Raising Hardy Pastured Pigs in VT

George and Walter 300x225 Raising Hardy Pastured Pigs in VT

George and Walter, two of our pastured piglets

In the beginning of June we buy 2-3 weaned piglets that are about eight weeks old from a few local breeders in Addison County, including Alethea Bahnck who owns a farm in Bridport.  She started a bit of an heirloom pastured-pig revolution here (her talks at the NOFA-VT conferences are always well attended), and we’re all fortunate to have access to the offspring of her efforts.  Her pigs are a Tamworth-Bershire cross, both of which are an old British breed.  She also tries to match her method of raising them as close to their social habits in the wild as possible, such as letting the sows farrow singly in the woods, and grouping the teenager piglets into wandering herds.  It’s a world away from the intensive pig farms where 5,000 animals never leave a concrete floor, and we are grateful.

Tamworths are red-haired, and adapted to cold climates and are very good at foraging on pasture and in woods.  Tamworths have very distinct personalities; they are intelligent and playful and enjoy the company of their human counterparts. They also have a reputation for producing the best bacon, but their lean meat makes the entire pig ideal for taste and health reasons as well.  If you’re considering raising them be aware that they also love to wander.  Despite solid fencing, I have spend more than one evening tromping up the hedgerow with a flash light to find the waywards, and even once had to stop traffic to herd 200-pounders back home that were on a neighborhood acorn tasting tour.

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Our piglets last year showing more Bershire

Berkshires are black-haired, and are prized for the high quality of their meat.  Berkshire pork has recently earned the reputation as the next Kobe beef, enjoyed in the best restaurants for the same reasons the House of Windsor adopted it as their swine of choice over 300 years ago.  Berkshire pork is fatter and darker than the pork you buy in the store, and it remains rich and juicy when cooked.

The cross of the Tamworth and Berkshire breeds creates a perfect pasture-pig for Vermont – piglets are hardy, resourceful and size up by late November.  Sometimes the piglets look more like Tamworths (like George and Walter) and sometimes they look more like Bershires (like Jelly Bean and Licorice in the photo above).

The real challenge with pastured pigs is that they like to root up pasture, like all of it, which can be an advantage if you’re trying to till an area, but a disadvantage if your sheep want to keep grazing the clover.  So we don’t put them on the permanent pasture with the sheep.  Instead they get their own pasture, and once they tear up a whole section we rake it out and re-seed it with a hog pasture mix and some Mammoth Red Mangels from Johnny’s Seeds.  They also get a local natural grain, and they get windfall apples from the orchard.  Their favorite thing of course is the left-over croissant dough and veggie scraps from The Vergennes Laundry bakery – we supply them with eggs and get all their amazing compost.  Lucky piggies indeed.

Once they reach 200 pounds around six months of age, and our root cellar is cold enough to be used for chilling, we humanely slaughter the pigs here on-farm, and then we butcher and process the meat here as well.  See a related blog post “The Art of Pork” about how we process sausage, bacon and hams.  We’re always happy to share our experiences with others, so let us know if you have questions or you’d like to visit the farm.

Find a Shrubbery, then maybe a Golden-winged Warbler

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Golden-winged Warbler

I can’t help it, every time I hear the term “Shrubland Birds”, I think of the quote from Monty Python’s The Holy Grail – “First you must find… another shrubbery!”  Jokes aside, shrubland really is important.  It’s essential habitat for hundreds of species in Vermont including a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN), the Golden-winged Warbler.

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Shrubland Habitat in the Champlain Valley

Shrubland is early successional forest, which consists of thickets of shrubs and woody cover, interspersed with grassy and herbaceous openings.   A mixture of short and tall shrubs, with scattered trees and herbaceous openings is ideal.  This habitat can often be found on old fields or lightly grazed pastures on farms in the Champlain Valley.  Right down the road from our new Shelburne property is Geprags Park, which is currently being managed to promote early successional shrubland habitat.  The town of Hinesburg, in partnership with Audubon VT and UVM, have put together a great birding trail which I look forward to walking this spring.

