This week we got a whole lot of planting done, as well as many other small projects. On Monday, we planted all the tomatoes that are going in the first hoophouse. There are still more tomatoes waiting in the greenhouse to be planted into an as yet nonexistent second hoophouse. Tomatoes wouldn’t naturally grow in Maine, so they have to be treated very carefully in order to thrive here. First, they are in the hoophouse all season to ensure that they are warm enough and blocked from wind and excessive rain. Second, we mixed in compost throughout the rows so they would have adequate nutrients. Next, they are planted into holes in a big sheet of plastic landscape fabric to insulate the ground and keep out weeds. Before planting, though, we mixed in a handful of fish meal in each hole for an extra nutrient boost and then planted them very deeply and pinched off any stems and leaves that touched the ground to limit the spread of soilborne pathogens. A few days later, Brian sprayed them with diluted hydrogen peroxide to disinfect them from anything they might be carrying from the greenhouse. When it gets cold at night, we spread row cover over them in addition to closing the hoophouse. In my experience, growing tomatoes in a warmer climate (like California or even Massachusetts) does not require as many bells and whistles. Graham, who is from Virginia, says that tomatoes in the South are a “plant it and leave it” crop. So far, we have planted 7 varieties, all beefsteak or slicing tomatoes: Sunkist, Moskvich, Jetstar, Martha Washington, Cherokee Purple, Red Zebra, and Green Zebra.
While we were planting tomatoes, we talked about farming at the right scale for your needs and priorities. Adrienne and Ken choose to farm 8 acres of organic vegetables and use draft power because that’s the right combination for them so that they can make enough money but not have to hire too much extra labor. If farmers need or want more money than a few acres can make, they have to make compromises like hiring more labor and doing more management than actual farming work.
Throughout the week, we planted lots of brassicas and the rest of the leeks, parsley, and edible flowers. In terms of brassicas, we planted broccoli, brussel sprouts, flower sprouts (a kale-brussel mix), cauliflower (white and purple!), and romanesco. Among the edible flowers were nasturtium, borage, and violas. Adrienne likes to grow lots of colorful varieties of vegetables as well as edible flowers to top off salad greens because it makes for a more vibrant display at farmers’ markets. Nearly everything we plant is in widely spaced single rows so that the farmers can use the horses to cultivate with equipment made nearly 100 years ago. The single row of plants means that we can plant them closer together within the row and that the plants have less competition for sunlight, but it also means there is a significant amount of bare ground. In order to prevent erosion and maintain health soils throughout the season, we will plant the aisles with cover crops that act as living mulch. This practice of wide spacing in order to use draft power is part of a system call bio-extensive farming, and was reintroduced to the farming world (after narrow rows became the norm with tractor cultivation) by Anne and Eric Nordell of Beech Grove Farm in Trout Run, PA. The Nordells are a model farm for Adrienne and Ken, who use many elements of the bio-extensive model such as devoting half of the cropland to cover cropping each year, using the majority of the land for pasture (the Nordells have over 50 acres of pasture for just over 6 acres of cropland), rotating crops by family, and using the land as lightly as possible by matching cover crops and tillage depth with the crops that will follow. Bio-extensive farming requires an enormous amount of land compared to intensive models that are often used on tractor-powered organic vegetables farms, but it also allows the farmer to create more closed loop systems on the farm. The horses graze on pastures that are powered by the sun, and they fuel the machines that till the fields. Bio-extensive farming is a large amount of land with a lot of (highly managed) energy and nutrient cycles that are all interconnected.
This week, we continued seeding lettuces, pumpkins, and microgreens, and on Thursday, the caterers that Adrienne is selling microgreens to stopped by to see the farm. Adrienne gave them a tour and showed them the progress on growing lots of purple microgreens, and they chose 3 different greens that they liked the best. We will be doing 2 flats a week of bull’s blood beets, garnet red amaranth, and komatsuna.
On Wednesday, Mica and I began painting a sandwich board that will advertise the new farm stand. Starting this year, there will be a farm stand here Tuesday through Saturday, which is an attempt at connecting more with the local community. The folks that live around here will likely find a farm stand more accessible than a CSA share or a farmers’ market, and it may help Adrienne and Ken get to know some of their neighbors as well as bringing in a little extra money.
On Thursday, we applied the Biodynamic preparation 500 to field 1. Biodynamic agriculture is a set of practices that came out of the teachings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner that connects farmers with the spirituality of their work and the land. Preparation 500 is cow manure that has been buried inside of a cow horn underground for the autumn and fall and is then diluted in water and sprayed onto a field to inoculate the field with all of the bioactive compounds in the manure. We spent an hour Thursday afternoon swirling the manure around in buckets and singing water songs and then sprayed it onto field 1 with cherry and honeysuckle branches. One prevailing theme of my studies so far, especially in this last spring semester, has been the relationship between science and culture. It’s a very complex, interesting, storied relationship, but I have noticed that in many different contexts, social-political-ecological problems arise from the exaltation of science, or logically derived fact, and the denunciation of cultural tradition and knowledge. There is so much negativity and debasement of Biodynamics from the scientific community, when in truth it is not causing any harm or even claiming to be scientific. It is a way for farmers to establish a deep cultural tie with the land that they spend their whole lives laboring with, and a way to feel connected to other ecologically-minded farmers.
On Friday, Mica and I learned the basics of driving a team of 2 horses! Rather than holding the driving lines in front of me with the left connecting to the horse’s left bit and the right side to the right bit, driving a team requires looping the driving lines around my back and both lines being connected to both horses. In some ways, driving a team is actually easier, because they seem more stable and less wiry. In other ways, trying to keep track of 2 horses’ lines of travel can be a headache. The main lesson that I gained from draft training this week was that you have to continually indicate to a horse that they are doing what you want them to be doing, otherwise they will get anxious or confused and start to slow down or move their heads around. They really need that constant communication to stay on task, which means talking to them and maintaining tight lines.
source on the Nordells and bio-extensive farming:
The New Horse-Powered Farm by Stephen Leslie
Information about Biodynamics: