Around the Farm
May 9th, 2013
We have just finished our busiest harvesting week even in the midst of a monsoon-like Spring. To keep a continuous supply of produce ready for our customers, we utilize succession planting – planting the same crop staggered every two weeks ago. In a spring like this one where crops were slow to start growing, virtually all of our lettuce has come ready at the same time – all 25 varieties. That has meant a lot of lettuce harvesting these past few weeks – 175 pounds of lettuce mix and 425 heads of lettuce this week alone.
I must be growing mellow as I get older. Rather than stressing out over the rain and cool weather we’ve had, I have been grateful for not having to worry about watering , and since most of our beds were prepared earlier, we have not been handicapped in our seeding and planting schedules. The disease issues that would normally keep me awake have not occurred yet (knock on wood), and the load after load of leaf mulch we hauled in from the huge piles stored by the Town of Carrboro (loaded and unloaded by hand) have paid rich dividends in providing porous soil that is less prone to promote rot in wet weather.
We have increased production by fifty percent this spring opening up two new market gardens. Eight varieties of beets are getting to be baby size with some very pretty tops. Ruby Red Chard grows next to its cousins, spinach and beets, and the red tops of Bordeaux Spinach and red varieties of beets blend in well with the chard. We have been harvesting green garlic and anticipate the curly Q garlic scapes to be coming soon. We also expect green onions to be ready soon. Other alliums we are growing include leeks and shallots.
This is our second year of growing asparagus – Jersey Giant and Jersey Supreme, and we have had a good harvest. The rule used to be to leave the spears alone until the third year, but Person County Extension agent, Carl Cantallupi is an expert on asparagus and advocates a two week harvest the second year and adding a week of harvest with succeeding years. Peak production is at five years, but asparagus can continue producing for twenty years or more. Cardboard covered with hardwood mulch has helped keep our weed population down.
The Asian mix we grow is several times more nutritious than the lettuce mix, and we had it for lunch again today. Fast growing Asian greens like Mizuna, Mibuna, Hon Tsai Tai, Yukina Savoy, and Tatsoi are also fast to bolt in the spring. The flowers are edible, and the taste of the leaves is not really affected by flowering. Also in the brassica family is kale. We are growing Dino – the most nutritious and popular – as well as Red Russian and Ripbor Curly. The bane of spring brassicas is the flea beetle. We have taken the advice of a farmer author from Virginia who advocates spraying an organically approved insecticide, Spinosad. Our flea beetle population started out strong, but has been reduced by the Spinosad, and the brassicas are a lot prettier for it.
Strawberries are beginning to ripen. We are growing Chandler, the most popular variety in North Carolina, as well as Camarossa, which is better suited to the eastern part of the state but which has produced well for us. We anticipate some blueberries ripening before the end of the month.
We love to share the Peaceful River story and to tour folks through the market gardens. Yesterday over thirty ladies from the Guilford College Art Appreciation Club visited and had lunch in the education barn. Fortunately, the courtyard garden was nearing its prime with a French pink rose beginning to bloom on the front picket fence, peonies bursting with beauty, salvias and snapdragons blooming, and a lot of texture and foliage color. This Seattle/London-like weather has meant that blooms have been delayed but have had great staying power once in bloom. No wonder Pacific Northwest and English gardens look so pristine.
Lee has been busy tending our baby chicks. They had their first outing to their new baby chicken coop built by our neighbor, Jerry. We spent much of the morning putting hardware fence over and around it to deter predators, and the young girls made their outside debut after lunch. They loved it and didn’t want to come back inside.
The rain has encouraged the weeds to flourish. That’s on our to-do list for tomorrow. All in all, I’d rather be harvesting. -Larry
“The appeal of organic farming is boundless; this mountain has no top, this river has no end.”
― Eliot Coleman, The New Organic Grower
April, 2013 Lettuce – Mix It Up!
