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 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


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