Sunday, May 29, 2016

Blueberries Are a Go

In my previous blueberries article, you saw the prep work it took to create a space for the blueberry bushes we were receiving.  And they have been received (patriot, blueray, and jersey varieties), or rather, picked up.

After the space was cleared of the bounteous bushes, the soil had to be prepared.  I dug holes and a trench and filled them with stinky, fresh compost, burying that with dirt, and finishing the fill with more mature, bagged compost from the garden center and more dirt.  I planted four blueberry bushes where the land had been cleared (the patriot and blueray), and tucked them into their new beds with bark mulch.  The other two (jersey) I planted in the back of the yard, along with a miniature blueberry that had be floundering by itself in the front yard.

One week later, they are all leafing out, apparantly enjoying their new homes.  The two (three) in the back of the yard may not receive enough sun, but they should carry on perfectly well until I find a better place to put them (if a better place is indeed needed) -- I just had to get them in the ground somewhere, since there wasn't room in where the others were.

Now that the blueberries are in, I have been spending my time chopping up the branches of the bushes I removed; no small feat, that!  Amazingly, a bush that was 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide chops into a single wheelbarrowful of short twigs.  Cutting up the branches makes it easier to dispose of them in our heap of debris or in the composters.  (Unfortunately, at this time we don't have a chipper....)

Strawberries are coming along, as are the elderberries.  More on those later.
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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Raw Milk? Yes, Please

Rich, tasty, creamy, fresh.  Four words that aptly describe raw milk.

There is a lot of controversy out there about raw milk, and I'm not going to get into it all, because you can easily find that on your own (just search "raw milk" and you'll find it).  But in my experience, raw milk is nutritious and delicious, local and extremely satisfying. It is something worth drinking.

I am fortunate to have 2 raw milk dairies in my town, conveniently located on my way to/from work.  While getting ice cream at one of those dairies last night (strawberry chip and Hadley grass from Flayvors of Cook Farm), I saw this poster on a wall.  Nicely done with good infographics, it's worth a look.

The poster is published by NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association: Massachusetts Chapter), which also has information on raw milk on their website.  They have also published an informational pamphlet on raw milk, which you can access here
One thing to point out: raw milk helps dairy farms remain sustainable and economically viable, keeping nutritious food available locally -- an important piece in my efficiency, sustainability, and productivity goals.

If you've never tried raw milk, I encourage you to give it a shot.
If you are looking for someplace to buy raw milk in Massachusetts, look at the list here.
If you are outside Massachusetts, you can start locating resources for your state here.
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Sunday, May 8, 2016

April Vacation Week: Blueberry Prep

Ground & soil preparation.  That's what it's all about.  When you're receiving new blueberry bushes in a couple of weeks and don't have anywhere to put them, it's time to think and prepare.

We are picking up 6 blueberry plants from the local grower Nourse Farms* in a couple of weeks.  And though our yard is fairly good-sized, finding the right spot for the blueberries was not a simple task.  We finally settled on a long, sunny space at the back of the house which, unfortunately, has been home to flowering quince and a burning bush of advanced age and size.  With depleted soil and big bushes in the way, preparation had to begin.

I have some experience pulling out shrubs by hand.  When we moved into our home six years ago, I spent the entire first spring and summer pulling out overgrown yews that had blanketed the shady front of the house (that space is now filled with ferns and astilbe and monkshood and toad lily and such).  I sawed, chopped, cut, dug, and pulled until I had removed at least five huge yews.  This time I had fewer shrubs to remove, but they were just as old -- and two of them were thorny.

Ornamental quince stumps.
Quince & burning bush branches.
First I removed the flowering quince.  Two plants that were in reality three or four.  They had been left to their own growing for a number of years (other than some minor prunings) and had tall, straight, thorny branches, as well as some decoratively twisty ones.  It took me three days to remove them and most of their roots.  (You should have seen the worms I found!  As big around as my thumb and twice as long!)  I dug some chicken compost from the chicken run and started layering it into the old, undernourished soil, along with not-yet-totally-composted compost and some purchased organic compost.  Layers of dirt and compost to fill in the holes left by the quince.

The burning bush before.

Burning bush after.

Next it was time to work on the 10 foot+ burning bush that sat at the corner of our house.  The branches are all gone and the digging has begun.  The first "real" root I ran into (about 30 seconds into digging) was a twist of two roots, which combined were thicker than my arm and much longer.  I don't know if you have experience with burning bush, but its roots go on and on -- I dig new roots from it out of the garden every year (that's where all the nutrition I pile into my garden every year goes), and they are never smaller around than my fingers -- and many of them are webby and difficult to dig through.

The dreadful weather has put a serious pause in my work -- I started over April vacation week, but have had nothing but rain and chill since with no opportunity to work more.  I think the burning bush will take multiple days of hard work, digging, hacking, chopping.  The chickens, at least, are looking forward to it.

*I love Nourse Farms -- they have blueberry picking in the summer and sell tons of fabulous fruit plants -- we purchased their strawberry collection a couple of years ago and this year purchased their blueberry collection.  We have also purchased gooseberry and elderberry plants from them -- which are legal in our Massachusetts town.
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