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Grass is always greener

Our Beltie cow, Abigail, has the peculiar tendency to get down on her knees (elbows?) and stick her head under the fence line to eat the grass on the other side.  She’ll even turn her head sideways and stick her tongue way out to get a little extra reach.  With a single-strand electric fence, she can reach a good two feet before the wire gets near her back.  Furthermore, she’ll get within an inch of that wire and I’ve only ever seen her get shocked once in 5 years.  She’ll do this even when there’s plenty of grass inside the fence – I guess she just likes a challenge.  It’s actually pretty helpful, as she does a pretty decent job of keeping the electric fence clear.  What’s really funny is that she never actually breaks out of the paddock, even though she gets most of the way there.  She’s a real class act.

The garden is really starting to pump out great produce.  We’re getting into peak veggie season here in New England, so get into it!  Everything looks good, and we’re still fighting the good fight against the weeds.  Beets are notably absent from the list, as they just can’t seem to cope with the frequent heavy downpours and constantly wet soil.  (Dear Beets, I’m not mad, I’m just really disappointed.  Love, Jeff)

New this week:  Potatoes, broccoli, carrots.

Coming soon:  Peppers, eggplant, potatoes.

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Winning the weed war

It’s been a tough year as far as weed control, with frequent heavy rains making cultivation difficult.  And even when the soil is dry enough for tractor work, mechanical cultivation is much less effective in wet soil.  You can knock the weeds around all day long with the tractor, but they just re-root in the mud.  However, I’m pleased to say that we are winning the war, even when many farms are experiencing a “total breakdown in weed control” according to UMASS Extension.  With weekly cultivation on the Farmall Cub, and some (and then some more) dedicated hand-weeding by Paul and volunteer Jessica, things are looking pretty darn good if you ask me.

There’s a bunch of new stuff coming out of the garden, so check the website.  We’ve just started picking cukes and basil – how about a cucumber/basil/yogurt salad for a hot summer evening?

Coming soon:  Carrots!  Ground beef!

Coming soon-ish:  Tomatoes, peppers, and more.

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From pigs to corn…. and back again

Where we grazed our pigs last year, there is now corn growing.  The pigs helped to turn the soil (although I wish they would have been a bit more methodical) and fertilize the field.  I plowed and harrowed in May.  After picking tons of rocks – and not making a dent in the population – we were able to interplant corn and winter squash.  Then I went back and planted pole beans next to the 6-inch corn seedlings.  If all goes well, we should have a great harvest of flint corn, squash, and beans in the fall, some of which will go to feed this year’s pigs.

Not much new in the garden to add to the list this week – loads of fresh greens are available now, but more good things are coming soon.  Cabbage and cukes in the next couple of weeks, and tomatoes not much longer after that.  Beets and carrots are coming along, too.

Garden Shares are back!  Order a share through the website, and for $20 we’ll make you up a bag of what looks good from the garden this week.

And last but not least, Paul’s hens are laying, and eggs will be available on Monday first come, first served.

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(Actually) Pastured pork

Our pigs are really living the life this year.  They are down at the bottom of the hill where they get access to fresh pasture every week.  We move the pigs before they do too much digging and and then we reseed the turned earth with new forage.  When we open up a new section of pasture, the pigs get right down to business, running around eating clover leaves and burying their snouts in the soil.  Other features of pig heaven include a 1-ton feeder full of non-GMO feed from Green Mountain Feed in Vermont and some nice muddy water holes to wallow in on hot days.  I think I’m going to move in…

If you like great pork and want to support good farming, head over to the Short Creek Farm and download a Pastured Pork CSA signup form.

The Potter Hill website is all up to date with the vegetables we have available this week.  The first squash and zukes are coming in, and the lettuce looks amazing.  Coming soon – carrots, beets, cukes.

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Green things growing

We are still in the mud (and the weeds) in the garden.  The soil has been either very wet or completely saturated since the beginning of June.  Some things are suffering (poor beets, where are your roots?), but other things look fantastic.  Amazing lettuce and arugula, and the tomato plants are almost glowing green.  Either way, many things seem to be running a bit behind, but the forecast is for fine weather and that’s fine with me!

