Putting the Gardens to Bed, Fed and Covered


100_9903This fall has been exceptionally mild in Vermont, giving us more time than usual to finish all the details of putting the gardens to bed.  This is our third season of soil testing with Logan Labs doing a saturated paste test which analyzes the balance of a variety of macro and micro nutrients in our soil.  We’ve been adding mineral amendments every fall trying to correct the deficiencies in our soil and have been seeing improvements in our soil tests as well as plant health.  We like to amend in the fall with the solid minerals that we need such as humates, gypsum, greensand, granite dust, sea salt, and trace minerals (zinc, copper, molybdenum, cobalt, manganese, and selenium), giving the soil life some time to digest and incorporate these nutrients as crop residues are breaking down.  During the growing season we support crops with foliar sprays that also contain these nutrients to make up for any leaching and provide quick access to growing plants.  On top of the minerals we’d like to put a layer of compost, but this fall we had a hard time finding a high quality and affordable source- so we’ll make up for this missing layer in the spring.  We generally leave any remaining crop residue in place to give back to the soil it came from, chopped with a machete if needed.  Then everything is covered with as much mulch as we can access, afford and have time to gather.  Mostly that means a layer of hay, but for the beds closest to the house we also covered beds with a nice layer of forest leaves from the class 4 non-travelled road just beyond our neighborhood.  It feels good to know that soil is fed and covered for the winter, protected from excess rain or wind.  There is a cacophony of life carrying on just below the surface.


Dragging tarp loads of leaves from the “road” to the gardens, note that we cover all leaves with a thin layer of hay on top to keep them from blowing away when they get dry in the spring


Mulched beds 


The laying hens have entered their winter hoop housing.  They work in any remaining crop residue and weeds, then we’ll be throwing in hay, sprouts and food scraps every week to make a nice layer of compost for them to scratch through.


Willow spends a lot of time in this position.  She is an avid rodent hunter and she assumes there is something under all hay even if we just put it down!


The terraces also get mulched, and also layers of pea shoot mats after harvest.  A whole winter’s worth of tray remnants adds up to a nice layer of additional soil in the spring.

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Generating More Farm Grown Animal Feed


100_9712Pigs, chickens and ducks are all fairly grain intensive animals to raise.  Unlike cows, sheep and goats, they are not able to survive on grass alone, though they can derive a portion of their diet from the pasture.  We do focus on poultry varieties that are better at grazing and gleaning insects.  We have hopes of switching to raising a variety of pigs such as the American Guinea Hog in the future because they are excellent at deriving most of their feed from forage alone.  Growing enough grain to feed our animals on our land base and at our scale of production is not practical at all.  However, we have experimented with a few crops and sources of food that help supplement the grain and improve diet diversity without taking up too much precious garden space.

Mangel Beets– We seeded some of these giant beets alon100_9705g the edges of beds in spots where they would not compete.  Pigs love them, I imagine meat birds would peck away at them too.   We’ve found they do need
garden space to be successful, when we have tossed seed in bare spots after pigs have turned the soil they never seem to amount to much.  We’d like to do larger plantings in the future.  The upper leaves can be picked repeatedly before the root is pulled as well.


Sunflowers and other choppables– This spring when our swales were dug it created a lot of exposed soil that we quickly covered with a wide variety of seed, some perennials like clovers and grasses that we hope will hold the soil in the long run, and other annuals like sunflowers, radishes, sorghum 100_9713sudan grass, lentils, and peas that grow quickly and create another yield.  We also stuck in some extra winter squash transplants, but they were not able to compete with the cacophony that erupted.  The sunflowers, radishes, and sorgum sudan did great though.  We have been pulling off the mature sunflower heads which are devoured by pig, chicken, duck and wild birds all.  The sorgum sudan we have chopped and thrown to the pigs which they relish just like corn stalks (which they also get).  Even though we will be planting the swales with trees in the spring, I’m sure there will be plenty of self seeded radish and sunflower for years to come.


Amaranth– We experimented with growing some rows of amaranth in a garden bed that would become over run with squash vines, figuring that their tall skinny stature would complement the ground cover.  We picked the leaves and sold bunches as a cooking green early in the season, then let the plants mature to make seed heads.  Once the seed heads we100_9664re mature and squash harvested, we cut whole plants and threw them on a tarp, shaking out some of the mature seed, which is a teeny tiny grain.  I’m guessing we only got 50% or less of the seed out.  We’ll save this to grow again in the future and may sprout some to feed to the chickens.  The rest of the plants were thrown to the chickens and pigs.  The chickens made a good show of pecking at the seed heads and leaves, but I’m not sure how much of the tiny seed they actually found.  There will be amaranth self seeding in the chicken yard forever I am certain.  The pigs skeletonized the stalks- mostly focusing on the leaves.  This crop doesn’t seem worth growing for grain alone, but with the yield of a marketable leaf and some animal feed its value increases.

100_9701Apples- What an amazing year for apples!  The pigs especially enjoyed many apple drops and mash from cider making. In this picture we fenced them around an old apple tree and shook it twice a day.  We never dared to fence them around the tree before for fear that they would do too much damage, but so far it does not appear that the roots were unearthed.  Also in the picture is a pig with a milk slopped head.  The milk is a treat that does not come from our farm, but we trade vegetables for it from friends.

Chickens, Compost, and Sprouts– This year we tried something new with our laying hens, since we are only raising a dozen at the moment.  Instead of rotating them on pasture, we kept them in one spot and were sure to bring them plenty of fresh veggie scraps, weeds and sprouts to eat.  Our sprouting operation generates some waste from the cleaning process, credits that come back from stores, and the stubble that is left in trays after harvesting shoots.  We made a compost holder from pallets and always added the food scraps/sprouts in that spot.  The chickens were getting fed, scratching and breaking down anything left into smaller pieces, and adding their manures.  We also added their bedding, hay, and other plant debris in layers to fill out the pile.  Once the pallet pile was full it was taken apart and reassembled nearby.  The old pile got scratched apart by the chickens as they found mycelium and little bugs growing in it until it was a fairly fine compost that can now be spread around nearby trees and bushes.

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Slugs and Bugs– While we certainly are not trying to propagate slugs, they are ever present, especially in wet years.  They are a favorite of the ducks and all we have to do is station them in areas where slug control is needed.  Here they are working the area around shiitake logs, but they spend most of their time rotating the perimeters of gardens, and now as crops are finishing they get more free reign over garden clean up.100_8637

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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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