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.


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.


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.


reinforcing the outside of some berms with branches


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


A hard earned break after a lot of silt digging


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





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Peaches and Volunteer Salad in the Hoop House

As spring arrives, the hoop house is filling with germinating arugula, spinach, radishes, carrots, beets, and cilantro.  I don’t have much to say about that, except it is nice to have my hands in the soil again and anticipate the fresh foods that these little cotyledons represent.  I did want to mention a couple of other things we’ve got going on in the hoop house that are more unusual.


Peach tree being trained into a fan shape by directing growing branches along wires

Last year we planted a couple of Reliance peach trees in the back of the hoop house.  That cultivar is about as hardy as a peach gets and is still on the edge for northern Vermont.  We like to try plants that are just on the edges of our zone 4, and hope that the little bit of extra protection that the hoop house provides will be enough of a buffer to make the peaches successful.  We don’t want to sacrifice too much space to our peach experiment, so we are training the small trees into a fan shape along the end wall and will continue to direct and prune them into that “flat” plane.  This is our first foray into espalier, so we’ll see how it goes.

We’ve also been blessed with the weed like attributes of Claytonia.  Last September we planted 3 beds to spinach for overwintering.  With the weirdly warm Fall/Winter we had, we ended up picking the spinach a few times before “real Winter” hit.  Then in March when the spinach normally would start producing, it was worn out and getting ready to bolt.  So we pulled out the spinach.  Under the spinach was this lovely carpet of Claytonia that we did not plaIMG_1005nt, but will be able to harvest.  We’ve struggled with getting the timing and temperature needs right for growing a good stand of Claytonia, so at some point in the past years we have either spread Claytonia seed in these beds or allowed plants to go to seed.  It seems the seed will hang out in the soil and kick into gear when the temperatures are just right for it all on its own.
The thickness of sowing and intermixing with other obstacles like grass make the harvest less than ideal.  But, we can’t complain, it’s an extra yield that we never planted, ready for salad in April.


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Carbon Farming Inspiration

100_8311Agriculture is a major contributor to climate change, but with a little (or a lot) of change it can also be a solution to  the problem.  This past weekend, I was fortunate to attend a two day workshop with Eric Toensmeier, author of “The Carbon Farmng Solution“.  His excellent book is over 500 pages long- so I’ll in no way try to summarize it here.  I can share a few points that I took home though.

Most people are aware that we need to drastically reduce the amount of emissions of gasses like CO2 and Methane that are contributing to changes in Earth’s atmosphere.  That is absolutely true, but we also need to sequester carbon into our soils and living organisms (like trees).  Living systems and healthy soils have the ability to hold and store carbon from the atmosphere into a fairly stable form.

Our current agricultural system is headed in the opposite direction needed.  While the scale and scope of change that needs to happen seems insurmountable, the solutions are not all that complicated and they actually yield more food.  Simmered down, here are few basic ways to sequester more carbon.

Increase organic matter

  • till less or not at all
  • keep the soil covered with mulch or living plants
  • add compost and biochar, use cover crops


  • even in large acreage of mechanized systems, trees can be intercropped with other annuals like grains without sacrificing yield, even if the trees are just on the edges as windbreaks or riparian buffers
  • we need to convert a lot of acreage to perennial crops and change our diets to match

Integrate animals into farming systems to build soil and fertility 

  • done well, rotational grazing can build soil in places that are less appropriate for growing crops
  • combining trees/shrubs with pasture can build more soil, sequester more carbon, and grow crops in place for animals or for sale

here’s a blog post by Eric Toensmeier with a bit more explanation about some carbon farming practices

I was happy to find that we at Peace of Earth are already doing all of these things.  Not specifically to sequester carbon, but because all of these practices also increase your yield, make your farm more resilient to change, add diversity, add nutrition, store water, stop erosion…  That is the good new I think.  The solution is full of agricultural practices that already make sense, are beautiful, and grow more food.  It’s not a bitter pill to swallow, but obviously there are a few large industrial and governmental forces that are not currently on board.  These changes need to happen now, not in 20 years.  We can all affect change in our own yards and gardens, communities, and nations.  Live by example, talk to your farmers, support the change you want to see, and vote.

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We Raised Over $7000 to Build a Root Cellar/Passive Cooler!

100_9553Willow is resting easy, with the campaign being over and all.  We’d like to thank everyone that has supported our project so far!  Contributors, people who helped to share the campaign and tell our story, as well as those that have helped us come up with the plans for the project, blog writers, and crowdfunding adviser friends!  We raised more money in the last day of the campaign than the whole rest of the month.  Though we did not reach our intended goal, we are very happy with the resulting total.  Now that we know the amount of money we have to work with, our next steps are to re-evaluate the design of the root cellar to see if we want to scale down the original plans and look for some cost saving areas, or continue to seek some additional grant or loan funding.

We feel very loved that so many friends and family wanted to support us in this endeavor.  And it is also exciting that those same friends and family as well as many total strangers want to support this passive cooler research because of its implications for energy and cost savings!  In spreading the word about this project thousands of people may have read about the idea.  Even if those people didn’t choose to support our campaign, we are happy to have planted the seed of this passive cooler concept.  Perhaps many more experiments of this type will germinate and grow!

We look forward to reporting our progress during the building process and beyond!  Knowing that so many people have invested in this root cellar/passive cooler concept will help light a fire under us to complete the project and do some comprehensive record keeping to share.