I’m still a man without an office, which means no website updates until the beginning of next week.  But there’s new stuff in the garden – scallions, arugula, radishes, chard – so just make a note with your order when you submit it.  Things should be back on track soon with the website.

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Hanging in there

This has been a strange year so far, with wild swings in weather and soil conditions.  A spring drought left us with dust bowl conditions, a dry powdery layer of soil that refused to germinate any early seeds.  Then, a monsoon weekend and several downpours following has left the soil fully saturated – many small seedlings that did germinate in early June have since withered away from a bad case of wet feet.

That said, it’s not all bad.  The grass is growing back quickly and thickly after grazing.  Weed control in the garden looks good, given the wet soil conditions.  The tomatoes and potatoes look great.  The cabbages look as though they may finally be outgrowing the flea beetle attack.  Squash and cukes are coming along.  The lettuce is fantastic, along with the bok choi.

So, yes, the pickings are still pretty slim, but you might be surprised to see the rows of green things growing out behind the barn.  A slow start this year, but good things are coming.  Thanks for hanging in there with us!

We do have swiss chard this week, but my computer is in a box in NH so I can’t add it to the website.  If you’d like some chard, just make a note in the comment section when you order.

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Good pasture

I’ve really been bowled over this year at just how much the pastures at Potter Hill have improved over the last 4 years.  Four years ago, the fields were full of weeds, and maybe if you looked close you could find a sprig of clover or a tuft of decent grass.  The lower, wetter fields were especially bad, providing very little grazing value for the animals.  However, even those fields that were the poorest pasture are now full of three species of clover and and show signs of the best grasses (timothy and orchard grass) moving in.

I’m not sure if there’s anything in the scientific literature about increasing productivity in old fields through grazing and management, but here’s my theory, at least as applies to the specific situation at Potter Hill.  In our soils, there is a natural glacially-deposited layer of barely permeable material just under the topsoil.  This means that when it rains, the water flows downhill through the top layer of soil, carrying nitrogen with it to the bottom of the hill.  The resulting nitrogen-deficient soil is actually the perfect environment for clovers and other legumes – these plants fix their own nitrogen from the air with the help of soil microbes.  This is a competitive advantage for them, and I have noticed that any bare patch at Potter Hill (e.g. cow hoof print in the mud, pig rootings) tends to come up clover.  After a few years of grazing and mowing, the clover and vetch (another legume) have gained a foothold throughout the fields.  And now, especially since we do not make hay and export any of those nutrients from the farm, these legumes are enriching the soil with the nitrogen they produce.  Once there is enough nitrogen in the soil, the grasses (which do not fix their own nitrogen) can take off.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still work to do and room for improvement.  But the change really has been dramatic.

In other news, plenty of greens to go around this week.  And radishes, too.  (Sorry, jumped the gun on the radishes – hopefully next week!)

Coming soon (but not toooooo soon):  chard, squash, zukes, beets, carrots.

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Fresh greens, finally

Pickup will be back at the farm on Potter Hill Rd and back to normal hours of 4pm to 7pm.

After a serious 1-2-3 punch of snow in the fields into April, May drought, and then 4 inches of rain to start June, I was wondering if we might be down for the count.  But after some frantic cultivation to stir some air into the muddy lifeless soil, it seems that things are finally taking a turn for the better.  And yes, finally, this we week we have green things to offer!

The lettuce is small – you’ll want at least two heads.  The bok choi is a perfect size, and we’ve actually managed to keep most of the flea beetles off of it this year – no more leaves that look like they were used for target practice.  Red Russian kale looks good, too – bunches will be a bit on the small side until the plants really get cranking.  And arugula – also smaller bunches, and only just a little “holy”.

Check out these paintings by our neighbor, Allison P.  Very cool.

And don’t forget – Pork CSA and Beef CSA info can be found over at our Short Creek Farm website.  Time to sign up!