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American Woodcock

Shrubland birds other than the Golden-winged warbler are also in danger – specifically the American Woodcock, the black-billed cuckoo, whip-poor-will, the chestnut-sided warbler, mourning warbler, common yellowthroat, Canada warbler, Eastern towhee, and indigo bunting (Hunter et al. 2001).  Populations of American Woodcock have declined about 2% a year for the past thirty-eight years (Kelley and Rau 2006).  In Vermont, the American woodcock was placed in the highest priority conservation status.  Hopefully conservation of shrublands will help rebuild the population of American Woodcocks so more of us can witness their air dance, or mating ritual in April – I’ve heard it’s quite a show.

But it’s not just birds that need shrubland – there are over 200 vertebrate species that rely on it including the Eastern cottontail, and the bobcat (in search of rabbits as prey), and bear in search of plants and berries.  There are also rare snake species that use shrublands for cover such as the Eastern racer, rat snake, and green snake.  Pollinators use shrublands for food, breeding and resting stops along their migration routes.

So why are all these species in trouble?  Shrubland isn’t very popular.  It often gets labelled as “wild overgrowth” and is symbolic of farms in decline, (as in, “oh they’ve really let that one go”.)  But where one person might see neglect, another person might see a home, and with the knowing comes caring.

The Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) is a voluntary program for conservation-minded landowners who want to develop and improve wildlife habitat on their private agricultural and forest land.  The federal program is funded through the Farm Bill by NRCS, which is part of the USDA.  The VT NRCS wrote a WHIP Plan in 2007 which outlines conservation goals and strategies for enhancing Aquatic and Riparian habitats, Wetland habitats, Grassland and Old Fields, and Forest Habitats.

Specifically WHIP has incentives for protecting shrubland birds, and Agencies are joined in these efforts by many other Regional and State groups including the Golden-winged Warbler Working Group, VT Audubon (Champlain Valley Bird Initiative), and the VT Land Trust.

If you want to learn more about how to manage your shrublands as habitat, funding is available for southwestern Chittenden County, western Addison County and northwestern Rutland County.  The annual deadline is at the end of January, so you have plenty of time to do a bit of research to see if the program is right for you, and then apply.  Contact Heather at the Colchester, VT USDA Service Center for more information.

Heather Wetzstein
Phone: 802-951-6796 ext. 223
Email: heather.wetzstein@vt.usda.gov

No-Till, Covercrops and the Plan to Save Lake Champlain

hairy vetch No Till, Covercrops and the Plan to Save Lake Champlain

Hairy Vetch, Crimson Clover and rye cover crop

I have high hopes for cover crops and no-till farming methods, both to save water quality in Lake Champlain, as well as to prevent the erosion of precious soils and to increase the carbon sink capacity of farmland across the country.

As Tom Philpot explains in his September 2013 article One Weird Trick to Fix Farms Forever in Mother Jones, our soil is a limited resource, and we should be concerned with its preservation. According to University of Washington soil scientist David Montgomery, author of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, it takes between 700 and 1,500 years to generate an inch of topsoil under natural conditions. Cornell agricultural scientist David Pimentel reckons that “90 percent of US cropland now is losing soil faster than its sustainable replacement rate.”   And then there’s climate change.  Under current farming practices, US farmland only acts as what the USDA has deemed a “modest carbon sink”—sequestering 4 million metric tons of carbon annually, a tiny fraction of total US greenhouse gas emissions.  However, if all US farms adopted the use of cover crops and no-till planting methods their fields could absorb 25x more carbon – equivalent to taking nearly 10 percent of the US car fleet off the road.

