Category Archives: Soil

June at Living Land

Borage Flower

June is one of my favorite months. Warm but not too hot, hearing bird song, frog song and breezes in the leafed-out trees, witnessing the plants grow, the animals thrive and the fireflies flashing at night. The downside is the number of biting insects! Insects do speak to the health of the environment, though, and with the modern invention of window screening, we can escape them when needed.

So, even though there is a ton of work to do, I make sure to stop and appreciate living in this beautiful place.

This particular June, weather conditions weren’t ideal for growing, being mostly cooler than usual and having little rain. On June 1 NH was drought-free, but as of June 26 all of Strafford county NH was classified as in a “moderate” drought. However, cool and dry is excellent working weather and we had lots to do!

Our Work in June

Outdoors: Plants

June brings us the longest day of the year, which means there is plenty of light for working outside, early and late. I often feel this time of year like when I’m not planting or tending the plants I am losing out on future harvest. It makes it hard to remain calm for all the other parts of life needing attention! That’s a good time to practice appreciation, as I mentioned above.

Planting continued. Very early in the month, I planted 25 eggplant seedlings, of three varieties: Purple Pickling, Nadia and Diamond. This used one bed in the main annual garden, plus I placed some in the front orchard. I reseeded winter squash varieties and cucumbers that hadn’t germinated well. In our newest hugel area I seeded melons (Escorial, Montreal Market, Savor), more Delicata and Butternut squash, and cover crops of Japanese

Bush Beans

Millet and Japanese Buckwheat. Steve drove more stakes and ran wire so I could plant more climbing beans: Turkey Craw and Good Mother Stallard. I also seeded another area of Pinto beans. Mid-month I planted more root crops: Andover parsnip (it was actually a little late to start them), various carrots and beets. I had been late starting my basil indoors, so I gave that a good long time in the greenhouse before transplanting it on June 24. At that time, I also started my next round of bush beans. 

I covered the eggplant and basil with row cover for a little extra heat retention since they love heat and it wasn’t a consistently warm month.

Kale getting crowded

Most of my crops are looking good so far. My earliest root crop plantings germinated poorly – maybe because of too low soil temps? It’s very frustrating to carefully hand sow those tiny carrot seeds with poor results.  Heat lovers like tomatoes and eggplant grew slowly without much heat.  My brassicas, beans, potatoes, leeks and squash look gorgeous! No disease or insect problems to speak of so far this season, although I am starting to see white imported cabbageworm moths fluttering about!

With the drought, there was watering to do for all the newly planted crops. The rain barrels empty quickly in these conditions. The ponds last longer, especially the one fed from our overflowing wellhead. We mostly did spot watering rather than using automated systems. It takes time, but is the most efficient in terms of water use.

We also brought in materials (hay, wood chips, cardboard) to mulch with for moisture retention and soil health. In many places the mulch had gotten thin, being digested by the soil. That’s great – we just need to remember to refresh it.

Speaking of feeding soil, Steve continues to experiment with diluted urine as fertilizer, especially on our alternate pasture areas. After the animals eat the vegetation down to the ground, we fence it off again and he fertilizes. He managed to overdo it in one area so we saw what “burning” the plants looks like. Other than that, it’s going well as far as we can see and smell. The grass is truly greener. Steve is also preparing to launch a line of urine diverting “toilets” for sale soon!

Our elderberry bush is 10 feet tall and spreading – the goats love the leaves I prune off

I have done quite a bit of what I guess we can call weeding. Because of how much I mulch, my established and annual gardens have almost no weeds. Where we are expanding, though, there are plants to cut back, often resprouting from stumps. Also, in the orchards, I am trying to get particular plants established as the layers of mulch break down. The best ground covering is always plants. At this point, I still need to go through and pull what I don’t want there (wild lettuce, thistle, pigweed, bindweed, crabgrass, brambles, excess mullein, chickweed and plantain) to make space for the spread of my chosen species (red clover, lupine, dandelion, calendula, echinacea, borage, cleome, globe thistle, angelica, valerian, nettles, and comfrey). At a certain point, even these need to be hacked back in order not to affect my food crops.

Everything that I take out, with scything, pruning or hand pulling, goes to the goats. It is very satisfying to watch them devour what otherwise seemed like waste. Well, it would have been composted or used for mulch, but still – it feels even better to turn it into milk!

Grapes Developing

Other miscellaneous work included tending grape vines, adding wires forpole beans, digging up and replanting some perennials, thinning the peaches, gathering manure and seaweed to create new growing areas.

Outdoors: Animals

Chicks in Tractor

The chicks that hatched last month from Steve’s DIY incubator grew quickly in the brooder and were moved outside mid-June to a chicken tractor. They were especially excited to start roosting versus sleeping on the floor. They quickly learned to love eating plants and bugs, scratching on the ground, and dust bathing as well. Strangely, from what I can tell, we have 11 female and 1 male in this batch. We’ve never had such an unbalanced gender percentage – I have no idea what that might mean, if anything!

