The New Future Garden

Written by Paul on December 3rd, 2017

I am now officially converting the Cow Paddock where the cows wintered and more recently the few remaining cows have been hanging out to a new much larger garden. The goal has been to get at least an acre in production and this will make a big advance on that goal. It should be about 8500 square feet of growing space when its done. It will be mostly veggies but this will take some time to get to that because a lot of soil building must take place. Even though the cows have been on this paddock for about 25 years, it still has very thin rocky soil.

I began by building a swale along the contour about mid-way on the slope. The swale has sheet mulching with wood chips over cardboard to capture water and any sediment that flows down the slope. This will allow runoff to slow down and sink into the ground where it will be available for a much longer time. Typically, water flows to the bottom of the slope where it pools and creates unfavorable conditions for growing. In order to control weeds, I am going to employ a system which has been used quite successfully by a number of small scale farmers. The system simply eradicates weeds and their seeds by covering the area in heavy tarps which inhibit germination by eliminating the light and then allowing the seeds to rot. Curtis Stone explains this way better than I can.


My cow, Clovelly (Milking Devon) has eaten most everything down to the ground. This will allow the tarp to sit very close to the ground and smother everything. When I pull it off in the spring, I will ensure that all the weeds that germinated are killed by using a gas flame weeder. This will allow the vegetable seeds to have little competition. Hopefully.

 

What a Great Season!

Written by Paul on December 3rd, 2017

I have been learning to cook! I grow an abundance of food which I both donate and give away but I have never really completed the circle. This is what I do. I have aways been someone who needs to understand systems. Its been true at work and its true in every interest I have ever had. This beautiful melody of veggies including onions, bell peppers, potatoes (red, yukon, purple), carrots (orange, purple), beets (golden and red), turnips, butternut squash was grown on the farm. My friend Rachel and her husband came to make dinner one night after work and we decided everything needed to come from the farm. We dressed the veggies with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted them at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. It always makes food taste better when you grow it yourself but even if you just buy local you will notice the difference.

 

Mattapan Farmers Market

Written by Paul on July 23rd, 2017

It was back to the Farmers market at Mattapan square with the Urban Farm Institute.

 

Cucumbers did Poorly Last Year, This Year I’m Trying Different Things

Written by Paul on July 12th, 2017

Last year I got almost no cucumbers, so this year I am trying different strategies to see if I can improve on their performance.

First, I started a whole bunch from seeds in flats on the sun porch. The potting mix I used was organic from Home Depot, brand name was Kellogg. They germinated well but then stalled and wouldn’t grow until I transplanted them into a homemade soil/compost mix. Here are two that have been moved to the porch.

Transplanted from flats, homemade soil/compost mix.                                                     They have suffered some insect damage but seem to be growing well. They will get transplanted into larger pots this week.

Some from the seedlings from the flats went right into the garden on May 29th and some went into the garden by the house.

The original 6 cucumbers were planted and have survived although they struggled at first and so we planted some seeds which have germinated here also. These had a row cover for a while.

At the same time the same seedlings were also planted in another garden where I’m experimenting with using black locust to supply nitrogen. Black Locust (Robinia psuedoacacia) is a tree and a member of the pea family. It forms nodules on its roots where its symbiotic relationship with Rhizobia bacteria help to fix nitrogen from the air into useful forms of it. This garden also uses comfrey, which is able to draw minerals from the soil and make them available to plants. I periodically will either cut the entire plant down or just rip leaves off. Because comfrey is a favorite of bees, I like to let the bees finish with the flowers before cutting them.

These cucumbers have been under a row cover since May 29th.

Some of the transplanted cukes have also been moved to a new raised bed. This bed was not suppose to be used for a while so I seeded it with a cover crop of oats and vetch.

These transplants were moved to a new raised bed

All except the plants just uncovered have some insect damage although they don’t seem to be significantly impacted at this point. We’ll see how they progress.

 

Mattapan Farmers Market

Written by Paul on July 10th, 2017

Urban Farm Institute (https://urbanfarminginstitute.org), continues to make fresh, organic food available to underserved neighborhoods by having a table at the Mattapan Farmers market in Mattapan square. UFI has a number of small plots in Mattapan, Dorchester and Roxbury where they teach young (and some not so young people) how to grow food. Breakneck Hill Farm has been working with UFI to donate my extra food to their farmers markets. This was the opening week for Mattapan square and Mayor Marty Walsh was in attendance to make the rounds and offer support. Attendance by the community and a number of local farmers was strong. I brought beets, zucchini and lettuce with me. All but the zucchini went pretty fast. Fortunately, the zucchini will last until Thurs when UFI has another farmers market in Egleston Square in Roxbury. Breakneck Hill Farm will be there making fresh organic, nutrient dense food available to people who don’t necessarily have that opportunity.