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Sediment Plume into Lake Champlain

Soil loss and carbon aside, our biggest motivator to use No-Till Drill cover crops is to protect water quality.  Since EPA disapproved the Vermont 2002 Lake Champlain Phosphorus TMDL on January 24, 2011 there has been quite a bit of activity on the subject of cover crops, culminating in the recent No-Till and Cover Crop Symposium hosted by UVM Extension – Champlain Valley Crops, Soil and Pasture Team, VT Agency of Agriculture and the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

There are many advantages us using no-till drills to plant both cover crops and main crops.  They allow farmers to get on a field later in the season (up to October 15th), and put in a crop of winter rye.  Winter rye grows fast, holds onto nutrients, and in the spring it can add nutrients to the field.  The roots help minimize soil loss from erosion and protect soil structure and health. The crop also conserves soil moisture, limits surface water runoff and requires fewer field operations.

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UVM Extension No-Till Drill

In 2012, UVM Extension provided the use of no-till drills to 49 farmers who used them to plant 1,672 acres. Farmers no-till planted 560 acres of pasture on 19 farms, 802 acres of hayland on 20 farms and 310 acres of winter grain cover crops on 13 farms.  I can’t wait to hear what some of the initiatives are for the farms in our end of the watershed – I truly hope they can embrace the new practice soon and reduce the annual spring flow of sediment into the Otter Creek.  I love the fact that the Agency is getting behind the initiative and provides financial assistance to farmers for cover cropping and no-till, but there’s still work to do.  The majority of farms around us have been uncovered bare soil all winter – not a lick of winter rye cover crop in sight, and the Roundup Ready Corn planted in spring means that the soil is bare between corn rows all year long.  Our Clayplain soils are so fine that they are easily suspended and carried into surface water, where their Phosphorous content contributes to algae blooms.

cover crops 300x225 No Till, Covercrops and the Plan to Save Lake Champlain

Clover as a cover crop

I found a great introductory blog post about written by Kirsten Workman who works for UVM Extension as an Agronomy Outreach Professional for the Champlain Valley Crop, Soil & Pasture Team.  She works with farmers to implement practices to improve crop production and protect water quality.  She has a great list of things you can do on your farm to protect water quality.   I think many of her suggestions can be applied to gardens as well, especially cover cropping.  A great source for cover crop seed for vegetable gardeners, homesteads, and small farms is Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  Many clovers make great semi-permanent cover crops between rows of long-term crops like strawberries and grapes.  Check it out, and plant some green manure this spring!

 

 

How to be a Bobolink’s BFF

When I take that first walk up the field in May and hear the song of the Bobolinks, that’s when I know summer is truly on its way, in all its joyous glory.  Their bright yellow cap matches the color of the dandelions and their bubbling song brings everything alive.  They’re fun to watch too – their aerial acrobatics during mating are well-known to birders and farmers.  They are a romantic bird – they play a starring role in many childhood memories full of bucolic, pastoral landscapes, made sweeter with increased rarity.  They are a symbol of our Vermont values – we care about both the working landscape and wildlife. Their presence is an indicator of a healthy habitat, so when we hear that they are in big trouble, many of us sit up and listen.

In the last 40 years the Bobolink population in the northeast has declined by 75 percent according to the Vermont Breeding Bird Atlas.  Even in ideal conditions they have their work cut out for them.  As migratory songbirds they travel 12,000 miles each year (sometimes travelling up to 1,000 miles in a single day), heading to South America for the winter and returning to the field they were born to nest in the summer.  For many Bobolinks that place is large hay fields in Vermont, which cover 360,000 acres of the State.  The Bobolink decline is due in part to the fact that hayfields are harvested 2-3 times a summer and 2-3 weeks earlier then they were 70 years ago (frequent harvesting is done to ensure that the highest amount of nutrients remains in the hay), as well as a shift from timothy and clover hay crops to alfalfa and corn, and the use of larger mowing and raking equipment.  Mowing not only destroys nesting sites but exposes fledglings to predation with mortality near 100 percent.

