Working at the Farm at Stonehill gets you really in-tune with the crops. I started to notice the little things- the little nibbles or brown spots that pop up on the plant’s leaves. I then started to notice bugs on the crops, and began to differentiate between which insects are good, and which are harmful. I would catch a bug in the act of munching on the produce or the plant itself, and would ask myself “how badly is this bug to the plants?” I frequently found myself delving through the Farm’s insect encyclopedia, seeing which insects I should squish and which ones I should leave be.
One of the good bugs I noticed immediately was while weeding in the black plastic beds. I occasionally would see wolf spiders peeking out of the dark holes, now cleanly pulled of any weeds. The spiders are looking out for their prey of harmful earwigs, grasshoppers, crickets, and any other insects that want to take a nibble on the fresh produce or even the plant itself. I leave them be because I know that they are helping the plant from being possibly hurt from some other insects. Some insects I come across aren’t too bad, they just like to take little nibbles and then move on. I leave these guys be, unless they become a complete nuisance to the plants.
One day, I was doing a thorough weeding around our parsley plants when I came across this fat, yet beautiful caterpillar. I looked him up in an insect guide and found him to be a Black Swallowtail caterpillar. These caterpillars love to munch on parsley and dill to ready themselves for their pupae stage. His home made of our parsley plants was now completely exposed thanks to my thorough weeding, and so I thought that I would try to keep him as a pet as an apology for ruining the camouflage that hid his home from possible predators.
I decided to name him Stanley and I made him a little habitat, fitted with a nice bed of fresh parsley, and sticks for interactive purposes. Having him as a pet was a great idea because I got to see him grow fatter and create a chrysalis, and then turn into a beautiful butterfly. I did an analysis on the wing pattern of Stanley once he exited his chrysalis, and actually found out that he is actually a female. Stanley has a more prominent blue pattern on her wings, which differs from the less blue-colored wings of the males.
Stanley’s new home is the permaculture garden at Commonwealth Court, and so if you see a black swallowtail in that area, that may be in fact Stanley. It was sad to see her go, but I know that she will love the permaculture garden and I hope she has many children and grandchildren to outlive her.
After one of the snowiest winters on record, the promised and long-awaited spring arrived. As the last of the ice and snow melted away in early April, I looked out at the fields and tried to envision what our fifth season would offer.
Every year, the fields wake up and transform – via the help of volunteers and now, our summer farmers – into neat, and colorful rows of vegetables and flowers – but what will this year bring?
As our fifth season begins, I am keenly aware of all of the people who lend a hand at The Farm and I am filled with gratitude for their enthusiastic support! Here are just a few key relationships that I’d like to highlight as our fifth season shifts into high gear:
For farming advice or to get help with soil tillage I know that I can always turn to our friends at Langwater Farm.
All it takes is a quick call up the street to Kevin or Kate O’Dwyer to set up visits from members of their crew to either arrange for some chisel plowing to help maintain soil health, or to lay plastic beds for full season crops like tomatoes and flowers.
It is important to vary the depth of tillage in our fields in order to avoid creating “hard pan” conditions at 6 inches – the depth that our rototiller reaches.
The plastic mulch is laid with a line of drip tape which helps us provide a consistent amount of moisture to crops like tomatoes, peppers, onions, flowers, eggplants, cucumbers, zucchini, and summer squash. These beds have been especially important this summer with the warm and dry conditions we have been experiencing.
Spring is a time of new life, and it is always exciting to welcome the youngest members of our community to The Farm. Since the first season at The Farm, we have worked very closely with Beth Collins at My Brother’s Keeper to distribute our produce via their 84 weekly home deliveries. As our first greens started to come out of Hoophouse #2 this spring, Beth visited us with her son Teddy to chat about how we can continue to grow desirable and delicious vegetables for the clients of My Brother’s Keeper.
Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and pumpkins are some of the most popular veggies, and we look forward to donating them as the season unfolds.
The Farm also serves as a living classroom for faculty and students at Stonehill College. Some of these projects have been growing with us for years – you might remember posts about Father Steve Wilbricht’s grapes for his Sacraments course, and the honeybee project led by Devin Ingersoll (2014) and Jess Lantos (2014).
