Winter Woods Work

 

By mid-December, with the ground solidly frozen and lightly snow covered, work on the farm transitioned from the fields to the woods. While hunting this fall, I noticed a good stand of white cedar just the right size for garden poles and posts. The stand was located in a two acre woodlot on the west corner of our land. This area had been in mature pine and spruce that was harvested the winter before I purchased the farm, leaving the land stripped of trees. My neighbor, who did the cutting with his brother, suggested that it was a perfect opportunity to clear the stumps and return this area to the fields of former times. But, lacking the resources, I did nothing and harvested only a few Christmas trees from the area over the past forty years.

 

Cedar Stand

As is typical in Maine, the woods regenerated in a natural cycle that will often switch between softwoods and hardwoods. Initially, there was a jungle of “pioneer” species, notably poplar and gray birch with some cherry and soft maple. On the wetter slope towards the swamp were the firs that became Christmas trees and the wisps of cedar fronds that would shoot up in clumps that assured future growth of straight stems.

 

A freshly cut cedar ready to be worked up.

A freshly cut cedar ready to be worked up.

 

Over the past ten years or so, the poplars have been dying out, replaced by a beautiful stand of red oak, representing the mature phase of the forest regeneration process. I began cutting the cedar among many nice “pole size” oaks that will eventually close their canopy and dominate the stand. To aid in that process, I used the saw to “girdle” two large “bull pines” (also called “pasture pines” because they will colonize abandoned pastures, throwing limbs in all directions to grow short and bushy, never having the potential to make a good saw log). By making two cuts into the bark about an inch deep around the circumference of the tree, the growing crown is cut off from its life giving roots.

 

One of the Bull Pines with girdle cuts visible.

One of the Bull Pines with girdle cuts visible.

 

Over a two year time frame, the tree will lose its needles, then its bark and become a dry skeleton, perfect for stove kindling wood. This allows the neighboring oaks to grow into the space occupied by the pines. We have carried out similar “release” cuts on the upper portions of the land, where we are cultivating a sugar bush for a future maple syrup operation.

 

A load of cedar ready for the farm.

A load of cedar ready for the farm.

The finished product ready for next years farming season.

The finished product ready for next years farming season.

 

It is very satisfying to be able to harvest a product from a woodlot while at the same time improving the growth and utility of the remaining trees. Unlike the immediate payback of vegetable growing, forestry is a lifetime pursuit with a generous payoff for future generations.

 

Getting the land ready for the resting season.

On the farm as the daylight hours have been waning we have been preparing the land for the winter season. For some parts of the farm this means laying down berms of hay as an erosion control barrier. Erosion control barriersGiven that our growing plots are on a hillside erosion is a fact of life. The tilt to the southwest gives us an advantage in the growing season of better sun exposure; however, when the fall rains come washouts develop. This simple technique of laying down windrows made from hay helps slow the path of the runoff.  This method allows more of the water to sink in to the soil without washing the topsoil down hill.

Erosion control berms These plots are ready for the winter and as the spring arrives the erosion control berms will be frozen solid in place and will continue to protect the plots as the snow melts.

Soon we will be looking at this scene and the season of rest will have arrived in full force.

Winter Snow Cover

 

 

2014 Wildfire Fellowship Farm CSA

We are excited to announce that Wildfire Fellowship Farm will be offering a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program for the 2014 growing season.

This program will allow subscribers to buy season shares of produce from our farm at less than retail prices. We will be offering full shares and half shares starting the week of June 15th and continuing for twenty weeks. CSA members will receive a bonus week at Thanksgiving to show our appreciation for their support.

The price for our CSA is $500 for a Full Share (enough for three-four people) and $275 for a Half Share(enough for one-two people). The first half payment will be due March 31 2014 and the final half payment will be due June 2 2014.

If you are interested in becoming a subscriber or want more information email us at – sales@wildfirefellowshipfarm.com

Keeping an eye on the Weather

Wildfire Fellowship Farm has a very unique climate all its own. The farm is located on a hillside that faces roughly south-west. This topography gives us a favorable micro climate as if our farm was located many hundreds of miles to the south. The full sun exposure warms our soil and helps our crops grow. Soil temperatures affect seed germination and general plant development.

Up to this point tracking our weather was very basic and included temperature, rainfall, and a heavy dose of observation. Early this fall on the farm we set up a piece of technology that will truly help us watch our weather. We installed a weather station made by Davis Instruments out on the hillside next to our growing beds. Weather StationThis weather station monitors all the basics like temperature, wind speed & direction, and rainfall. The station also monitors and reports a wealth of additional climate information including the following: Humidity, Barometric Pressure, Rain Fall Rate and Storm Totals, Wind Chill, Dew Point, and Heat Index. The station transmits the information via wireless connection to a hand-held receiver that can be moved around the farm as needed.

