Meadows Bee Farm Experiments with Small Scale Farming

2015/02/08 by Posted in: On the Farm

Meadows Bee Farm had a very productive year in 2014, focused on our raw milk dairy, some experimental farm and garden techniques, and the sharing of our agricultural style with numerous young farmers, schoolchildren, and other visitors.

In the Dairy: Milk is a large part of what we produce at MBF. Our cows like to be milked and fed early, before they head out into the pastures for the day with the young calves. Following the milking, we tend to chores throughout the early morning. A visitor or two can often be found at the farm learning the ways of the dairy, and we look forward to children from Windham Hill Elementary School assisting at the dairy in the new year.
Our small raw milk dairy has grown, as last summer we welcomed two new calves. Clover, our youngest cow, had her first calf, Violet, and Mercy gave birth to Mabel. Clementine, our very first cow and the mother to Clover and Celeste, had another cow, Coral before the end of the year. We had anticipated a male, Claude, but to this day we have never had a male born at Meadows Bee Farm Dairy! We are going to keep the horns on our calves, Mabel, Violet and Coral as this is typical in biodynamic dairies.

We keep updated records at MBF, as breeding livestock compounds yearly, and it is nearly impossible to mentally keep track of lineage. A detailed book of charts and dates is indispensable to understanding the parenting of each calf.

While we are now only milking Clementine, Clover and Mercy, we hope to be milking five cows when their offspring mature integrating the young horned cows into the dairy herd. We provide raw milk to about 25 families now and hope to be able to supply even more local communities with milk, yogurt and cheese in the future. One goal at MBF is to create a raw milk yogurt filled with fruits grown on the farm. Persimmons, paw paws, currents and more will fill these yogurts, sweetened by our own maple syrup.

In the Gardens: Among the experiments in our garden is the edible forest garden (EFG). An EFG is a diverse mixture of trees, shrubs and ground-level herbs and plants, all growing together in layered combinations. These typically are fruit, nut and berry along with assorted veggies like in any garden bed. An EFG resembles a loose forest more than a conventional garden, though it can be organized or free flowing. There is much insect life, as the bees and butterflies tend to love this type of gardening.

The top layer of Meadows Bee Farm’s largest EFG consists of fruit and nut trees, including apple, pear and linden, chestnut, Bur oak and walnut. Beneath the top layer, the middle layer is primarily berry-yielding bushes, including the Siberian pea shrub, jostaberry, gooseberry, sea buckthorn, elderberries, nanny berries and black currants. Beneath this layer still is another lower area with herbs and raised planting beds called “Hügelkulturs” interspersed throughout.

A Hügelkultur is a tall raised bed, typically built when we clean up our wood lots. In an effort to mimic the natural, nutritious decay that occurs in a forest, fallen tree trunks are arranged log cabin style to form the outer structure of the Hügelkultur. Branches and leaf debris are then piled high, filling this structure to the brim and forming a garden bed. This is topped with some soil and may be planted with varying combinations of seedlings, young bushes and trees.mbf Hugle 2sm
Each year this bed will partially decompose, slowly breaking down soil-enriching organic matter, as in a forest. This natural decay results in a long-term supply of fertile soil above, as wellas greatly increased conservation of the water supply below. A working Hügelkultur can last for years and needs very little watering or attention. Even better, the shady sides can be inoculated with oyster and shiitake mushrooms providing us with choice edible mushrooms throughout the season as well.

This technique of gardening is well-suited to the wooded mountainous hillsides so many of us live on, allowing us to grow copious amounts of food in small hillside spaces and on poor land. Our experiments with interplanting corn, squash and kale on Hügelkulturs versus neighboring ground beds have yielded impressive results.
Among our other efforts: Our heirloom orchards continue to grow, as one of our farm crew interns has guided us to new varieties from her studies at FEDCO in Maine. We harvest rainwater into ponds and small water collection tanks which dot the property. We experiment with using the water in multiple ways before it refilters into the ground. A new experiment to overwinter bees has begun with a new hoop house. Starting with a small indoor pond along with honeybee favorites thyme, echinacea and clover, we will see how this might help us keep our endangered honeybees alive.

In terms of education, MBF actively offers young people the chance to acquire farming skills – learning to milk cows, to rotationally graze animals, and to grow, harvest and process an array of crops.
Meadows Bee Farm looks forward to continually evolving—growing excellent herbs and crops, raising heritage breed livestock, and sharing our practices to encourage love of land and small-scale farming.

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