This spring, a number of students worked on independent research projects with me at The Farm to see projects they had started last summer or during the their sustainable agriculture course in the fall to fruition. They ranged from permaculture gardens at The Farm and on campus to biochar plots, from edible forest gardens to calculating real food in our dining commons, and from studies on soil health to towergardens. The energy that these students bring to their projects at The Farm is inspiring and is what keeps us strong, vibrant, and productive! Here are images from just a few of the projects to give you a sense of the positive energy that the students bring to their work – a key ingredient to their success.
EDIBLE FOREST GARDEN
REAL FOOD – FOOD TRUTH
Another important relationship to highlight is that of our farm as a home to biodiversity – including native pollinators, toads, honeybees from our Best Bees of Boston hive, and our killdeer families. We strive to create a farm that is as an agroecosystem – an ecosystem under sustainable agricultural management that is both an ecosystem unto itself and connected to the surrounding ecosystem. As such, I am always thrilled to see the killdeer come back every year and to watch them produce healthy broods. This year we think our pair is so pleased with our farm as a home that they are having 2 broods – 4 nestlings hatched on May 11th, and there are currently 3 eggs in a row of onions.
Last, but definitely not least, our student and staff volunteers make our farm what it is – one that grows both vegetables and community. Whether we are planting potatoes or delivering seedlings to community or school gardens in Brockton, it is more common than not for our crew to offer up a smile or two as they work.
As we enter our fifth season, I am looking forward to seeing all of the places that these strong and positive relationships can take us!
It has been a productive and delicious fall at The Farm! Thanks to a crew of dedicated volunteers and students studying Sustainable Agriculture and Permaculture our farm is far from sleepy.
Though we do not have as many active projects out in the fields these days, Devin and I can often be found checking on our crops in the hoophouses or walking Zuri on the land.
On October 24th, we hosted the Blessing of Hoophouse #2 to thank the Class of 1964 for their gift, which covered construction costs of the structure. This hoophouse is truly a blessing to us – as it has already allowed us to extend the growing season of crops like cherry tomatoes and currently houses spinach and other hardy greens.
Members of the Class of 1964 were present on October 24th to witness Father Jim Lies’s blessing of the hoophouse and to hear Devin speak about the benefits of structures like hoophouses. We are excited about the addition of this growing structure!
This second hoophouse, measuring 30′ x 48′, dwarfs our original (and still very much beloved 18′ x 48′ hoophouse) offers a nutrient rich floor where we will plant cucumbers and tomatoes earlier that we can in the fields next season. Thus, this structure will help us to make more delicious produce available to our partners for more months of the year!
The fields are still producing a few hearty greens like kale, baby broccoli and carrots, but most of the land has a nice coat of cover crops like hairy vetch and oats to help fix nitrogen and add organic material to the soils, respectively.
One of my favorite crops – High Mowing Mesclun Mix – was still producing flavorful greens in mid-November, which I dressed up with our own carrots and a few chunks of Honey Crisp apples from Brookdale Fruit Farm to create a refreshing salad.
In the hoophouses you can see that a number of crops have already benefited from the slightly warmer temperatures the plastic walls offer.
Though our harvests are lighter, we are keeping busy working on projects like building a herb spiral in our permaculture garden on campus – next to Amesbury in the Senior courts – and planting perennials like pear and peach trees, raspberries and blackberries, and hardy kiwis on campus and at The Farm!
Langwater Farm was kind enough to allow us to take a few field stones from their pile next to their rt. 138 fields for our herb spiral project.
Projects like this are fun because they offer our students the opportunity to work on farm projects on the main campus. It is our hope that this garden will serve to produce vegetables and fruit for our campus community and raise awareness about The Farm and how they can get become (or stay) involved.
The fall/winter is a good time to build growing structures like the herb spirals and is also an excellent time to plan our permaculture gardens and to plant a number of perennials.
We spent some time in November planting Dwarf Chojuro Asian Pear and Dwarf Gala Peach Trees, Auburn Homestead Chestnut Trees, 3 different varieties of Blackberries, Koralle Ligonberries, and Issai Hardy Kiwi from Stark Brothers and Raspberries, Mint, and Jerusalem Artichokes from our partners at Massasoit College on campus…
…at The Farm…
…in our Apple Orchard…
…and in our permaculture garden at The Farm.
Other projects include getting to know our Best Bees bee keepers. Devin and I visited them at their headquarters in Boston to learn how to extract honey and get the inside scoop on their research projects.
We were overjoyed to learn that our bees had been productive enough to share some of their bounty with us!
The results are beautiful and delicious!