Here I am with members of UFI, the community and another farmer from Bellingham.

 

Here I am with Nataka Crayton from UFI

 

Update, July 4th, 2017

Written by Paul on July 4th, 2017

June was the 4th rainiest on record. Everything is so green and lush. Here an update on the progress made this year and some of the new things I am trying.

The beds have been fully planted and mostly growing well. With the cool wet weather the warm season plants were a little slow to get started.

Lettuce has been spectacular.

These beets have really taken off in the last two weeks.

Kale was a little slow but has finally gotten going. The onions have really done well.

These cucumbers struggled for a while and have started to grow but last year we lost almost all of them (fungus?). So this year I have a bunch of different plantings, trying different areas, soils, conditions. Hopefully, they’ll find someplace they like or at least whatever got them last year, doesn’t like.

Tomatoes are a mixed bag this year, some doing really well some not so much.

These pepper plants have purslane as a ground cover. Purslane is an edible weed which is very high in omega 3’s.

These potatoes were started under row cover to protect them from cool temperatures and bugs but when they out grew the row cover and I took it off the potato beetle was quick to find it. Hand picking is ok for small scale but the beetles are eventually victorious. Interestingly, the potato plants that started from missed potatoes last year have little beetle damage.

Here are a couple butternut squash plants I decided to try in a compost bin which protects them from the chickens but the plants will just grow out through the pallets. I though the pretty fresh manure in this pile would damage the roots but they certainly don’t look hurt.

Here are some more Zucchini started  under row cover. I want to grow these until they start flowering to see if I can reduce the bug damage.

 

Late Spring is Here and Things are Finally Taking Off

Written by Paul on June 9th, 2017

Well, its been a slow spring growing season with plenty of rain but not a lot of warm sun. The lettuce has grown quite well but not a lot else.

Some of the real successes so far have been the potatoes and zucchini which I’ve grown under row covers. The row covers create a microclimate where the temperature is maximized by the greenhouse effect and low night time temperatures are mitigated by its protection. Although, probably the biggest effect is to protect the plants from the ravages of the insects that eat them. I grew the potatoes under row covers until June 9th when they were getting too big so I’ve removed them and will now monitor for potato beetle activity. Once the plants have this head start they should be able to withstand quite a bit of insect pressure.

Potatoes grown since Apr 17 under row covers.

Zucchini under row covers.

Strawberries are getting ready but the raspberries (behind) will be the big winner if we can get some sun.

This is a variety of peach called a Contender which is cold hardy. Derived from the Reliance, it is more of an eating peach.

Here are some pears.

 

Even some of the Pawpaws have finally started to look like there growing.

We’ll also have gooseberries this year.

We might also have more than a handful of blueberries.

 

Spring is eternally hopeful of the harvest to come.

 

Cows Eat Grass

Written by Paul on May 18th, 2017

Cows naturally eat grass. Grass is the food they are evolved to eat. They have developed a symbiotic relationship with bacteria which are able to convert cellulose into sugars. People can not eat grass (not the leaves and stalk). Without a pasture, we have little grass available for the cows to eat. Last year the stewardship committee even made it a crime to cut grass on the conservation land and bring it back to the cows. I have worked to build soil and switch to a plant based farm but the limitations of the property will eventually limit the ability of the property to produce food so I have made the decision to look into other options for farming and agriculture. Its a beautiful spot but not all that productive. My ultimate goal is to become a full time farmer and it was just not going to be possible here. I will continue this site and post the many activities I am involved in but eventually Breakneck Hill Farm will morph into something else somewhere else. Thanks to all the supporters over the many years.

