Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Monday, June 23, 2008

CC Alumnus visits garden, brings horse manure, and dryer drum method

Below is an account of Rob Freeman '95's visit to the garden. Included in the end is some general advice from him about farming and/or buying local produce in your area. He also recommends some readings and places for further research. This dryer drum method of his was recently featured in NOFA's newsletter as well. It was a pleasure to have him come visit and bring valuable advice about farming in this area as well as some delicious and nutritious horse manure!


On June 21st, 2008, Rob Freeman CC '95 who is now an organic farmer in Plainfield, Connecticut, brought a truckload of horse manure and a dryer drum to the garden.

Rob showed me his "dryer drum" method of making raised beds.  A dryer drum is a bottomless barrel salvaged from dead clothes dryers.  It is a method for doing French double digging in a 
more efficient way.  It was also partially inspired by the old Thanksgiving 
story about Squanto teaching the Mayflower Pilgrims how to grow corn, squash and beans in the mounds with the fish buried in the mound. It begins with digging a hole that approximately the diameter of the dryer drum, only about 3 to 6 inches below the ground.  Shovel the dirt into a wheelbarrow or into a pile next to the hole.  Put the dryer drum in the hole, and refill the drum with a mixture of the native soil and horse manure, or whatever soil amendments you may have.  Then stand on the filled dryer drum to pack it down, as Rob is doing here:

Then pull the dryer drum off:

At this point you have a mound.  You smooth out the mound, and you can make a water trapping "bowl" if you like:

And then you have a very nice planting mound.  Here I am planting kohlrabi seeds that Rob brought.

Rob has collected a half dozen dryer drums and he fills several at once in a line, and then rakes the mound into a raised bed.
Rob has found that using a rototiller or a tractor makes for "disturbed" soil that doesn't hold moisture as well and requires more frequent additions of soil amendments.  Soil is a living thing, and running over it with machines and "beating it into submission" reduces it's quality and sustainability.  French double digging with dryer drums is a slow process, but it only needs to be done once every few years, and after the first time you get all the garbage and roots and rocks out.  The dryer drum method is a good way to fold in amendments such as horse manure while turning the soil.  Be sure to have walking paths in between the raised beds, and to put hay or grass clippings on the beds once the plants are established.  A mulch of hay or grass clippings suppresses weed growth and holds in moisture.

If you decide that you want to grow your own food, Rob says you need about 2000 square feet per person.  He recommends fingerling potatoes, kohlrabi, heirloom winter squash, heirloom tomatoes (save the seeds!), beets, bush beans, pole beans, pickling cukes, peppers, eggplant, hazelnut bushes, grape vines, paw paw trees, Asian pear trees, gooseberry, currant, blueberry and blackberry bushes and strawberries, and onions and garlic.  The garlic can be started from bulbs, the onions work best when started from started plants.  He gets his onion plants from 

Rob feels that one should get to know farmers in your area by buying stuff from them, even if it's just a dozen eggs or a bale of hay.  Also you can join the organic farming association.  Here in New England it's NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association which is at 
www.nofa.org. Horse farms usually want to get rid of their horse manure.  It helps to have a pickup truck or know someone who does, but if you don't, Rob recommends renting a dump truck for a weekend and make several manure runs.  Also he recommends collecting your neighbors' bagged leaves and pile them up, and put a layer of horse manure on top of them and let it sit a year.  The leaves will heat up under the manure and rot into a nice, reddish soil.  After this, you do the double digging method with the dryer drum and mix the amendments with the native soil into nice mounds and/or raised beds.

Lastly, Rob feels that growing your own food is a way to get people out from their televisions and organized for political activism that we can all agree on, whether left wing or right wing.  Few people would be in favor of genetically modified "terminator seeds" or poisoning and eroding millions of acres of Midwest topsoil or seeing people suffer obesity and diabetes from the corn syrup ingredient that is part of most food.  A good reference for all this would be a book by Michael Pollan, such as "The Botany of Desire" or "In Defense of Food," or Eric Schlosser's groundbreaking "Fast Food Nation."

So gardening and preserving food and becoming self sufficient is the way to get people in your community organized and talking, and the next step is to organize political activism.  This Stan Goff article 
expresses that next step very well.

Rob hopes that you will check out these links. If you have questions about local agriculture, the dryer drum method or anything else you can get in touch with him at foodnotlawnsct@yahoo.com

Monday, June 16, 2008

Week 3 Update

Hello Sprout! Week 3 is here and a lot more is happening in the garden. After last week's rain and heat wave the pests came out. We have Colorado Potato Beetles, Cucumber Beetles, Flea Beetles, and one other pest whose name I don't know.

The flea beetles are the worst at this point. They have really been going after the eggplants (some of which, I'm sorry to say, may not make it). I'm working hard and learning how to manage them. It's organic farming so it requires more time spent picking off bugs. I've been doing a lot of companion planting, and I've also been making garlic to spray on plants popular with pests.

Since last week many of the crops have started to take off such as the potatoes, peas, melons, and radishes, and more. It's very exciting to see the garden coming alive. I have also been working on the herbs and flowers in the garden. I've planted many culinary and tea herbs as well as edible flowers and berries. All of this should help bring in many more beneficial insects to the garden.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Thank You to Seniors


I would like take this time to thank all of the seniors for their dedication and work over the last few years to make Sprout grow and thrive in and outside the garden. Cara, Baylin, Heidi, Kathryn, Linnea, Brian, and Brent all dedicated themselves to making Sprout better and the college more sustainable and healthy. Your passion has manifested in what Sprout has become. So I thank them for their time and hardwork, and I'm sure the college will too for many years to come.

Good luck new graduates and remember Sprout is your home. Feel free to come by at any time for a tour, or maybe another delicious cherry tomato.

June Update: Week 1

As you may or may not know, Sprout received a generous gift from a family foundation to allow us to have a garden manager position for the summer, for the first time ever. This means that we will have someone whose full time duty is maintenance of the garden. This is a tremendous step for us and it means that the garden will be able to produce a much larger quantity of vegetables throughout the summer and fall. It also means that we will able to organize many aspects of Sprout outside the garden that include educational programs and more.

Seizing on the opportunity, I will be the one doing this position. Yes, I have graduated, but I am very excited to stay for the summer and continue work on the garden. I have been here for just over a week and already the garden is looking great. Baylin Coddington came down at the beginning of last week and helped me in preparing the garden and transplanting vegetables from the greenhouse. The space is now looking great and ready to produce.

The vegetables we are growing include: summer and winter squash, carrots, beets, turnips, radishes, lettuces, melons, watermelons, chard, kale, brussels sprout, broccoli, onions, and more. In most cases there are multiple varieties of a type. We are also growing a number of herbs and flowers in the middle section of the garden with the rock pile.

Outside the garden I am currently working with CC Curtiss, the Director of Student Wellness & AOD Education, on an education campaign for the fall and beyond. I am also working with Professor Sue Warren on a freshman seminar that she is offering in the fall entitled "Healthy Choice." I will also be maintaining the Earth Tubs and working with Dining Services on food offerings.

This past Saturday at Reunion Weekend I participated in a panel on sustainability at CC. Also on the panel was Glenn Dreyer, Amy Cabaniss, and a couple of alumni active in sustainability issues. About 50 alumni showed up to the panel and they got very engaged and excited about what we are doing at CC. I spoke mostly about the garden and Earth Tubs. They were very interested and afterward I gave some a tour of both.