bobolink nest1 300x224 How to be a Bobolinks BFF

Bobolink nest in a Vermont meadow

It’s really a problem of timing.  Bobolinks arrive in VT in mid-May, build nests on the ground with a combination of course grasses, twigs and fine grasses and then lay 3-7 eggs.  Their nesting cycle is 42 days long but remain in their nesting region for approximately 9 weeks before again migrating southward.    If a Bobolink arrives on May 1st, count forward 42 days and it’s June 11th, prime time for the first cut of hay, and since the hay cycle averages 35 days in VT, there will be a repeat mowing in mid-July.  When farmers take repeated hay crops from a field, bobolinks in that field fledge zero young.  But simply delaying the mowing until after mid-July doesn’t really work either – farmers can’t afford to lose half their forage, and the second cutting of hay has less nutritional value.

So What’s the Solution?

An incentive program through NRCS (part of U.S. Dept. of Agriculture) called EQIP Grassland Bird Management practice was very successful until funding ran out.  This practice paid landowners up to $135 per acre for 3 years for performing an early hay cutting (before May 31) and waiting 65 days before the next cut.  Qualifying fields had to be high quality habitat for grassland birds (rectangular or square in shape, at least 20 acres in size, and have less than 10% reed canary grass).  About 1,300 Vermont acres were enrolled in the program, until the government dropped the incentive to $86 an acre in 2012.

“Sometimes it takes a village”

Enter The Bobolink Project, an independent economic incentive program.  It’s a collaborative effort of University of Vermont (UVM) Extension, UVM’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, and the University of Connecticut (UConn).  The program offers a way for Vermonters to support farms interested in managing their lands for wildlife by raising money through voluntary contributions to provide a financial incentive for farmers to delay mowing their hayfields until after the bobolink-nesting season is over.  Last year the project raised over $31,000 to protect bird nesting habitat on 200 acres of Vermont hayfields.  Most contributions ranged from $10 to $100 with several pledges well above $100 and one household pledging $2,500.  100 percent of the money collected in Vermont went directly to Vermont farmers dispersed through a reverse auction system.

200 acres is a far cry from the 360,000 acres of fields in the State, yet Dr. Stephen Swallow, UConn agricultural and resource economics professor and project leader, is hopeful, and so am I.  The program is still relatively new and we have all seen examples of small donations coming together to make big differences – we just need to spread the word and express our love for both the working landscape and wildlife in Vermont.

For more information about the Bobolink Project, visit the web site www.bobolinkproject.com or contact Stephen Swallow at 860-486-1917 or 401-864-8579 or by e-mail at stephen.swallow@uconn.edu.

Bobolink Project Facebook Page

Across the Fence show on Bobolink Project

EcoLandscape Principles get Real – A Concept Plan in 10 Steps

Shelburne 300x225 EcoLandscape Principles get Real   A Concept Plan in 10 Steps

Walking the new Shelburne Property

We are waist-deep in the design of our new Shelburne, VT property and we’ve been thinking about how we can share our design process with others. We would like to demonstrate how we move from Principles of Ecological Landscaping and Sustainable Agriculture to the actual application, and how a similar design process could be applied to other properties.  The model could help others visualize what Ecological Landscape Design means in the context of their daily lives, and then be tailored to help achieve site specific goals.

The design process starts with drafting a concept plan.  First we look at the existing property on Google Earth or Bing Maps.  Here’s what our property looks like now:

2 sample 15 acre plot EcoLandscape Principles get Real   A Concept Plan in 10 Steps

15 acre property before applying concepts

Here’s what it looks like after I draw in the landscape concept “bubbles”:

3 Ecological Site Plan EcoLandscape Principles get Real   A Concept Plan in 10 Steps

Ecological Landscape Concept Plan for 15-acre Shelburne VT Property

Each bubble is numbered and encompasses an area that represents an individual biotope (habitat), or human use such as agriculture or housing.  I will list here what our goals are for each area.  (Many of this year’s blog posts will focus on these 10 different goals, our strategies for accomplishing them in the Champlain Valley and how we can incorporate them into properties of all sizes in the Northeast US).

