The Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association. NOFA/Mass welcomes everyone who cares about food, where it comes from and how it’s grown

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As the season winds down, I look forward to winding down with it, working shorter days and taking longer lunches. But I know that any little project I can do in the cold months will save me precious time once the growing season starts up again. One such project I did last winter not only saved me time this past spring, but will continue to do so for as long as I garden. I made cutworm collars that will last as long as I live, and probably quite a bit longer.

Cutworms are moth larvae that live in the leaf litter. They feed on young stems, usually severing them completely. They are a heartbreaking pest, as they can destroy a good fraction of the tomato transplants (or most other seedlings) put out in early spring.

Fall soil testing can get you set up to succeed next growing season. Don’t shoot in the dark - find out what your soil’s limiting factors are now. Fall soil testing will also enable you to order the amendments you need via the 2021 Tri-State Bulk Order  – a NOFA tradition that helps growers of all sizes get affordable prices on farm and garden supplies while helping fund critical programming and activities at participating NOFA chapters.

As a thank you for soil testing with NOFA/Mass, you will receive a $10 coupon code to use when you place your order via the Tri-State Bulk Order in January.

One of my favorite things about Thanksgiving* is my dad’s homemade cranberry sauce. When we were Californians in the late 80’s, we’d get out the can opener and serve the cylinder of ‘sauce’ by slicing off portions like one carves a yule log. But when we moved in ’92 to Cape Cod (to a home surrounded, incidentally, by cranberry bogs) my environmentalist dad became increasingly interested in the organic movement. Eventually he switched to buying local organic cranberries and making a homemade sauce (to the delight of us all).

Autumn is garlic planting season. If you save your own bulbs for planting (and I heartily recommend you do), you will need to decide what part of your crop to plant and what part to sell or eat or give away. The usual advice is to plant your very best—those giant heads with mammoth cloves, because, the advice goes, “the largest cloves makes the largest heads.” But those giant heads will also sell for the most money, and that made me wonder whether I could come out ahead if I planted my mediums instead. Would they do just as well?

This past season I tried an experiment to answer that question. I took 50 large, 50 medium, and 50 small cloves, and planted them in the same bed, with the same soil preparation, and the same irrigation. (As I’ve described before, I plant shallowly into several inches of compost, and cover with several inches of leaves, which makes for a fertile, no-weed bed that requires no digging at harvest time.)

There is not yet a significant body of research on barriers to adoption of healthy soils practices in agriculture, but initial investigations reveal that the primary barrier to adoption is farmer uncertainty about outcomes of practices adoption.

According to a report by The Nature Conservancy,  reThink Soil: A Roadmap to U.S. Soil Health,

 

 

As NOFA followers know, the future of healthy food and climate stability depends on the life below our feet. The seven state NOFA Chapters have been working with farmer leaders in our states to educate the farming community about innovations in tillage reduction for organic farms.

If you’re looking to learn more about tillage-reduction and other healthy soils practices in organic farming, NOFA has a lot to offer this fall. Here’s a roundup of the new season’s tillage reduction events across the northeast— most are online (a great opportunity to find out what growers in other states are up to) but some chapters will be allowing a small number of people to register for in-person field days.

 

If you had looked for my onion patch a few years back, it would have been hard to find at this time of year—overgrown with endless amounts of pigweed, crabgrass, and all manner of other weeds, lording over and crowding out my onions. Last year I radically changed my approach to onions, and this year extended that approach to most of my gardens. This year, just before harvest, you can see every onion flopped over in the row, and the weeds in a 100-foot bed number in the low dozens.

I did three main things to effect this transformation, all designed to deeply bury my prodigious bank of weed seeds.  First, I stopped tilling the garden. Second, I laid several inches of new compost on each bed. Third, I mulched everything deeply with leaves, covering beds and paths alike, only pulling the leaves off the beds at planting time.

Last month you learned about Abby and Jonathan’s experience starting a first year CSA during a pandemic. This month, we’ll talk about the farming practices that Abby and Jonathan have used to get their farm started with limited time and with soil health and weed management as central goals.   

The Winter Street Farmers came up apprenticing and managing on organic farms just as the contemporary healthy soils movement was rising, benefiting from receiving a training in standard tillage practices while also having access to education about alternative, tillage-reduced systems. “We were really influenced by seeing examples of how much you can actually grow in a small area,” Abby explained, “and we learned a lot between NOFA workshops and reading farming books.” They decided early in their conversations about their own future farm that it would be no-till.  

Nestled in the Upper Connecticut River Valley of New Hampshire, in former Pennacook and Sokoki lands, is a town called Claremont, which just got its first organic CSA farm.

Jonathan Hayden and Abby Clarke, a combined 13 years of farming experience between them, trained mostly on Massachusetts farms. But their common experience goes beyond farming, making them uniquely suited for any challenge.

In the fall of 2019, they began the process of purchasing their 28-acre historic farm property while simultaneously preparing to leave to spend five months in Antarctica.   There they worked at separate camps providing logistical support for scientific expeditions. They slept in tents outside on the open ice, cleared snow and carried heavy loads from supply flights, and dealt with a range of logistical challenges in rugged terrain.

As more and more people discover the importance of healthy soil in relation to healthy plants, pastures and gardens, many are also discovering that manure is one of a farm’s most valuable resources.  Cows, in particular, are extremely efficient converters of mature plant matter into nutrient-rich, highly degradable organic material.  

While the percentage of nutrients found in manure can vary greatly from animal to animal due to differences in diet, cow manure is known to be a good source of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, all of which are important minerals for future plant growth.  While synthetic fertilizers may be more concentrated forms of these minerals, manure includes a high percentage of solid matter, which provides vital carbon compounds that build soil structure.  

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