It was a big harvest year for us – we had four weeks of clear warm sunshine in a row in September/early October and we spent every weekend filling the cupboards and freezers. It was also our first year extracting honey – such a rich reward for the last two summers with our hives. Here are some photos of the bounty.
The summer goes by so quickly – there’s always something going on here at the farm before the landscape crew heads out, after they get home, and with our family on weekends. Planting, harvesting, weeding, haying, herding – the list never ends. Here are a few images of the homestead in summer.
Protecting your plants from pests and diseases starts with understanding the relationship between the pests and your garden. Pests and diseases have favorite environments, the better you understand them, the better you can work around them. If you analyze your growing conditions it can help you understand which pests you are likely to attract and then you can make a plan to defend your garden, both by selecting varieties that are resistant to the diseases you are prone to attract and also which organic methods/products can be used to provide further protection. This applies to all plants, both ornamental and edible. Continue reading
Yesterday it was 90 degrees, hot and humid, and today promises the same. I woke up early and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I crept out of a silent house and walked around the farm. An altered perspective – stumbling upon sheep still asleep in the pasture, dew suspended. The Rooster and hens come tumbling out of the coop when I open the door and look at me as if I was a stranger. Mist and geese rise off the lake, the tree frogs chirp, the pair of Orioles call to each other from their nest in the Silver Maple. The sun gains strength and so does everything else, rising with the arms of a golden conductor. Makes me realize how much life is here, and how it carries on without me each day when I’m not looking. I’m grateful to be a part of it.
We have been raising chickens for meat since we came to the farm about 13 years ago. Some years we have raised as many as 150 but have since tempered our enthusiasm down to a more reasonable number of 50. The economy of scale means that the 50 birds cost more per pound, but less stress and only growing what our family needs is worth its weight in gold. In the beginning we raised Jumbo Cornish x but found that the leg problems and lack of grazing instinct made them a poor choice for our farm. We purchase very healthy “Freedom Rangers” from a hatchery in PA and they mail them as day-old chicks. They reach a slaughter weight of 5 pounds dressed at 10-11 weeks, and my goal each year is to secure a slaughter date and be done with them by the 4th of July (the smell of chicken manure in hot weather is mucho disgusto). The chicks stay in the winter coop for the first 4 weeks (it’s available now since the laying hens have moved out to pasture in the Eggmobile) are protected and kept snug in a brooder made from hay bales and a heat lamp. At 4 weeks we open the door and they discover the large grassy run and still have access to the indoors when they want it for shade, food and water. For years we would transfer them into movable pens that we would drag around the pasture twice a day which was quite labor intensive but necessary for batches larger than 50. Since we switched to smaller batches of Freedom Rangers they seem to be more motivated to seek the outdoors on their own and aren’t as addicted to the feeders so the coop and run work just fine. We also used to be slaves to manually filling water founts but now use Little Giant auto water founts (sold by Stromberg’s) for both the layers and the meat birds, and the gadgets are worth the investment.
I have made feeding a science – here’s the chart for how many pounds of grain they get each day. Brooder schedule ’13 The Freedom Rangers don’t eat as much grain per day as the Cornish birds do, but they take an extra week to gain weight. Last year we lost a few birds so we raised a total of 191 lbs of meat (whole birds). Here’s how the costs breakdown:
50 chicks @1.95 + shipping = $97.50
Grain – 16 bags (50 lbs. Homestead natural grain 20% protein) @ $18 ea. = $288
Slaughter (we use a small family mobile processing company called VT Country Meats) = $267
Total cost (nothing for labor included) for 190.85 lbs. = $652.50 or $3.42/lb.
If you consider something for labor then call it $4.50/lb – not the least expensive chicken but we know exactly how it was raised, with fresh grass to run around on, fresh air to breathe, healthy grain to eat, and bugs to chase, and our girls gain the invaluable experience of learning how to care for other living creatures and where their food comes from. All in all, a pretty good deal.
