Garlic and Tomato Test Results, Open Farm Day, and a Few Things We Learned About Tomatoes This Year

aPoE IMG_2157Several weeks have now passed since our Open Farm Day event.  Before it is too late, I wanted to at least report the results of the day’s taste tests of garlic and tomatoes and share some photos.  Though I doubt the results are statistically accurate with such a small pool of samples- it is fun to see what happens from year to year.

Tomato taste test results 2015:

1.Aunt Ruby’s German Green (a ripe green tomato won!  It also had high marks in 2014.  This is great to see- as green tomatoes are still hard to sell, most people don’t imagine they will be so sweet and tasty)

2.  Rose de Berne

3. Honey Drop (cherry)- these were grown from seed we saved last year.  The original seed purchased from Hudson Valley Seed Library primarily produced sweet round orange cherries.  This year the plants have a wide variety of colors, sizes and shapes, but are still tasty.

4. Pork Chop- a white/yellow stripey tomato

5. Gypsy

6. Blueberry cherry (starts out blue/black and turns dusky pink when ripe, supposed to have very high anthocyanins)

7.  Paul Robeson (this is one of our favorites and personally I think the particular tomato sampled was overripe and not a good representative)

Garlic Taste Test Results 2015:

Average results for taste and heat ratings-

1.  German Extra Hardy

2.  Phillips

3. Romanian Red

4.  Loco Red (this won for the hottest with a perfect 10 awarded to it- actually someone gave it a 15 but I didn’t average that in)

5.  German Porcelain

6. Elmer’s Topset

Here’s a little snapshot of the day- thanks to Lisa Robinson for all of the pictures except the cherry tomatoes in hand

What we’ve learned about growing tomatoes this year:

We contracted late blight very early in the season this year and thought it was going to be devastating.  It did wipe out the paste tomatoes in our small greenhouse pretty rapidly.  Things were looking bad so we pulled the plants in order to limit spread to our other greenhouse with more tomatoes.  The first greenhouse to get hit is the one where we house our chickens over winter and so has a much higher nitrogen fertility (we are thinking this may have made the plants too lush and more susceptible to infection).

After we pulled the tomatoes from the first greenhouse we decided to kick our foliar feeding regiment into high gear.  We regularly spray a mix of micronutrients and minerals on all of our plants, but had been lucky to do it every two weeks.  After the blight we aimed for once a week and also started to drench the tomatoes (apply the liquid to the root zone).  It is now 6 weeks after the initial late blight infection and we are still yielding tomatoes!  There has been blight present on the leaves, stems and some fruits of all varieties in the larger greenhouse, but it has not taken hold into the destruction usually expected from the disease.  We really feel that fighting disease with access to good nutrition has helped.

Also, for two years now we have been experimenting with a wide planting spacing, no pruning, and trellising with a basket weave technique.  We think next year we are going back to pruning all suckers and clipping individual plants with one or two side branches to vertical strings.  We felt the unpruned nature led to late ripening.  The main drawback to the basket weave was that all the bottom fruits sagged low and we had so much damage from rodents eating them!  The rodents are another issue- but we can at least try to keep the tomatoes out of their reach.

Thanks to all who came out to our Open Farm Day.  If you missed it but would like to visit, we are having another event September 24 from 5:30-7:30 pm with a tour, cider pressing and dinner by Green Mountain Farm to School’s Lunchbox featuring our produce.  Hope to see you there!

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Open Farm Day and Garlic Tasting!

100_6691Open Farm Day and Tasting Event 2015

August 30,1-4pm (Guided tour at 2)

It’s that time of year again.  If you are a garlic fan, it’s time to come and taste 6 varieties of garlic back to back.  Even if you are not a garlic fan you should come check out the farm, hear about our crazy farming philosophies, and say hello to the pigs and poultry.  We may also have tomatoes, pesto and jellies to sample, but the tomatoes are taking a back seat this year.  We have had a visit from late blight in our greenhouses and while the tomatoes are still hanging in there, they are in shorter supply.  We’ll have garlic and other veggies as well as frozen chickens available for purchase.

