Category Archives: Soil

April at Living Land

The chilly, dark April makes our entrance into May all the more welcome!

Nanking Cherry In Bloom

The weather has slowed down the start of serious gardening. It really feels more like the end of March. Both outdoor work and early harvests are behind schedule. There has still been plenty to do, however, and plants have been slowly appearing, some even blooming.


Our Work in April

We tackled some indoor projects this month, with mixed results.

First, seed starting. I have been unhappy buying seed starting mixes. They generally have ingredients that I don’t feel good about using – such as peat and mined products like vermiculite – and come in a plastic bag. I feel like I ought to be able to make my own here. I have been growing amazing soil in our gardens, why not make this? Well, I guess I need to do a lot more research before I get it right. Last year I added worm castings from my indoor bin to a commercial mix. About ¼ castings. This meant I needed to use less of the mix. It went well. This year I did about half and half, and have not had good results, although I’m not sure it’s because of the amount of worm castings. Germination was mediocre, then the plants just aren’t growing straight and strong, and there was some yellowing of the leaves. There could be other reasons for the problems. For instance, I suspect I may have over-watered them early on. Still, I am going to have to rethink my soil mix for next season. All that said, I do have some seedlings growing well: lettuce, tomatoes, kale, broccoli, and eggplant.

Radish, Carrots & Lettuce Emerging from Seed in the Hoophouse

I directly planted into our hoophouse beds: lettuce, radishes, and carrots. These were slow to come up with so little sun and warmth, but look great now.





DIY Incubator (we’ll let you know if it works)

April is also a great month to incubate eggs (many people start earlier, but then have a bigger struggle keeping the brooder warm enough).  However, the egg turning function on our incubator stopped working properly last year. The problem with these machines is that they sell cheap, small, plastic, flimsy models or large, expensive ones. We couldn’t find one in between. So, Steve set about making one for us.  I’ll share a picture with you now, and if it actually works then I’ll tell you more about it!

I kept up with salt-making whenever we had the wood stove going. Right now there’s a half-dehydrated batch waiting to be finished to wrap up the season. That’s the beauty of the salt – timing is not critical. Drying fruit or vegetables or meat can’t take too much time or non-beneficial microbes can take over. But this is filtered, concentrated salt water – what’s going to grow in there? (If you do have an answer I’m missing, let me know!)

Moving outdoors…

My new bee packages came on April 8. I installed them promptly, in close to freezing, windy weather. I have never hived a package when it was so cold. This was also the first time my packages came in “bee buses” so I had to figure out how to use those. I didn’t find them easier than the wood ones, and afterwards had a lot of plastic I had to send to the land fill. I’m not a fan.

Rhubarb Coming Up, Well-Mulched with Goat Bedding

We cleaned out the barns and coops. We use the deep litter method, so this happens seasonally rather than as a weekly chore. It does make it a big job when the time comes around. All that material – manure and bedding – we use in our gardens and orchards. From the goats we have a lot of bedding hay, with the little goat poop pellets and urine mixed in. It makes a great top-dressed mulch around the fruit trees and some perennials. Poultry manure is higher in nitrogen, a bit messier and can smell, so I either use that in creating new garden beds or put it into the compost to break down some before going to the garden.

Steve is still repairing and adjusting the fencing systems. There have been reports of black bear predation of both bee hives and goats locally, so keeping the electric functioning well has been necessary.

The Peas Are Coming Up!

He has also returned to finishing construction of our newer outbuildings, getting them set up for shuffling of the goats into the new configuration. We moved the boys to their new area which they took in stride. I expected some bleating and running around, but they just slowly checked out every inch of it, then took advantage of the small trees in there to rub in between their horns. The girls’ new area should be ready soon. It has to also have my milking area, so is a lot more complicated. We plan to have it done in time for Lily’s kids to be born there.

Spring is my favorite time for building new soil for garden beds through sheet mulching. We harvested all our compost, plus brought in cardboard, manure, seaweed, coffee grounds and wood chips to continue the process. I have had great success with this technique and love to teach it to people. I have a soil building class scheduled for May 26 here at Living Land which still has plenty of room for more students.

Early spring is also a great time to weed. With all the mulching I do, I don’t have that many weeds, but some sneak through and are easy to spot and pull in their early days.

Off-farm in April, I continued teaching and hosting educational events. I was invited to talk about permaculture for beekeepers to the Winnipesaukee Beekeepers, which I really enjoyed. Through Seacoast Permaculture I helped bring Dr. Fred Wiseman to Portsmouth to discuss his important work and wonderful new book: Seven Sisters and the Heritage Food Systems of the Wabanaki People and of the Chesapeake Bay Region (2018) .


We brought in 252 chicken eggs, 72 duck eggs, and 5.7 gallons of milk and made 2 more quarts of salt.

Stinging Nettles – the most nutritious spring green!

From the gardens we’ve enjoyed nettles, chives, savory and sage. While we can see the rhubarb, it’s not big enough to take yet. Any day now!

To prepare for the new bees, I cleaned out the hives that had died and found there was plenty of honey left. I put aside enough to get the new bees started and then extracted about 40 pounds for us. I’d rather have had the living bees, but that much honey eases the loss.

