Monday, May 12, 2008

a farm visit

This morning after finishing the new fence for field F, Nick & I drove out to Caretaker Farm in Massachusetts for a farm tour.  It's part of an educational exchange of apprentices from lots of different farms in the area... every few weeks we visit a different farm & learn about a subject.  Check out  for more info.

Today's subject was soil health.  We learned about the different elements of soil-- what to look for when considering our future land choices, how to best work with soils that are too sandy or clayey, and how tillage affects aggregate structure.   

Caretaker Farm makes all their own compost, and that is their sole source of fertility basically.  They have this huge concrete pad that cost $30,000 (grant money covered almost all of that) where they turn their poop piles into black gold.  Actually, they get lots of people from the area dropping off their yard waste, kitchen waste, wood chips from tree trimmers, etc., and combine all that with their animal's contributions.  They also have a huge solar panel array which powers over 90 percent of the farm & homesteads.  This also was largely funded through grants.
They do use a lot of plastic mulch.  The farmer, Don, explained that because over the years so much organic matter has been added through compost, that there also has been a lot of weed pressure.  This means that weed seeds haven't been sufficiently killed in the compost they make.  And growing things in plastic mulch means you don't have to cultivate, cultivate, cultivate.  And pull & hoe & hoe hoe.  So there are always pluses and minuses.
Here's a home-made hand-pulled thingee called a "dibbler" which makes holes in the beds to plant transplants into.  A step further than our "bed marker" ... but interns there say that you still have to dig a little.  Ah, always creative farmers trying to come up with labor-saving tools.
Don doesn't plow.  He doesn't rototill either.  He uses this thing, called a "spader", which has underneath that green flap a rotating bar of shovel-looking blades, which basically loosen up the soil, & throw it against the flap there.  It doesn't flip the soil over like a plow and rototiller... that would be "inverting the soil profile" and according to a lot of people that is bad.  The cool thing is he can drive this thing right over mowed cover crop needing to be incorporated, and after a couple passes, you can transplant into it.  The downside is it's slower, and doesn't create nice smooth seed-beds like the rototiller, which really pulverizes the soil.

Here's a field that's been spaded. 
The animals on the farm are put to use, and their finished products are sold to CSA members.  Their pigs are bought every year from a neighbor as piglets.  They are turned into these stalls full of barn cleanouts (cow poo & wood chips), into which have been pushed ears of corn, which they relish.  Pigs by nature love to root, to dig their snouts deep down & find those morsels.  So in the process of trying to uncover the buried corn, they effectively turn the compost piles, making a great aerated environment for the manure to break down.  The barn doesn't smell at all, even though there is 4 feet of manure in some of these stalls & lots of animals.  I have seen this working at other farms too.  And then at the end of the summer the pigs are turned into ham, pork, & bacon, bringing in a little more profit for the farm family.  A win-win situation.  And the pigs look like they're having fun too...

The covered-wagon mobile chicken houses:

The hens follow the cows, which graze the tall ryegrass cover crop.  The hens clean up any worms or parasites that might live in cow paddies & hatch into nasty flies.  Also, of course, they provide eggs for sale to CSA members.  The bottom of these mobile units is metal grating, with wooden perches for them to roost on at night, and nest boxes in the back to lay eggs in.  This allows their poop to fall directly on the field.  One person can easily pull these "wagons" a few feet over (they're on big wheels) to fertilize the next area.  This method takes the 2 chores of cleaning out the chicken coop & spreading the chicken manure, and combines them into one, much more agreeable task, if you ask me.

And speaking of agreeable, Nick & I had our first harvest feast tonight:

Arugula greens (above)  and Red Russian Kale with Violet Flowers(below):

Combine them to make a tasty salad which I've been waiting four months for.    Wow.  The fruits of our labor.  And how delicious.

1 comment:

Dzeli said...

that looks so tasty!
hey, what is nick's blog again?
i put the cabbage & broccoli in the ground this past weekend. tomatoes to go in this coming or the next weekend. :-)
i owe you a phone call but you farmer types go to bed so early!