Here they are:

1) Protect Rare and Uncommon Species

2) Connect Habitat Blocks with Corridors

3) Protect Water with Buffers

4) Keep Forest Areas Forested

5) Preserve High Quality Agricultural Lands while Protecting Grassland Habitat

6) Site New Structures for Least Disturbance (houses, barns, driveways)

7) Allow Old Fields to Succeed into Shrubland

8) Create Pollinator Meadows

9) Plan the Landscape of the Home Zone to be Beautiful and Functional

10) Create a Habitat Trail

Moving forward I will draw two additional sample concept plans for smaller typical residential parcels in the Champlain Valley – a 2-acre parcel and a 1/2-acre parcel. I’ve selected the smaller two parcels at random, but one thing all three parcels have in common is that they are all in Shelburne, VT and have open space that was probably once farmland and is currently being mowed.  Here’s what they look like:

2 acre lot EcoLandscape Principles get Real   A Concept Plan in 10 Steps

2 acre parcel

half acre lot EcoLandscape Principles get Real   A Concept Plan in 10 Steps

Randomly selected 1/2-Acre Parcel in Shelburne VT

Once I complete the sample plans I will use all three in presentations both to individual clients but also to different groups (Rotary, garden clubs, conferences, schools, etc.) to illustrate how we can achieve typical aesthetic landscape goals while providing ecosystem services (water quality protection, habitat for wildlife, carbon footprint reduction, etc.).  Let me know if you are interested in hearing the presentation and I’ll add you to the list.  Time to get back to the drawing board!

 

 

Heartbreak and Hope – When you Lose a Beehive

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The dead hive opened

On a walk past the bee yard the other day I paused to put my ear to the hive, something I do regularly throughout the winter.  I discovered that only one of our two hives was making its normal faint buzzing sound.  It was a warm (45 degree) sunny day so I opened the silent hive and found it full of dead bees, many of them near the top but also many with their noses deep in the comb, a sign of starvation.

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our hives under snow

I felt terrible – I thought I had left them enough honey for the winter, but maybe not?  On closer inspection I found a few frames of capped honey not far from the cluster of bees.  The upper entrance showed evidence of cleansing flights and there were quite a few dead bees outside on the ground in the snow – had they been sick or was it just too cold?  Each hive had an insulated winter cover with plenty of air flow to keep them dry.

I tried not to get teary, but instead stomped around the bee yard in frustration.  Like any new parent I was plagued with doubt  and guilt – what did I do wrong?  Plenty, I’m sure, but how do I make sure I don’t make the same mistakes again?

Our adventure with bees began three years ago at the Burlington screening of the award-winning documentary film “Queen of the Sun: What Bees are Telling Us”.  I then took Ross Conrad’s Organic Beekeeping course and passed the exam given by the Vermont Beekeeper’s Association.

Our two hives did fairly well the first year, but to be safe we didn’t extract any honey.  They came through the winter very strong, so strong that I missed preventing one of the hives from swarming, leaving it mostly empty with a Queen cell.  I’m afraid I did something to interrupt the acceptance of the new queen or she didn’t return from her mating flight, because after 6 weeks there were no new eggs.

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The two hives after splitting and new Queen

So I split the strong hive and introduced a new Russian Queen.  I made notes on which boxes had nectar, eggs, and capped brood.  Throughout the rest of summer they seemed very strong, I added supers as they needed them, and then we extracted honey in early September.

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extracting honey

We took 3.5 gallons total from the two hives, leaving a full shallow on each, and an empty shallow for the bees to fill during the goldenrod flow.  In October one of the two hives seemed weaker and hadn’t filled their second super, so I did a mite count using my IPM board and they both had a fairly heavy infestation, so I fed the hive, adding BeeHealthy, and treated them both for mites with ApiVar.  There was no evidence of Nosema or Foulbrood.   We did have some pretty cold weather this winter, but I’m questioning how much honey I left them, and plan to leave them more next year.