Our quest at Peaceful River Farm is to grow the perfect lettuce mix. We eat a lot of salads, and we want our mix to be tasty, fresh, and attractive for selfish reasons. Another reason which might be considered selfish is we want to make money at this, and lettuce offers a good margin with cut-and-come-again harvesting. Margins are important, but if there was little demand, then we wouldn’t be growing bed after bed of succulent lettuce timed to come ready throughout the season. In fact, we are fairly amazed at the strong demand for lettuce from our customers who can’t get enough.
Lettuce seed can be tricky to propagate, but once you have a good starter plant, it thrives in rich soil, can tolerate frosts and mild freezes, needs both good moisture and drainage, is quick to establish in early spring, and is fairly free of insects and disease.
So, what is the perfect mix? We like to grow a wide variety of leaf and butter crunch lettuce. We prefer varieties with proven good taste. We buy primarily seed from Johnny’s Seeds of Maine, but we choose varieties that take our Southern heat and do not bolt early. We like civic colors – burgundy red, bronze, emerald green, lime green, and rose. Chefs prefer a blend of 60% green and 40% color. Perfection means good selection which includes frilly ones that give the mix loft, oak leaf that gives substance, and butter head which combines taste with succulence. we like to harvest when the leaves are bite-size. This means little prepping in the kitchen as tearing leaves is a chore that is eliminated or at least minimized.
Our lettuce is grown in silt soil (drains well but retains moisture and nutrients better than sandy soil). The soil is high in organic matter from multiple seasons of cover cropping and adding compost. New transplants are soaked in a solution of fish emulsion for a quick start in the ground, and new plants are fed with slower release feather meal (nitrogen), kelp (micronutrients), rock phosphate, and muriate of potash. Our market gardens are forty to seventy feet in elevation above the Haw River, if we used 8-8-8 or another synthetic fertilizer, we could promote river pollution as unused nitrogen tends to sink into the ground polluting groundwater and in turn creeks and rivers. runoff from increasingly violent storms also threatens the Haw. Our lettuce, and all of our plants, are grown sustainably for the health of the soil, the health of our customers, and the health of the Haw which flows into Jordan Lake, Raleigh’s principal water supply, which flows into the Cape Fear River, which flows into the Atlantic.
To achieve the succulence of our lettuce mix, we need to water often but sparingly. We do this with drip irrigation. We harvest early in the morning to keep our lettuce from withering. In the prep room each crate of lettuce is rinsed, soaked twice, and spun dry before bagging and placing the bags in refrigeration.
The real reason we seek to grow the perfect lettuce mix? We love the praise and accolades from our customers. And by the way, did we mention they are loaded with Vitamins A and C Romaine especially, and butter head offers Vitamin A, folacin, and fiber.
Beautiful, flavorful, and healthy -now that’s about perfect! – Larry Newlin, Peaceful River Farm
March 3. 2013 An Organic Farm–Really? How We Got Here
It was the fall of 2002 that Daniel Salatin, son of sustainable ag superstar, Joel Salatin, met us at their family farm, Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Lee had just read an article about Joel and Polyface in Gourmet Magazine by soon-to-be-famous Michael Pollan, who later authored the best-selling Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Penguin Press, 2007) and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, (Penguin Press, 2008). Joel has built Polyface into an intriguing sustainable farm in which each element of the production cycle plays off against the other (hogs, chickens, rabbits, laying hens and Joels famous mobile chicken tractors, whom we later discovered are protected by Great Pyrenees dogs (we’re interested for our own laying production), pigs, brooders, and a wealth of herbs and grasses that make Polyface pastures so special.
Polyface Farm is extraordinarily ordinary. Part of the extraordinary aspect of the visit are the beautiful Shenandoah Mountain and the meandering country lane that led us to the farm. What is ordinary is how plain and mundane the farm is – it is Joel’s genius in developing a profitable, and inter-related food system that truly makes Polyface extraordinary. And, it was Daniel’s passion and deep sense of pride as our farm tour guide that unveiled a family farm that is rich in both tradition and innovation. Daniel told us about the annual family farm retreat that the Salatins host to trumpet the values of family farming and to model how their family has caught hold of an American ethos that they refuse to let go.