Several people have asked about making direct contributions to us for the project.  We are happy to receive personal checks for the root cellar/passive cooler project at any time.  Find our address in the contacts page here, or stop by!  Even though you can no longer sign up for perks on our campaign page, you can still view them here, and we’d be happy to honor those same offerings for anyone contributing late.  

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One More

Our farm sign just needs one more coat of sealant and it is refreshed and ready to re-hang.  Also, there is just one more day in our crowd funding campaign to build a root cellar/passive cooler!  We’d appreciate all the help we can get sharing our project.  There are some pretty nice perks for donors as well.  Ranging from farm art to t-shirts, garlic, tea, CSA shares of all sizes and dinner parties on the farm, there is something for everyone.  All the information you need to know about our project can be found

HERE- please click, support, and share!


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Extra Early Spring Bonus

There wasn’t much of a winter this year.  Now, the ground is essentially bare at least a month early for VT.  The ground is still frozen, and more snow and freezing temperatures will certainly come and go into May.  I’m not planning on doing anything rash, like planting peas super early.  It is really nice to have some time to work on tasks like pruning, cleaning up gardens and areas that are wild with brambles- without snow and before there is a rush to plant.  We have started seeding some early crops in the hoop house.  Early carrots, beets and radishes have been sown.  The overwintered spinach is still growing out, but looks like it might bolt, where as the claytonia is just starting to crank.  We are planning arugula, spinach, cilantro, snap peas, and mini onions for the early hoop house as well.


Last year we experimented with some hard wood cuttings of red and white currants, forsythia, pea shrub, and mulberry.  We’d heard that trying to root dormant cuttings in the late winter/early spring is easiest.  You could start them in pots inside, but we opted for sticking them in the ground in the hoop house, since last year there were still several feet of snow in March.  We only had success with the currants.  This year we are trying again.  I read up on the technique and found I may have been burying the cuttings too shallowly.  I’ve now cut my twigs into 6-10″ sections with at least 5 buds, three stuck under ground and 2-3 above.  The 2016 experimental collection includes black currant, a seedless grape, mulberry, forsythia, and I’d like to add some elderberry.


Here’s another propagation experiment.  This black raspberry is wild, but has berries easily twice as big as the usual.  I’ve allowed the tops to bend over and be buried.  Later this spring if it seems they’ve set root I’ll cut the cane from the mother plant and dig and move the new plants to extend the row.


Warm weather has also inspired some spring cleaning.  Basically the garage needed to be hoed out in order to have enough space to work on refinishing our farm sign.  Though it is still far from perfect, it’s much more functional now (the garage that is, still working on the sign).  I also hope to get some sheet mulching done that never got finished in the fall.  We are always expanding garden space for annuals a little more, while perennials are starting to take over some of the older garden beds.

And finally…I can’t complete another post without mentioning our root cellar/passive cooler campaign.  We have just 6 days left and a long way to go to reach our $12,000 funding goal.  We can use your help to make this research possible.  Please visit our campaign site and make a donation or share our story today!

passive cooling system



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We’ve Got Lots of Plans! How to Make Them Happen?

We are pretty good at generating ideas and to do lists.  Making those plans happen takes a bit longer.  Our most pressing project is the root cellar and passive cooler that we’d like to build.  We are hoping to make it happen this year.

passive cooling system

One of the main barriers to actualizing many of our plans is lack of capital.  Generally we’ve funded our farm improvements and projects through our own savings and two loans from the Farm Service Agency, which we are still paying back.  We have grown our farm slowly, making lots of investments in fruit trees and bushes, and getting our mushroom cultivation started.  These are investments with slow pay back, but the return will eventually come in the form of many years of food and medicine.  At this point in our farm plan we do not have the cash flow to invest in large building projects, even though they would benefit our farm, and the surrounding community.  That is why we are looking for help to make our root cellar/passive cooler happen this year, not 10-15 years from now.

We’ve turned to the crowdfunding model to make our root cellar/passive cooler plans happen.  Wikipedia tells us “Crowdfunding is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising monetary contributions from a large number of people…which has emerged outside of the traditional financial system.”  We hope that our root cellar/passive cooler idea is important enough to a large number of people that they are willing to contribute a small amount of money that can add up to the large sum needed to make the project come to life.  Our farm certainly has a lot to gain from having a root cellar/cooler, but there are also a multitude of benefits for our CSA members, and the local community accessing our produce.  Carrying out the research surrounding the passive cooler concept has potential benefits for all sorts of small businesses that are in need of a cooler.  These are the types of innovations that need to be tested out.  If there is a simple way to refrigerate food without electricity and unnecessary burning of carbon, it can be of great benefit to our world.

We’ve got one week left in our crowd funding campaign!  We hope that you will consider contributing to and sharing the project.  If we fall short of our goal, we do have some plans  for moving forward with the project.  Any funds donated to the campaign will 100% be used for the intended purpose of creating a root cellar/passive cooler.  We may decide to scale the project down and build a much smaller version.  We have applied for some grants unsuccessfully, but we are still in process for other grant options that can make the project happen.  Worst case scenario, we’ll have to wait another year or two to accumulate enough funds to proceed.

Thank you to all who have already contributed and helped to spread the word about our root cellar/passive cooler project!

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