We hosted a seminar at Steve’s house last weekend about topsoil. For starters, the presenters Abe Collins and Eric Noël gave us a crash course in soil science. Fun fact (new to me, anyway): topsoil does not grow from the surface up. It grows from the surface DOWN. Really? I always thought it was the decaying plant material plus manure piling up that made topsoil. Wrong! It is that organic stuff being drawn DOWN into the inorganic clay, silt or sand. So what brings the organic stuff down? Worms? Please! It is roots. And some roots are better at it than others. OK, here is the mind-blowing part: does building 3 feet of brand-new topsoil take millions of years? No! Under the right conditions, it can happen very quickly—like 3 years! And we can create the right conditions. How to create the right conditions was the real subject of the weekend seminar.
In case you didn’t know, mankind is busy destroying the world’s topsoil with conventional agriculture. So the idea that we can reverse the process comes as great news. There is also hope that we can sequester a significant amount of carbon this way. Anyway, a big thanks is owed to Abe and Eric for the seminar, and to Doug Hamm for the catering, and to all the attendees.
Eric Noël demonstrates how to use a penetrometer to measure soil compaction. Compacted soil is impenetrable to roots.
We all gave the instruments a try.
Abe Collins delivers an underground lecture.
Eric and Abe use the “Vermont garlic press” to squeeze some liquid from a grass sample onto the refractometer.
Steve checks out the refractometer to see the sugar content of the grass.
The Yeomans plow was invented by Percival Alfred Yeomans of Australia. It can reduce compaction without turning the soil.
Posted in Farming | Tagged Abe Collins, Carbon Sequestration, Eric Noël, Soil Science, Topsoil | 2 Comments »
Golf courses and English parks can be very pleasing to the eye. John Barrow postulated that this is because humans evolved in the savannahs of Africa. When we see a grassy landscape with a few trees, our subconscious is thinking “good hunting grounds.” Increasingly, livestock farmers favor these sort of landscapes as well. But not because they look nice. The practice of combining trees with grazing livestock (called “silvopasture” in the ag business) can be a win-win-win. The trees are a valuable cash crop in their own right, plus they provide shade and shelter for the livestock. In hot weather, trees can even increase the growth of forage by shading it.
It is not clear how well this will work in our climate, but we are experimenting to find out. Peter Nash has selectively thinned a piece of his forested land. Our pigs pictured above are happily working on step two: preparing the soil for planting an organic pasture seed mix. It will be some time before we know if it will be possible to graze cattle here. If not, I’m thinking the golf course business looks a lot easier than farming anyway.
Posted in Farming | Tagged Agroforestry, John Barrow, Pastured Pigs, Peter Nash, Silvopasture | Leave a Comment »
The organic feed that we feed to our chickens is a significant part of our costs, so we have been searching for a way to control it. The price of commercial feed (mostly composed of corn and soy) has been on the rise for the past three years.
It sure would be great if we could grow our own feed grains. But the equipment required to do that is not available for hire in our area. Although chicken farms were once plentiful in New England, now they are mostly gone and so is the infrastructure for supporting them.
In fact, our kind of small-scale agriculture is so unusual in the United States that nobody here makes a combine harvester small enough to load on a trailer and drive from field to field (the way you have to in New England, where farm plots are relatively small and scattered). If we want to buy a small combine, our options are antiques or expensive imports.
Nobody knows whether grain prices will continue to rise. Many are predicting lower prices ahead. For now, we will keep buying from the feed store–at the mercy of the markets.
Posted in Farm Business | Tagged Commodities, Organic Grain, Poultry Feed, Small-scale Farming | 12 Comments »
I was just reading the combined EPA and NRCS response to a recent article in the New York Times about agricultural runoff polluting Lake Erie. My heart goes out to them—seriously. It is so ironic after they finally licked the problem of industrial and municipal waste pollution in the lake. And even more ironic: one of the causes of the new agricultural pollution is the no-till farming system that is intended to prevent soil erosion.
I’m not saying we have all the answers. We don’t. That is why I feel so bad for them. We all are working hard to make food and to protect the environment. You fix one thing and another thing breaks. Plus, nobody is immune to unintended bad consequences. But in our struggle to produce quality food and to protect the environment, we have chosen a very different path. We are not putting chemical fertilizers on the ground at all—not to mention herbicides or pesticides. I look at this picture and thank goodness for that choice.
Posted in Farming Philosophy | Tagged Agricultural Pollution, Lake Erie, New York Times, No-till Farming, Organic Farming | Leave a Comment »
We are currently looking to hire a part-time helper to care for our broiler chickens from April through October. This is a great opportunity for someone who is interested in learning about our sustainable farming practices. All the details are on our Job Openings page.
Posted in Help Wanted | Tagged job openings, Pastured chickens | Leave a Comment »
Local artist Kate ODell sent us these images of watercolors she painted of a couple of our cows. Check out these and other paintings by Kate on her web site: http://realsmallart.bigcartel.com/ The original paintings are available for sale, as well as reproductions as note cards. Very nice!
“Beauty the Beast” by Kate ODell
“How Now, Brown Cow” by Kate ODell
Posted in Friends | Tagged Kate ODell, Watercolor Paintings | 1 Comment »
I just got off the phone with Steve, who is away on vacation this week. Steve asked me to post this message, because we have heard that some customers were unaware of an ordering deadline originally set for today.
If you are thinking about signing up for our Organic vegetable CSA, there is a $40 discount for those who sign up and pay in full early (originally, today). This information was buried pretty deep on our organic vegetable ordering page and in the newsletter we sent out last month, and many people did not see it. So we are extending the discount deadline until Monday, March 4.
The discounted prices are $560 for a full share (suitable for a family of 4), and $360 for a half share (suitable for 2 people).
Lots more information is on the ordering page, including our Organic vegetable CSA signup form. But if you are pressed for time and you want to get the discount, you can just put a check in the mail by Monday to Steve Normanton, 226 Charles Bancroft Hwy, Litchfield, NH 03052, or send us an online payment via the Intuit Payment Network (https://ipn.intuit.com/pay/SteveNormanton).
Posted in News | Tagged Organic Vegetable CSA | 3 Comments »