Thursday, April 14, 2011

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. 

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