Sunday, September 23, 2012

Friday at the Common Ground Fair

We always look forward to going to the fair but this year we were so excited about it that Gil told Marsha to set the alarm for 5:30 a.m. Nobody in this household ever gets up so early on a day off but in our anticipation we got up anyway. It was dark. It was cold. The coffee was too hot. After two navigational boo boo’s we finally got on the turnpike. And arrived at the fair in plenty of time to wait twenty minutes for it to open... (insert a smiley face here!).
A goat cart.

The rest of the day went very well, and we spent most of it attending hour-long classes and learning some good stuff. In the first of these Gil learned a method of cutting down a tree with a chainsaw and getting it to fall exactly where you want it to. This method we had not seen before, and it appeared much safer and easier than others. The teacher was very good, and talked a lot about safety issues.
The teacher has felled the tree exactly where he intended.

Finding the excavation pit for the next class was a little bit of an exercise because it had no marker or sign. But we took a few guesses and a few wrong turns and eventually met up with the teacher and got there. This teacher was a soil scientist. He explained that much of his work is to help farmers make the best use of their land. Although the pit didn't look like much at first, the talk was fascinating. We learned how to identify the various colored layers of sand, clay, and buried topsoil, and the difference between undisturbed soil and that which had long ago been cultivated. We heard about how the latest glacier- it had been a mile thick over Maine- affected things. We walked away with new insight into our own piece of land.
The horses are waiting to haul away the felled tree.

Following our usual lunch of organic lamb sausage (really yum...! with chopped fresh-veggie hot salsa), we learned about how to raise a steer in our yard. This was excellent not just because the teacher told us everything we need to know from buying the animal to having it processed, but it also let us know that this is something we can do here, even with our limited area of pasture.
Carved wooden faces.

Finally, famous author Harvey Ussery lectured us on some of the ways that an unheated greenhouse can be used. Marsha having gotten up way too early took a nap so you would have to ask Gil about what he learned.
A famous author's truck.

On our way out we browsed through some of the art and craft displays, and then the farmer's market. We bought our usual two cabbages for kraut-making and some garlic for planting. And, last but not least, since we are fond of name-dropping: we found that we had parked by famous author Eliot Coleman (Four Season Harvest). A great day at the fair! -jmm

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Book About Manure

One day I was browsing on the Kindle ebooks site and came upon this little gem of a book: 
Farm Gardening with Hints on Cheap Manuring,
Quick Cash Crops and How to Grow Them, by Anonymous.
Published by Johnson & Stokes, seed growers and merchants, 1898

What first caught my eye was the reference to manure, and second that the book is free. Manure might not factor large in your agenda, but it is meaningful for us largely because of our cucumber, zucchini, and winter squash yields this year. They are the best we’ve ever seen, a fact we attribute to farmer Mike's organic cow manure.

The book is in the public domain due to the year it was published, 1898. 
I was curious about what would be said on gardening and growing things from then. It was interesting to find that compost was mentioned. What happened to compost between then and now? My father gardened, but without a compost pile. Weeds and used-up plants were tossed into garden pathways and roto-tilled in the following spring. Same with my grandparents. My then-father-in-law threw weeds and spent plants into the garbage can until one year his plants refused to grow, a problem dismissed as "the blight."

Then suddenly, in the mid 1970's, compost became part of down-home philosophy along with making your own granola and using whole wheat for baking. I made a compost pile in my garden. My mother made one in her garden, and I thought it was a new thing. Um, no. Now, after all these years I discover that “compost” was in the vocabulary all the way back to 1898. This is like when someone tells me, there’s nothing new on earth. Well, i guess: there’s nothing new on earth.

Enough of my rant, and back to the book. The first chapter is called "Making the Soil Rich," and is about manure. After a short mention of lime- it either produces remarkable results or makes no apparent difference, Anonymous states: "Barnyard manure is the best of all known fertilizers. Not only is it complete in character, but it has the highly valuable property of bulk. It opens and ventilates the soil, and improves its mechanical condition to a remarkable degree. Humus is a name for decaying organic matter."

The chapter goes on to cover the three basic nutrients; nitrogen, phosphoric acid, and potash. It tells how to store and work with manure, and the statement is made that once spread, manure should be dug in right away. This is a proven truth in our orchard. Manure does nothing to change the soil if it lies on top. Like Anonymous says, it has to be dug in. Digging up forest floor is no small feat. We've blogged about the difficulties of converting from forest to garden soil.

Anonymous also talks about green manure, and the growing of legumes to provide nitrogen, ideas I’d figured were invented in the 1970's along with compost.

Following the information on manure, Anonymous talks about vegetables, each one individually. This is excellent information. If you want to know about growing a particular plant type, look it up here. The information is divided into categories including how to plant, cultivate, fertilize, and prepare each one for market. The information will be helpful for someone who wants to sell at a farmers market, as well as for any home gardener.

We learned quite a bit with the entry on asparagus. Anonymous says to plant the crowns 15" deep. This is twice the depth given by our gardening catalogs. The ebook suggests that shallow planting leads to skinny stalks. It also says that asparagus needs lots of manure. This information was sufficient to get us out to the asparagus patch to pile a mix of dirt and manure onto our skinny stalks.

In the section about beans we learned: "The soil of a new bean patch is sometimes inoculated with soil from an old patch, to get quick action of the bacteria..." Our gardening catalogs somehow neglect to tell us this, encouraging the purchase of "inoculant" instead. Hmmm, another tidbit that is good to know.

And there's much more. This is a great little book to have in our collection, and well worth the time it took to download. (If you don’t have a Kindle reader, the Amazon site offers a free version for a computer, and there is an app for a free ipad reader). -jmm