On our visit we purchased some of the infamous salad bar beef that melts in your mouth. We also purchased Joel’s book, Salad Bar Beef, as a gift to Larry’s cousin, who has wrestled with how to make a go of the ancestral dairy farm he inherited and on which Larry’s Dad, Jim, was raised with his six siblings. Corporate dairy farming in the Midwest and West has wreaked havoc on Piedmont NC dairy farmers, and in Alamance County there are only a few dairy farmers left. We are pleased that Charles is pursuing grass-fed beef as a more profitable alternative to dairy farming.
We were fortunate to get a foretaste of this amazing farm which has been the center of the documentary, Food, Inc. and a major focus of Pollan’s Omnivore Dilemma, but it was not until six years later that our interest in sustainable farming truly peaked. It was an April Sunday afternoon in the spring of 2008 that Carolina Farm Stewardship Association sponsored a three-hour workshop with organic gardening/farming guru, Tony Kleese, at a Unitarian Church in Durham. Tony succinctly laid out why organic gardening/farming is important.
Organic is more than simply not using synthetic fertilizers and chemicals. It is a way of gardening/farming that builds soil (one tablespoon of healthy soil contains 6 to 8 million microorganisms). It is environmentally friendly and SUSTAINABLE by not polluting waterways, enhancing the productivity of soil, promoting biological diversity, and encouraging pollinating flowers and insects. Organic farming promotes local consumption and farm support and thereby enhances rural community economic development. Organic farming provides farmers with a value-added product that increases their gross margins, enables families to eat care-free and healthily, and concentrates economic resources in the local communities – WIN/WIN/WIN for everybody! Organic farming is certified – you don’t have to guess if your food is safe or not. It is not genetically modified. Pediatricians based on recent studies are recommending to expecting mothers to eat organic because tests have show that conventionally produced food with its reliance on pesticides lowers infant IQ’s 7 points on average. Plus, there’s no irradiation of organically grown food, livestock are raised more humanely and healthily than conventional/industrial methods, and since organic produce and berries receive their nutrients from nature – research shows that they offer more nutrition.
At that workshop Larry asked the CFSA representative, Fred Broadwell, about how useful the courses in sustainable agriculture at Central Carolina Community College are. He received a glowing endorsement of a program that is among the elite in the nation and among the most experienced with the best track record. So, Larry took the plunge and enrolled. The combination of classroom learning and hands-on experience at the four-acre student farm has been extremely helpful in getting further up the learning curve. Tony Kleese had been one of the pioneer instructors building the strong reputation before moving on the become Executive Director of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Associaton.
We have benefited greatly by attending the farm tours sponsored by CFSA and attending their amazing annual conference that is filled with some of the best resource people in the nation on a host of subjects related to sustainable agriculture. We have attended similar conferences sponsored by the Organic Growers School in Asheville, NC and the Southern Agriculture Working Group (SAWG) which is regional in scope, highly diverse, and exceptional in the information presented.
We got the organic gardening bug. The kitchen gardens that Lee laid out and planted at our Greensboro home and Larry helped tend heightened our resolve to venture in this new direction. Participants in Lee’s Healthy Cooking enjoyed touring the kitchen gardens and learning about how organic methods increased the productivity, taste, and nutrition of what was grown.
We began leisurely looking for a farm a couple of years ago. Organic farming guru, Eliot Coleman, had outlined in his book The New Organic Grower (Chelsea Green, 1989), and so, we posted the parameters of what we were looking for on CFSA’s listserve.
* Coleman felt 30 acres was ideal (more than we could afford in the Chapel Hill area but settled for 18 acres)
* 20 acres mixed hardwood (we have a couple of acres plus an acre of pines)
* reasonably flat (about 5 percent slope to south or southwest) – we did well on this score
* set on the brow of a hill with good air drainage – nearby communities “Chapel Hill” and “Hillsborough” illustrate that we reside on the fall line with ridges and eroded ancient mountain ranges
* protected on the north by higher land and dense forest – there is actually a northern ridge on adjacent land where legend has it that a 19th Century slave cemetery exists
* excellent year-round gravity water supply – not so much – water is in the Haw River at the very base of our sloping farm property, and its quality is problematic with decades of textile mill pollution
* Soil on the cleared land is clay loam on one half and sandy loam on the other half – indeed in this dirt poor, i.e. clayish region of the country, the river bottom soil cuts like butter, is high in organic matter and has a relatively good pH. Unfortunately, being river bottom, it is prone to spring flooding – so we are looking to produce quick crops here like sweet potatoes, winter squash, and corn.
