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Winter Preparation for the Growing season

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

Winter is a time to prepare for the next season. Its also a time for other distractions … like prepping fossils we collect in Pennsylvania. I have been concentrating on a few new aspects of the farm. The new market garden and exploring some winter production ideas. I have also been thinking about compost and how to get more and faster. If I did not address weeds before planting the new garden, I’d be spending a lot of time weeding the garden. The existing weeds and weed seeds will quickly overwhelm the vegetable plants. So a lot of small scale intensive farmers have been successfully growing without much weeding by starting with stale beds. I bought 2 large uv resistant pool covers. By joining them together it covers an area of 70×110 feet. This should smother the weeds  so when I pull it off in the spring the weeds will have been eliminated and the seeds rotted. I will then move it to the next section which I will either leave on long enough to kill the weeds or just long enough that they start germinating. Then I pull it off and flame kill the germinated weed seeds. It is very important to use no-till at that point so we don’t introduce new weed seeds below the surface.

Beds will be laid out on contour to stop the runoff and allow it to sink into the ground.

I’ve also started seedlings in the house. I have 150 cells with lettuce, spinach and arugula that will go into either the new bed in the front porch or under row covers. I also have other early plants seeded like celery, celeriac, cauliflower, broccoli cabbage and kale.

This sunny room with south and east exposure will be to start seedlings.

This bed in the front porch will also be used to get seeds started and possibly produce some early cold hardy plants like spinach, lettuce, arugula and leeks.

As a immediate source of water, I am collecting from the downspout in this barrel. I’ll eventually add a spigot and hose to bring into the front porch.

This is my interpretation of a tumbling style composter using a free barrel and scrap wood I had laying around.

Mattapan Farmers Market

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

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

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.

Ca. 1813-18 Woodbury Tavern

Saturday, 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.


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

Monday, 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.


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

Morning Fog

Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

Beautiful foggy morning in mid-October. Its amazing how the vegetation has really greened up with a few days of rain.


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.


and the new hugelkultur swale


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


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


Thanks to the Boston YMCA for their effort and attention!

Pollinators and Beneficial Insects are Important Part of the Farm

Saturday, October 1st, 2016

The flowering plants (angiosperms), also known as Angiospermae or Magnoliophyta, are the most diverse group of land plants, with 416 families, approx. 13,164 known genera and a total of ca 295,383 known species (Wikipedia). The angiosperms diverged from the gymnosperms in the Triassic period when dinosaurs were first evolving about 240 million years ago. Most of our food plants are angiosperms and many require the help of pollinators to produce fruit such as pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, corn, beans and just about all the fruits and nuts. We tend to take them for granted but without them we would be virtually unable to produce these. Here at Breakneck Hill Farm, the farmer before me, Ray Davis, because of his orchards and honey bees recognized the value of providing habitat and food for these insects and planted Linden (American Basswood) and Spanish Chestnut trees. They are now fully grown and from mid-June to mid July the trees are literally buzzing with thousands of bees when you walk beneath them.


Spanish Chestnut flowers with a honeybee in the center of the picture.

I have also planted small gardens with late season flowers that will help to feed not only the pollinators but also the beneficial insects like parasitic wasps which will keep pests in check.




Here a late season blooming onion is hosting three bumblebees at once.

DSCN6338My kale got hit pretty hard by the aphids this late season. Unfortunately here the lady beetle has gotten on the job a little on the late side. By identifying the problem early I might have been able to suppress the population with something like Neem oil enough to allow some of the kale to survive. They certainly seemed to prefer the Red Russian kale over the curly.


This monster is a Tomato Hornworm, unfortunate for him/her they are covered in the cocoons of a braconid parasitic wasp. They will eat this destructive caterpillar from the inside out and then mature and go find another. This is how we use nature to do our dirty work.