I have always been a strong advocate of nature-based play for kids, but especially since I read Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods in 2005, the same year Gabbie was born. (More about this in my previous post Raising Naturalists). It may sound radical to some, but it is becoming more obvious to me, both as a parent and an environmental scientist, that:
- We all need healthy ecosystems to survive
- Children need direct exposure to nature for healthy childhood development
- Our future depends upon successfully connecting children to nature, teaching them to care about it, and then encouraging them to pursue careers that will actively develop sustainable/regenerative solutions for peaceful co-habitation of the planet for generations to come.
With this hope for the future in mind we are donating a Schoolyard Habitat to one VT school in Chittenden or Addison County, to be selected through a sweepstakes contest (see below for details). The Schoolyard Habitat program was developed by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and here in VT, Liz Soper leads the charge. She is NWF’s Associate Director of Eco-Schools USA which is a school based program to green K-12 schools across the nation. Prior to directing Eco-Schools USA she worked directly with local communities to help protect and enhance wildlife habitat and implement NWF’s Backyard and Schoolyard Habitat programs. Since she obviously knows the ins-and-outs we will be consulting with Liz before we design and build the Schoolyard Habitat that we donate.
Schoolyard Habitats are similar to the Wildlife Habitats that we install for clients and then NWF certifies. They must include the same basic features - Food, Water, Cover, Places to Raise Young, and may also incorporate Sustainable Gardening features such as compost bins, raised vegetable beds and other container gardens. The Schoolyard Habitat is coupled with curriculum and a maintenance plan to keep the students, teachers and community involved and assure its long-term success.
The design will be tailored to meet the needs of the school, the interests of its members and the challenges of the site. The value of the design and installation of the Schoolyard Habitat that we are donating is $2,000 ($500 plants, $500 other materials, $1,000 labor) and could include:
- native plants that provide food and shelter for wildlife including birds and butterflies,
- supplies such as feeders, a birdbath, and bird houses,
- a compost bin,
- a raised bed, and
- pathways and seating made out of natural materials such as mulch, stumps and boulders.
If you live in Addison or Chittenden County VT and would like to have a Schoolyard Habitat at your school then either send me an EMAIL (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit our FACEBOOK PAGE TO ENTER the sweepstakes. The deadline is May 6th and the schoolyard will be installed in September 2013. The more parents in your town that enter, the greater your chances are of your school being picked, so share with gusto!
More resources for Outdoor classrooms/playgrounds -
- Vermont’s own famous The Natural Playgrounds Company http://naturalplaygrounds.com/thatcher.php
- The Learning Landscape is a blog written by a landscape architect in Portland Oregon – http://thelearninglandscape.blogspot.com/
- Sharon Dank’s book Asphalt to Ecosystems – design ideas for schoolyard transformations http://www.asphalt2ecosystems.org/
- Outside Places on Pinterest - http://pinterest.com/ccresourcectr/outside-places/ - some of my favorite images of outdoor playgrounds and classrooms.
I had an enlightening conversation last week with assistant professor Adele Ashkar, director of the George Washington (GW) University’s Sustainable Landscape Design programs while attending the ELA conference. GW worked with the Team Capitol DC Solar Decathlon to integrate a sustainable landscape into their house design. While traditionally the Solar Decathalon has just been about designing and building a solar house, GW fought hard to get a landscape budget allowance for their entry titled “Harvest Home”. It incorporates both food production and native plants for increasing biodiversity into the design as well as rainwater capture and grey water recycling. Very cool.
Of course I still have to root for our strong and talented local Middlebury College team (their entry is called “Insight – A Home on the Path to Local Living”), but I am encouraged by the GW design all the same. It’s a great example of regenerative design and addresses the fact that we live both in a structure and the surrounding landscape. I strongly believe that our long-term survival will depend on our ability to “live smaller” and integrate our human housing with the habitats of other life. More than half (57%) of our total acreage in this country is covered in suburban/urban developments, and 92% of that landscape is lawn and exotic decorative species that are inedible – lawn and Bradford Pear trees are not a habitat for anything. We need to be actively engaged in putting back “high value” native plants and edibles that support life, period. I hope more Solar Decathalon teams begin to incorporate sustainable landscape systems into their designs.