So, we found a piece of property that is not that far off from Coleman’s ideal. There are obstacles such as a septic field in prime pasture space, a geothermal line running where an unheated greenhouse (high tunnel) is planned, an active herd of deer, a family of groundhogs, pesky voles, obnoxious weeds such as nutsedge, bermudagrass, and Johnsongrass, and a big stand-alone solar panel that would have been better placed by the previous owners on the broad, South-facing roof of the garage/barn.
A decided plus which we had not originally been enamored with, is a 1,500 square foot retreat center on the eastern side of the property which is fronted by a beautiful pasture that is shaded much of the day in the summer. We are considering it as a future home for free-range heritage chickens and turkeys.
Lee’s circuit-riding Quaker pastor great-grandfather studied at nearby Cane Creek Meeting’s Sylvan Academy. Larry’s great, great, great grandfather had one of the earliest textile mills in the state in the little nearby community of Sissipihaw, which he changed to Saxapahaw so that his secretary could better spell it. His son’s farmstead is a few miles from our farm (Larry’s great, great grandparents, so is his great grandfather’s farmsteads, and of course, his grandparent’s farm is on Green Hill Road near the Revolutionary War battlefield of Lindley’s Mill. Each day for us is like a segment of Alex Haley’s Roots, where we feel the constant presence and influence of those who came before us.
Naming the Farm
It was about a year ago in Meeting for Worship that the old Negro spiritual, Peace Like a River, was sung as our opening hymn. Lee turned to Larry somewhat teary-eyed and proclaimed we have to use this as our inspiration for the new farm. Nine hundred feet of frontage on the ancient Haw, where John Lawson had met and studied the Sisipihaw Indians in the early 1700’s sealed the deal for us in terms of whether or not this land was right for us. It was on a trek back from the river, that our farm coach, Tony Kleese, stated, “Hearing the birds and wildlife – this land speaks to me.” And so the name, Peaceful River Farm came to mind, almost mystically. The name “speaks” to us each day and night – with stars so close that you feel like you can touch them, with approaching storms that can be seen from miles away, with the sound of coyotes in the evening, and with the prancing and dancing of goldfinch, bluebirds, and martins.
Rabbi Abraham Heschel stated that the most appropriate posture towards the Creator God is one of awe and reverence and “radical amazement”. Peaceful River Farm keeps us radically amazed as new sprouts emerge, as weather changes in a moment, as birds and cicadas serenade, as mist enshrouds the morning after a storm, and in every moment of the day and night.
We look forward to sharing this wonderful adventure with you in the near future.
January, 2013 Whoosh!
First year blueberry hill at Peaceful River Farm
Was that 2012 that just flew by? It was our first full year of sustainably growing nutrient-rich produce and berries for our customers — participants in Lee’s Healthy Cooking Classes, customers at the Tuesday Fearrington Market, Saxapahaw General Store and the Eddy Pub, LoMo Market’s mobile farm fresh food truck, Oakleaf Restaurant in Pittsboro, Small Cafe in Pittsboro, and Eastern Carolina Organics farm co-op. The biggest surprise was how constantly busy we were and how much time was spent harvesting, prepping, and packing.
We also devoted time to welcoming visitors and showing them the farm. Around 700 folks in all toured the farm — participants in Lee’s Healthy Cooking, participants in our May garden symposium and tour who also enjoyed a farm dinner, Guilford College first -year students, a couple of Master Gardener groups, a couple of family reunions, and a horde of middle school students from our daughter, Meredith’s, school.