We are happy to report that our honey flew of the shelves during a find raiser. We sold 3 oz jars for $10/jar and all of it was purchased within one day of posting an advertisement on our Facebook and sharing an email about the honey with our Stonehill community. We hope to be able to share more of this amber treat with more folks next year.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch – well, Farmhouse – we are cooking up a new program called The Farmhouse Writing Fellows Program. Farmhouse Writing Fellows will be given dedicated writing space on the second floor of the Farmhouse to work on scholarly or pedagogical projects for the semester.
Five Faculty will be joining us this spring: Rachel Hirst, George Piggford, Megan Mitchell, Corey Dolgon, and Candice Smith-Corby. We will be hosting Farmhouse Conversations every other Friday so that our fellows can share a bit about their work with the community. We will share invitations via our weekly “This Week at The Farm” community emails and via our Facebook page and we hope to see you there!
You might be wondering where this mystical farmhouse is located! Don’t worry, we made a sign so that you will be sure to find us!
I knew just the place to create such a sign: my parent’s home in Millerton, NY. First we chose the right piece of cherry, before sketching out the letters, and then used a router to carve out the word and the little shovel icon.
After a few hours of work we had our sign!
Now you can find it hanging at the entrance of our Farmhouse: 411 Washington St.
We look forward to your next visit to see us at The Farm or at The Farmhouse as we chip away at our long list of winter projects and order up seeds for our next growing season – which will start earlier now, thanks to Hoophouse #2!
Sending you warm wishes for a restful and rejuvenating holiday season!
Summer Farmers relax in the new Permaculture test plot located at The Farm.
While the summer harvest is providing us with a bounty of fresh produce for our community partners, a team of students and faculty are actively performing research to create permaculture gardens for the Stonehill College and Massasoit Community College Campuses through funding provided by the Lloyd G. Balfour Foundation, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee!
How did this research take root? In the late spring, two faculty members, Bridget Meigs, Instructor and Farm Manager at The Farm at Stonehill, and Melanie Trecek-King, Assistant Professor and Chair of the Sustainable Landscaping Committee at Massasoit Community College met with Rachel Hirst, Assistant Professor of Biology and Marie Kelly, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations, to discuss the potential to work together and with students Jamall Plummer of Massasoit and myself, to create on-campus permaculture gardens at each of the respective colleges. When I was approached with this research opportunity while I was studying sustainability in Australia, I was thrilled to become involved and be a part of the project. I became even more excited when I met Jamall Plummer, a passionate student and leader in the garden projects at Massasoit College and active urban farmer at his home in Brockton.
Some of the gardens at the Massasoit College Brockton Campus.
The research project and the resulting gardens will serve as living laboratory spaces, allowing students from both campuses to connect with one another – creating academic and community linkages between Stonehill and Massasoit for years to come.
Jamall Plummer, Massasoit student collaborator, working in the Massasoit gardens!
Now, what is permaculture? Permaculture, also described as “permanent agriculture”, or “permanent culture” (since the two are so often intertwined!) is a regenerative design system that involves observing and mimicking the relationships found in nature to create ecological and edible landscapes and sustainable communities and economies. Therefore, permaculture incorporates organic growing methods that emphasizes growing polycultures (a number of different kinds of crops) over monocultures (one kind of crop) and planting perennial (plants that come back year after year) rather than annual crops (plants that have just one season) to ultimately create a complete and self-perpetuating system!
An herb spiral is a permaculture design. When you visit The Farm you will see one of these in the middle of the meditation garden.
Why have a garden on campus? I think by having a garden on campus, it begins to change people’s perceptions on how they think about food- from production to consumption. I really want students to think about where their food is coming from, how it is being grown, and who is growing it, so we can all begin to change those norms! The garden would show a real life example of how to convert underutilized grass lawns on the campus into edible, educational, and biodiverse gardens!
UMASS Amherst has led the way in integrating Permaculture Gardens into their campus’s landscape. Here is a sketch of their flagship garden, located right next to one of their dining facilities on campus in Amherst, MA.
The garden will hopefully also inspire more Stonehill students and staff to visit The Farm at Stonehill and learn more about food desert conditions in parts of Brockton to help to inspire more lasting solutions. In the future, the garden will also provide educational opportunities and living laboratory spaces for ecological and scientific research. It will bring together students, faculty, and staff from all different realms and disciplines and offer additional volunteer opportunities while being an outlet and source of inspiration for students during the school year.