We hope to see you on Sunday!

43 West Griggs Rd

Albany, VT 05820


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What Have We Been Doing?


Blogging takes a back seat when summer is full on.  Yesterday I finally got around to taking some pictures of what the gardens look like these days.  May drought led into a June deluge, followed by an early July heat wave (and then last night it was in the 40s!).  Summer in Vermont.  Our days have been filled with pulling weeds, mulching, and planting.  CSA shares have been filled with a good variety of early season veggies and have been well received.  Slugs continue to be one of our greatest challenges, the ducks help with that but they can’t be everywhere we want them to be.  The freedom ranger chicks are about half way to harvest and starting to get sassy!  Lately we’ve been spending a lot of time tucking all those fall greens, brassicas, and successions of beans and herbs in.  We’ve also had some help from WWOOFers, which was great!  And now- berry season is here.  Currently red and black raspberries, red, white and black currants and several kinds of peas all need to be picked.  So that is  some of what we’ve been up to.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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Swale Update


100_8482We’ve had quite a bit of rain lately- giving us a chance to see our new swales in action.  Our previous post gave the skinny on our goals with the swales, if you are curious.  The seeds we spread are germinating, but don’t have substantial roots at all yet, so the swales are still vulnerable to breaching.  So far what we have learned is that the swales do indeed all fill up with enough consistent rain.  The flow has been spread and slowed quite a bit.  Unfortunately the water is also showing us where the true low points of each swale are, and they are not always where we intended for water to flow.  The main issue has been too much flow at the far end of the swales which culminates to the low point of the field where we happen to have our laying hens and piglets at the moment.  We moved the pig house to higher ground, so they can stay snuggly and dry.  We had hoped that the installation of the swales would eliminate that problem, but we still have some work to do.  When the rain finally stops we’ll evaluate where we need to beef up the berms and remove silt to make the system work better.  Perhaps we need more swales in the series to handle the amount of rain that collects in the valley during multiple rainy days.

Willow loves the swimming pools we created for her!

Willow loves the swimming pools we created for her!


A surprising amount of silt build up in the second swale

100_8478 100_8491

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Earthworks for Water Harvesting


One end of our property has a stream bed that is dry almost all of the time, accept when we have heavy rains.  It is fed by uphill runoff and springs to some degree.  In 2010 heavy water flow, most likely increased by logging done uphill and off property started to cause erosion and extend the stream bed in a new path.  In 2011 a wet spring and the tropical storm Irene later that season tore a massive gully.  Since that time when we have had several inches of rain in a short duration more erosion has happened and the gully gets wider as the sides fall in.  The gully is headed out toward our lower field where we had hoped to continue rotating our animals for grazing and eventually have more garden space.  When flood water hits the field it carries a lot of sediment, floods certain sections of the field then rushes to the lowest point and off property where it does damage to a neighbor’s logging road.

Our soil is very sandy and well drained.  Generally when the rain stops, it is quickly absorbed and water logged soil is not an issue.  So, we hoped to find a solution to this flood/drought situation with a little earthwork.  Our intention was to decrease the erosive force of water entering the field by slowing it down, spreading it out, and giving it opportunity to soak in where we want to store it.  We had done some consultation with Mark Krawczyk of Keyline VT a couple of years ago.  He suggested trying to slow the water flow as high on the landscape as possible by creating step dams, which we have done to some degree over the years.  He also suggested digging swales on contour in the field.  We tried tackling this by hand and did dig two shorter swales by hand, but they did not connect to the water flow.  This spring we decided to step it up a notch and rent an excavator and hire Mark to lay out the swales and dig them.


Swale is a term that can mean different things.  From the permaculture perspective it generally means a water harvesting ditch that is built on contour.   A swale is different than a ditch that is intended to carry water away as fast as possible off a property or away from something like a road.  Here is a good article that explains swales more in depth.  As water from the gully or from general rain runoff runs into each swale it will follow the low point along the contour and sink in under the berm.  If there is enough water to fill the swale, it will overflow at the spillway which is a lower place in one section of the berm.  It will then move onto the next swale.  We constructed a series of 4 swales with enough space in between to be able to graze animals and allow for mobile fencing and housing structures as needed.  Hopefully enough capacity is built into these swales to be able to diffuse the force of water in extreme weather events, and allow us to hold on to as much of that precious resource on site as possible.


