The Born-Agains

Garlic wakes up in the raised beds on Better Farm's property. We planted the cloves last fall.
We've spent the last several weeks raking out our raised beds, turning compost, and bagging our freshly made potting soil. Here's a pictorial of our born-again veggies and herbs we've found waking back up in the gardens:

Onions

Onions that were planted last October.
Sage
We planted sage in June of 2011 and it came back last week.
Asparagus

Garlic Chives

To get our soil aerated and chock-full of nutrients, we rake out the top layer of compost every spring and transfer it to our compost system out in the main garden. Here's what was revealed after the snow melted off: vegetable matter, wood ash, compostables like dog fur, pine needles and dead leaves

And here's what the ground looks like after we comb the top layer off:
Got a great gardening tip or question? Contact us at info@betterfarm.org.

Direct Planting Hardy, Cold-Weather Seeds

With the North Country growing season not really starting until June and frosty nights lasting well into May, it's best to start most seeds indoors around here. Our cauliflower, broccoli, lentils, carrots, tomatoes, and more are all busy establishing root systems in the greenhouse; while other veggies such as peas are extremely hardy and can be put right into the thick of things by April. With that in mind, Ruby Amanze and I hit the Better Farm garden last week to get lima and roma beans, onion bulbs, and sugar and snap peas planted.

Luckily for us, mulch gardening has worked wonders on the formerly hard soil in Better Farm's garden. Layers of cardboard, fresh compost, wood ash, and dead leaves have yielded super-soft, rich, dark soil that is a breeze to plant in. Soil that last year broke two shovels this year didn't require so much as a hand trowel to get into.

Dirt!
We set to work getting the seeds 2 inches deep and several inches apart. The onions we planted a little deeper and spaced further from each other, on account of their anticipated growth.

All the activity naturally attracted the attention of Better Farm's chickens. Here are Henrietta and Sissy stopping over to see what all the fuss was about, and to scratch in some fresh compost.


The girls stayed out of the way long enough for Ruby and I to get all the seeds in and watered. While we were out there, I was pleased to discover the kale from last year making a comeback.

Very exciting. Next week we'll start in on putting fresh seeds in the greenhouse and adding some compost manure to our garden beds. Only a month to go until we're in the full swing of things!
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

And Man Made Fire...

In the 40 years since Better Farm has come into being, heating methods for the house have varied wildly.

Gone are the days of splitting logs right on the kitchen floor and keeping drip buckets under the ramshackle stovepipe that ran along the kitchen ceiling and up through three levels of floor. Over is the time of stockpiling wood in the basement for the split oil/wood furnace. With geothermal an attractive but painfully expensive option to defray the use of the fuel-fed furnace currently in Better Farm's basement, I started investigating other ways to reduce our carbon footprint and make the house a little toastier this winter season.

One thought was to go solar and switch to electric heat; but the price tag for that overhaul is far too great. And in speaking to solar households around this area, there are many times throughout winter up in Jefferson County that a gas-fed generator is necessary to keep the power going. Ditto for wind power.

Meanwhile, the environmental benefits of heating with wood are very well-documented. The carbon dioxide released by wood fuel is equivalent to the C02 that same tree absorbed from the atmosphere over the course of its lifetime: an even tradeoff. Do your part to replant trees wherever possible, and you are replenishing this resource completely; and even improving atmospheric oxygen levels.

I took a look at the stove pipe sticking out of the wall in the kitchen, a remnant from a former incarnation of Better Farm when the kitchen stove was wood-fired. And so I asked around to see if anyone knew of a wood stove for sale. Not for cooking, persay (though options abound for all sorts of wood stove-based baking and cooking), but to give us additional, cozy heat in the house and keep that nasty fuel furnace on at a minimum.

