We care for the farm’s vegetables with hand-tended methods, each year adding to our battery of sophisticated hand and human-powered tools to increase efficiency and effectiveness of fieldwork. While initial plowing or tillage will be done with our walk-behind 2-wheeled tractor or by a neighboring farmer with a 4-wheeled tractor, we reduce tillage and disturb the soil as little as possible. Increasing the fertility of our soil is a top priority – through cover cropping, the addition of compost to increase organic matter, using rock powders to return lost micro-nutrients and minerals, applying our own farm-produced vermicompost, use of foliars to strengthen plant immunity and deter diseases and pests, and other methods to increase microbial soil life.
With a little under 2 acres in cultivation and caring for our crops by hand-tending, we have our eyes on the crops all the time. We can observe how everything is doing everyday and can respond quickly if we see problems such as insects or disease developing, can identify any nutritional issues, or determine if the soils are drying out and need irrigation. We use drip irrigation with water from the North Branch of the Hoosic River. Soil tests on our fields every 12-18 months give us information about the nutrients, how they are building, what is needed.
Our garden planning, which takes place in the late fall and early winter, always includes working out crop rotations so that they are not grown in the same location for several years running. Because of our small land base, every square foot in cultivation is important to the farm. When crop disease or insect infestation develops, we use methods such as hand-picking insects, or picking off diseased foliage.
We do not use any GMO seeds or plants. We do use many open-pollinated varieties, and only use hybrid seeds sold to us by seed companies we trust. If they are not breeding the seeds themselves, they are vetting it to be sure it is not genetically-modified. We grow lots of different varieties of our vegetables, rarely only a single variety of any one crop. We believe that this diversity is helpful to control insect pests and attract beneficial insects and also helps with the diversity of microbial life in the soil. It also adds to the diversity of nutrients available to those that eat our produce! Every variety will have some difference in the phytonutrients it packs.
We began a long-term project in 2019 of planting native plants, shrubs and trees that provide habitat and food for beneficial insects, pollinators, and birds: chokeberry, serviceberry, high bush cranberry, blueberries, red twig dogwood, willows, and more. An “insect hotel” offers overwintering protection. We are most grateful for funding from The Fruit Guys Community Fund that gave us a tremendous jump start on our continuing efforts. Several bee hives tended by a local beekeeper boost our pollinator population and also provide honey sales. Each season we add new “pollinator strips” – plantings of native flowering plants attractive to pollinators and beneficial insects – to provide good food for our friends. A commitment to a diversity of varieties in our vegetable crops supports overall plant and soil health.
Since we don’t raise animals, we find that we need to bring in compost. We produce all the compost on the farm that we can, but it isn’t enough for our needs at this point in the farm’s development. We get our compost from a local farm with a longtime compost operation.
For the past two seasons, we have been building “hugelkultur” mounds with brush and bramble prunings, downed tree logs, crop residue and compost. We are adding plantings of perennials such as native cranberries to these mounds that double as permaculture crops and ameliorate some minor flooding issues. We plan to add more in 2022.
A grant from the American Farmland Trust has enabled us to do our own haying of the acreage surrounding the vegetable beds with a cutter bar mower on on our walk behind tractor We hand rake the hay and apply it as mulch in beds and bed paths, in the hugelkultur beds, and as compost – all adding to the fertility of our cropland and helping us “close the loop” for using our own on-farm inputs.
We use solar-powered electric fencing around all our vegetable fields. Given our location, there is lots of wildlife that find our vegetables delectable, and given our small land base, a munching by a deer or two can take a whole crop down in one night’s feasting!
We have a hoophouse that we use as a propagation house for all our seedling transplants, and we also grow seedlings for an heirloom tomato sale each spring. Two additional high tunnels and two caterpillar tunnels allow us more protected culture for sensitive crops such as tomatoes and cucumbers. Row cover is used in the early spring and fall for frost protection, for insect protection, as well as to deter critters such as groundhogs and bunnies.
To help with small rodent control on the farm, we have installed a barred owl nesting box and a kestrel nesting box. The last two seasons have had successful nestings of a kestrel family – each with a family of two youngsters!