Springing Back

My favorite spring flower!

News and global issues are impossible not to stress about right now. Many of us are taking action for change, which I see as the best antidote to despair (as Joan Baez said). However, as is always the case, grief and joy exist side by side in the world and in our lives. So, I thought taking time here to marvel at the turning of the year to Spring and the reemergence or start of new life would be worthwhile.

One of my winter reads was Sproutlands: Tending the Endless Gift of Trees by William Bryant Logan. It’s a beautiful book that teaches about the skills of coppicing and pollarding and other ancient tree management techniques while celebrating the people and cultures who live or lived in such a sustainable, symbiotic relationship with forests.

A Pollarded Red Maple Tree

In it I learned that May is “the time when the coppice springs.” Here is a condensed version of the beginning of his chapter The Spring: New-cut coppice springs. After you cut to the ground, the wood jumps back into the sky. A coppice wood cut down in winter comes up in the season of flowers. Springtime, the name by which every English speaker calls the May, means exactly that: the time when the coppice springs.

Here is some of what has been springing to life for us…

Plants, especially perennials, showing us how well they weathered another winter.

Rhubarb Rising

Asparagus Emerges

Garlic, planted last fall

Blossoms setting us up for lots of summer fruit.

A Lars Anderson Peach Tree in full bloom

Pear Flowers

Juneberry Flowers

 

 

  

 

 

Three baby goats from two successful births, leading now to plenty of milk for yogurt and cheese.

Lily with her two kids and Georgia’s kid (Lily’s grandson), too!

Nice green pasture to rotate for the goats to eat – grass into milk.

New pasture, just opened to the goats in our rotational grazing system

Lots of amazing eggs, bright orange from fresh spring forage.

Duck Eggs

Of course, the wheel will keep on turning and there will be endings and deaths, which are a lot harder for me to write about even though they are just as sacred and worth holding close. Maybe I’ll speak to that one of these Falls.

Meanwhile, happy season of growth and fertility! Let us remember to be grateful for living in a world that gives us so much. May we emulate the persistence and resilience of the trees springing back after a hard winter or an intense pruning.

Crocus, our earliest flower

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NOFA-NH’s Mentor of the Year

I was touched to receive the 2022 Mentor of the Year Award from The Northeast Organic Farming Association of NH at the winter conference in February.

 

Growing Soil

In 2017 I was given the Leading Organic Gardener of the Year award, also a huge surprise and honor. I work very hard in my garden, physically and as a constant learner. The inches of healthy soil I’ve helped to grow are part of the legacy I will leave behind when I die. Growing our food here in a sustainable way is also an aspect of how I live in the world in a responsible and giving way: problems such as chemical contamination, food miles, and soil loss are avoided in what I grow here.

So, I will always be proud of being named Leading Organic Gardener of the Year. I think, though, that I am even more pleased by being recognized as a mentor.

Leading a Sheet Mulching Class

It wasn’t long into my time working on a farm that I realized how much I wanted to empower others to grow, too. I loved the work and knowing that what I did was good and useful to my community. However, I was even more excited to hear from people about their attempts to do it for themselves.

I came to farming after getting a degree in Women’s Studies at UNH-Durham where I learned to see a larger picture of the world and how things are connected and influence each other. I became an activist for women’s rights, peace and environmental health where I further saw the power of working together collectively.

Talking Chickens With Folks

I was thus less interested in growing for people than growing with them, and building a movement of human beings who see that they depend on the land around them for nourishment and life.

As I write this, one of my favorite songs by Sweet Honey in the Rock is “Ella’s Song” comes to mind.  It includes this stanza:

That which touches me most is that I had a chance to work with people,
Passing on to others that which was passed on to me.”

So much of my learning about permaculture and food growing happened at NOFA conferences and classes. I am happy to continue to pass that on and moved that my work has been seen.

Tabling with my traveling worm bin and beekeeping supplies at a local event

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Celebrating My Peaches

Peach Blossoms – a food source for pollinators in the spring, too!

