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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Taste and Tour

IMG_3467.JPGOctober 16, 1-4pm All are welcome to stop by for our 4th annual open farm and tasting event.

We’ll have a tour of the farm starting at 2pm, and ongoing sampling of garlic, roasted winter squash, and fresh pressed cider.  You may think garlic is garlic and squash is squash, but there are surprising differences when you get the opportunity to taste different varieties in succession, and it’s kind of fun.  Romanian Red Garlic has won first prize for the last two years.  Which variety will come out on top this year?  Only your tastebuds will tell.  We’ll have garlic, chicken and other fall goodies for sale as well.

We’ve now had a couple of good frosts, and many crops have finished.  Don’t expect to see pristine gardens at this time of year.  However, there are still some hearty cold lovers out there to behold, and we love to talk about our farming practices and plans.  We decided it is better to share the farm with folk that are interested in seeing what we do, than to hide our weedy fields and close it off to the public until perfection is reached.  It is becoming fairly obvious that weed free garden perfection may never arrive, so might as well come see it like it is!  Bring your friends, questions, and if you have extra unsprayed apples that you want to make into cider you can bring them along too.

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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A Freedom Ranger’s Life

Our batch of 75 Freedom Ranger chickens will soon be headed to the freezer, and available for sale.  They’ve lived a good life I think.  Room to roam, pasture, and good organic feed.  Here’s a pictorial timeline peek into their lives.

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Day old chicks arrive in the mail, extra special delivery by our mail man on his way home, photo by Lisa Robinson

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Chicks spend 2-3 weeks in the brooder in our garage.  We’ve made it by hinging 4 old windows together, which gives our dog Willow a nice viewing opportunity.

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“Teenager” chicks are transported out to the field in batches via our dog kennel.  Rounding them up is always entertaining. Photo by Lisa Robinson

 

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Growing and exploring the grass

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The chicken shelter is bottomless.  It is moved daily so their sleeping/ hang out area is fresh.  They are only confined to the shelter after dark, otherwise they are free to roam within the electric fenced area.

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Getting all grown up and looking like real chickens.  We feed organic pelleted grain and lots of scraps from the garden.  They are big fans of overgrown cukes and zukes, kale, chard, piles of weeds, and sunflowers.  As they get bigger, just about anything you throw in there will disappear.  We have been experimenting this year with fermenting our grain for all of our animals.  That entails soaking the grain mix in water for 2 days with a little bit of soaked grain from an earlier batch (kind of like a sourdough starter).  Because you are plumping the grain up with all that water it feels like more food and it is supposed to be more digestible for the animals.  The goal is for us to purchase and feed less grain while the animals are still feeling satisfied and growing at a good rate.  Is it working?  It’s hard to tell.  They all like the soaked grain, and we are feeding about a third less.  We won’t know how harvest size is affected until that day arrives.

We’ll have fresh chicken available for pick up on the farm late in the day October 3, and October 4 for those that reserve birds.  After that they will be available from the freezer if you make arrangements for pick up.  Or stop by on October 16 for our Open Farm and Tasting Event and pick up some birds then!

Chicken is sold for $5/lb, and individual birds range from 4.5-6 lbs on average.  Give us a call at 802-755-6336 or email peaceofearthfarm@myfairpoint.net to reserve your birds

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Grafting, Planting, and Digging

IMG_1215.JPGThe last of our tree orders have now arrived and been planted.  Our focus this year has been getting the swales that were dug last year in the lower field planted with a mix of trees and bushes.  We’ve focused on apples inter planted with shorter shrubs like seaberry, aronia, siberian pea shrub, and beach plum.  The siberian pea shrubs are mainly for nitrogen fixation, though their flowers and seeds are edible, and may be a fodder source someday.  The other shrubs bear berries that are highly nutritious and low maintenance, though not necessarily great eaten out of hand.  Last year the swales were seeded with all kinds of clovers, sunflowers, radishes and other cover crops, so we expect to see a lot of those popping up again this year.  We are currently propagating more comfrey and other perennial flowers to mix in to the plantings to help with mulching, soil improvement, and pollinator support.

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Tools of the trade for grafting: root stock, scionwood, pruners, utility knife, parafilm tape, electric tape and markers for labeling and of course a cup of coffee

To save some money we ordered a bundle of standard apple root stock.  We got a bunch of varieties of apple scionwood from friends by hosting a scionwood swap with our local permaculture group.  Then we grafted 11 cultivars of apple onto the root stock, making 20 trees for $3 each instead of $23 each.  We are not expert grafters, so perhaps we won’t end up with 20 successful grafts, but as long as the root stock survives, we can try again next spring if necessary.  We’ve potted up these grafts to keep an eye on.  By the fall we should know if the grafts are successful and will plant out the new trees at that time.

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Grafted apples in pots

The swales have served their function of slowing and sinking water into the field, but have certainly not worked perfectly.  The main problem has been that so much water has flowed through them during heavy rain events that they have filled up with silt and water has busted through in a couple of undesired locations.  Frey spent much of the weekend moving logs and branches to help fortify some problem spots in the swales.  We then dug  out much of the silt that collected last year  in the first two swales, adding it to the top if the berm and around the log pieces  to try to solidify the weak spots and direct water to participate in the swales fully, rather than cascade down the road.  It is a lot of work and will require continued monitoring and adjustment- not a quick fix.  Water is powerful.  We’ve also just planted willow whips in first swale that bears the brunt of the force from the water flow.  The hope is that the willow will help stabilize the berm and land along the water channel.

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reinforcing the outside of some berms with branches

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filling in a swale impact point with logs chunks, this will get covered with silt to solidify

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A hard earned break after a lot of silt digging

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Willow the dog and a bucket of willow whips ready for planting

 

 

 

 

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