I never tire of telling the story. We are not from here, but we have come home. Come home to our ancestral roots. Come home to an ancient land along the Haw River of which we are seeking to be good stewards. Come home to a lifestyle congruent with our core values and our vision for a future for our children and theirs. And come home to a hotbed of locavores, sustainable farms, and restaurants and groceries focused on local and sustainable food.
Novelist, poet, Kentucky farmer, and godfather of the sustainable farming movement has said, “I stand for what I stand on”. We stand for and on Peaceful River Farm. We won’t stand long — got to run and let out the chickens.
Happy and Healthy 2013,
December 1st, 2012
Kentucky farmer, novelist, short story writer, poet, and the muse
of sustainable farming, Wendell Berry, has written:
“What I stand for is what I stand on.”
We stand on Peaceful River Farm, an 18-acre sustainable farm on the ancient Haw River in southern Orange County, and we stand for:
* Healthy soil. Two seasons of cover crops are grown on each market garden before we plant or seed any vegetable crop. This builds organic matter and helps fix nitrogen — providing half of our nutrient needs. Additionally, we have added organically certified mushroom compost on most of the gardens to add additional nutrients and organic matter. Leaf compost is added or a new blend of cover crops is sown after each harvest. What we are seeking is healthy soil — where up to 6 to 8 billion microorganisms per tablespoon of soil thrive and provide the perfect home for our vegetables translating into very healthy produce that tastes great
* Our heritage. These 18 acres were part of a 250 acre land grant from the King to the Edwards family in the mid-1700′s. Before that the Sissipihaw Indians fished and hunted and lived up and down the Haw River as documented as early as 1703 by botanist explorer, John Lawson. A few miles to the south, the Quaker village of Snow Camp was settled in the mid-1700′s including John and Mary Pyle Newlin coming down the Great Plank Road from Pennsylvania. Larry’s father grew up on a farm in Snow Camp where his cousins and aunt still live, and Lee’s great-grandfather was educated at the Sylvan Academy in Snow Camp which was funded and administered by Baltimore Quakers following the Civil War. Also nearby to the northwest, is the town of Saxapahaw where Larry’s great, great, great uncle, John “Dear Me” Newlin, was one of the first textile mill owners in North Carolina. He was bequeathed forty-four slaves by a friend, the wife of the local doctor, knowing that John was an abolitionist and would help set them free. Contested by her heirs, it took ten years to settle their freedom in court — the NC Supreme Court, and after winning their freedom, John escorted them to freedom to Ohio. Today, Saxapahaw is a bustling new urbanist village where mill structures have been repurposed for an upscale general store, a pub, residential lofts, offices and studios, and a 900-seat ballroom that is often packed on weekends for concerts and special events.
* A sustainable environment. The Haw River was described in the seventies as “dead nature” by a UNC biologist due to mill pollution, urban and agricultural runoff, and general disregard of its sensitive ecosystem. It has had a major rebound ecologically thanks to the Haw River Assembly and courageous local and state policies and initiatives. Our farm slopes downhill — so any unused synthetic fertilizers, especially nitrates, would flow down into the watershed impacting folks downstream including Raleigh and surrounding communities’ watershed, Jordan Lake, the Cape Fear River, and the Atlantic Ocean. We don’t use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. We grow half of our nutrients through cover crops. We capture our water in cisterns which supplement our irrigation. We protect the creeks running through our property as well as the 900 feet of river frontage. A third of our electricity is provided by solar panels and all of our hot water. Geothermal is our source for heat and air conditioning.
* Local, healthy, delicious food. Most importantly, we stand for healthy food — super food that is loaded with antioxidants and other disease fighting properties. Healthy food comes from healthy soil and by proper farming techniques and seed selection. Organically produced seed that is non-GMO grows in soil that is loaded with organic matter that feeds microbiota, earthworms, and anthropods — the web of life. Care is taken to harvest produce and berries to remain fresh and clean for our customers. Our customers include participants in Lee’s Healthy Cooking Classes, customers at the Fearrington Farmers Market, top-notch local restaurants, a local organic food co-op, a mobile market with three going on five mobile grocery stores that run a weekly route, and an upscale general store. We want good health for ourselves, our family, our friends, our community, and all of our customers. We want to share tasty and nutritious recipes and cooking techniques with a lot of folks and appreciate the scores of folks who have already participated in healthy cooking classes. We want those recipes and our food to taste great and really appreciate comments like — “these are the best (fill in the blank — sweet potatoes, beets, lettuce, carrots) I’ve ever tasted”. The more you eat of sustainably grown superfoods the better you will feel emotionally and physically.