Our friend Milt Davis, owner of Davis Construction, had a stove on-hand that he graciously donated to the farm. That left us in need of a lot of wood, and a new stovepipe. So I brought in the dream team: Better Farm resident and ax-wielding extraordinaire Joel DiCaprio, and master carpenter Gary Stevenson to get the stove situated.

Joel set out into the marshes of the property and felled a dozen or so dead trees. He split the wood, brought it to the yard, and I wheelbarrowed it onto the decks and stacked. And stacked. And stacked (thanks to Joel, David Garlock, Brian Purwin, and Cory Flack for helping to stack; and to Walt Dutcher and Jody Szepeski for doing so much work on the wood splitter in a snowstorm!). Meanwhile, Gary and his accomplice Steve stacked a beautiful stove pipe up along the side of the house, constructed a stone wall in the kitchen, a hearth for the stove, and hooked everything together safely.

All that's left to do is install a big hot tub and sauna somewhere on the premises, and you won't hear another peep out of me about the harsh North Coutnry Winter. Happy fireside snuggling, everyone.
1 Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Get Your Garden Ready for Winter

Want to avoid the mess of mulching, roto tilling, weeding, and fertilizing your garden next spring? Then get that dirt winter-ready with a very simple gardening technique.

We've found that combining Ruth Stout's traditional methods of mulch gardening with the lasagna gardening approach yields weed-free, fertile soil that you likely won't have to add anything to in order to get great yields with crops and flowers.

I set out two weeks ago to begin a process so simple, it's amazing anyone tills, weeds, buys weed-blocking gardening fabric, and that there exists an actual industry for fertilizers when discarded food scraps and a few earthworms are so readily available.

The main garden is comprised of raised rows to keep plants from drowning in heavy rains (clay-rich soil means very little drainage). So first things first: I plucked all the okra, string bean, squash, and broccoli stalks (and all others, you get the idea). I spread junk mail, cardboard, and newspaper over the mounds of dirt, and topped the paper products with the stalks of all the plants I pulled.

Next I dumped a layer of compost over the concoction—an ongoing project that requires emptying our compost bucket along the rows as we go along; but also included me raking out our big compost cage located in a far corner of the garden. I'm also adding to the rows the gross stuff I rake out of the chicken coop and wood ash from our stove.

It's not a pretty sight; and if we were, say, in the suburbs, I'd probably add a thin layer of topsoil to the mix for aesthetics' sake. The goal is to have a pile that's roughly 18 inches tall. Once the snow starts falling, these rows will be small incubated hotbeds of activity as all that stuff breaks down.

Come spring, we can plant directly into the rows—which will by then be stacks of rich, dark soil just begging for seeds to hold onto and turn into food.
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

I’m on Fire


Wood ash—that leftover pile of soot in your fireplace—has a myriad of uses you might want to consider before sweeping it up and throwing it in the garbage. One cord of firewood leaves behind up to 50 pounds of ashes, which can be used for everything from repelling slugs and snails from your flowers and produce to de-icing driveways and backyards without damaging cement or dirt underneath.

Here at Better Farm, we’re suckers for bonfires. Any excuse we can dream up to build a blaze, we will—and do. The ash we produce gets mixed in with our compost, and will help give our tomato plantings a boost in the spring. But with the seasons changing every-so-rapidly, we’ve started thinking more about creative and sensible ways to have an outdoor fire pit without the hassle of making our way across the street to our ragtag circle of cinder blocks every time.

Outdoor fire pits may hold the key to year-round blazes of glory for us—and for any of you who don’t have the luxury of starting huge fires willy-nilly on your property. In addition to providing you with plenty of ash for making soap and shining silver, outdoor fire pits offer year-round outdoor cooking options, an alternative to watching television, and a really nice accent for your property. If you decide to buy one new instead of cobbing one together, make sure it’s constructed of a material that is undoubtedly going to stand the test of time, such as wrought iron. As for all that wood ash you’ll be creating—store it in a fireproof container with a strong, airtight seal so you can keep coming back to it.

Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.