Building Soil, Decreasing Erosion, and Making Productive Garden Beds with Wood?

IMG_6147We’ve been slowly terracing the hill behind our house over the past 7 years in order to turn an unproductive hillside into prime gardening space. In order to build soil and improve water holding capacity, while using resources available to us on site, we’ve used a process called hugelculture. Simply put, hugelculture takes a mound of old wood, covers it with other materials that will compost in place, and lets it all break down over a long period of time, while still growing plants on the surface layers of soil.

October 7 1-4pm we’ll be offering a workshop on Hugel Terracing

The first section of workshop we will talk about the process and look at the different terrace beds we have built over the years. See for yourself how well the process has worked, and learn from our mistakes. We’ll talk about other ways that the same process could be applied to other terrain (like flat ground) and with other building materials (wood chips, spent hay, mushroom spawn…)

The second portion of the workshop we will build some new terraces. This will involve digging holes, setting posts, moving logs and brush, so come prepared for physical work (sturdy shoes, gloves, whatever you need to stay dry and comfortable)

Pre-registration for this workshop is required. We will cancel the workshop if we don’t meet a minimum of participants. $10-$20 sliding scale fee for participation. To register email peaceofearthfarm@myfairpoint.net or call 802-755-6336

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Taste and Tour

IMG_6374.jpgSeptember 9, 1-4pm All are welcome to stop by for our 5th annual open farm and tasting event.

We’ll have a tour of the farm starting at 2pm, and ongoing sampling of garlic, tomatoes, and perhaps some other seasonal produce.  You may think garlic is garlic, but there are surprising differences when you get the opportunity to taste different varieties in succession, and it’s kind of fun.  Which variety will come out on top this year?  Only your tastebuds will tell.  We’ll have garlic, other veggies, and perhaps some mushrooms for sale as well.

We love to talk about our farming practices and plans.  Come see and taste what is in season.  If you are coming back again- see how perennials have matured and what new ventures we are trying.  Visit the animals on pasture, and check out the ups and downs of no-till garden management.   Bring your curious minds, palates, and friends.

Peace of Earth Farm is at 43 West Griggs Rd. in Albany, VT

you can find directions here or give us a call 802-755-6336

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The 99% Market, Sharing Fresh Veggies with the Newport Community

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For the past two years, Diane Peel of the NEK 99% community group has faithfully picked up CSA shares from our farm.  Later that day the two large shares would be divided up into smaller units and offered at a free table outside the NEK 99% gallery for anyone looking for some fresh produce.  The table is always staffed with a volunteer to help with veggie identification and prepping tips, as well as recipes. img_2041.jpgWe love to hear where the produce is ending up.  An elderly woman who wants enough cucumbers to make a small batch of pickles.  Kids who love the snap peas.  For many people this may be their only source of fresh vegetables for the week, no matter how small.

When we have an overabundance of a well received veggie we are happy to donate extra to the project.  At the same time we really appreciate that the NEK 99% raises funds each year to purchase shares from us.  It makes our time and labor feel valued, and our need to earn a living respected.  I like to say that the project “feeds two birds with one seed”, we get income, and many people have access to some fresh veggies.

This  year, the NEK 99%  has raised funds for one large share, but they would love to purchase another large share.  They will be raising funds at a yard sale this Saturday May 27, 8-2pm on School St. in Newport, VT.  Go support them and the veggie project and check out a myriad of other yard sales at the City Wide Yard Sale event.  I imagine you could also just drop by and give them a donation as well.

For more information about all the other cool projects that the NEK 99% is involved with check out their newsletters or follow them on Facebook.

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New Greenhouse for Starts

IMG_4703.JPGWe are happy to have a new tiny green house for starting plants in, just outside the house.  Though we have two larger hoop houses, they are both a good distance from the house and we’ve never felt justified in heating them.  We’ve always started our earliest plants inside the house under lights, until the weather gets warm enough to put the least temperature sensitive starts (like onions, lettuce, spinach) out into the hoop house.  We really feel like natural sunlight produces much better, stockier plants than those under lights, so we are happy to be able to get them out in the sun early now.