Last year’s bounty is down to garlic, canned fruit and jam, dried beans, dehydrated kale, popcorn, and some lacto-fermented pickles in the fridge. There’s still frozen food that I’ve been forgetting to mention: blueberries, eggplant, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, basil pesto, salsa, and chevre cheese.

This year’s cold April weather kept the leaves off the trees, but brought us few sunny days. We made 574 kwh from the PV solar panels, which did cover our needs but was less than we expected.  We are now back in to the part of the year when we are making enough power for our needs and should start putting some in our electric company account for the winter.

Looking Ahead to May

We’ll be welcoming new kids here with Lily expecting in early to mid May. She sure is looking ready! We hope for chicks and maybe getting some duck eggs started. And planting – lots and lots of planting.

We will also be getting ready for an Open Homestead Day in early June that all of you are welcome to attend. Happy Spring!

Jostaberry Leaf Opening


Filed under Gardens, Goats, Honey Bees, Poultry, Soil, Uncategorized, Weather

Why Garden?

The Garden in July

I am a committed, joyful gardener who wants to teach everyone else to grow their own food, too! I encourage others to garden NOT because it’s easy and anyone can just do it. I have heard stories from people about how they tried gardening but ran into so many problems that the 10 tomatoes they ended up with likely cost them $15 each. It is frustrating and does happen! But I believe that it’s worth not giving up, rising to the challenge and learning the skills you need to have your own garden. Here are a few reasons why…

Environmental Benefits

For a few thousand years, many agricultural systems have created as many problems as they have grown food. The big traps we fall into are: monocultures, soil disturbance, and more recently, chemical use. Our current US conventional ag system is guilty of all of these sins.

Now, however, we have the information needed to grow in ways that can heal the planet. We can even reverse climate disruption if these techniques are implemented on a wide-scale! There are great people and groups leading new movements to change our large-scale food systems.

Another answer that I see clearly is that smaller food systems can be much easier to manage well and efficiently. More growers working smaller pieces of land can address problems of air & water pollution, water consumption, soil erosion and soil carbon loss while building a community’s food sovereignty (ability to feed themselves).

Garden, Mid-July

In your own garden, no-till is easy, diversity an obvious choice, and chemicals become unnecessary as you build healthy soil. You can eliminate food miles, use far less water, create healthy habitats for pollinators and other creatures, and sequester carbon in your own backyard!

Save Money

While there is the phenomonom of the $15 tomato, with a bit of skill and some good choices, gardening can absolutely save you money. The key is to identify what you like to eat, consider the prices for buying these, and find out which are easy crops to grow.

Beet Tops

Herbs and greens are pricey, high-end items, so if you love salad and basil, those should go to the top of your list. If you don’t like beets – don’t grow them. Even though they are an easy crop, this will feel like wasted effort in the end. Now, I know most everyone loves tomatoes, but – they are not easy to grow in New England! Tomatoes are a heat-loving crop that, in my experience, do better in dry conditions – does that sound like our climate? In our humid summers, there are numerous blights that will attack them, causing them to turn ugly and die before you get much from them. Actually, last year’s terrible drought in our area gave us the best tomato crops we’ve ever seen. If those conditions continue, maybe tomatoes


will become easy here, but meanwhile, be careful!

Don’t go overboard on one veggie either – remember that diversity is necessary in a healthy garden, and that by the 50th zucchini, it will start to feel less like well-deserved bounty and more like a curse.


Your Health

Every day there seems to be another study pointing to good nutrition as a key to good health. One of the problems we face is that much of our food contains fewer minerals and more chemical residues than in the past. You can buy certified organic (higher priced food in this case is actually cheap compared to health care costs). You can also give even more attentive care to a small plot you watch over and know you and your family will eat from.

Red Nasturtiums

We also now know that gardening has positive effects on mood. Less depression and anxiety is a great bonus, don’t you think?


Connection to the land

It’s great to admire, love and watch our landscapes and wildlife. But, I think it’s even better for us to understand on a visceral level how much we depend on the land, the earth. In the US, where so many of us have been here for merely a few generations, we often lack a sense of rootedness and connection to place. We move and travel and don’t like to feel “tied down.” I don’t believe this is working out well for us.

First, I think it makes it easier to tolerate and ignore wrongs being done to the land when we think we can just move on.

Let me share with you this excerpt from an interview with author and environmentalist, Derrick Jensen: “It’s really problematical, because we can talk all we want, but the truth is, if my experience is that my water comes from the tap, I will defend to the death the system that brings that to me, because my life depends on it. If my experience is – not my philosophy – but if my experience is that my food comes from the grocery store I will defend to the death the system that brings that food to me, because my life depends on it. If on the other hand, my experience, my reality is that my water comes from a river then I will defend to the death that river, because my life depends on it. If my experience is that my food comes from a land base, from not a land base, but this land base, my land base, my home, I will defend to the death that land base because my life depends on it. So that’s part of the problem, we’ve been made dependent on this very system that is killing us.”


Second, I believe many people would feel happier and more secure if they felt they did belong somewhere.  (Making this sort of commitment to a place doesn’t necessarily mean you own that land, by the way.)