My last two cows, Clovelly and Bristol. They escaped from their pen to be able to eat some grass. Discovering them in the backyard one night I was able to set up a fence around them and let them cut (and fertilize) the grass

 

 

 

Ca. 1813-18 Woodbury Tavern

Written by Paul on February 4th, 2017

One way to create a sustainable society is to not throw things away. In 2005, the Woodbury Tavern was threatened with being destroyed and dumped into a landfill. In what seems in retrospect, “a good idea at the time”, we decided to dismantle the tavern and move it to Breakneck Hill Farm with the idea of putting it back up. With the economy imploding in 2008, the dream became not feasible. Eleven years later, the many tons of building materials have sat long enough. With the help of my brother, Bo, we are selling off the pieces to people who can use them. As expected the beautiful red pine flooring moved very quickly. There are a lot of different building materials involved with an old house. Each has a story that includes very skilled craftsmen whether its hewing the timbers or cutting the intricate joints. We believe the bricks were probably made across the street somewhere around where Woodland meets Rt 9. This was the original brick works even before Southborough was incorporated in 1727. The boards were probably cut at the Newton’s sawmill where the Fayville Dam is now. Many of these boards skillfully planned by local carpenters (or at least their apprentices). The Woodbury Tavern was built by Samuel Woodbury shortly after the construction of the Worcester Turnpike in 1808. This was a time when the economy was shifting from  a subsistence to a market economy. This required ways to transport goods from where they were being produced to markets. The Worcester Turnpike was an early example of privatization. Built privately with a toll charge, the investors apparently went bankrupt when the railroad made it obsolete in 1835. The Tavern Stand as it was know, was an attempt to take advantage of the traffic on the turnpike just like we have in rest areas on the Mass Pike. Besides having a bar, Woodbury probably also rented rooms and horse stalls for customers but  also farmed about 21 acres and produced shoes. Many of the products produced for markets were produced in a very decentralized system with farm families making shoes and hats in their homes.

FrameEast

Deconstruction of the tavern, January 2006

If you have any need for early timbers, boards, doors, fireplace surrounds, bricks or foundation stones please give us a call/text. five o eight three three o-7216

 

Passive Solar Heat

Written by Paul on November 14th, 2016

I removed an old wall mounted ac a couple months ago and have been trying to figure out what to do with the space. Its on the south facing side of the house so I thought about just putting a window in which would have given me some more solar heat. Windows on the south side of the house can help but even the energy efficient ones will lose heat when the sun isn’t shining. I finally made the decision to built a passive solar heater. It was something I have been thinking about for some time. The idea was for an indirect gain system, where a space outside of the living area is used to warm air with the sun. The air rises and enters the living space through a vent or duct while cooler air from the house replaces it. There are a number of designs on the internet but I decided to build my own version of one using what I learned about how they can work. Its fairly simple in concept, an inlet near the floor and an outlet near the ceiling and a collector in between. I built a small framed chamber with 2×3’s on the outside of the house reaching from the sill to the ceiling. The thing that really makes it work is the solar collector. Surfaces when they heat up create a thin layer of hot air. As the air heats, it becomes viscous so the warmed air moving up the chamber never comes into contact with the surface and most of the heat stays in the heater. Heaters with continuous surfaces are very poor at exchanging the heat collected to the air. The material used needs to have the right properties of heat absorption and conduction. One of the really expensive versions had thin metal strips but most of the cost effective designs used black screen as the absorber.

DSCN6452The important thing was a material which could heat up fast and then release that heat so that it didn’t hang on the surface. Well I happen to have a roll of 10 inch aluminum flashing which seemed like it might have the right characteristics. I bought a can of matte black spray paint to help it absorb and not reflect. I built a flimsy frame with some wood I had around and then cut pieces of flashing that would be nailed onto the frame at 30 degree angles so that at mid-winter the sun would be almost perpendicular (the sun is about 25 degrees above the horizon at winter solstice). The walls, floor and roof were heavily insulated with recycled styrofoam. Mostly from containers we get at work. Apparently, most of those are just remelted when recycled so the real value is lost. For the south facing side, I have some windows removed from the barn which I have been planning on taking to the dump but just couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. I cleaned up two of them and while they needed to be turned on their side they ended up with an almost perfect fit. In order to not have cold air back flow into the house at night, I created a trap. The hole for the inlet is about 3 feet above the floor but on both sides, inside and outside, I made wide narrow plywood ducts so the air is pulled near the floor where it is coolest and then goes up and then through the wall and then down again where it comes out just above the floor of the chamber. Because the chamber is not heated at night, cold air will collect at the bottom. If the vent was at at floor level, this air would flow back into the house. Making the actual hole well above the floor still allow air to flow into the chamber when the sun is heating it but prevents this passive back flow at night.

DSCN6454

I’ll try to add some measured drawings when I get a chance.