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We retrofitted a greenhouse frame that originally had a pre-fab thicker cover.  We framed out the ends, making one solid end wall, and covering the rest with plastic.IMG_4622We originally planned to put in a wood stove, with the pipe coming out through the solid end wall.  My parents offered us a quartz electric heater for free, so we decided to give that a try instead.  We’ve also added some barrels filled with water to store and release solar heat overnight.  They seem to help keep the heat more even.  The little electric heater is just used at night to keep temps above freezing.  We’ll see how our electric bill is affected, and maybe switch it out for a wood stove next year if necessary.IMG_4612We’ve even have nifty ski pole window props!

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Early Bird Special

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For some, this time of year means curling up by the fire, eating comfort food, trying to absorb a bombardment of political news or perhaps reading a good book.  Others may be dreaming of the spring to come, or planning their next adventure.  We are doing all of the above, and also putting together our seed order for the coming growing season.  If you are dreaming of fresh vegetables, fruits and mushrooms that could be on your plate, this is a great time of year to sign up for a CSA share.

In order to help pay for those aforementioned seed orders, we are offering an early bird special to anyone who signs up for a small or large CSA share and pays in full by the end of February 2017.  Payment by February 28 will get you a free June share, valued at $40.

The full description, pricing run down, and pictures of all shares from 2016 can be found on our CSA page

We also welcome early sign ups, even if payment is not possible until later.

If you are curious about where we order our seeds from, check out this post from last year for a variety of links to some great small seed companies.

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Mushrooms in Review

IMG_2877.JPGWe first started growing Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms on logs in the spring of 2015.  This past summer we finally tasted our first home grown mushrooms.  We are pleased to have had some success, but also know that there is much more to learn.  By far our biggest fungal project has been inoculating birch logs with Shiitake spawn, we now have 200 logs.  We had tried three strains of Shiitake (Jupiter, West Wind, and Miss Happiness), and so far only the West Wind has fruited well.  Jupiter and Miss Happiness are cold weather strains, meaning they should want to send out mushrooms in the Spring and Fall when cued by appropriate temperatures.  So far we only harvested a few in the late fall, though they were nice and big.  Some of the logs have Turkey Tails growing on their ends, so they may have been taken over by other spawn.  We’ll wait and see if these logs produce in the year ahead, perhaps they are slow due to the dry summer conditions.  In general we are learning that we probably need to intentionally water our logs on a regular basis and can’t rely solely on the rain.

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The strain that did produce for us (West Wind) is conditioned to grow in a wide range of temperatures and requires the logs to be soaked in advance of their fruiting.  We were thinking that the soakers sounded like a lot more work, but so far their increased productivity and regularity seems quite worth while.  We harvested enough to eat a lot, dry a little, and include them in our CSA shares a few times.  img_1888Hopefully this coming season with twice as many logs fruiting we can start to sell them.  We’ve now established that the Shiitakes will grow on Birch, the follow up question is how many years will they keep producing?  We also realized how much humidity plays a role in the size and quality of the Shiitake that fruit.  Our first mushrooms picked during a hot and dry period were cracked and smaller (but still delicious).

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We will play around with watering techniques and perhaps using some fruiting blankets to hold in humidity in the future.  With more confidence in our ability to get some Shiitake to grow, we hope to inoculate 200 more logs this Spring.

100_8017.JPGIn 2015 we had inoculated some stumps with Oyster mushroom spawn as well.  For the oysters we just used the stacked cookie method (layering sawdust spawn between chunks of log).  This was pretty quick and easy to do, but it felt like it used a lot of spawn compared to the drill and fill method used for the Shiitakes.  The cookie method also seemed to allow the spawn to dry out more easily.  A few of our Oyster logs did fruit in the spring, but the dry conditions limited growth.  Little black beetles also proved to be a challenge.  It appears nearly impossible to grow outdoor Oysters without a beetle infestation.  We’ll keep watching to see what our little cluster of logs does, but we don’t have plans to gear up in outdoor Oyster production.