Mark brought his laser level, which makes finding contours very quick and easy. Here, Frey is starting to mark the next contour. A sensor on that post is reacting to the laser level and directs you by beeping if you are high, low or just right.


We want to establish plants all over the swale and berm in order to hold the soil and make it more resilient. We immediately raked and seeded the swales with a mixture of perennial grasses, clovers, radishes, flowers, and some annual grasses and legumes.

100_8264100_8299Next spring we plan on planting trees all along the berms of these swales.  We still have some planning to do regarding what types of trees we choose, but they will most likely be a mix of fruit trees and bushes, nitrogen fixers, nuts, and some that can be chopped for mulch and forage.

We hope to have just the right amount of rain to germinate the seeds and get good plant cover growing before any testing of the swales happens.  We’ll keep you posted.


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Repurposing Bags for CSA Pick Up



We’ve been saving our feed bags for some time now with the intention of transforming them into tote bags for our CSA members to pick up their shares in.  Last weekend with the help of my parents we actually made it happen.  I am not much of a sewer, so I needed the help and encouragement from my Mom to take on the project.  She also has a spacious room equipped with two sewing machines and good cutting mats that made the project go smoothly.  We are aiming to have enough bags to have two for each CSA member.  So each week members will need to bring back the previous week’s bag.  Hopefully that routine will be manageable for people.  We didn’t get all of the bags finished.  We tackled them in stages, assembly line style.  Mom generously offered to finish the rest.  Here are the instructions that we followed to make the bags.  We made a few adjustments, widening the base of the bag to 4″ and making the bags a little shorter.  I think they are pretty cute, and should be sturdy and washable for years to come.

It was really helpful to have all of us there to make the process work: the sewers, cutters, markers, and inside outers.  Thanks everyone!

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Mushroom Log Inoculation-Some Things We’ve Learned

100_8008We are excited to get started growing mushrooms this year.  We just finished inoculating a little over 100 logs with shiitake and oyster mushroom spawn.  Now the logs will sit in our woods and quietly do their thing.  We won’t know until 2016 if we have been successful or not.  We chose 100 logs as a number that seemed big enough to have more than our personal needs fulfilled, but not too risky or daunting for a first try.

There are many good sources of information out there with step by step instructions about doing outdoor log production of mushrooms.  We got a lot of inspiration and instruction from the new book Farming the Woods.  Rebecca also had the chance to do a full day workshop with Steve Gabriel (co author of the book) which was useful in picking up a few more tidbits of info that were not in the book.  Cornell Extension also has a you tube channel with many helpful videos about shiitake growing as well as other aspects of cultivating forest products here. We thought it might be more helpful for us to share some tid bits that we learned in this step of the process that might be useful to others just getting started in mushroom cultivation.


Though the most recommended type of logs for shiitake cultivation are oak or sugar maple, we chose to use primarily birch because that is what we have the most of on our property.  While the “Farming the Woods” book does not list white birch as a recommended species, that was one lucky piece of information garnered from the workshop.  Steve Gabriel said that should be updated in the book as he has since heard from several experienced shiitake growers that it works fine- so we went for it.

Logs need to be cut in the winter while the tree is dormant.  We didn’t start cutting the appropriate logs until there was at least 3 feet of snow on the ground.  100_7760We dragged the logs out of the woods by sled and it was a ton of work.  Next year we will cut logs earlier in the winter before we have lots of snow hopefully.

