Happenings in the next couple of weeks


100_6947October 22 we’ll have fresh chicken available in the late afternoon for $5/lb.  Please call or email soon to reserve your birds.  You can also pick them up frozen later, but we’d prefer to move as many of them as possible fresh.

November 1 we are offering a sheet mulching demonstration and free lunch in partnership with the Lunchbox.  The sheet mulching demonstration starts at 11am, followed by a free soup meal using farm grown ingredients.  Sheet mulching involves covering the ground with a barrier layer that will break down within a season (cardboard or newspaper) topped with composted manures and mulch layers.  This smothers weeds, adds fertility and keeps the soil covered. It is a great way to prepare new garden space for next year.  If you’d like to help, come prepared to handle mulch and compost.  Anyone interested in a tour afterwards is welcome to stick around. This is a family friendly event- feel free to come for any part of the day.  Frozen chickens and garlic will also be available for sale that day.

Next comes the mulch

Sheet mulching with a class from Sterling College

November 2 we are hosting a hands-on skill share with the NEK VT Permaculture group.  We’ll be making bone salve, an herbivore repellent for trees made from the marrow of bones. It has supposedly been used in Austria and perhaps other parts of Europe for a long time, and has recently been popularized by permaculturist Sepp Holzer.  The meeting starts at noon with a potluck. We will demonstrate the set up and burning of a fire to make the bone salve, but it won’t be complete until the next day. Anyone who wants to try some of the finished product can get some at the next NEK VT Permaculture meeting at the Craftsbury Library, November 13, 6-7pm. While we are waiting for the fire to burn we can look at and discuss other winter protection methods for trees such as guards. If there is remaining time and interest we can work on some terracing/hugel bed making nearby.  We are still looking for another cast iron dutch oven that is 10 inches wide. If anyone has an old one to donate to the craft of bone salve making please let us know soon (755-6336). It shouldn’t be used for cooking for humans afterwards, so it is a sacrifice pot. We have some marrow bones to use, but could use more if anyone has access to fresh or frozen bones filled with marrow.  Here is a link with a lot more information about bone salve making and its uses.  All are welcome to this skill share and the NEK VT Permaculture Group meetings which happen monthly on the 2nd Thursday at the Craftsbury Public Library from 6-7pm.

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New Garden Pioneers


100_6763When creating new garden space via sheet mulching it is always advised to wait at least a few months for the bed to start decomposing before planting into it.  However, each year we find ourselves wanting to plant more space than we have prepared.  We inevitably decide to do some more sheet mulching, knowing that we can plant right into it with the old stand-by- winter squash.  It is a bit of a pain to cut through freshly laid cardboard, but winter squash seems to do just fine.  We have chosen to use them as pioneer plants in fresh beds because they are large transplants which need a lot of space, therefore you are making less holes than other fine seeded types of plants.  Winter squash also likes a lot of fertility, and grows quickly to cover and smother the area.  We rarely have to weed a winter squash planting in fresh sheet mulch.  The good leaf cover helps to discourage weed growth and by the following year the beds are in pretty good shape for other crops.  Some years we have planted garlic right after the winter squash.

This year we used winter squash in 3 different types of new beds:  swales dug by hand then planted, cardboarded and mulched, a fresh sheet mulch, and a terrace that was newly finished.  More details about the swale planting can be found here on a previous post.  This is what it looked like in August.  The white blooms are from daikon radish gone to seed. It was seeded into the swales along with various types of clover to cover the ground, add nitrogen, and in the case of radish to make water penetration easier.

100_6289For two years now we have also tried planting sweet potatoes into fresh sheet mulch, and the results haven’t been half bad.  As far north as we are near the top of Vermont, we don’t expect to get a lot from a warm loving crop like sweet potatoes- especially without using black plastic to warm the soil.  We were pleasantly surprised both years by how many sweet potatoes we got, though not enormous, even with all that mulch that most people say keeps the soil cold.  They also have the spreading vines that smother and cover a new area.  Next year we won’t put pumpkins next to sweet potatoes though- a little too much smothering and covering of each other went on.


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The Results are In! Tomato and Garlic Tastings 2014

Visitors at our open farm day start to dig in to tomato and garlic samples

Visitors at our open farm day start to dig in to tomato and garlic samples

It was exciting to have many new faces as well as some more familiar friends visit our farm on September 7 for our Open Farm Day and Tomato/Garlic Tasting Event.  We offered the event mainly to get people to visit the farm and so we could talk about our farming practices and show some of the abundances and challenges that are visible on a September tour.  An additional goal was to share the diversity and beauty of vegetable varieties that exist out there.  While some visitors were tomato and garlic aficionados looking to try more varieties, others were blown away by the fact that tomatoes come in other colors beside red and that garlic comes in more than one variety.  In reality our small taste testing represents the microscopic filament on the tip of the iceberg.  There are thousands of varieties of tomatoes and garlics out there.