Adele Ashkar says: “Sustainable landscape design is one of the newest soldiers in our ecological army. Sustainable landscapes employ best management practices for conservation of natural resources, while satisfying current needs and not jeopardizing the needs of tomorrow’s generations.” Amen.
Here’s more information about growing ‘Front Yard Food’ from our blog post “Oh My, Is that 850 lbs. of Veggies Growing in Your Yard”, and more about ‘Backyard Biodiversity’ in Nativars – Having Our Cake and Letting Wildlife Eat Too.
Here’s a video of Middlebury College’s Solar Decathlon Design:
When can we move in?
It’s fitting that we should pour the new sill for our 1840s barn on Valentine’s Day, because as we shoveled six cubic yards of concrete I had plenty of time to ponder our love affair.
We love barn boards – first because we can’t resist their rough charm, but more importantly because extending their lives either in place or as reclaimed lumber saves a ton of carbon. Pairing environmental sustainability with good design aesthetics is our mission in every way that we touch the land, whether it’s designing regenerative landscapes or sustainable homesteads.
Wood is the most sustainable of all building materials. A great resource for learning more is Wood Works (they even have a carbon calculator for wood choices) -
“Life cycle assessment (LCA) studies consistently show that wood outperforms fossil fuel-intensive materials such as steel and concrete in terms of embodied energy, air and water pollution, and global warming potential. Wood contributes to a building’s energy efficiency and helps reduce its carbon footprint, and research suggests that exposed wood has a positive effect on the health and well-being of building occupants. Wood’s adaptability also translates into opportunities for renovation, reuse and recycling.”
The barn is about as romantic an icon as I can imagine – it stands as an act of faith and a symbol of hope for a sustainable future. But our barn is also really old, and although most loves get better with age, this one needed help. We had to decide whether to tear it down, sell the wood, and build a newer smaller barn (that would actually have running water and not require hand-hauling of buckets) or save it in its original form and glory. Glory won, and here’s why.
In January I find a few days to sit on the living room rug in front of the woodstove and pour through the seed catalogs. It’s a romantic image that has probably lured many a young farmer to start growing food, and it’s certainly one of the more pleasant tasks of the modern homestead. Selecting the right vegetable varieties for our garden here in Addison has been a 12-year labor of love, and we’ve learned a few things along the way that might be of use to others just starting a garden in the Champlain Valley. This article could also be titled “Veggies for Busy People” since our favorites have passed the “Neglect Test” meaning that they survive being ignored all week while we work two full-time jobs, and then wait patiently for us to arrive in the garden for a few hours each weekend.
We grow many more varieties than I will list here, but I will describe our top choices from each crop type and why they make our list. Most of our selections are made based on their ability to survive best in our growing conditions (warm wet clay, short spring, lots of mildew and fungal diseases). I will write a whole separate post about how to select plants (both edible and ornamental) that are adapted to your growing conditions and how this process can greatly reduce your pest and disease problems. Once you know what you want to grow the next question to answer is how much, which we answer in another post titled ”Oh My, is that 850lbs. of Veggies Growing in your Yard?”. For now, let’s focus on the what, and then you can plan the how much, when and where another day. Continue reading
Last weekend we loaded up the root cellar. It’s a chore the girls actually love doing, and it’s very satisfying to methodically empty the garden (except the brussels sprouts, broccoli and kale which will stay in place until winter really settles in). Once we lift everything the vegetable garden gets tilled so it’s all ready in the spring. The carrots are sweeter for the weeks of frost they have endured, as are the beets and the leeks.
The root cellar is conditioned down to 38-40 degrees with an in-line pipe fan, and once it gets down to that temperature it stays that way all winter. We layer the carrots, beets, turnips, and potatoes in shavings inside bulb crates. We “replant” the leeks in soil filled tubs, since they actually continue to grow very slowly and this keeps them from rotting.The humidity is fairly high (75-85%) so the root veggies don’t dry out, and we can control that by either pouring water on the floor to raise it or using the fan to lower it – not an exact science but it works. Continue reading