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Other happenings in and around Southborough.

 

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

Wednesday, 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

Monday, 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

Tuesday, 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

Friday, 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

Thursday, 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

 

 

Helping the Help

Friday, October 21st, 2016

This garden was planted to attract beneficial insects and even in the late season we have lots of bumble bees visiting the many flowers. This garden cost less than $7.50 (from Johnny’s seeds) to plant as I have used the seeds on a number of gardens. These plants will self seed for next year. While the bumble bees have done their job for this year, it helps them for next year to have late season flowers to feed on. Besides benefitting the bumble bees these gardens are beautiful to look at and easy to maintain.

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This image has about 10 bumble bees visible on the flowers in mid-Oct.

Boston YMCA comes to Breakneck Hill Farm

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

Saturday Oct 15th, we had the Boston YMCA return thanks to Ladawn Strickland and The Move which is now part of the Urban Farm Institute. It was an very busy but rewarding 3 hours. Twenty eight high school aged students and 9 staff came out to learn about sustainable farming, help with some projects and have a great meal directly from the farm. We split into 5 groups, each was assigned a leader and a task to work on. They built a raised garden bed which will be used next spring and a hugelkultur swale on the cow paddock to help retain water and nutrients and build soil there. They also helped feed the cows and pigs and learned about their role in the fertility of the farm. I am greatly indebted to the folks who donated their time to make this a success, Anne Brown, Janet Fuchs and Yun Gao and of course the folks at the Y. Lunch consisted of a salad which was harvested, cleaned and prepared by the young people, a vegan three sisters stew and of course grass-fed hamburgers. All the food was donated for the event by Breakneck Hill Farm.

Here is the new raised beds.

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and the new hugelkultur swale

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The pigs also benefited by receiving lots of weeds and veggies from our enthusiastic guests.

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And enjoying a hearty lunch of hamburgers, salad and vegan three sisters stew.

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Thanks to the Boston YMCA for their effort and attention!

The Move Returns with the Davis Leadership Academy from Dorchester

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

About 70 students from the Davis Leadership Academy in Dorchester came to visit and lend a hand. While we worked on a couple projects and learned about sustainable farming the kids had a ball with the animals. I’m not sure if the cows or the pigs were the biggest hit but they sure liked spending time with them. At the end we came together to discuss the relationship we have with food and how to make healthier choices. It was a joy to host this wonderful group of young people and I hope they can return again.

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Turkey Family Passing Through the Corn and Eating Weed Seeds

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

 

TurkeyMomKidHere is a family of turkeys in late August that decided to past through the farm.  The link below shows them in the small patch of corn. Its interesting to watch as they strip the weed seeds off the plants. Like chickens, they are able to eat seeds directly because  they have a crop at the base of their necks where the food is held until it passed to the gizzard where they keep small pebbles to grind up the material they eat. Humans and most mammals can’t eat seeds directly. That is why we grind them in a mill.

 

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Urban Farming Institute Picks up the First of Hopefully a lot of Produce

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

Our partnership with the Urban Farm Institute took the next step. Ladawn Strickland and Apolo Catala came out to harvest some of our abundant produce. The produce which I donate will be sold at very affordable prices at two three farmers markets in Boston. I will be supplying produce every week through the summer and into the fall. Our partners are training young people to produce food at their urban farms in Boston and sell their healthy food to restaurants and farmers markets with the goal of creating businesses around the local production of food. Producing food in the city can be very challenging as property values are so high and many city soils are heavily contaminated with lead. The goal of this experiment besides providing healthy food to people who may not be able to access it, is to maximize food production on my 2.5 acres. This will not happen overnight as we are not so much challenged with toxic soil as the lack of soil. And soil building will be the number one focus for the next 5 years.20160711_113547

 

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The Urban Farm Institute is a non-profit formed to train young people to grow fresh, healthy food. The Move is a partner organization which organizes youth volunteers to connect with farms and healthy habits. Please consider donating to these organizations.