The fun of growing a rainbow of different varieties of crops such as tomatoes, winter squash, peppers and beans is part of what inspires us to farm.  Of course a variety’s flavor is just as important as how cool it looks.  A taste test offers the chance to compare the flavor of vegetables side by side unhindered by the pressures of having to make choices based on price, size and appearance.  Allowing visitors to rate our veggies based on flavor adds an interesting perspective to our variety choices for future years.  On a daily basis we are evaluating our favorite varieties as we pick, sell and eat them.  Factors such as yield, marketable size, uniformity and lack of cracks and disease, and the appearance that most customers desire all effect our choices.  The funny thing is that when tasted side by side, most of those marketing factors don’t match up with the favorites from the taste test results.  For instance, the top voted tomatoes are orange and green (green when ripe).  We had been really excited about a new tomato this year called Gypsy because of its productivity of uniform medium sized blemish free fruits, but it came in last in the taste test.  That being said, the sample size of data was pretty small, with the average number of votes for each variety being around 12.  You can find last year’s taste test results here.  Some of the same varieties were tasted last year but many are different and the results are quite variable.  I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves, here are the results of the taste test for tomatoes.

Tomatoes were ranked based on both taste and sweetness.  Here are the rankings from highest to lowest based on the averaged taste and sweetness scores: (I’ve included links so you can click the variety name to see a picture and seed source, though many of these tomatoes were grown from seeds we saved ourselves last year)

1.Honey Drop

2. Aunt Ruby’s German Green

3. Solar Flair

4. Rose de Berne

5. Pork Chop

6. Raspberry Lyanna

7. Orange Strawberry

8. Golden Jubilee

9. Super Lakota

10. Paul Robeson

11. Amish Paste

12. Purple Russian

13. Gypsy

Comment and scores left along with the oil spots at the garlic tasting

Comment and scores left along with the oil spots at the garlic tasting

The garlic was chopped and served in olive oil on crackers.  Being such a strong flavor when eaten raw, differentiating between the varieties of garlic poses a challenge.  Garlic varieties were evaluated for flavor and spiciness.  Despite similarities some distinct favorites did emerge, and the results were quite different from last year.

Garlic taste test results from highest to lowest scores based on the averages of flavor and spice:

1. Romanian Red (by a landslide)

2. German Extra Hardy

3. Elmer’s Topset

4. Phillips

5. German Porcelain (it should be noted that the low score for this variety indicates that it is the mildest and that may be desirable for some people)

The standout preference for Romanian Red was a surprise for us.  We have grown it for two years now and don’t have any to sell as we are building our seed stock, but will be sure to continue to expand our plantings after seeing these results.

Thanks to all who came out and participated in this event!



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Freedom Rangers


100_6486We are raising meat birds for our first time this year.  We’ve started with 52 Freedom Rangers (the two extra chicks that were sent made it, yay!).  We chose the Freedom Ranger variety over the standard white Cornish Cross because they are said to be better at grazing and foraging.  They grow at a slower rate, but seem like the healthier choice.  We haven’t experienced it first hand, but have read that the Cornish Cross chickens often have leg problems by the time they are 8 weeks old as their bodies grow so quickly.  Since we will not be slaughtering our Freedom Rangers until they are 11 or 12 weeks old, we will probably be spending more on grain because of the extra time, even though they are getting some of their diet from the pasture.

The Freedom Rangers are being fed organic grain, veggies and sprouts from the farm, and whatever they find to eat as they roam around during the day.  We still have a few chickens available.  They will be slaughtered in October.  Contact us if you’d like to reserve some birds.  We are selling them at $5/lb.

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Nurturing the Wild Edges


100_6210When we first moved to our property 4 1/2 years ago the lawn had been mowed regularly, and edges trimmed.  Walking around the first spring we found a few wild black raspberry plants that yielded a taste or two, but not much.  This year we have been picking black raspberries 6 quarts at a time every couple of days from wild patches.  So, what happened in between?  A little bit of “nurturing” and a lot of neglect.  Basically I assert that by keeping some “wild” edges and un-mowed spaces near the house we’ve created some prime habitat for one of my favorite edible crops that requires no work, expect for harvest.  In some of the patches the nurturing has involved a little more than that.  We have cleared around some berry patches to allow them to grow and helped keep them upright with fencing.  One particularly large fruiting plant was found growing out of the side of a honeysuckle bush by chance.  The fruit is the size of a domesticated raspberry, much bigger than your average black raspberry.  So, we cut down the honeysuckle which takes over the wild edges around here and is not edible.  In order to try to prevent the honeysuckle from suckering we covered it with thick cardboard, then piled a bunch of logs and wood pieces that were laying around on top.  The big fruited plant had bent over and rooted where it touched the ground in several places, so we were able to cut them and make more plants in a supported row.

100_6211When I look at all of the wild berry bushes that have grown and flourished, this common theme of a pile of logs or an old stump nearby prevails.  Berries seem to love rotting wood and the moisture and fungal associates that is brings.