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We also tried a new variety of mushroom that likes to grow in compost and heat, the Almond Agaricus.  We just tried one bag of spawn placed in the soil around a section of tomatoes in the hoop house.

Sadly, we didn’t harvest any Almond Agaricus, but the tomatoes in that section did grow really well!  I had held onto the spawn longer than recommended before planting and it was a bit blue, so perhaps that is to be blamed.  The area was watered by the same drip tape keeping the tomatoes hydrated, but I expected it needed more regular soaking than we kept up with.  We’ll have to try again.

And finally, King Stropharia, also called Garden Giant or Wine Cap.  These tasty edibles often come on their own in wood chip piles and we have harvested them here and there in some of our flower and forest garden plantings.  This year we intentionally bought a couple of bags of spawn and introduced them into wood chips along our older asparagus plantings.  img_3069img_3068img_3066The asparagus beds were full of grass and in need of a real overhaul, so we weeded, laid down cardboard, and covered between the rows with wood chips, and around the plants with hay mulch.  We didn’t finish this until September, so we won’t have results on the Stropharia production until next year.  Our hope is that they will produce in clusters and eventually spread out through all of the asparagus planting on their own or with our help.  If nothing else, the asparagus should be a little happier.

We move into a new year of mushroom growing and experimenting with an attitude of gratitude and curiosity!

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Sweet Squash and Spicy Garlic

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We’ve been holding garlic tastings along with an open farm day for four years now.  This year was our first time holding it in October, and therefore pairing the garlic with a winter squash tasting, rather than tomatoes.  The opportunity to taste 6 different kinds of raw garlic is exciting to many, overwhelming to some, and nauseating to the unfortunate few.  Those who came this year seemed to really take the tasting seriously, sharing thoughtful comments and scoring.  We had around 20 visitors, but not everyone wrote down scores for the tasting, so the stats aren’t very scientific.  What the heck, it is fun to see how the varieties rate from year to year anyway.  Who knows if the differences come from individual taste buds, the soil and precipitation that year, or perhaps just the individual heads that were chosen for sampling.  Without further ado- here are the results of the garlic tasting.

img_3491Garlic varieties were rated on heat and flavor.  Here the averaged results for heat and flavor, from highest score to lowest:

  1.  Loco Red
  2. Phillips
  3. German Extra Hardy
  4. Romanian Red
  5. Elmer’s Topset
  6. German Porcelain

Loco Red also won for heat.  This variety was given to us by Lori Brandolini of Shady Bean Farm in Eden, VT.  There was “wild” garlic growing in the garden when she arrived and she continued to grow it out for years, dubbing it Loco Red.  We’ve now been growing it out for around 3 years, and it has gotten a lot bigger.  It should be noted that German Porcelain is always rated as the mildest garlic, and that sometimes is what people prefer, despite it’s losing status.  One comment referred to it as a “good starter garlic”.

If you’d like to see the garlic tasting results from previous years, check them out:

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For the squash tasting we roasted slices of all the squash with a little olive oil.  We didn’t include any pumpkins in the tasting, because they are generally not that delicious straight up texture wise- better made into soup or pie.  If we really wanted to be fair we would have roasted all types and also steamed and mashed them as squash really vary in their moisture content and texture- some making fantastic soup or mash and others better roasted.  It was complicated enough as is though- only so much kitchen and oven space to go around.  We asked for scoring based on sweetness and overall flavor.  Here are the averaged results from high to low.

  1. Buttercup
  2. Sweet Meat
  3. Lower Salmon River
  4. Butternut

I was not surprised that Buttercup won.  I definitely concur on that one.  I remember the first time I was able to taste roasted Buttercup side by side with some other varieties and realized just how much sweeter it is!  I personally would rate the Lower Salmon River higher than Sweet Meat, but the numbers tell otherwise.  The Lower Salmon River was a new variety for us this year from Adaptive Seeds.  They are pretty and pink, and fairly productive.  The Sweet Meats really have not been good keepers, they all got soft spots and we won’t have any to store.  They were also the most mouse preferred in the field, that might say something about sweetness too.

Thank you to everyone who came out and helped with the tasting!  Hope to see you again next year.

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