A college campus is a perfect setting for implementing a permaculture garden as they are replicable, low-maintenance, scalable and can be adapted to suit anyone and in any climate! In addition, all of the food harvested from the garden will be available to the entire Stonehill Community, providing healthy and nutritious food grown from the campus itself!
In the past two weeks, we have been preparing the permaculture garden at the Farm for planting in the fall by outlining the beds with rocks and adding compost and mulch!
Watch the progression below!
Location for the Permaculture Garden test plot at The Farm at Stonehill.
Making progress! Thank you to Langwater Farm for the local rocks that we used to outline the beds.
“The Farm at Stonehill” brick at the entrance to the garden for a unique and authentic touch!
Farm Manger, Bridget and Summer Farmer, Chris, laying down a plastic ground cloth for the pathways to keep the weeds from taking over!
Adding mulch to the beds – a big thanks to all of the farmers, Bridget, Devin, Anna, Andrew, Chris, and Kaleigh for helping with the first stages of implementation of the garden.
Ready for planting! Here we will plant some fruit trees, perennial vegetables and flowers as well as some annual crops in our test plot at The Farm.
On another exciting note, the location of the on-campus garden is in the final stages of approval – it is located behind the split rail fence along the southern edge of Duffy Parking Lot behind the senior courts. We are very excited about this high visibility location that many students will pass on a daily basis! The garden beds will be planted with a variety of annual and perennial plants that will be maintained by students affiliated with the club Food Truth and under the supervision of Bridget Meigs, Farm Manager.
Proposed site for our Permaculture Garden on campus.
Once we receive approval, we are excited to begin sheet mulching on campus soon and begin planting our perennial crops in the fall! Sheet mulching is a no dig, no till gardening technique that reduces labor inputs, improves soil quality, prevents soil erosion, and improves plant health and productivity. Sheet mulching involves aerating the soil, reducing soil compaction while disturbing it a lot less than using a tractor, then covering the area with compost, organic matter that will improve soil health and add nutrients to the soil. The compost is then covered with a layer of cardboard or newspapers, which will prevent weeds from growing. Lastly, the area is covered by a mulch layer, which will hold in moisture and nutrients for the plants!
We can’t wait to continue the work on this project and begin to watch the garden grow!
Please contact me if you’d like to learn more and get involved in Food Truth or these garden projects: email@example.com.
Today we constructed the herb spiral in our meditation garden at the farm. This has been something that I have been wanting to build and plant for years, so I was very excited to have the opportunity to spend the day with stones, gravel, sand, compost, and a good helper: student and farmer Greg (Class of 2014).
Herb spirals are a permaculture* design and offer a good way to grow a diverse array of herbs in a small space that is easy to water and harvest.
Using field stones from Langwater Farm, compost from Clover Valley Stables, sand, and gravel, and cardboard we went to work – a good project for a day with 90+ degree temperatures in the fields.
We started the project by laying cardboard on the ground and sketching out a spiral. We gave the cardboard a good soaking to help boost microbial activity in the sod that lay beneath it and slow weeds from growing in among the rocks. We then started to build the spiral stone wall in a clockwise fashion to mimic the natural way that water drains down a pipe in the northern hemisphere. The gravel went in first to help stabilize the spiral rock wall, and help the water escape in the event of a heavy rainfall.
After the gravel layer was in, we added a couple of inches of sand. The sand and the gravel both help with drainage and help to maintain heat in the soil.
Next we filled the spiral with a healthy planting mix of horse manure based compost.
Next, it was time to plant our herbs!
As the rocks warm, they will help to dehumidify the soil and the extended edge, wrapping in on itself, provides a wide diversity of conditions. We will plant herbs like rosemary, sage, and oregano near the top of the spiral as they require less moisture, and plant mint and other moisture loving herbs near the bottom of the structure.
We still have some important plantings to do around the garden, – perhaps some vibirnums and native grasses – but it is starting to feel more and more like a good space for quiet contemplation or a lively class discussion!
*“Permaculture design emphasizes patterns of landscape, function, and species assemblies. It asks the question, “Where does this element go? How can it be placed for the maximum benefit of the system?” To answer this question, the central concept of permaculture is maximizing useful connections between components and synergy of the final design.
The focus of permaculture, therefore, is not on each separate element, but rather on the relationships created among elements by the way they are placed together; the whole becoming greater than the sum of its parts.
For more information on how to build an herb spiral please visit this site.