New This Week
Baby lettuce heads – $1.50 / ea
Kale – $3.50 / bu
Bok choi – $2.00 / ea
Arugula – $3.00 / bu

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Introducing Short Creek Farm

I’m guessing that this will come as no surprise to many, but this will be my last season at Potter Hill Farm.

My long-time friend, Dave Viola, and I are leasing a new farm in Northwood, NH.  Dave is the guy responsible for the sausages that we’ve been selling.  We’re calling the new place Short Creek Farm, and our mission is to raise pastured pork, grassfed beef, and heirloom vegetables in order to create delicious, distinctive foods that reflect season and are instilled with a sense of place.  We’ll use the best quality home-grown ingredients to make the best meat and vegetable products, all with an eye towards ecology, community, and culture.

It’s hard for me to think of leaving Potter Hill, but Short Creek is an incredible opportunity.  The farm itself is much larger – about 200 acres – and it is in a great location between Concord and Portsmouth.  The land is protected by a Conservation Easement and abuts another 2000 acres of conserved land.  In fact, the farm itself is part of the Northwood Area Land Management Collaborative (NALMC), a group of property owners and stakeholders who work together “to connect with each other and to the land through an appreciation of the natural world.”  At Short Creek, we’ll work to make sure that Good Farming fits right in, and that people can appreciate agriculture as a part of the broader ecological community, where human culture and and nature come together most intimately.

Though all of our animals are still currently grazing at Potter Hill, the transition to Short Creek Farm is actually starting right away.  Our Grassfed Beef CSA and Pastured Pork CSA will be sold under the Short Creek name this year.  You’ll also see some new labels on our sausages as soon as we sell our current inventory.

The good news (well, more good news, I suppose) is that Potter Hill Farm will continue to exist even after I move to NH at the end of the year.  Many of you have already met Paul Grady at pickups or at the Grafton Farmers Market.  At the end of the season, Paul will be taking the reins at Potter Hill, and then it will officially be Farmer Paul for 2016.  Things may not look exactly the same, but I am truly looking forward to what Paul has planned for the farm.  (HINT: cluck cluck!)  Dave and I also look forward to working with Paul to make Short Creek Farm products available in Grafton.

When I landed here in Grafton almost 5 years ago, it was a bit shocking.  I had most recently been living in a 12’x12′ cabin on a farm in a little hill town in the Pioneer Valley.  All of a sudden I was trying to navigate the world’s most insane traffic pattern around the Common.  I wasn’t sure that I would ever be able to settle in.  But I did.  It will be hard to leave the farm itself, as I’ve come to know each field and each season by their distinct character.  But it will be hardest to leave the people here.  The neighbors who welcomed me warmly, and all of my loyal customers – some of whom have been with me since the very first bunch of radishes. Friends who welcomed me with generosity into their home and their lives.   Who helped me out of tight spots time after time, who listened to my rants, and who took the time to teach.  Thank you all for your friendship, and for your patronage, and for gracing your table with Potter Hill produce for the last several years.

But this is not good-bye, not yet.  I’ll be here for the rest of the season, and it’s shaping up to be a great one.  If only the weather would cooperate grumble grumble (now it’s a proper PHF newsletter).

See you soon.

P.S. Here’s today’s gratuitous pig video


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Still roasting

We got about 36 rain drops yesterday, not enough to make a dent in our >6″ rainfall deficit this spring.  After two years of droughty weather in a row, maybe it’s time to think about a backup irrigation system that consists of more than two watering cans.  This dry weather has been tough on our early vegetables, with poor germination and struggling seedlings.  Forecast is calling for a good soaking from Sunday into Tuesday – let’s hope that’s true.  If we get some good rain soon, I think a lot of what is in the garden will recover quickly.

This Monday will be our last pickup at the Brigham Hill Community Barn, so get your meat orders in.  We’ll be back to our normal pickup at the Potter Hill barn as soon as we have some vegetables ready for harvest.  In the meantime, feel free to shoot me an email if you need something.

In other news… videos of pigs doing pig things.


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