Cow Fund Donates Money and Beef

Written by Paul on April 24th, 2016

The Breakneck Hill Cow Fund made our first two donations as we close down operations. The two non-profit organizations receiving the $2000 donations were both hosted by the Cow Fund at Breakneck Hill Farm in 2015. The Urban Farm Institute who came out to Southborough twice last year, trains young people in urban sustainable farm methods. They run a number of small scale (less than an acre) farms in Boston. They will put the money to work on farm supplies. The Cow Fund also donated a cow to them. The beef will be distributed to underserved residents of the Roxbury community. The second organization, The Move also trains young people by taking large groups from inner city Boston to farms to help out with various projects. They came out in October with a group of about 40 and with the help of Cow Fund volunteers we ran a number of different projects. Their major expense is a bus to transport such a large number. We plan to continue and expand the relationship with both organization at Breakneck Hill Farm. While activities on the conservation land will be limited to the orchard, production at Breakneck Hill Farm will be intensified and all the extra food produced will be donated to the Urban Farm Institute.

Two members of the Urban Farm Institute picking up the beef of the donated Cow Fund cow.



Propagating Comfrey

Written by Paul on 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.


This is a single plant dug out of the garden.


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


And planted




Seeding the Cow Paddock

Written by Paul on 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.


This shot shows the harrowed ground on the right.


The seeds on the right have been harrowed.


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

Written by Paul on 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.



Cows Looking Pretty Beefy

Written by Paul on February 24th, 2016

Breakneck Hill Farm will continue to have at least a few cows. Here are the last couple belties with Peter displaying his impressive rack.


Here is Henry and Bristol hanging out in the cows paddock.



New Raised Bed

Written by Paul on February 23rd, 2016

In New England there is no shortage of rocks. There is a shortage of soil though. One solution is to build raised beds. Using wooden forms presents the problem of what type of wood to use. If you use untreated wood, the boards will only last a few years. If you use pressure treated there is a certain toxicity that must be accepted. By using stone to build the beds we solve two problems. We’ve removed the stones from one place they were unwanted and we create a raised bed that is rot resistant and very flexible. This space was some of the worse soil on the property. By raising the soil by 6-8 inches we’ve now added about 200 square feet of growing space. In addition to the cow and chicken manure that has been added to this new bed, I planted black locust trees behind it. Black locust is a member of the pea family meaning it is a nitrogen fixer. Not only during the short growing season a pea might have but for most of the year. Black locust is also one of the most under-utilized woods. It is very strong and one of the most rot resistant woods that grow in this climate. At some point the trees will be harvested and used for other projects. Permaculture is about utilizing local  and multifunction resources.



Recycling of the Raspberry Patch

Written by Paul on February 23rd, 2016

The raspberry patch has given us many gallons of raspberries over the last 9 years but it was finally time to renovate the space. So it was mowed and manure from both the cows and chicken coops was spread over the grass and weeds. Now we have begun the process of sheet mulching with cardboard and then covering it in wood chips. The cardboard is free from recycling and the wood chips were dropped off from a tree service in my next door neighbors yard. The goal is to utilize local resources as much as possible. All three components, manure, cardboard and wood chips are considered waste and would need energy exerted to deal with them. By changing the paradigm and looking at how can these be used as resources we are now able to suppress grass and weeds and build soil. This area will eventually be planted with food crops. This is how permaculture works. Changing the problem into the solution.



Winter Work on the Garden

Written by Paul on February 22nd, 2016

Last year it was impossible to do any more than maintain the animals. This years mild weather has allowed me to keep the barn and barnyard clean and fertilize the garden at the same time. Here manure has been brought to the garden in small piles. It will be be incorporated into the soil before planting.


The newest manure will be put into these simple compost bins and utilized during the season to add fertility.




Chickens Still Foraging in February

Written by Paul on February 22nd, 2016

These Red Dorking Hens are enjoying the beautiful spring weather in February. They will continue to eat weed seeds and bug parts as long as the ground is accessible.



Pigs Eat Turnips

Written by Paul on February 22nd, 2016

I have been supplementing the pigs grain ration with turnips (among other things) which I grew last year and couldn’t seem to get preserved before the hard frost hit. They froze in the ground but with the return of warm weather I’ve been feeding them to the pigs who don’t seem to mind one bit.