So, we have done a little nurturing to our most productive bushes in the forms of tying up, adding some manure, and wood piles.  There are a couple of spots that we have done nothing to except not kill them, and they are doing great too.  I think this is the key to developing an edible landscape working with what comes naturally in the landscape.

100_6250Some areas in our fields have patches of wild blueberries.  We have done nothing to these except, let them grow.  We thought they probably indicated a good spot to plant domesticated blueberries and have planted around them.  Generally they are too tedious to pick lots of, but they are good for a nibble.

There are many other useful plants in our hedge rows and infrequently mowed fields.  The Choke Cherries and Hawthorns flourish more each year, and plentiful blooms of Yarrow, St. Johnswort, Valerian and Clover support local pollinators and offer medicine for the picking.  Nature is plentiful!  Let’s hear it for the messy yard.

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Planting on Contour

swale digging tools of the trade

swale digging tools of the trade

We are now into our 5th growing season at Peace of Earth Farm.  In the beginning there were many trees to clear and garden beds to create.  Our initial strategy was to start building gardens close to the house and in areas where the least amount of clearing needed to happen.  This strategy led us to the creation of a lot of gardens on hills and slopes.  On the steepest slopes we did use terracing to prevent erosion and build soil (by utilizing lots of woody debris from all the clearing we had done).  We did not necessarily build those terraces on contour though.  Many of the garden beds we have built on slopes show evidence of some degree of erosion and unequal water distribution.  The importance of planting along a contour line has become more clear as we observe our beds over time.  A contour line is basically a level line across a slope.  At this point any new beds we create we are forming on contour, and may end up reshaping beds we have already created over time.

This past winter when doing the farm planning and mapping we decided we needed more space and hence some new beds.  Winter squash is the crop we often use to break in new beds as they are large plants that are good at spreading and smothering weeds.  So we decided to create some new beds on contour on a slope.  Looking at the pictures below you might ask why we did not utilize the lovely flattish field it is next to instead of the slope that was recently populated by pine trees.  The answer is that the lovely flattish field gets flooded seasonally and we are only grazing animals on it until we have established other flood control measures (more on that in the future).

To form these beds we first found the contour of the land using an a frame level and marked it with stakes.  We then dug out a trench or swale and put the dug out soil downslope to create a berm.  The purpose of swales is to capture water that is running down the surface of a slope, slowing it down and allowing it to sink into the soil down at root level where plants can access it over time.  Swales are used in different ways in different climates and soil types.  The important difference between a swale and a ditch is that we are not directing water down slope and off site for drainage, we are trying to hold onto it and distribute it evenly.  For these particular swales; we dug them, ammended them with compost, gypsum, kelp and greensand, and seeded the concave portion to white clover.  We then planted the squash on the berms, laid cardboard on top (as the sod that is inside the berms is sure to grow upward eventually), and mulched with grass that was freshly scythed.  Hopefully we’ll have pictures of cascading vines and ripe squash to show off in the future.

These images (above) show two other swales we dug earlier this spring before things started to green up.  These were planted to hardy low maintenance bushes like Black Currants, Nanking Cherry, Beach Plum and Buffaloberry (an edible nitrogen fixing shrub).  They are a bit narrower and steeper.  The berm and swale has also been seeded with a mix of clovers, lupines, other annual flowers and some deep rooted radish and turnips.  These hardy shrubs should be able to hold their own once established and will not need a totally mulched and maintained understory, so we will let the clover dominated ground cover establish and hand mow it periodically instead of trying to keep the whole area mulched and weeded.  The bushes we planted were pretty tiny, but are establishing.  I’m sure they are loving the rain that is steadily coming down outside our window.

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Perennializing Salad

At this time of year the battle with grass is ever waging in our garden beds.  Looking around for images to capture I found myself much more satisfied with close up shots than panoramic images of weedy garden beds.  Why not focus on “weeds” that we appreciate and love, and even some that we have nurtured.

There are many wild perennials and self seeding annuals that fill the early spring niche of salad and cooking greens.  As we are pulling dandelions, lambs quarter, and purslane out of the garden we sometimes save some to add to salads.  This year we roasted a lot of dandelion root for tea.  The beauty of these plants is that they generally took no human effort to grow, they are more nutritious than the plants we do grow, and they are earlier than anything we seed into the garden.  We haven’t found anything useful to do with grass though, except let other animals graze it.

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Another category of early greens are patches that we have intentionally or unintentionally allowed to grow to maturity, drop their seeds, and naturalize.  This gets a little complicated in annual garden beds.  It works better in perennial gardens or along perennial crop rows such as asparagus.  We’ve let chervil, several varieties of chicory, lettuce, amaranth, arugula, dill, parsley and orach seed into some pathways and around perennial fruits.  You have to be willing to accept a little disorder in the garden, but are rewarded with a variety of salad additions that act as ground cover with very little work.  If things get out of hand you can weed them or cover with mulch to thin the population.  At this point these little patches are too small and irregular to be a big part of our commercial production, but they add variety and flavor to our mixes and home salads.  Maybe we will be more intentional with it in the future and maintain whole areas of “perennialized” salads.

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