Posted on Leave a comment

Ground Breaking Sheep

Here in Durham we grow in just about every spare inch of field space.  Where as in Middlefield we have barely begun to scratch the surface, when it comes to growing outside.  There are two main reasons for this.  In Durham we are coming up on 24 years of growing.  That’s nearly a quarter of a century of broadforking, rock picking, applying compost and all the other love and care that goes into the ground.  Sure we may have a larger bank of weed seeds than we want, but it’s pretty great soil none the less.  Middlefield is not so much the same case.  Enough rocks to repair every stone wall in the neighborhood and soil that lacks benefit of years of love, make rushing this growing space into production a bad option.

Secondly, to put this amount of land into use so quickly would force us to rely heavily on mechanical intervention.  Any issues created from the previous over use of a tractor would be exacerbated.  We would bring more weed seeds to the surface where they can germinate.  Creating potentially hours and hours of labor dealing with weeds, at a time of year when our efforts would be best spent harvesting and planting.  Most certainly any tractor we used would require repair to it’s implements considering the rocks at our hill top locale.  Yes, we could hire someone with the right equipment and skill to plow and reshape the fields.  We could tarp in an attempt get ahead of the weeds and heavily amend to ensure the success of that years crops.  But for us the negatives of this outweigh any short term benefit.

The facts in hand and a mindset towards ecology has led us to a slow regenerative approach to rehabbing the land.  Our first phase of growing in Middlefield was the 6 high tunnels which were already in semi use.  Over a year of compost, broadforking, animals and love have us feeling really good about this approach.  Next up are two more high tunnels, a 200 footer named the Jungle and the sheep’s first home, which will become a large portion of this years flower crop.  In addition to this we are beginning to open up the outside space with a regenerative low till approach
The sheep grazing in the field in July
Same field now tarped in January
Animals( sheep and chickens) are a key component to this approach.  Star Light has always had sheep and if you spend any time with these lovable creatures it’s easy to understand why.  Last year we acquired 4 Jacobs sheep for Star Light Gardens North West, one of which was pregnant.  As you may or may not know Sunny our 5th arrived in March.  If you saw the size of her now you probably wouldn’t believe she wasn’t even a year old yet.  In addition to these our neighbors bordering that field space also have some sheep.  In a win win neighborly exchange we happily offered them to graze their sheep, and they did the majority of last year.

The next step, one we just completed this past week, is to tarp a section of this field space for a few months.  Starting the tarps where the animals have grazed, around April we will move the tarps over to another section of the field,hopefully unveiling mostly broken down vegetation and soil.  Raking and hoeing the remaining debris into the paths, broadforking and a generous application of compost(not to mention a lot of rock picking) will complete the bed prep. That will essentially be the process over the next few years to bring this outdoor space into use.  Animals, followed by tarps,followed by a planting, followed by a cover crop and repeat(sounds easy right).

We are in year 2 of 2 for our Middlefield cucumber and squash rotation.  The idea here is to give each location a 2 year break from cucumbers and summer squash.  Thus helping to alleviate some of the pest pressure associated with these crops.  This newly tarped field space will be summer squash and pollinator friendly flowers into landscape fabric.  A beautiful combo, once the squash die back the flowers flourish creating a late season bounty for our insect friends.  Landscape fabric can be a good choice, it suppress the weeds enough to let the crops flourish, can be reused and when removed leaves more or less a blank slate, making for a quick turn around to a cover crop or other planting.  Not too mention SLGNW had plenty already here when we arrived, so we’d be amiss to not make good use of it.

Have a great week!

Leave a Reply