Davis Weather CenterThis system is expandable with additional sensors including air and soil temperature. We plan to add additional sensors around the farm especially in the hoop houses.

Keeping track of the weather is very important on our farm. Historical and current weather trends help us to decide when to plant, when to harvest, and when to start and stop watering. This weather station will truly become an asset to our farm.

Keeping The Soil Healthy – Our Compost

Looking over the to of a fresh windrow of compost hay.

Looking over the top of a fresh windrow of compost hay.

Here at Wildfire Fellowship Farm one way we keep our soil fed and healthy is by adding our own compost. This soil amendment is important because every time we harvest and sell our produce nutrients are leaving our farm. Compost provides a concentrated way to add back those lost nutrients as well as organic material.

One way we make this product is by composting hay from our fields. After we cut a section of field the green hay is placed into long piles called windrows. By placing the hay in a pile the material does not dry but instead starts to break down. During this process heat is created. As the hay starts to break down we cover the piles with heavy-duty landscaping fabric to keep the hay from giving off too much of its moisture.

A fresh windrow of hay starting to heat up.

A fresh windrow of hay starting to heat up, a little vapor can be seen drifting off the pile.

As the weeks pass the pile shrinks dramatically, care is taken to keep the windrow moist. The initial breaking down of the material is fast but the final product takes up to two years to be ready for the planting beds.

After several weeks the pile has shrunk and is well on it's way to becoming compost.

After several weeks the pile has shrunk and is well on its way to becoming compost.

When finished the compost is kept covered and protected. We spread the hay compost on to our seed beds prior to planting. Unlike chemical fertilizers used in conventional farming, compost both nourishes our plants and provides the complex living material for them to flourish. The best part is that this compost comes entirely from our land and keeps the soil in balance naturally.

The final product - this finished hay compost is being used to amend seed beds before planting.

The final product – this finished hay compost will be used to amend seed beds before planting.

 

Wildfire Farm Tech – CoolBot

Here at Wildfire Fellowship Farm we use a variety of technology to help us deliver the best produce to market. One of our latest investments is our self-made walk in cooler. Looking int our cooler.

This insulated room within our barn provided the perfect place to stage our produce prior to delivery. The cooler measures 8 feet by 8 feet and is cooled by a large window air conditioner. A normal window air conditioner can cool a room to around 65 degrees. In our case we needed that unit to cool the room to 45 Degrees . We used a small device called a CoolBot to accomplish this task.

CoolBot

From the CoolBot Website

“Here’s the problem with window air conditioner units. First, they are electronically limited so that you can’t go below 60 degrees. With some electrical bravery and skill, you could snip, solder and bypass the electrical controls so you COULD go lower. It will work better, but still not very well, because while BTU’s are BTU’s (it’s a strict measure of cooling/heating capacity), your ability to actually ACCESS that cooling power drops drastically as you approach only 60° F. This is because you don’t have the fans and extra surface area built into normal walk-in cooler compressor/condensor/evaporator units which dissipate the cold without freezing up.”

“That’s where CoolBot comes in! CoolBot uses new (2006 patent pending) technology to replace the brute force approach of fans and surface area with a micro-controller “brain” that intelligently interfaces with your air conditioner – controlling and co-ordinating its output so that you can access nearly all your cooling power, even as you keep temperatures in your walk-in cooler (or any highly insulated room) in the 30’s without re-wiring and without any freeze-ups.”

“The CoolBot is NOT just a thermostat. The CoolBot uses multiple sensors and a programmed micro-controller to direct your air conditioner’s compressor to operate in a such a way that you can run at whatever temperature you want without ever freezing up. And our innovative interface linking the CoolBot controller to your air conditioner allows for 2-minute installations without any training, cutting, soldering or even taping.”

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Our experience with this product has been very positive. We framed and insulated the room with off the shelf materials. During the construction much attention was paid to the details such as calking and air sealing.

Exterior view of the cooler

Later in the fall we will add a one inch layer of foil faced polyiso foam to the outside of the cooler. As a final finish to the exterior, sheathing boards will be added that match the interior of the barn.

Even without the added foam the cooler has performed very well during summer weather in the 90 degree range.

Close up of the CoolBot

The installation of the CoolBot controller was simple, takeing less than five minuets. The controller is very simple to adjust and has an easy to read display.

This has been a very good investment for us and has made harvesting more manageable for our small farm. We would definitely recommend this product for any farm in need of a cost-effective walk in cooler.

Early Cabbage – Time to make Sauerkraut!

Here at Wildfire Fellowship Farm we grow a variety of brassica crops including Kale , Broccoli, Cauliflower and Cabbage. This time of year we are sending a very special crop to market, early tender cabbage. This type of cabbage is more succulent than common storage varieties. This tender  cabbage is great in  dishes like Cole Slaw and Sauerkraut.

