1st week of May, 2016

With all the rain this past week, we’ve been doing lots of transplanting. You may have noticed that many of the beds in our pictures are covered in white row cover. This serves two functions–it provides slightly higher temperatures, and helps keep out insect pests. In particular, we use them over beds of spinach (to keep out leaf miners), kale and other leafy greens like arugula and mustard greens (to keep out flea beetles), turnips (to keep out root maggots) and potatoes (to keep out Colorado potato beetles). Although certain pesticides are approved for organic use, using row covers allows us to avoid spraying.

Row cover over beds of turnips, greens, and kale

The rain also gave us time inside to plan, and we’ve been working on finalizing our summer schedule. In addition to our roadside farm stand, which will open at the beginning of June, we’ll be at farmer’s markets in Hampden (123 Allen St, Saturdays, 10-2), Springfield (1383 Wilbraham Rd, Mondays, 2-6) and South Hadley (Thursdays, 2-6). We’re excited for the start of the new season!

4th week of April, 2016

a bed of spinach

It’s been a busy week! The chickens have moved out into their newly renovated coop, where they have more space and better access to their yard.

The greenhouse is just about full to overflowing with seedlings, although we’ve begun transplanting seedlings out into the garden, including lettuce, beets, chard, onions, and lots of spinach. Turnips, radishes, peas, and potatoes have sprouted. With just a month to go until we open the farm stand and head to our first farmer’s market, there is lots to do!

Brian filling an observation hive with bees

Saturday we were at Wilbraham’s Community Garden Plow Day, watching the community gardens get plowed by teams of draft horses. We brought an observation beehive that Brian put together so people could watch the bees at work. It was great to see so many people enthusiastic about bees and beekeeping!

3rd week of April, 2016: raised beds and a coop

raised beds
Freshly dug raised beds in our lower field, awaiting transplants

With plans to start transplanting seedlings out into the field in the next few days, we’ve spent a lot of time this past week getting beds prepped for them. We plowed and harrowed with our tractor, but have dug raised beds by hand this year (we don’t have a bed shaper). We’ve also been continuing to seed more trays of seedlings in the greenhouse, and bumping up seedlings from smaller containers to bigger containers, so it’s gotten pretty full in the greenhouse.

The goats vying for positions on their favorite log
One of our barred rock chickens exploring the great outdoors

The goats and chickens are spending more and more time outside as they get older and the weather warms. The chickens are still spending nights in a big box in the greenhouse where we can regulate the temperature, but this weekend Brian was working on their coop. We got the coop on craigslist, but Brian has gutted it down to the studs and given it a deep, deep cleaning, insulated it, and added additional windows. It still needs a bit of work, but will be ready for the chickens to move into soon!

Brian working on renovating the chicken coop


2nd week of April, 2016: clearing brush

When we moved here in 2014, the house had been vacant for a couple of years and some of the fields had not been recently farmed. In particular, the fields farther from the house had been overrun by a variety of different invasive shrubs. This is common in disused agricultural land; invasive plants are able to out-compete many of the native plants to the extent that they can completely dominate the ecosystem. In our case, we are dealing mostly with buckthorn, which is at least not thorny–in some areas, almost every plant above ground level is buckthorn. If it’s just mowed down, buckthorn will grow back (with additional shoots!) instead of dying. In order to bring this land back into cultivation, we need to pull the plants up by the roots, which we mainly do using a Canadian-made hand tool called the Pullerbear–basically a glorified lever with teeth. Last year, we cleared a one-acre field that had been a hay field and planted it with cover crops. One of our projects this spring has been clearing an additional piece of land where we plan to grow flowers.

Various stages of buckthorn eradication: in the background is a buckthorn thicket; in the middle ground is a cluster of buckthorn whose tops have been lopped to facilitate removal; in the foreground is bare ground where buckthorn has been removed.
Buckthorn has been removed from this section, leaving a somewhat desolate appearance. Stay tuned for updates in a couple of months, though– flowers should be blooming here!

