The trick with winter carrots is getting them to germinate in August.  They don’t want to.  We don’t know if it’s the temperature — hot — or the lack of rainfall — but we always water new plantings in summer — or maybe the unrelenting sunlight that burns up small plants in the thread stage, but whatever it is, carrots, as well as every other cool season veg we try to start in late summer, don’t want to come up, and if they come up, they want to die immediately of sunstroke.

dsc01248But, but, but –!  Last summer we broke the rules and started our winter vegs indoors in half-inch soil blocks in the basement (coolest place).  Lots of things germinated (not surprising), and, moreover, some of them refrained from dying even when we put them out in the garden.  Everyone knows you don’t start tap-root vegs in soil blocks, and these were disadvantaged by the fact that they were allowed to get pretty big before they were put out in beds (the only security we had that they wouldn’t succumb to the blistering summer sun).  Nevertheless, grow many of them did.  Many are forked, and many, being planted four or five to the soil block, are twisted, but carrots they are, healthy and fat, and they taste heavenly.  Maybe they wouldn’t do for a CSA, but for home use nothing better could be desired.

We’re looking forward to presenting at the 35th annual @nofanewyork Winter Conference, Jan. 20-22 in Saratoga Springs, NY. With the addition of the first Northeast Organic Seed Conference, this year’s event is bigger than ever.   Will Bonsall will be there, which is exciting by itself; his gardening methods are myriad and fascinating. Hoping some of our friends who follow this blog will make it to upstate NY too!  For those so inclined, register by Jan 13 at www.nofany.org/conference and click on “register now.”

Scientists, we understand, consider simplicity, elegance and beauty some of the earmarks of a correct hypothesis.

So with grazing.

cowsTake dairy.  Wendell Berry, in one of the essays in his volume Home Economics, relates a conversation with an ecologically-sensitive Ohio farmer, in which that man states it as his opinion that a rough limit on the number of cows appropriate to a single dairy operation might be twenty-five.  More than that, he says, and it’s not possible for the farmer really to see each animal, each day; not possible, then, to take adequate notice of her feet, the state of her hide, her appetite and affect, and so on.  Our own experience would tend to confirm this.

Another measure of the proper size for a dairy could be taken by calculating how far a cow will willingly walk in order to be rid of her lactic burden, to enjoy her mouthful of alfalfa hay or rolled oats, her moment in the shade of the barn, and then back to her fresh paddock of forage.

One might also inquire how far the dairyman wants to walk twice round trip, twice a day, to drive the cows up to the dairy and then back out again to their grass.

We would reckon both distances to be not more than a quarter mile; ideally, less.

Locate your dairy centrally on a flat grass footprint and cast a circle around it, radius 1/4 mile, that’s about two-tenths of a square mile, or in the neighborhood of 70 acres.  Mix this up a little with some hills and trees and call it fifty acres of grass, which is just about what we are grazing at the monastery right now, and in its present state of reclamation this has a carrying capacity, with six to twelve weeks of hay in the winter, of about twenty mixed Jerseys, cows, heifers, steers and weanlings; half that in lactating brood cows.  Give us five more years of careful grazing and we might double it, making it twenty, which is pretty close to Mr. Berry’s friend’s twenty-five.

And twenty cows on grass milked even once a day would, if it were legal to sell the milk raw to those desiring it at even as little as $6/gallon, pay a couple a decent living to take care of that land and produce food on it.  In fact, it used to do so.

Note that this elegance has been replaced by confinement barns, bulk tanks and manure lagoons, which latter looks an awful lot like a hypothesis that has gone bust.


winter conferences

Like NOFA/Mass, a conference we are very much looking forward to.  Sarah Flack will be there to present on intensive grazing (see her excellent book from CGP, The Art and Science of Grazing), and Darryl Benjamin will be examining the addition of nanoparticles into the food system (yes, really!), and a class on draft oxen by Sophie Courser, to mention only three interesting offerings.  Not to mention yours truly, on decreasing the feed bill and feeding the farm from the farm.  Check out course offerings at http://www.nofamass.org/content/2017-workshops-time .

springtank2Here is our recipe.  Enrollment requirements:  beg, steal or borrow a couple of acres of waste land:

  • Day one
    • Buy or beg a goat, 50 ft. of airline cable, 2 swivels, a cinder block, and a bucket
      • Tether the goat in your worst briars and scrub; give her a bucket of water
      • Milk her, drink the milk
    • Cost: $100 or the sky’s the limit, depending on the goat
  • Day two,
    • Build a 4′ x 8’compost bin, put a dog carrier at one end, and install six pullets
    • Fill the other end of the bin with at least twelve inches of organic matter: wood chips, grass clippings, leaves, sawdust, even shredded paper
    • Add all your kitchen and table scraps, and let the chickens go at it.
    • Milk the goat, move her tether
    • Cost: $50 for the chickens, $30 for a roll of woven wire, scrounge the posts and dog carrier
  • Day three
    • Use a garden fork and shovel to dig a 4 x 8 garden bed
    • Plant four tomato plants, two squash, a row of bean plants, six feet of lettuce, and three of your favorite herbs. Mulch between the rows
    • Milk the goat, move her tether
    • Have a beer and a good stretch
    • Cost: < $10 for seeds and seedlings
  • Day four
    •  Put a barrel under your gutter spout. Better yet, an IBC
    • Layer wet cardboard and grass clippings in three places you plan to put a future garden
    • Build more compost piles. Scrounge organic matter wherever you can:
      • Tree trimmers
      • Alley ways and neighbors
      • Rake your own leaves
      • Shredded paper
      • Collect from local sources
    • Milk the goat, move her tether
    • Throw food scraps to the chickens, collect eggs
    • Go sit in the shade and draw maps of your land; sketch in where you imagine future improvements should be: fruit trees, possibly a shed, gardens, etc.
    • Cost: scrounging a barrel or IBC
  • Day five
    • Use whatever goat milk you haven’t drunk in the past three days to make a feta or mozz
    • Make omelets for dinner
    • Milk the goat, move her tether
    • Throw kitchen scraps to the chickens, collect eggs
    • Cost: nothing
  • Day six
    • Cleanup day. Pick up the trash the goat has uncovered.  Pile bricks and cinder blocks.
    • Burn what should be burned
    • Sort trash and take things to the recycling center.
    • Hit some garage sales and buy second-hand tools
    • Milk the goat and move her tether
    • Chickens/ scraps/ eggs
    • Cost: recycling money minus garage sale purchases
  • Day seven
    • Rest
    • Have someone over for breakfast. Feed him or her fresh eggs and goats’ milk.
    • Take note of, and give thanks for, all the beauty that is already emerging from the land you have taken pity on, and are in the process of serving.
    • Give thanks for the way it is already serving you back
    • Milk the goat and move her tether
    • Chickens/ scraps/ eggs
    • Profit: look around you and see that you are already a farmer

Doesn’t it sound beautiful?  and possible?

weather shift

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Saturday winter gave notice that she is still on the way, despite the long indian summer that has left the apple trees still green and the hollyhocks that border the driveway sending up new spires of buds.  Friday afternoon had been spent in the pleasure of delivering some breeding fowl to the local small animal auction, where the lovely Appleyards, Pekins and Cayugas drew admiring interest from the early-comers, followed by dinner at our favorite little Mexican dive and a browse through the local thrift store; a pleasant evening, but utterly disregardful of the storm front advancing on us from the southeast.

By six-thirty a.m. Saturday the front was dragging its leading edge over Flushing and bearing down on us at about 25 mph.  We had people in the garden before breakfast hammering in anchors for the high tunnel and dropping more sandbags on the cover margins.  As we hammered in the next to the last anchor the wind got up with the sound of surf over the ridge, and a sudden migration of leaves enough to fill the whole valley.  We parceled out winterizing chores over the eggs and potatoes.  It was 54 degrees on the front porch at seven thirty-five.

Thank God for family.  Temperatures dropped steadily; the wind kept rising.  Thin rain just pearled our jackets at first, then, gradually shifting to snow, left our hands cold and awkward.  Nevertheless, we got’er done by ten-fifteen with everyone helping.  (Full disclosure:  there are seven us home right now).  Eleven rain tanks emptied — total volume:  3600 gallons — and hoses drained.  Large stock tanks set up in four paddocks/pens for daily refilling.  Bell waterers and nipple bars for the poultry switched out for water pans that won’t break if they freeze.  Three paddocks reconfigured to include access to the treeline.  Extra bedding forked to the pigs in the barn. img_0218

We suppose it is natural that last minute winterizing should always happen at, well, the last minute.  Up through about eight-thirty on Saturday morning the weather was smiling, temperatures moderate; Friday’s high was over seventy degrees.  Who wants to hunker down until the last minute?

Even the fourteen goldfish which spent the summer eating mosquito larvae in our IBC’s are now in winter quarters in the duck pond, where, if they can evade the fond intimacies of eight Appleyards, they will grow fat by spring and  tempt passing herons to pause here on their way to northern nesting grounds.



A very well-known advocate of the small, grass-based farm who will go unnamed, but we owe him a lot, tells us he is line-breeding his large flock of multi-breed chickens for a landrace that will thrive on his land, under his methods.  Bravo!  Where a large number of livestock are kept, the selection for breeding of individuals of whatever genotypes which perform well in that place seems the way to go.

For us tiny-farm people, where a very limited number of individuals can be used in any breeding program, maybe it helps to start with a narrower range of genotypes already selected to perform well under conditions similar to our own.  Like, one breed.

Pursuant of that object:  Today we culled the Pekins and Cayuga ducks from our flock, which is now pure Silver Appleyard.  Likewise, we are limiting our flock to only Buckeye chickens for breeding purposes, only Pilgrim geese ditto.  img_2835

And the farm cats?  With the death of Samson, our aged and raggedy black tom, we are now the only farm we know of to specialize in felinus domesticus var. Holsteinus.