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Bee inspection in September

So what’s my plan for my dead hive?  First I’m going to clean it out and do some more investigating.  Here’s my plan – Take out the frames one by one and brush off the dead bees and vacuum out the ones still in cells.  Scrape of any bridge or burr comb and propolis from the frames and inspect the comb to see if any frames need replacing.  Do the same with the hive bodies, cleaning off the frame rests etc. where the propolis really gets in the way.  Then I’ll work my way down to the bottom board getting everything cleaned up.  It might be a while before the new bee package arrives so I’ll store the empty hive in the barn (where it’s still freezing) in a plastic bag until it warms up outside and then air it out in the greenhouse so it doesn’t mildew.

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installing new bees with Gabbie

I have to decide soon if I’m going to order a new package of bees with a new Russian Queen or try to raise a new queen from the overwintered hive, and split it in June.  The advantage of splitting an overwintered hive is that hopefully some of the genetic material of the bees that survived can be passed to the new hive, breeding tougher, more resistant bees.  This is the approach of both Ross Conrad and Kirk Webster, a well-known Vermont honeybee queen breeder, who didn’t use chemicals at all when tracheal mites were first discovered in the state in the late 1980s. He lost 95 percent of his bees the first year, but by breeding the survivors, now has a resistant stock.  I would love one of his queens but there’s a two-year wait-list.  Knowing how busy we are in spring, I’ll probably start with a fresh box of bees in early May.

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zombie bee

Losing hives is fairly common now (30% is the average) – honey bee colonies are overrun with difficulties (Colony Collapse Disorder, Nosema, and now Zombie bees.  Our wild bees are almost extinct (the national Academy of Science reported a 96% decline in the four abundant species), and it’s now being shown that wild and domesticated bees are passing diseases to each other.

To make matters worse the U.S. market is being flooded with cheap honey from China (laundered through other Asian countries – see this article on Honey laundering) and this honey is often contaminated with banned antibiotics and diluted with corn syrup, yuck.  The flood of cheap foreign honey is reducing demand for local honey = fewer hives = fewer pollinators = less local food.

So, yes if we want to keep eating healthy food we need to become advocates for healthy bees and local raw honey.  Let’s all cross our fingers, and say a prayer for a warm spring full of blossoms and healthy bees.

 

 

BioChar – a Critical Soil Ingredient

biochar 300x225 BioChar   a Critical Soil Ingredient

biochar

Biochar is a great example of an ancient technique turned modern superhero.  It’s a carbon-enriched additive to soils that can help:

  • enhance soil fertility,
  • reduce nutrient leaching and ground water contamination,
  • increase soil microbial activity,
  • increase water retention,
  • stimulate plant growth, and
  • reduce disease and insect susceptibility.

Many organizations from around the world are researching, using and promoting biochar – probably the most well known is the International Biochar Initiative.

I first heard about it in 2011 through Peter Hirst from New England Biochar at the Ecological Landscaping Alliance conference where he was demonstrating the process of making biochar.  Peter makes biochar using a Burner to heat wood chips in the absence of oxygen.

Biochar is a physically stable but chemically reactive humus, which increases cation exchange capacity and buffers acidic soil.  As a soil amendment for agricultural purposes biochar can prevent the leaching of nutrients out of the soil, partly because it absorbs and immobilizes them and that’s why biochar is ideally first soaked in compost tea.  The nutrients as well as the microbiota from the compost tea are held in reserve and made available to plants over a longer period of time than if the compost tea is spread alone.  Biochar also has the ability to improve water quality (think Brita filter), reduce soil emissions of green house gases, reduce leaching of nutrients, and reduce irrigation and fertilizer requirements.

