March, 2016

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Propagating Comfrey

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

My Comfrey has grown two seasons now. Last season it was huge and its time to propagate it. The front yard where I want to graze the cows has struggled to grow much of anything. The soil is heavy with clay and appears low in organic matter. My goal is to build soil here and grow forage so that the cows can graze periodically here. So this is a great place to set up a comfrey patch where the cow will be able to graze once its established.

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This is a single plant dug out of the garden.

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I cut small “chunks” of root but also some with the sprouting plants like this.

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And planted

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Seeding the Cow Paddock

Friday, March 25th, 2016

The cattle herd has been pretty tough on their winter quarters, basically tilling it. Bare ground presents so many problems to sustainability, erosion, loss of carbon and evaporation just to name a few. With the herd reduced and needing less space and the spring weather coming early it was time to seed part of the cow’s paddock. I am hoping to get the pigs in here this year and decided to plant barley. While it would be nice to harvest the barley it is more useful as a forage. The cows and pigs will be happy to grazing on it. Barley is an early germinating grain, meaning it will germinate when the ground is still fairly cool. It is also fast growing so I’m hoping to get the cows and pigs in here in May. With the ground already prepped by the cows it was a matter of simply broadcasting the seed and figuring a way to harrow it in. As it turns out I happen to have the front part of a 19th century spike harrow which works great as a human powered harrow. It was heavy enough to turn the seed in enough to cover most of it.

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This shot shows the harrowed ground on the right.

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The seeds on the right have been harrowed.

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The goal is to eventually keep this paddock covered in forage plants. That will require exceeding the animals from most of the paddock during the winter.

Can’t Have Too Much Compost

Sunday, March 20th, 2016

Compost is the life blood of an organic farm. If your going to grow annual crops, compost is vital to supply the nutrients they will need. I am not sure I will ever entirely give up on annuals as I move towards a regenerative permaculture systems. I have been using the manure from the cows, pigs and chickens all winter in compost bins and layering under sheet mulch but this weekend I really decided to make compost a priority. I built and filled 4 compost bins, like the one pictured, out of pallets and filled them alternating between layers of manure, waste hay and a loam/sand mix. I have been trying to minimize inputs but because we have so little soil here, I felt it necessary to bring in 6 yards of loam. The sand should help to offset the heavy clay soil we do have here. These compost bins create a four foot square which should allow the compost to heat up to about 160 degrees F. This allows thermophilic bacteria to take over the process, rapidly breaking down the complex molecules into ones that can be more easily used by plants. Also by transforming volatile compounds into living organisms those nutrients that might be easily lost to the air or water cycle are captured and held in the soil and released as these organisms die and decompose.

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