Our big excitement with goats this month was Lily’s trip to the vet (video here: Lily Goes to the Vet). Every year we bring one of our goats to be tested for: CAE, CL, Johne’s, selenium deficiency, TB and brucellosis. We have never had reason to think we have these, but they are serious issues and regular testing is important to keep up, especially if selling animals. In fact, we implore people not to bring home goats from untested herds or breed to an untested buck. Always ask for copies of paperwork first!

Steve repaired and added more fencing, to keep in our livestock and to exclude predators. I am happy to report few losses so far this year. We’ve

Tabitha… her belled collar stops her from catching birds

rarely lost animals, but some years groundhog and deer have wreaked havoc on our poor plants. This year I can really only complain about the chipmunks. What destructive little beasts they can be! We are indebted to our huntress, Tabitha the cat, for keeping all our rodents in check to some extent at least.

My two hives are doing fine, but aren’t impressing me. Both have cranky personalities and aren’t growing very quickly. I plan to replace these queens with northern stock in July.

Indoors

Unfortunately, our second round of egg incubation was unsuccessful. We’d set both chicken and duck eggs. Just one of each hatched, and neither lived beyond a few days. It was disappointing and sad. Steve is investigating and reading and thinks that the temps got too high this time around. He has some new designs to try next year, and we also plan to buy another incubator. The commercially made ones do work, they just break down much faster than we approve of.

The other possible issue, although less likely, is that we haven’t replaced our rooster or drake for a few years so some inbreeding could be impacting our hatch rates. There isn’t much evidence of this being our problem and birds can tolerate quite a bit of inbreeding, but it did motivate us to reach out to find new stock. We don’t have connections to many others working with our

Indian Runner Ducklings

breeds of poultry, so I searched not-quite-frantically online. We found nice folks in Pelham NH with four black Indian Runner ducklings, old enough to move right outside rather than deal with brooding them in my tub (video here: New Indian Runner Ducklings – June 2018). Now we just have to hope there is a male in the batch. It will be a few months before we can tell gender. Then I tracked down a woman breeding Dominique chickens only a few towns over from me at Just A Notion Exhibition Poultry. In fact, she shows at the Deerfield Fair and we bought our last rooster from her, without ever meeting. She’ll be a great resource for information and help as well as new stock. Phew!

Open Homestead

The twins entertained at our Open Homestead Day

On June 2 we held our first Open Homestead Day. We had some big goals for organizing ahead of time that we mostly met. We so enjoyed showing people around and reflecting on our decade here and future plans. It was especially gratifying to have some friends come who hadn’t been here for awhile and could remind us of how much had changed. It’s hard to notice progress happening over years without such a reality check.

Off-farm

Since most people don’t live by an agricultural calendar at the moment, plenty of activities continue as summer arrives (not schools or the NH Legislature, which still follow a farming schedule!). I did spend time off-farm even though I limited my commitments. I was glad to make it to a few NH Peace Action events, our True Tales Live storytelling workshop and performance, and even to the SoBo Story Slam at The Sarah Orne Jewett House in Maine. I told my Bee Moving story there, and met another serious organic gardener, Mort Mather, whose book, Gardening for Independence, I am now greatly enjoying.

We also went strawberry picking at East Wind Farm since we don’t grow enough here for our appetites. They have amazing organic berries. I’ve put 5 gallon bags into the freezer, which I’ll process into preserves and jelly when the cooler weather arrives this fall.

June’s Harvest

We brought in 155 chicken eggs, 70 duck eggs, and 11.1 gallons of milk.

Red Currants Ripening

From the garden we brought in: 5 heads of lettuce, 7 pounds of rhubarb, 95 garlic scapes, 10 radishes, 1 pound of kale & collard leaves. Plus, “handfuls” of: oregano, garlic chives, chives, sorrel, mint, peas, honeyberries, strawberries, red currants and blueberries.

From previous years, the garlic ran out this month – just in time to start eating the garlic scapes. Still remaining: honey, canned peaches, blueberries and strawberry jelly, dried kale and beans, frozen eggplant, pesto, and salsa.

We grew fodder for the animals as well, many kinds, some tossed to them and some we let them pick themselves by using portable electric fencing.

We made 550 kwh from the PV solar panels. You’ll notice this is less than the past couple of months because, despite even more sun, the trees leafing out reduced how much sun reached the panels. It is still more than we used, so our “carry forward” account with the power company is growing.

I am also moved to put in the harvest column: beauty and rewarding work!

Looking Ahead

Pea Flower

There is plenty on my to-do list coming up. Here’s a sampling: hill potatoes, train beans and grapes, more sheet mulching, trim overgrowing trees, repair shed, cut problem weeds before they go to seed, successive plantings of root crops and beans, and learning to make frozen yogurt or ice cream/milk. And, soon, harvesting and food preservation will take much of my time, I hope! I can already see peas, beans and more berries forming.

July’s weather forecast is predicting seasonably hot and humid conditions coming up, which will slow down the heavier work. Thus, there will be some time to catch up on email, reading, and writing.

I’ll close this entry with a quote that speaks to this time of year for me: “The earth loves us back in beans and corn and strawberries.” -Robin Wall Kimmerer

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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) .

Harvest

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

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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

Zucchini

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.”

Kale

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

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