In the last year we have seen Biochar start to pop up in products and services everywhere, and you’ll probably hear mention of it at some local garden centers.  Bartlett Tree Experts now uses it in their urban street tree plantings and other challenging sites.  Our native plant plug supplier North Creek Nurseries is now using it in their soil mixes.  We will start broadcast spreading it into our planting holes this spring as well, as we join the effort to “get the planet back in the black”!

If you are in Vermont and want to buy it from a local producer check out Vermont Biochar (Michael Low at Green Fire Farm) out of West Danville, VT.  Their product is called GreenFireChar, and is available in a 4-lb. bag or bulk at the farm.

Prune Now for Beautiful Blooms and Fruit

apple pruning 300x225 Prune Now for Beautiful Blooms and FruitA sunny day in late February or early March is usually when we prune the apple and plum trees here at Linden Farm and on our clients properties.
Here’s a quick overview of the process:

1) Prune every year.  Why? To encourage more fruiting spurs and to create a supporting framework as the tree grows.  Removing branches thins out the canopy and increases light to maximize annual flower production, fruit growth and quality.

2) Remove 4 types of branches – Dead or Damaged, then Water Sprouts, then Weak drooping Wood, then Crossing-over branches.

3) Pick a Method – There are two systems that are popular in the northeast – the Modified Central Leader and the Slender Spindle.  The central leader is the classic method used by most orchards in VT and NY since the 1800s, and the only disadvantage is the amount of space each mature tree needs. The slender spindle is a method that was developed in Holland and now many orchards are transitioning to this method because it produces more pounds of fruit per acre.  We are particularly interested in Spindle pruning for the backyard orchard because with dwarf trees spaced every 4′ on a trellis you can have 5 varieties in a 20′ row –  and with disease resistant varieties you can practice organic methods and still get fruit you can eat!

There are tons of videos online explaining how to approach a tangled mature tree – this one is a good one from WikiHow: http://www.wikihow.com/Prune-Apple-Trees

Good Luck and enjoy some garden time outside with a pair of pruners!

10 Years on the L.A.N.D. and 60 Things We’ve Learned

2013 10 19 09.14.46 e1393004531238 1024x671 10 Years on the L.A.N.D. and 60 Things Weve Learned

The New Year brought the classic moment of looking back to look forward – and I realized that in September we will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of our business, designing and building landscapes here in the Champlain Valley of VT.  We have experienced significant growth and change during that time and I am very grateful for Tim’s infinite patience, as well as the extreme hard work performed by Tim and the crew, and the faith of our clients as we have evolved our design process and methods.

Looking back at some of our first designs I admit it’s a bit like looking at photos of myself in the 80’s and wondering how I could possibly have thought shoulder pads were a good idea.  Thankfully, we’ve learned along the way, and continue to do so, and we have found ways to successfully integrate our interests in ecology, agriculture, and landscapes.  Recently I was giving a particularly interactive lecture to some UVM students about Ecological Design and the discussion turned to whether I thought they should go to grad school in order to secure a job.  I told them that “it depends”, but that no matter where their path takes them I believe that education is continual beyond any formal school setting, and needs to be a part of daily life.  We choose to be Learners and our identify morphs with our constantly evolving body of knowledge.  I am not the same gardener-designer-farmer-wife-mother that I was yesterday or 10 years ago, and it’s the process of sharing those experiences that has proved more valuable than any piece of paper.

So yes, research is important but so is hands-on experience, and most importantly, learning from each others’ hands-on experiences.  With this in mind I have assembled an index of the topics that I’ve written about in the last three years to share with you – think of it as a distillation of our recent experiences.  I write about 20 posts per year, so there are 60 articles here organized by topic for you to pick through and hopefully find something useful.  Be sure to sign up for our newsletter if you would enjoy getting our happy rantings each month.  Have fun and please share your thoughts.

http://conta.cc/1eNl1BB

Fall Harvest on the Farm

view from porch1 300x253 Fall Harvest on the FarmIt 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.

pantry games Fall Harvest on the Farm

The anti-hunger games