The Art of Scaling Up

Sunny Woodlands was founded and named some time around 2007, and by 2011 the farm was producing enough for Emma and Bill to sell some at the Lebanon Farmers Market. They upgraded a hoop tunnel to a greenhouse together, but a few years later, other projects got in the way and the garden’s outputs shrank along with the time devoted to it.

Then came 2020.

We saw the novel coronavirus coming right around the turn of the year. We knew that if China was publicly announcing these seemingly small numbers of deaths, this was something they knew they couldn’t stop from spreading. We saw it come to the Western US, then we saw the meat processing plants have to shut down to disinfect their facilities when their workers got sick. We got worried about the grocery supply chains, and as the year progressed, the riots and volatile political situation didn’t ease our concerns about food security.

We’d always talked about “turning sunshine into bacon” on our 32-acre property in New Hampshire. We already had the mangel seeds to help feed the piglets we’d get.

We didn’t (and still don’t) have a working tractor or much excess cash. So our ability to scale up for the 2020 growing season was limited. We first expanded and got a proper fence around the main garden. We filled the greenhouse with seed trays to grow our own seedlings, using a soil blend Bill mixed up himself.

We got about 1/3 of an acre newly-cleared by hand and with finicky chainsaws. We had to cut down the trees covering it (mostly young white pine and white birch, and a lot of them!), move them onto brush piles and stave piles, or buck them for firewood. (The pine will be used for campfire wood, and the rest for heating the house next winter.)

Bill measured out a place about about 1/5 of an acre bounded by four large maples for the cucurbit patch (pumpkins/squash/zucchini/watermelon), and put deer fencing around it. Then we dug holes between the stumps, through root and rock, to make the hills. We amended them with compost bought from a nearby farm.

Due to all that prepwork, we got a bit of a late start getting the plants into the huge (for us) newly-cleared and fenced field. The tree stumps between the plants erupted with water sprouts, and ferns still grew on the north, somewhat shadier side of the field, but our cucurbits grew.

Animals were acquired. We weren’t ready for those pigs yet, so we ordered chickens (Rocks and Reds), then expanded to meat rabbit breeding. We are mowing the lush parts of our lawn for hay for the rabbits, and learning about what native leaves and branches the rabbits can eat. How we built our modular, movable shelters for these animals is its own page!

In fall, we harvested various kinds of cucurbits from the new field. We saved seeds from the best “Sweet Siberian” watermelon, which is an heirloom variety with apricot-colored-flesh meant for areas with short seasons. It originated in Siberia, and arrived in New Hampshire in 1901, but we ended up buying our seeds in a market in Chambly, Quebec while on a visit north of the border. You can read the biography of this 80- to 90-day maturity watermelon (in French) from the company that packaged ours, or Sweet Siberian info in English.

2020 Squash
2020 Squash

We will also save some seeds from the biggest Blue Hubbard we grew, but as Bonnie writes this, it’s still curing and we’ll probably save it for Thanksgiving.

We had reasonable production from the main garden, given the late start we got after finishing the fencing, and we are hoping to sell some of the basil we dug up and put in the greenhouse before we got a hard frost.

Scaling up for 2021

Bonnie has been binge-listening to ways to produce more food sustainably on land like ours–in the financial and ecological senses of the word “sustainable.” There is a plethora of information on YouTube. We already had some favorite “garden gurus” like Poissons, who preceded Coleman with their tips on cold-tolerant plants, “solar plant cones,” and other ways to keep something alive in your garden to eat year-round in cold climates like ours. For us, it’s mostly kale and Egyptian onions, but we also have some fall beets in the ground that we can cover up with straw before the hard frost and harvest by Thanksgiving.

For your YouTube watching or listening pleasure:

I also just love the cheerful homesteaders Melissa K. Norris of Modern Homesteading (in Washington State) and Jessica from Roots and Refuge (down in Arkansas).

…to be continued…

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