Shiitake Strains

There are different varieties of shiitake. Some will fruit in a wide range of temperatures, but need to be soaked in tub of water in order to stimulate the mushrooms to burst forth. Other varieties are not affected by soaking, but instead take their cues from temperature. We chose to start with two cold varieties and one wide range to have shiitakes throughout the season. Cold varieties can be grown on larger logs because they do not need to be soaked or moved around, which would be too heavy with logs over 6 inches in diameter. So, when choosing our logs we went with big ones for the cold varieties to save our backs, and they should also last longer. Also, when ordering all your materials, try to plan ahead a month in advance because it takes a few weeks to get your order delivered. We found out the hard way that you won’t get your order the next weekend!

Drilling the Logs 100_8013

Using an angle grinder is super duper way faster than a drill.  We got the appropriate sized drill bit and adapter as well as all of our spawn and materials from Field and Forest Products.  One thing we didn’t realize is that all angle grinders are not uniform in spindle size and therefore won’t work with the adapter.  We had borrowed one, then wasted a bunch of time trying to find an adapter piece.  We ended up just buying a new angle grinder in the end.  Probably a good thing to have anyway.  If you us the adapter that field and forest sells you will need a 5/8 ” spindle on your angle grinder.

Spawn Tools

We used sawdust spawn and the tools that are sold to shove it in all those little holes in the logs come in two styles.  100_8023One is smaller and can be depressed with your thumb, making it possible to work the tool with one hand so that the other hand can steady and rotate the log.  There is another style of the tool also sold by Field and Forest that is much harder to press and requires two hands (unless you have giant hands) which makes the process much harder, especially with wonky logs with little branch stubs that won’t lie flat.


Keeping wax at the right temperature proved more challenging than expected.  We had planned on using a crock pot to keep cans of wax melted but it didn’t get hot enough to do the job.  Next we tried melting cans of wax in the house and then running out with it to apply to the logs, but it really needs to stay on the heat or it starts gunking up fast and then you use way more than needed and your paint brush gets gummed up.  We found a two part solution.  100_8010We made a quick rocket stove out of fire bricks that we could have nearby to keep a large can of wax melted and hot. 100_8082 We then worked from little cans of wax that were kept warm over a candle (the invention of another friend trying out mushrooms for the first time).  We also found bristle brushes to work much better than foam brushes.  When a bristle brush gets gunky with cold wax you can dip it in the hot can of wax to melt (but not too long because you can burn the bristles right off, yes we did this).  If you dip the foam brush in the hot wax to degunk, it falls apart- not useful.

Also, in order for the wax to stick to logs they need to be dry, so bring them under cover a little in advance.


To keep track of our varieties and inoculation years we stapled metal tags to the end of the logs.  You can buy aluminum tags from the supplier, but we chose to buy sheets of aluminum flashing, cut them into pieces, then scratch on the information with a pen.  Time will tell if the scratch remains legible.


Oyster mushrooms are supposed to grow well with the totem style of log inoculation where spawn in placed between chunks of log that are then stacked vertically.  We tried this with the Italian Oyster spawn we got.  One tip that we heard is not to cut your log chunks in advance and throw them all in a truck and move them to your location, because it is much harder than you think to line up the right chunks again.100_8017 We found that this method uses a lot more spawn than the plugging holes style.  Also, our logs did not want to stay vertical (perhaps if they were a little wider in diameter they would work better).  After a few of them fell over we added new spawn, then secured each layer with a couple of nails set in at an angle and then propped the totems up with other log chunks.  We plan on digging holes and setting the totems about 8 inches into the ground to secure them.  In retrospect it would probably be best to wait until the ground is thawed to do this process so the totems can be stabilized in the ground from the beginning.


We invited the local Permaculture Group to help us inoculate logs, thinking that others would like to learn the process and that many hands would make the job easier.  We learned that achieving both goals of education and efficient production work are hard to do at once.  In the future we will probably choose to do either a workshop, or just focus on getting logs filled, so that there are clear expectations.  The process goes pretty smoothly with just the two of us- perhaps the addition of one other person if we were to do more logs at once would be the right number to keep all steps in a good rhythm.

We hope to have delicious mushrooms popping out of our logs in 2016.  I’m sure we will learn much more along the way and will share our lessons, successes, or failures in the future.100_8086

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