We stand for changing the world, at least our corner of the world, through honoring those who came before us, those who we love and cherish today, and those who will come behind us. That’s why we stand on Peaceful River Farm — that’s what we stand for. And did we mention, inordinate gratitude for all of this?
August 25th 2012
This has been a busy week on the farm. The seeding that was accomplished on the upper L-shaped garden last week is now sprouting 6 varieties of beets on the small section of the L where winter squash was harvested 6 weeks ago (Hreh and Bai, our Montagnard helpers plucked volunteer squash from the emerging beet rows). On the longer section of the L garden, there are a variety of brassicas appearing – Toscano Kale, Asian greens such as Tatsoi, Mibuna, and Mizuna, and Arugula. This favorable August weather is repenting for the putrid heat and humidity we experienced in July, and it’s a great climate to get fall crops up and going and contrasts sharply with drought-ridden Augusts of yesteryear. We ache for the farmers in the Midwest and West experiencing such hardship.
Even the beds where cover crops were grown this summer are given a fresh dose of leaf compost from the Carrboro municipal compost pile. “95% of the soil problems I consult on are related to the lack of sufficient organic matter,” states Larry’s soil science instructor, Dr. Kristen Hicks. Organic matter helps retain moisture, encourages microbiota, and improves drainage and thus discourages pathogens.
Visitors to Peaceful River often remark that they can’t believe all that has been done in renovating the farmhouse, teaching barn, entry courtyard, pole barn, and retreat center. They are also impressed with the amount of work that has been done around the farm. Much of that credit goes to our wonderful farm helpers.
We love our Montagnard workers – they love farming and especially Peaceful River. They come all the way from Greensboro at the crack of dawn and usually appear at the door before we are fully awake. Greensboro has one of the largest groups of Montagnards in the country – about 3,000. They have suffered such hardship in Vietnam as an isolated mountain minority (“they called us monkeys”, as Christians, and as allies to the Americans during the War. Hyai is the “grandfather” of the particular group we relate to, fought in the war and was hospitalized for a year with a wound to the abdomen, has a large extensive family he does not expect to see again, and phones home to his wife every evening and tragically does not expect to see her again. He exudes boundless joy despite all the cards he has been dealt and hoops and hollers each time he sees us. He works through the week at his landscape job and especially likes helping us plant flowers and vegetables – always ebullient and cheerful – a pick-me-up we look forward to each visit. He weed-eated around all of the deer fencing and at the retreat center on the day he worked with us.
Hreh’s wife has just been released from prison for teaching the Bible, and he is earnestly attempting to get her to America with their son before she is arrested again. He works on the UNC-Greensboro grounds crew and is always upbeat and smiling on the days he works with us. His English is good, and he comes up with some zingers that he states matter-of-factly but make us laugh. He helped prepare a lot of the beds this week and with his colleague, Bai, planted several hundred brassica plants – cabbage, bok choy, and broccoli.
Blinh is very handy and has helped us with all of the deer fencing, clearing invasive vines and shrubs along the creek, and preparing and planting beds. He also is adept at English and speaks in dramatic tones when he wants to emphasize a point. When we first took him down to the river, he picked up a nursery spade to take with him. Larry asked him what it was for. “Kill animals,” he replied. It was funny to us, but then again, who knows what kind of danger lurks along the river in Vietnam. He works for a company that clears power lines of limbs and loves operating our chain saw. He hopes to bring his family to America in the future.
