That photo to the left was taken yesterday and serves as a warning from a taunting nature to never mess with her. All of your dreams and visions can be held in check if she decides to not play nicely. This year in New England we've been provoked by the extremes we've seen in temperatures this past winter. Days of 50˚ and 60˚ spring like weather combined with very little snow goaded us on to drool over an early planting season, thinking THIS year will be different!
No waiting until May to find ourselves giddily planting seeds in our raised beds, marking our rows with soldiers of signed popsicle sticks and drooling over the bounty to come.
But, nah. It ain't gonna happen. Yesterday happened. Snow happened and those darn freezing temps swept in laughing at us as they smothered our early season gaiety. Just keeping us in line, reminding us that this is the time for planning.
And that takes us to the title of this post. For on Sunday (the day before the photo was snapped) my wife and I had the privilege of taking part in a planning session discussing various events which may or may not be taking place this year at IFP (Inheritance Farm Permaculture). Well let me tell you something, this is shaping up to be a very busy year.
An interesting aspect of IFP is that should one decide to come visit (and that is highly encouraged) what you would see currently is some chickens, geese, ducks and one or two pigs along with remnants from previous workshops and meetups. But, you won't see dozens of cattle roaming around (yet) or goats or large swaths of pigs rooting around (yet) or long rows of monocrops or monstrous bales of hay waiting to be stored .
There are several reasons for this. The first is that while we do have the word FARM in our name it's not our desire to just repeat what every other farm does. Who wants that? That's boring. Drive around New Hampshire and it won't take you very long before you see the idyllic setting of cattle lumping along a big open pasture or pig pens corralling mud covered pigs. See it's been (being) done.
So we have the term Permaculture in our name. And this is the differentiating factor. Inheritance Farm Permaculture is more of a farm incubator or R & D site. Our goal isn't to recreate the wheel, we like the wheel. We want to showcase everything the wheel is really capable of and then introduce those ideas, theories and possibilities to our friends, family and permaculture brothers and sisters. That's why you'll find rocket mass heaters, aquaponics and solar arrays, rain catchment systems feeding gardens, composting toilets for events, cob workshops and so much more.
And, just to give you sneak peek and to wet your whistle at what's to come, here's a quick list of hits from the discussion:
1) Garage sale (more BIG news to come on that. Keep an eye on our events page!
2) A lecture series. This will feature talks/discussions for newbies to advanced permies on subjects like micro-homesteading, intro to Permaculture, rocket mass heaters, water capture and redistribution, gardening, how to make money writing books about your farm and farm experiences, beekeeping, etc.
3) Workshops. Heck yeah workshops!! Think cob ovens, chicken biosphere, large scale swales, soap making classes, sheet mulching, bug hotels, beekeeping, biochar, building passive solar heaters for windows and using rocket stoves to cook down maple sap to name a few.
4) Interviews with innovators from around New England on topics like feeding your chickens for free using compost, as well as what's happening with permaculture in NH and Maine.
But, those are topics we think people would like to attend.
We'd love to hear what topics you're itching to learn more about and we'd LOVE to host a workshop to help you learn. Why not leave a comment and give us an earful on what would light your fire. Bring it on!!!
What's your opinion about starting seeds yourself? I have this love/hate relationship with seed starting. And today I'm gonna talk about it. Hopefully as spring is slowly coming upon us you're already trying to decide what to plant and where to plant them.
Making our little charts and graphs while looking through the seed catalogs is a grand old tradition. Mulling over germination periods, companion planting and crop rotation really make you feel productive and gives a nice sense of accomplishment.
And it's that whole germination thing that gets the brain working hard. First you have to consider the last average frost date (around May 15th here) and then, depending on the seeds you're going to start, you have to count back a certain number of weeks to determine when to begin your seed starting.
And, that gets back to my love/hate relationship. Let's talk about the reasons for and against starting your own seedlings.
Personally, I can only come up with 3 reasons on the plus side:
1) There's an undeniable link between we humans and our soil. Creating the growing medium (even if it does come in prepackaged trays), planting each seed and waiting for the first little sprout appear are all things that deep down make us feel good. God knows it's no great accomplishment, but, still the satisfaction and pride that comes with seeing the first little shoot break through the surface seems really primal.
2) You get to choose your plants. If you've been looking through the catalogs and see "Grannies Heritage Heirloom 3 Seed Blue Tomato that weighs one pound each" and you want to be the talk of the neighborhood being the only one to grow them well then you buy the seeds and proudly starting the process. There's usually not much variety at most nurseries to choose from.
3) Your home looks like a nursery for 6-8 weeks. There's tray everywhere, grow lights hanging in closets, corners and basements. There's misting bottles, popsicle sticks, seed packets, bags of soil and pots for replanting scattered all around the house. You have to admit that you probably look pretty smart to all of the visitors to your house. And most of them usually say stuff like: "I could never do that!" or "Wow, that looks like a lot of work!"
And that brings me to my reasons against it:
1) The investment. There's grow lights and trays and seeds (which aren't cheap anymore) and racks and heating pads. And if you're really into it you'll probably end up getting some type of greenhouse to place the seedlings in when the get taller and your trying to harden the off. I never could quite come up with a decent grow light set up. Your supposed to always have the light about two inches above the plants and keep raising the light (or lowering the plants) as things progress. But, all of that requires hooks and chain and pretty soon you have a setup that begins to look like Dr. Frankensteins lab.
2) I don't necessarily need Grannies Heritage Heirloom 3 seed Blue Tomatoes. I just want regular tomatoes that can go on my sandwich or be made into a sauce for canning. And so I'm perfectly fine going to the nursery and coming home with the same old Beefstake or Roma that everyone else has. No pride issue for me there. And I don't mind paying a little more for someone else to grow them for me. I can even get organically grown varieties.
3) No disappointment when I fail. A couple of years ago I had started 40 cucumber plants and when the last average frost date came around I proudly planted each one in its assigned space and waited for the magic to happen. Well, the only magic to happen was a freak snow fall that I wasn't aware was coming and all 40 died. <insert heartbreak here> Sigh. So, I went to the nursery and bought some more and began to wonder why I didn't just go there to start with.
4) Nothing to clean up and put away. Nothing to sanitize or sterilize or box up and store until next year. Now, if you're someone that loves seed starting this isn't a big deal to you. It's all part of the package, but, I'm a lazy farmer here on the micro-homestead. We have gardens that, for the most part, are self watering and self feeding; and raised beds that keep down the weed population so I don't have to weed much anymore. Whole areas are covered in wood chips to produce good soil, but, another sly reason is because we have less area to have to mow.
Soooooo, chime in. Yea or Nay? What's your preference?
Is syruping even a word? Anyway, over here at the micro-homestead we're just about done cooking up this years syrup and so far the tally is a little over 1.5 gal. For those with the accountant gene that means we've collected about 60 gallons of sap. That's 12-5 gallon buckets and a whole lot of shoulder strain (we're not as young as we used to be).
Do you collect sap? Have you ever tried it? It's a pretty interesting, albeit short lived, hobby. There's only so many weeks a year to collect it and so you have this concentrated period where you put up the buckets, collect the sap and fire up the stove.
I think this was our 3rd year making syrup and by far the best year production wise. The first couple of years we may have gotten a few quarts each year, but, something about the mild winter seems to have upped the cupboard count!
We have about 13 taps installed with a couple of trees being large enough for two each. One of the trees with two buckets just can't seem to stop sending out sap. Both buckets fill up within a day or two while some of the other trees just kind of lump along giving a half a bucket at best at their peak.
We also tend to have a mix of traditional metal buckets and those bluish plastic ones. I actually like the blue ones better because you can see how much sap is in them without have to remove the lid. I've never tried the gallon milk jugs and driving around town you'd think I'm missing out on something, but, I just can't get used to the way they look. Kinda redneck-ish. And I'm not picking on any that uses them, actually it's a really nice way to recycle some stuff. But…nah, I just can't do it.
I am thinking about using the plastic tubing and letting gravity do some of the work rather than keep lugging my five gallon pale from tap to tap.
And we've been cooking ours down inside the house rather than outdoors, but, it's mainly due to the fact that it seems like a waste of good wood to cook all day just to end up with a quart. And a quart is usually all we get because we only cook down 10 - 20 gals per session.
Keep an eye on this site because Sam and I are planning on trying an experiment to cook down sap using a rocket mass heater J tube. If that works like we think it should then we may be able to cook loads of sap down just using sticks. A lot of sticks, but, it least it would be more efficient than logs.
Closing out here's some numbers I've kinda scratched together as to the value of one quart of syrup:
Assuming my labor is worth at least $10 an hour and it takes me 10-12 hours to cook the sap down indoors, that makes our syrup worth about $100/quart or $400/gallon and that doesn't include the usage of propane/ electricity or the time to collect the sap or the time to setup the initial taps.
The stuffs like gold.
So, what's your story? Got sap? How are you processing it? What value do you think you syrup has? Come on, give us the scoop.
Have you heard about straw bale gardening? It seems to be making the rounds lately and since we gave it a shot last year I thought maybe I'd share my gleanings from the experience.
First, a little overview for those that aren't quite certain just what we mean by straw bale gardening. Basically, you round up some straw bales and then "condition" them or prepare them for growing. And it's really important that you use straw bales and NOT hay bales, because hay bales will have seeds in them and, trust us, you really, really don't want those seeds to germinate. Voice of experience talking here.
So the big question is WHY? Why even bother trying to grow something in a straw bale in the first place? Well, for all of the full details and to get an in-depth look you can always buy the best selling book about it: Straw Bale Gardens Complete. But, the short answer is soil. Or growing medium.
These bales are wonderful for folks that have just terrible soil or no soil at all, like on a balcony. Perhaps you look at your land and you know it would take a long time to re-condition it into something that would be friendly to vegetables or flowers. Or maybe you're just curious to see if it would really work. Whatever the reason you have a case can be made for using bales.
