and are extremely sweet. We're committed to raising them organically, without any vaccines or antibiotics, so that means that the only tricky part is we're going to have to intensely rotationally graze them. That means they'll have to be moved almost daily (and definitely daily next spring when we have lambs that are much more susceptible to parasites). Moving them everyday means that they will more fully graze the pasture. As one sheep owner explained, "if you give them too much space to graze, they'll eat all the cake and none of the vegetables". It also means that they won't be grazing over a build up of their own excrement, therefore reducing the chances of them getting parasitic diseases. 

Again, we turned to Wellscroft Fence Systems in New Hampshire, and they hooked us up with some lightweight electric sheep fencing and a lot of great advice. For now, we're grazing them on the back pasture, with plans to install some permanent fencing and bring them up closer to the house this winter. 


A Cheviot

Phlox (Romney), on the left. Laurel (Romney) in the foreground. Bonnie, Blair and Bridget (the three Cheviots) next to Phlox. 

They love the moveable shelter Dave built them.

We purchases five ewes, two Romneys and three Cheviots. We'll breed them this fall and hopefully they'll all twin in the spring, providing us with lamb for market by October. Both are considered good breeds for meat and fleece. The Romneys are known as good sheep for beginners, very easy going, while the Cheviots are considered a little more wild. Cheviots are said to have been roaming the hills between Scotland and England as early as the 14th Century (wikipedia) and are "noted for hardiness, longevity, productiveness, milking, and mothering ability and for their great activity" (American Cheviot Sheep Society). Because they are "hill sheep" and were often left to their own devises, they are more skittish and wary of predators than the more trusting Romneys. We figured it would be worthwhile to try out a couple different breeds. 

So you can all look forward to more sheep stories this winter. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

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)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

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

Our bravest friend Marka
Lynda, another brave friend

Hurricane Irene

Friday, August 19, 2011

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

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

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

Thursday, August 18, 2011

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!

Pesto and Squash Bread Recipes

Dave and I have been making recipe cards for our CSA members. I thought I'd share a couple here.