How well do you know the place you live? How was it used in the past? What sounds do you expect to hear when you open your windows this spring? What does the soil smell like after a rain? Where does water run across the landscape? How does food taste grown there?

My life is enriched just by asking these questions and looking for the answers.

As Robin Wall Kimmerer says in her book Braiding Sweetgrass: “This is really why I made my daughters learn to garden—so they would always have a mother to love them, long after I am gone.” 

Red Oak Lettuce

Leave a Comment

Filed under Gardens, Soil, Weather

Grateful for the Garden, Despite A Challenging Season

Produce is coming in well now, with picking, cooking and DSCN6930preserving a big part of my days and nights. I’m grateful for the resiliency of nature and the good soil I’ve been building that brings me any bounty at all in such a tough year. 


Pulling Garlic

Mostly, our annual garden has suffered, which is where we get most of our veggies. We are working on more perennial veggies, and fruit and nut bushes and trees, but those take years to establish. So, meanwhile, we have the annuals.

The first big challenge was critters of the herbivorous rodent types. Chipmunks, and, yes, at least one groundhog.

In our area, this season has been teeming with animal garden disruptors. I have talked to a number of people having extra trouble this year with squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, raccoons,… I think it’s related to the mild winter we just had allowing an unusually large number of them to survive, leading to lots of competition for food, between themselves and with humans.



In any case, even one groundhog can be the end of it for a garden. We have good fencing, but it’s a few years old, and our GH was finding every weak spot that had developed. She got in at least 10 times, eating her way around. Favorites were peas, lettuce, all of my brassicas (kale, collards, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage), bean plants, and sunflowers. What I noticed she did not touch were garlic, onions, squash, eggplant, potato and tomato plants. When I write that out I do see that she was leaving us something, but we eat lots of brassicas and beans, so found it really painful to have them wiped out – more than once. They would disappear, then Steve would work on fencing, and I’d replant… and they would disappear again.

It was really frustrating and I admit to shedding some tears in the garden a couple of times. I considered planting a ring of stinging nettle along the whole border of the garden, but when I looked online to find out if this worked I only found a video someone took of a groundhog happily munching away on them! Wow, they’re tough little beasts – and smart to eat such nutritious food!

We had a Have-A-Heart trap set up, but no luck. We did catch the baby goats a few times! At some point in about mid-June, Steve did make the garden tight enough – including a new gate that is almost human-proof it’s so well-built!

Squash Vines in the New Orchard

At that point the GH moved higher up on our property and started in on my perennial gardens. This is much closer to the house, so we started to see her a lot. This led to the opportunity for us to bring a quick end to this chapter, I will say euphemistically.


Our Dominique Rooster Making Himself Heard

[A further word about my feelings/philosophy on this Ground Hog… I was frustrated and angry, but I tried to keep enough perspective to never hate her – she was doing just what she was supposed to do in the landscape! We were in competition, and I wanted to win, but had respect for her as a smart, tenacious being. I’m glad that there was a quick end to it. I’m not a big fan of relocating animals like this, who will likely either become a problem for someone else, or be so traumatized by the move that they die anyway after suffering. This felt like the right way to address it responsibly to me. And, yes, we did cook this GH, fattened up on organic produce! However, the taste wasn’t great, so we let our chickens eat her, giving them a blissful, oh, three minutes or so! These are the moments I remember that chickens are direct descendants of Tyrannosaurus Rex. Little dinosaurs in our yard…!]


Costata Romanesco Zucchini

After that was dealt with, I have still been losing some produce to the chipmunks, but a manageable amount compared to the GH loss. 

By this time, though, we were being hit with drought. Here in Seacoast NH we have been classified as experiencing a “severe drought” for about a month now. I heavily mulch our gardens for the health of the soil and for water conservation, and we have swale/berm systems set up. We will also water our garden, DSCN6810but it is possible to pump our well dry, and our rain barrels and ponds are only enough for a few deep waterings. This year none of that has been enough to keep up with what the garden needs for best yields in a year with months of drought.

While the competing critters are frustrating, the drought is depressing and frightening. It’s so far out of my personal control, and it’s so tough on the land. I think about other places dealing with worse drought. California shows up on the US drought map I check, with it’s off-the-charts lack of rainfall, but the global drought situation is truly scary. The connections between lack of water and violence and war are getting clearer and well-documented. This is why climate disruption is so clearly important to movements for peace.


Red Kuri Winter Squash

I have reflected a lot on how much more stressful this would be if we were truly and totally depending on this garden for our food, without back-up plans of buying from farmer’s markets and grocery stores. That’s how it used to be and still is for a lot of people: grow food, or be hungry. We are in a strange moment in time here when most (not all, I know) Americans have enough to eat without even having to think about food production. I completely support keeping everyone fed, whatever their economic circumstances. But I also think we’d be more resilient, smarter about what’s really important and happier if we all had a hand in the important work of feeding ourselves and our communities.  Meanwhile, I give thanks for my beautiful havests!


Black Beauty Eggplant


Winterbor Kale


Filed under Gardens, Soil, Weather