The basic premise is that the bale serves as 1) the container (like a pot or raised bed) and 2) the soil itself. In order for the bale to become the "soil" or a good growing medium it has to decompose and for that to happen the bale must first be soaked for a few days and then nitrogen is added and then more water is applied and after a few weeks, if you've done your job, the bale has decomposed internally and the inside temperature has leveled off with the outside temperature you can begin to plant. It's a little more involved then this simplistic description, but, you get the idea. And the book mentioned above will walk you through it, step by step.
My take on it is that, for us, it's "alright". It wasn't great, but, it wasn't something we'd do every year. We were able to grow veggies in them and after they broke down completely we had a nice source of compost to use elsewhere. And, like our raised beds it was pretty weed free and was at a nice height for harvesting veggies. But, we tried it because we wanted to experiment with the process and we were intrigued by whether or not we could make it work. And we did make it work, but, it was considerably more labor and water intensive than we had imagined and seemed to use up a lot of fertilizer/nitrogen. AND, we had to remember to soak the bale twice a day in order the keep the decomposing chugging along. AND, you still have to periodically add more fertilizer during the growing season. Sooooo…we're kinda lazy gardeners, to be truthful, and we just didn't want to have to keep paying attention to the whole rig-a-marole and in the end we just didn't need to do it. Plus, once they decompose you have to start all over again. Ugh.
Now, having said that, there are times and places and reasons for choosing bales as a growing medium. Such as the fact that maybe you only have a driveway and don't want to build raised beds. Or maybe, like us, you just want to try it.
What do you think? Have you tried them? Are you leaning toward trying? Leave us comment and share your insight.
When you look at the area where you're contemplating starting a garden or maybe the place where your garden already exists, what do you see? Rocks? Weeds? Terrible soil? Maybe even NO soil at all?
In permaculture we're all about the soil. Treat the soil right and it'll produce in abundance for you. Treat it poorly (I'm looking at you Big Aggie) and it won't be long before all sorts of problems start to arise. One of the keys to a great harvest begins with the soil. Permaculture devotees try to disturb the soil as little as possible and let nature do what it does best.
Take a look at the forest. Who waters it? Not me. Who feeds it? Not me. Who decides what branches come down or when the leaves should fall? Again, not me. And yet, the forest is a living, breathing, THRIVING entity! Silently and consistently working to make sure it survives. It's forever working to maintain an atmosphere where fungi, bacteria, animals and other plant life coexist in a symbiotic relationship that's beneficial for them all.
That's the way your garden should work and it doesn't have to be a back breaking event either.
If you start crying when you stare at your garden area then it just might be time to reconsider this whole gardening thing. And I'm talking about raised beds.
Raised beds are basically structures built to hold soil (which you "make") that takes all of the negatives of typical vegetable/plant production and does away with them. There's no tilling and very, VERY little weeding. Watering is cut wayyyyyy down as well and you don't have to mess with soil amendments such as fertilizers, minerals, etc.
Let's take a quick look at some of the pros and cons to see what you think about them.
First up: The Pros.
In your raised garden bed you know exactly what type of soil you have because you put it there. You have several options here like buying premixed soil from a local nursery. Local to us is a place called The Dirt Doctors and they sell different types of soil mixes depending on what you're trying to plant/grow. Or, you could do what I did which was to mix my own bed fill by using a mix recipe I got from Mel Bartholomew, over at squarefootgardening.com.
My original design was 4 x4 beds 12 inches tall filled with a mix of 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 compost and 1/3 peat moss. I tossed it all onto a tarp and then pulled the tarp back and forth to mix it. Easy, peasy! Then I covered the bottom of each bed with either garden fabric or newspapers (which we permaculturists prefer) to keep/kill weeds and threw the mix in. Instant garden.
The next great thing about raised beds is weeding is incredibly simple. You see something growing that should be growing and you pull it up. It comes out easily because the soil is fluffy, unlike in most gardens where you're working with the ground and the weeds grow deeply. No special tools are necessary either. Just pull.
Next is the wonderful concept of intensive planting. In a 4 x 4 bed, if you mark it off into one foot squares you can grow 16 different veggies! Tomatoes take up one square, but, 16 carrots can be growing in the next and 9 beans can be in the next.
And harvesting doesn't get much easier either. You can reach the middle of the bed from either side. AND, if you were smart like I wasn't, you'll build you bed on legs or stilts and NEVER have to bend over!! I can't tell you how many times I wish I had done that.
And here's how you fertilize it: When you're done harvesting your veggie you just cut it down at the surface, make a little hole where it used to be and toss in a handful of compost. Sweet! And each fall after the season is over we cover each bed with chopped leaves and grass clippings.
Money and construction. It will cost you some money to initially purchasing the building materials and then the soil mix. And you will have to build it. Unless you can find someone to do it for you then you'll have to be ready to cut wood, fasten it together and attach legs if you want them.
So there you go. Raised beds work wonders. You can have them on top of rocky ground, sandy ground or on top of your driveway. The mix can go into half barrels, planters, tires or even burlap sacks. Give it try and give your back a break!
Ray is part of the Ray and Randi duo, who actually don't live on the farm. They have a micro-homestead in Gilmanton, but are VERY active over at IFP and are guest bloggers for them.
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