Thursday, September 27, 2012

Making More Dirt

The poplar leaves are falling, convincing the birch to follow suit, and the sugar maples are showing off their brilliant reds and golden hues. The evening breeze is reliably cool, and the mornings are laden with dew. The autumnal night is arriving quicker and quicker; the days, shortened, are filled with the hurry for winter. Even as the end of this growing season is suddenly, rapidly in sight, the preparations for the next one are in front of us. Compost. In these cool mornings, the steam from our scattered compost piles is easily visible, a wispy indication of the powerful, perpetual decomposition process transpiring within each mound of compost. Each pile is full of microbial action. Having been turned through the summer, our compost is active and alive. If we want to talk science, compost can be understood in terms of two elements: carbon and nitrogen. In layman’s speak, this is the “brown” and the “green.” Regardless of linguistic preferences, a healthy compost pile should offer a robust mix of woody materials (woodchips, straw, old hay, dry grass clippings, woody debris) and fresh matter (food scraps, weeds, manure, fresh grass clippings). In combination with oxygen introduced into the pile through frequent turning, a hot, active microbial environment is fostered, essentially “cooking” the pile’s contents. Decomposition happens fairly rapidly in this manner, providing quality soil for use in the gardens within a season or two. Which is exactly what we are preparing ourselves to go. As our garden beds are harvested from and weeded out this fall, a fresh layer of finished compost will be added, introducing new organic matter and increasing the fertility of the garden bed. This process is essential. Finished compost releases nutrients slowly over time, preventing soil from becoming depleted and helping to ensure plant health. But that’s not all. Some of our younger compost piles will sit over winter, awaiting use in late spring and early summer. Our spring planting of potatoes, in particular, is an event in which we incorporate significant quantities of organic matter into an agricutlural area. More importantly that that, however, is the sifting of compost this fall in preparation for our early spring starts. Between now and the freeze, we will sift compost from our best-looking piles, eliminating any woody chunks and woodchips that remain, then storing this within large drums in our basement. This will provide us with great quality dirt as we start seeds indoors in February and March, a time when compost piles outside our still frozen and unusable. Compost, therefore, is an integral, essential component in the health and longevity of our garden system. Rich, dark dirt: generating and promoting this essential fertility is our task at hand. ~Beth as published in North Country News

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Rows of Basil

The basil is so big it’s almost hard to see. These once little plants are vigorously pushing aside tomatoes and overpowering cucumber vines as the heat of the hoop house fills them with an abundance of solar supercharge. Delicate herbs are not what you would find upon entering this greenhouse, but rather hefty plants in overwhelming quantity. It is certainly not an overly onerous problem to have. Of the hundred-plus basil plants in this particular locale, some were easily up to my chest in height, and threatening to flower beyond usefulness. Luckily, Plymouth State University freshman orientation service projects coincided with an ideal synchronicity. It was therefore with an enthusiastic posse of fresh area residents that I headed to the upper hoop house this past weekend, scissors and bushel baskets in tow. My cohorts were quick studies, and after a few tutorials about plant care and harvest techniques, we were moving down the rows, harvesting long limbs laden with pungent basil. Rather than harvesting single basil leaves, we were harvesting individual branches, cutting them down to where new growth was evidenced. This eliminated the immediate threat of flowering, and would encourage the plant to grow in a bushy habit, generating multiply basil branches where previously there had only been one. Our baskets quickly filled up with only a fraction of the harvesting completed. The act of stuffing (gently of course), piling, and heaping basil in a delicate balancing act ensued until the plants had all been sufficiently pruned. With our aromatic bounty in tow, we traipsed back to the D Acres Community Building: our work was only half done. These herbs, you see, were destined to be dried in the loft of our Red Barn. Once crisp to the touch they will be stored in glass jars, then used to flavor our meals throughout the winter as well as sold as culinary spices. To get to this end product, however, requires the tedious work of bundling and tying the freshly harvested basil into long strands that can be hung from the barn rafters. Thus we gathered round the table, and – four or five stalks to a bundle – slowly tied the basil with twine, forming long strands of sweet smelling herbs. In an excellent group effort, this was completed with good humors still in tact, and gracefully hung from nails affixed in the barn’s beams. With a week of two of decent weather, this basil will soon be dry. The processing will then ensue in reverse, stripping the crispy leaves from the stalks and storing it for the winter. Imagine the meals it will enhance! A taste of summer to last all year long, how excellent is that. ~Beth as published in North Country News

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Intern Frank's First Week!

I’m not sure what I expected my first week at D Acres to be like. I was attracted to the experience for many reasons, but the fundamental reason was an attempt to reconnect myself to our land base and to learn tools to build a more sustainable community. I am a fourth year medical student at Boston University and I have essentially been living in cities for my entire life. While I love being out in nature, it is usually in some sort of recreational setting. Over the past few years, I have become more cognizant of my ignorance of such simple necessities as food and where my food comes from. I found that I had hit a theoretical wall where I had learned what I could through books and discussions, but that I needed to learn first-hand about my basic necessities and the connection to sustainability. I started my stay on a Monday. I was somewhat familiar with the schedule and layout of the place from the readings online and my work-day experience in July. We started with a great lunch of heated leftovers (fresher and tastier than anything I would get in Boston!) and I picked out my own tree house. The tree house option was a nice surprise, because I had prepared myself for six weeks of sleeping in a tent. I chose the Lighthouse, an excellent example of alternative building using recycled materials. It even has two floors and my own Buddha statue. We had the Monday meeting during the afternoon, where I learned more about the day-to-day goings of the homestead and signed up for my tasks for the week. We had a relaxing afternoon, excellent dinner by Bill and Betty, and then got myself settled and ready for the work week. The work week goes from Tuesday-Thursday, although there is always work being done during the rest of the week. I volunteered to help harvest on Tuesday morning. My first time ever picking blueberries and green beans! It was interesting about the work, and I’ve noticed this through many of the different chores I’ve been given. It starts off as this exciting and new thing. Maybe what people feel when they go apple picking? It’s something new to pick berries or get your hands in the dirt. It’ll be a great story to tell back home. And then after the first hour, your back starts to hurt, the sun gets hot, your mind starts to get impatient, or whatever little inconvenience arises. The work stops becoming new and exciting and it becomes work. Having worked in manual labor in the past, I was not new to the experience, but it always amazes me when it happens. Personally, I begin to question why I’m doing what it is I’m doing. It happens to me when I spend an entire sunny weekend studying in the library, or I miss birthday parties because I’m stuck in the hospital. On the farm, it brings into question the larger issue of what I think they are trying to accomplish, which is to remove the convenience of what many of us in “modern” society have come to expect. It is easy to walk into Whole Foods and buy a quart of organically grown blueberries. You can then go home and eat as many as you want But how much harder is it to be mindless about food when your back hurts because of the time you spent gathering that food? One of the big lessons I learned in the first week is that to work towards a more sustainable life means sacrifice and work, but that when the work is geared towards providing healthy and safe food, or a way of living that is kinder to the environment , there can be no change without getting your hands dirty. With the focus on community and communal living, you’re not alone in your struggles. Everyone works and you work to support everyone else, otherwise no one eats. Overall, it’s been a great experience as I learn to garden, work with farm animals, compost, cook, live communally, and many other things I’ve never been exposed to. There is a learning curve as I sometimes struggle to learn alternative ways of doing simple tasks (i.e. having to ask how to make tea without the pre-packaged tea bags), but I’m excited to continue learning and working towards the common goal.