A recent Appalachian State grad, Rick Surber, came back today to help us prepare beds and plant more brassicas. Rick worked on the student farm at Appalachian while getting his degree in sustainable development. His Dad has a livestock farm in West Jefferson in the NC mountains. Rick helped us several weeks this summer and landed a full-time position with a property development company putting his contracting background to good use. We enjoy having him help us on the farm – he painted the exterior and interior of the new food prep and refrigeration rooms on the north side of the pole barn and also shored up the chicken tractor and set up the chicken fencing.
A heat-tolerant variety of lettuce, “Lettony”, was started by Rick in seed trays a few weeks ago and planted by Hreh this week – its looking really good in the field and expect to harvest some in the coming weeks. Our lettuce mix has been especially popular at the Fearrington Village Market. Radishes and carrots have also been seeded, and Radicchio plants have gone in. The demonstration garden’s cover crop of field peas is being pulled to place on the compost pile, and we are beginning to get some of those beds planted and seeded ahead of Lee’s first Healthy Eating workshop the last Saturday in September.
This week we will plant the rest of the brassica plants, seed more beets, seed our first batch of spinach – which was a big hit with both Eastern Carolina Organics and Saxapahaw General Store, and seed lots of lettuce varieties. We’ve ordered three varieties of strawberries from Whitted-Bowers Farm in Hillsborough and will plant those in mid-September, but first, we need to fence in the long, linear plot on the east side of the property that has been prepped by growing two seasons of cover crops. This part of the property is on the deer trek, and we have 12 foot posts ready to go in – should be 9 feet tall once they are placed in the ground.
The favorable weather and beneficial rains have meant lots of grass/weeds to mow, and we see that there are already little baby weeds emerging in the newly planted beds that will need attention. We also need to catch up with placing drip irrigation back in place on the newly planted/seeded beds, so that we are watering the plants and not the weeds.
From the Kentucky farmer muse, author, and philosopher, Wendell Berry: “So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute…Give your approval to all you cannot understand…Ask the questions that have no answers. Put your faith in two inches of humus that will build under the trees every thousand years…Laugh. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts….Practice resurrection.”
August 1, 2012
Our layers and rooster have arrived at Peaceful River Farm! These five month old Brahmas and Buckeyes are our first flock of chickens here at the farm and we could not be more excited. As you can tell they have been perfectly cared for by a fellow farmer and great friend who offered them to us. The chicken tractor was set in place with a 200ft electric netting system powered by a solar energizer. It will be a boon not only for their luscious eggs but to have less ticks and other bugs as well as plenty of fertilizer for our property.
July 4th, 2012-
This is “Luscious” bicolor corn, a hybrid corn, organically certified seed from Botanical Interests Seed Company that we just harvested this morning. Luscious doesn’t even begin to describe how succulent and delicious this corn is. Plump, tender kernels are juicy and sweet. The only corn to rival this was Larry’s Dad’s corn — he grew Silver Queen next to Golden Queen to cross-pollinate a bicolor with the juiciness of Golden and the sweetness of Silver. We’re only growing enough this year for our friends and family… but wait until next year — our best soil is at the river bottom fields — just waiting for a great crop of corn! There is nothing to beat sustainably grown corn fresh off the stalk.
The pile of rubble that you see is what remains of a basketball court that came with our new farm which was smack in the middle of our market gardens. We had it removed so we could finally finish creating our last planting bed. This new area is now ready for a cover crop to start building fantastic soil for our fall planting. This was a great feeling for both of us!
Yes, we are still excited and invigorated after our first growing season; and yes, we are still bounding out of bed early in the morning to get our day going and check off our ever-increasing to-do lists; and yes, we do love this area more and more; and no, none of the major plagues or pestilences hit the farm this year though we had an 80 mile an hour microburst in May that opened the tin roof on the pole barn like a sardine can. Oh yeah, and we don’t have any trouble falling asleep at night.
Visitors remark how quiet it is here – an occasional interruption from the cow bellowing on the other side of the river, a squawking V-shaped flock of geese heading towards the Haw; or a hawk up in the pines with its shrill shriek. Bluebirds, robins, goldfinch, and titmice love it here. Unfortunately, so does our local groundhog, who boldly invaded the market gardens at dusk on several autumn nights.