Popping open home-canned peaches in January is… magic. A taste of summer in winter. This year I am taking extra pride in them because I finally met my long-time goal of growing them all organically here at home, as well as canning them myself.

Early-on in my canning adventures I realized what a great crop peaches were for me to focus on.

Picking Peaches

Peaches are delicious, one of my favorite fruits.  When sliced and simmered in their own juices for hours they only get better. I gave up processed sugar when I was twenty-one, so finding natural ways to experience sweet is a goal of mine. A bowl of canned peaches with no added sweetener counts as dessert to me.

Since I wanted to ramp up fruit preserving with the goal of eating local year-round, peaches were a solid way to do that. The smaller fruits and berries took a lot of time to pick in any large amount. But I could go to an orchard and pick 100 pounds of peaches in an afternoon. Some orchards even sold “seconds” and “drops” all boxed up at a good price. While still work to process at home, it was even easier than hulling strawberries and I ended up with so much more.

Also, there were farms growing peaches around me. If you go much farther North, they don’t thrive, but we are still in peach country here so I can get them locally.

Canning Peaches

So, I started seriously canning peaches, with a goal of 75 quarts per year. I didn’t always end up with that much, but I often at least got close.

 

There was really just one problem with this whole plan. I could not get organically grown peaches and I knew that peaches are one of the most heavily sprayed fruits in the US. I was choosing local over organic, but I really wanted both! I asked every orchard I ever went to if they were considering organic methods but was consistently told that it wasn’t possible to grow peaches without sprays.

Our Lars Anderson Peach Tree

I guess I heard that insistent refrain as a challenge.  Soon after we settled on a piece of land and began our own orchards, I planted peaches. I knew they might fail, that they might get diseases and pests and die quickly before ever giving fruit… but I wanted to try. I was actually so convinced that they probably wouldn’t do that well, that we didn’t prune them very much the first two years, thinking that they would grow slowly if at all.

Instead, our peaches took off, growing like weeds. In fact, one of our first trees grew so quickly before we could figure out how to best prune them that the main trunk snapped off one summer when it was heavy with fruit. Luckily we were able to cut it above the graft and it sprouted back fast, bearing again after just one year off.

Recovering Blushingstar Peach

The first three were planted here in 2015: a Blushingstar, a Lars Anderson and a Red Haven. It was the Blushingstar that grew so fast without enough pruning that the trunk broke in 2019 (the photo here shows the way the tree bounced back!). In 2016 I added a Starfire peach tree, a Contender in 2020 and another Contender in 2021.

We’ve been harvesting yearly since 2017, but my harvest record-keeping wasn’t great until 2018 so that’s when I can accurately start reporting. In 2018 I harvested 40# of peaches and in 2019 I harvested 219#. 2020 started with great blossoms and fruit set for the three bearing trees, but during the drought they dropped a lot of unripe fruit so we only brought in 53#.

Our Peaches, Waiting to be Canned

Then we come to this past summer, with 4 well-established trees and a break in the drought by July setting us up for a great harvest totalling 347.5#. Periodic canning days in August allowed me to put up 87 and ½ quarts, which I believe is my record of peaches canned in one year. (We also ate quite a few fresh!)

Our Red Haven Peach Tree

I do want to note that my organic peaches are often not aesthetically perfect. So, I really do understand the problem that commercial orchards face while customers care so much about how food looks rather than how it tastes or if it’s safe. The imperfections we see are not from disease at this point, but our life-affirming landscape means there are bugs and birds and squirrels and others passing through sampling the produce. I’m ok with that. This fruit is healthy, the taste is amazing and we got our fair share.

I’m sure not every year will be so successful, but I am daring to believe there will be other great seasons. I have even ordered three more trees for my 2022 planting, which I dream about while eating a bowl of goat’s milk yogurt topped with peaches and drizzled with maple syrup.

Our goat milk yogurt, topped with our canned peaches and maple syrup from our neighbor – a delicious local meal in the middle of winter!

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