We’ll leave you with a view from inside the greenhouse, which is rapidly filling up with seedlings. We started plowing this weekend, and plan to start transplanting out into the field later this week!

swiss chard
Swiss chard seedlings


1st week of April, 2016: greenhouse report

Frost on the greenhouse plastic, and onion seedlings inside a cold frame

Having made it through a 17-degree night with our unheated greenhouse full of seedlings, we’re feeling better about our design! Our setup includes a number of 55-gallon barrels full of water that absorb heat during the day while the sun shines on them, and release it at night to moderate temperatures inside the greenhouse. Our seedling trays are inside insulated cold frames on benches on top of the water barrels; on colder nights, we cover the cold frames to help retain the heat from the water barrels. During the coldest night last week, we measured an overnight low of  37 inside the cold frames, and the water inside the barrels got down to around 40. We’re still making modifications (more water barrels! different arrangements to maximize both sunlight hitting the barrels and room for seedlings! and maybe painting the barrels black…) and still thinking about putting a second layer of plastic on the structure to add insulation in the fall. Heat-loving seedlings like tomatoes and eggplants are in our house, so we didn’t have to worry about them. With a little luck, outdoor temperatures will stay above the high-20s for the rest of the spring, and the seedlings should be in good shape.

chickensIn other news, the chicks are starting to look more like young adults, with full coats of feathers, and as of yesterday they have finally moved from inside our house out to a corner of the greenhouse! We’re excited to give them their first taste of foraging as it warms up outside.

On into April: more bees, and seeds in the ground

late march beds
Newly seeded beds of sugar snap peas.

With the warm weather we’ve been having, we were able to prep beds to seed our first planting of sugar snap peas this week. They should be fine through the snow this weekend, and hopefully won’t be slowed down too much by the lows in the teens that are predicted this week. Either way, it seemed worth the gamble.

bee package
Emptying out a new package of bees.

We brought in two new packages of bees this week. A package of bees includes about 10,000 bees, including workers (females), drones (males), a queen, and a can of sugar syrup to keep them fed. They typically come from Georgia, where bee-keeping conditions are more favorable year-round. Including our two over-wintered hives from last season, we’ll be starting the season with a total of four hives this year, assuming they all make it through the cold snap this week.

We’ve been making modifications to our greenhouse to help maintain more uniform temperatures (it doesn’t have a heater, so we’re using a combination of geothermal and solar energy to keep it warm). More on that next week, after we see how it handles the weather this week.

4th week of March, 2016: a greenhouse!

green house mostly done

We’ve been mulling over plans for greenhouses of various different flavors for the past few months–something to house our seedlings and our goats–and we finally reached the building stage this week. It’s made of a recycled carport frame, covered with a sheet of poly.

goats in the greenhouse

Half of the greenhouse is a shelter for the goats.

seedlings in the greenhouse

The other half will be filling up with seedlings over the next month. Water barrels help to maintain a more constant temperature, storing heat during the day as the sun shines on them and releasing it at night.


3rd week of March, 2016: Goats!

goat kids
Sonia and Cleopatra, two of our goat kids

We have four new additions to the farm this week: goat kids! We got them from a farm in Holland, MA, where we’ve been volunteering for the past few weeks to learn the ropes. When they’re older, we’re hoping that they will help us with clearing invasive shrubs, and we’re looking forward to fresh goat milk as well–but that’s still a long way off.

shf - 1
minuscule snapdragon seedlings

More seedlings are sprouting as well. At the moment, they’re all still inside the house, but we have a greenhouse in the works–more about that next week!


2nd week of March, 2016: Bees & Garlic

honey bees
honey bees bringing pollen back to the hive

With the warm weather we’ve been having, we were excited to see that our bees are not only active, but bringing lots of yellow and orange pollen back to the hive! On a walk today, we noticed that hazelnut trees back in the forest are in bloom, and that’s probably where the bees are finding the yellow pollen.

hazel catkins full of pollen

In other news on the farm, our garlic (planted last fall) is starting to poke its way through the layer of straw mulch that we had covered it with. Last year our garlic didn’t sprout until April, but of course we had a very different winter last year!

garlic sprout
this year’s garlic sprouting

1st week of March, 2016: Chicks & Onions

Barred Rock and Rhode Island Red cross chicks

Our biggest news this week is the arrival of our chicks! We picked up some Rhode Island Red/ Rhode Island White cross chicks last Wednesday, and quickly decided to get an additional 15 Barred Rocks. Both will lay brown eggs, starting some time in July or August, which we’ll have available at the farm stand. At the moment, they spend their time sleeping, eating, and running in circles around their box, but we’re looking forward to introducing them to the great outdoors once they’ve grown! We had chickens before we moved to Wilbraham, and were endlessly amused by their antics, so we’re excited to be getting back into the chicken game again.

onion seedlings

On the produce side of things, our onions have sprouted! We grow them from seed, and they need to be started extra early in order to grow to a reasonable size once they’re transplanted outside. This year we’ll have three varieties: one red, one yellow storage, and one sweet onion. We’ll also have scallions, but they’ll get started later. Next week, we’ll be starting our first flower seeds indoors; this year we’re planning for a much wider variety of flowers at the farm stand, as well as some that we’re growing just for the benefit of the bees.