 

Earlycabbage.jpg

 Sauerkraut has unfortunately been relegated by many to only a hot dog topping. When made at home, fresh sauerkraut is crunchy and full of flavor –  unlike its store-bought kin. Home made sauerkraut is a live fermented food and contains many beneficial probiotics. Most people associate probiotics with yogurt but fermented vegetables offer an alternative source.

A great item from Mother Earth News details the process to make not only basic sauerkraut but also several spicy variations. The following is the basic recipe from the article.

Simple Sauerkraut
By Nathan Poell

 2 large heads of cabbage (about 5 pounds)
2 to 3 tbsp noniodized salt

Grate 1 cabbage and place in a crock or plastic bucket. Sprinkle half the salt over the cabbage. Grate the second cabbage, then add it to the crock along with the rest of the salt. Crush the mixture with your hands until liquid comes out of the cabbage freely. Place a plate on top of the cabbage, then a weight on top of the plate. Cover the container and check after 2 days. Scoop the scum off the top, repack and check every 3 days. After 2 weeks, sample the kraut to see if it tastes ready to eat. The flavor will continue to mature for the next several weeks. Canning or refrigerating the sauerkraut will extend its shelf life. Yields about 2 quarts

 

Now is the time to experiment with this simple and delicious dish while our tender early cabbages are available – Enjoy!

 

Eat Local – Eat Organic

 

Going With the Flow – Making Water Work

Wildfire Fellowship Farm is committed to using sustainable farming practices in our operations. This commitment requires creative solutions to everyday problems on the farm.

One problem to overcome was how to get irrigation water to our crops. Our farm is located on a hillside with a spring fed water source near the bottom and growing beds up on the hill. Without running power lines, underground cable, or a generator how could we move the water?

 

A look at our spring fed well and solar panel array

A look at our spring fed well and solar panel array

Our solution was to move water up the hill to a holding tank with a solar-powered pump. When we irrigate our crops, water from the tank flows down hill by gravity to spigots located near our planting beds.

One of several yard hydrants that deliver our irrigation water.

One of several yard hydrants that deliver our irrigation water.

To conserve water we utilize drip irrigation. This method of irrigation delivers water to the roots instead of on the foliage.

 

Drip irrigation lines in a low tunnel.

Drip irrigation lines in a low tunnel.

This simple and elegant system delivers water to where we need it using only a little solar power and a lot of gravity.

 

 

 

 

 

The Berries Are Coming!

Wildfire Fellowship Farm offers a variety of berries in addition to our vegetable crops. Our berries are certified organic and include the following varieties: Strawberries, Raspberries, Blackberries, and High Bush Blueberries.

The 2012-2013 strawberry patch full of fruit ready to ripen.

The 2012-2013 strawberry patch full of fruit ready to ripen.

Soon the strawberries will be ripening. We have a variety that does very well on the hillside and produces medium-sized sweet fruit. These strawberries will be perfect sliced over shortcake with fresh whipped cream or just on their own, sweet and juicy naturally.

The blackberries in full bloom with one of our guest bee hive in the background.

The blackberries in full bloom with one of our guest bee hives in the background.

As the season progresses the blackberries will make their appearance. The variety we cultivate is well adapted to the farm and produces large rich tasting berries. The farm hosts several bee hives that are located just up the hill from the blackberry patch ensuring very good pollination.

One of the several rows of trellised raspberries.

One of the several rows of trellised raspberries.

Down the hill a bit from the blackberry patch are the trellised rows of raspberry canes working on this season’s fruit. The raspberries will come along soon enough, delicate and sweet, they are sure to be a hit.

High Bush Blueberries.

And finally further down the hillside we have the high bush blueberries. Large and full of flavor, the fruit will be a welcome addition to any batch of pancakes or muffins. We grow several varieties ranging in size and intensity of flavor.

All of the fruit we produce on Wildfire Fellowship Farm comes along in their own season and time. When you have the opportunity to buy our berries keep in mind that seasons are short for each variety so stock up, eat fresh, freeze, make preserves!

Eat Organic – Eat Local

Adapted to the growing season in Maine

Wildfire Fellowship Farm operates year round using methods developed by Eliot Coleman ( no relation ) among others. On the farm we utilize tools such as unheated hoop houses and fabric row covers to extend our growing and harvest season.

Winter of 2012-2013 inside hoop house #2.

Winter of 2012-2013 inside hoop house #2.

The hoop house environment combined with row covers provides just enough protection for the hearty crops to thrive in the fall and be harvested over the winter. This approach is both sustainable and efficient, keeping us busy all year around.

Walking out to check on Hoop House # 2

Walking out to check on Hoop House # 2

During the spring the hoop house environment is used as a transition space for seedlings as they are moved out of the seed starting barn before they are planted in the fields. Soon after as spring becomes summer the hot weather crops take over inside the hoop house such a tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplants.

Inside hoop house #1 during the summer of 2012.

Inside hoop house #1 during the summer of 2012.