The major task this past year was renovating the farmhouse and adjacent garage – now an upscale barn for Lee’s healthy cooking workshops (you can see it on the Workshops page). We located some wonderful craftsmen to help with the renovation. We admire their skills, and they, in turn, are very appreciative of the delicious lunches Lee prepared.
The design of the twin market gardens is patterned after Productive Gardens of Cornwall’s Lost Garden of Heligan. We were drawn to the aesthetically pleasing symmetry of the gardens and the variety of colors and textures of the produce in season. The axis of our market garden walk lines up with the door out our back deck. So, we have a beautiful view of the farm year round which is incentive to keep it as neat and presentable as possible. The design of the demonstration kitchen garden was created by Ada Eason from Ada’s Garden. It is a wonderful design that is both functional for teaching students as well as beautiful to look at from the deck.
These past few months we’ve installed electric fencing around the perimeter of the market gardens and berry fields, circled those fields with irrigation lines, upgraded our pump to increase water pressure, planted cover crops to build soil, planted our first produce and marketed them to a regional organic co-op, a local farmers market, and an upscale general store nearby. Now, the over wintered crops are protected by floating row cover or straw, and as days are shorter there is very little growth occurring. We’ll begin harvesting and planting again in February using season extension techniques.
The serenity of the farm has been interrupted a few times in recent months – a family reunion replete with a slipping slide for the kids and those that think they are kids, an organic gardening series led by our farm coach, Tony Kleese, our daughter Meredith’s commitment ceremony, and Lee’s first healthy cooking class at the farm. This spring there will be more healthy cooking classes beginning in late March and visits from the Master Gardeners from Oxford and from Troy as well as other groups.
We will also be hosting the 15th Annual Garden Symposium and Tour here in May with a wine reception and delicious farm dinner to follow. Hope you can join us!
Posted 2010 about our Greensboro garden–Our last harvest from our fall vegetables was in December before the first snowfall. It was too late to establish a cover crop on those beds for the winter. However, we do have a nice stand of Austrian winter peas that was planted in mid-November in the bed previously occupied by heirloom tomatoes. The foliage of the peas are useful in salads and has held up well from the teen weather we have sustained on our coldest nights.
Two of the key elements of organic gardening are crop rotation and cover crops. The main goal of organic gardening is to build healthy soil. According to Steve Moore, farm manager of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems in Goldsboro, NC, one ounce of healthy soil has:
• 6-8 billion organisms
• Several billion bacteria (15,000 different kinds)
• 3 million yeast
• 1.4 million protozoa
• And Macro vertebrates such as worms, mites, millipedes, and centipedes
That’s pretty awesome! Cover crops like Austrian winter peas in the winter help to improve soil health by:
• increasing soil organic matter
• reducing soil erosion from wind and rain
• improving soil structure and quality
• improving soil tilth
• enhancing soil biological diversity (think 6-8 billion organisms per ounce)
• remediating soil compaction
• supplying nitrogen (legumes and winter rye)
• moving nutrients from sub-soil to top-soil
• improving fertilizer use efficiency (optimal pH range for nutrient intake increases tenfold either up or down – more acidic or more alkaline – with optimal organic matter)
• Helping suppress weeds
• Reducing disease
Broccoli seedlings are emerging in peat pots that were seeded ten days ago. Where multiple seedlings have emerged, we have “pricked” the extras and placed in other peat pots. We have also started transplants of Romaine lettuce and Salad Mix lettuce, Lacinato Kale, and Swiss Chard. The grow light in the pantry was used for a few days, and now the seeded flats are growing in the garage and placed outside for a few above-freezing hours on a couple of sunny days. This isn’t ideal, but the portable vinyl greenhouse that Larry brought back from a nursery trade show is not substantial enough to take on the snow and ice we’ve had – more is called for later tonight as this is written.
Our friend, Jim Wilson, former Southeast host of the Victory Garden, has said that the moment we can place a spade in the soil on a reasonably warm winter day, “We connect to something that is ancient and authentic”. The head start on the early spring garden helps fight the winter blues and injects a good dose of hope that thoughts of spring engenders.