Worchester State University is about an hour and forty minutes from here, and was the host on Saturday to the 2020 Winter Conference of the Northeast Organic Farmer’s Association (NOFA), Massachusetts’ chapter. This is the first year I’ve attended this specific winter conference. And the weather cooperated – no snow, no ice. (Okay, I still had white ground cover, although it’s all gone in Worchester. Which, for the phonetically-challenged, is pronounced “Wooster”, for some odd reason we’ll have to ask the Brits on the other side of the puddle about. I do keep trying to type it the way it’s spoken, which is hard on the GPS, but the computer spell-check lets that go through…)
Event Date: January 11, 2020
There were three very full workshop time slots, a keynote speaker, and a plethora of vendors. Lunch was supplied gratis cafeteria style, and there were evening activities including an (extra-fee) dinner. I skipped that last bit, and drove home.
My alarm went off at 5 a.m. This gave me the opportunity for the first time to feed chickens in the dark crossing a snow/ice ground cover. Yes, I’ve gone to them in the dark before, but not over slippery territory. Crampons on, backpack on, hiking poles, flashlight secured so it could light my way… I was out of the house, into the car, before 6:30 after a light repast of two of their eggs, hard-boiled. Temps were a slightly balmy 39 F as I departed. It revolves up and down right now around here.
Stop Landscaping, Start Life-Scaping. (Introductory, Intermediate). Speaker Monique Allen.
As I couldn’t bi-locate, my first workshop was the above. The presenter has written a soon-to-be-released landscaping book of the same name. My goal in attending this one was to get pointers on improving my current landscaping possibilities – something my home certainly could use. The class was pretty much geared towards helping landscape designers taking this workshop, but was also pertinent to someone such as myself – but it never really sprung beyond an intro to this (and an intro to her book). There are a couple of valuable principles, but I feel she could have done more for us in her 1.5 hour time slot. In short, she spent a bit of time noting that standard features/plans for landscape design don’t always work. You want to work within the environment you are given, and dig into your personal experiences (well, this part being the client, or also being ME as right now I’m thinking about this for my own needs). Don’t put in a pool or a gazebo or something just because it’s in. Will you enjoy it? If you are living with a spouse or partner, BOTH of you need to be on the same page in these discussions. Don’t let one person make all the decisions and the other say, “whatever, I want to make you happy”. Adding features to add features it a no-go. Consider the habitat as well. Utilize your current nature on your lot to consider the potential you have. If you want an outdoor space, set out chairs in various locations, move them around to find what really works for you. (Or a client, if you are actually a landscape designer after all.)
We could in a way consider her a Marie Kondo for your yard, using the Kondo principles PRIOR to spending on and building your yard landscape. I did find this workshop to be of some, but limited value, and I think the “intermediate” label was premature. I typed all that up in about 20 minutes and really believe she had enough time for expansion, though I do have a few appetizers to enjoy and think about.
After this, the keynote speaker talked. I didn’t make the talk, but probably should have. This guest was Carey Gillam, a guest who is a journalist specializing in researching environmental consequences of food production today, pros and cons. His talk was titled Decades of Deception: A Look Behind the Corporate Push for Pesticide-Dependent Agriculture. I think in retrospect I would like to have gone, as there was plenty of time for vendor viewing allotted anyway. (I think the turn-off to this keynote for me was the “promised/threatened” moments of “chapter business meeting” that would occur before he’d take the stage. And about 7 people lined up for this prior to such said meeting. That’s something sure to drive me to distraction.) I’ll do some Googling on Carey Gillam and his writings. It’s already subject matter to which I suspect he’s right about, but would be good to acquire more factual knowledge concerning. He has published the book, Whitewash. I shall look into that.
Revitalizing Old Apple Trees & Planning Orchards for the Future (Intermediate), Speaker Matt Kaminsky.
The second workshop I attended was the main draw getting me to this conference. Matt Kaminsky operates out of Hadley, MA. If he hadn’t run out of time, he would have discussed new or young orchards as well. I attended because I have about 8 – 10 very old apple trees dotted around the edges of my field, and I’d love to rejuve them, or at least two or three of the best of them. (I fear a couple are now dead, as signified by the amount of lichen on those.) Even if more are viable, I’d simply be happy with the two or three, preferably within cross-pollinating distance. When I’ve talked to locals around my town, the talk turns at some point to spraying and such – along with any pruning and so forth. I’d prefer not to have pesticides wafting airborne around here into human or chicken lungs, and so I wanted to hear what he had to say. Basically, he suggested the following plan of attack, providing a useful timing schedule for the things you might do:
- Remove competing species, ie vines and saplings and overshadowing trees that want to hog the sunlight.
- Remove deadwood.
- Prune carefully.
- Allow for air circulation.
- Work for good lateral growth, and as possible, provide for a central leader. Some of our old trees may not exactly have one. Most old “rescue” trees weren’t grafted or developed to have an “automatic” central leader.
- NOTE: there really is more, but this does help to start.
I’ll be contacting him, as (other than the clearing away of any vines and root-hogging saplings) I cannot handle the needs here (physically) on my own. I mean, with two bum knees, I cannot climb into these old trees, even with a ladder! I hope I can save those few. (Mine by the road had a load of apples this year, while some internal trees did mostly nothing. Other than look overtaken by lichens, which may mean they may be dead.)
An exceedingly worthwhile, useful, and wonderful presentation.
The Wild, Wacky, Wonderful World of Winter Squash (Introductory, Intermediate), Speaker Jack Mastrianni.
The third and final workshop turned out to be presented by a wonderfully dynamic presenter. There’s a world of squash beyond delicata, acorn and butternut. Well, I kinda knew that, but he took this to a new level. And Mastrianni went step by step (with handouts) through his process of growing them. Yes, I simply threw some Delicata seeds into my soil last year and got a small crop (small because of a late planting – which I knew would happen, but I was merely checking viability of home-harvested seeds…). Mine were vibrant until I had to pick them prior to a killing frost. but he starts his indoors in our New England climate in large containers, then plants by late May outdoors. He has an organic regimen for the mean nasty buggy predators (I didn’t have any such last year, but I don’t think the word had yet gone out to the local cucumber beetles, squash vine borers, powdery mildew, or squash bugs: that there were new squashes in town… such luck is not bound to hold in future years! Also many of the squashes, if not too heavy, can be trellised, providing 1) more air ventilation for them, and 2) more space within a limited locale for more of them. I learned about two squashes he considers tastier than my much-loved Delicata – so I’ll purchase seeds from at least one of those.
There are three species of winter squash – for seed-saving purposes, I plan to buy seeds from just one each of at least two of these. (Unless you can plant your squash varieties FAR apart, cross-fertilization between varieties within a species will not breed true – which I already knew.) I just have to research wisely. I do want to save seeds from at least one variety that will represent its species, and Breed that one True .
Using cattle panels will provide a good structure to support your winter squashes – of course even these have limits – they won’t, say, support Hubbard squash.
Mastriannni also pinpointed some good for-your-kitchen preservation methods – while I do have a root cellar, some of these will still be best cooked and held in a freezer.
I will say, I don’t care what he talks about at future events – I’d attend. Engaging and seriously informative.
Vendors and booths:
There was a seed swap. Maybe next year I can donate seeds. I’ve already tested my ability to save Delicata/winter squash seeds (which is why I planted them last summer even if too late to get a good or mature crop).
I never remember to bring my own bag to these events – but someone was selling hers, home made, very professional. Made from cotton. AND it contains compartments! And since it is cotton, veggies and fruit stored in such a bag will last longer (apparently) than otherwise. The seller: B-Organic.
Wellscroft had a large selection of fencing solution brochures. I took their main catalog and the information that pertains to my current and future needs/desires. Every year there are likely new things to learn about!
There was also literature for the NOFA Organic Land Care Program – I grabbed this as well. While this is somewhat introductory, it does provide a checklist for those of us who sometimes / perhaps often / miss things.
I got into a good conversation with the representative from Pete and Gerry’s eggs – they do free range their hens. (He was trying to get me interested in a contest for winning a year’s supply of eggs gratis – I told him I already raise my own. We snowballed from there!) He mentioned that before the hens really decide to cut back on laying, they may also be producing eggs with weaker shells that will more readily crack in transit. For a small operation such as mine, this is not yet (apparently) a concern. I forget what breeds they use, although one is indeed a Maran. Having two or three varieties that lay differently-hued eggs makes it easier for them to separate eggs for market, too – for those markets where the breed might matter. We also talked about predation – he estimated that 1-3% is a reasonable amount of loss due to free-ranging – yes, it’s mostly hawks – and if you are going to free range, this will happen. I mentioned I’d only lost one cockerel to date. BTW, I’d bought their brand at supermarkets prior to raising my own hens. They are based out of New Hampshire, but sell eggs from a variety of farms at least through the northeast/east coast of the US.
Someone located close to the Hilltowns sold mildly sparkling beverages lightly sweetened with maple syrup: raspberry lime, ginger lemon, vanilla bean, coffee. I bought two varieties – surprisingly the ginger wasn’t overbearing as sometimes (often?) it can be in beverages. You can taste samples. Or I’d not bought any of them! The drinks are apparently available in at least some local Whole Wallet outlets.
One thing I am seriously interested in is chaga tea. That particular booth sold tea made of a mix of green tea and chaga tea, but only to drink on site. They use most of their chaga to make medicinals (which they were also selling, but I didn’t purchase – at least not until I do due diligence research on medicinal properties). I picked up their calling card to find out when they’ll be ready to have the volume to sell this as a tea – the taste was wonderful!
I picked up updated literature on a variety of useful things for here at my homestead. Updated fencing thoughts, for instance. I also learned some more and severe worries about building small scale green houses here in the Hilltowns of western Massachusetts – but I plan to see what I can do to circumvent those concerns. (AKA heavy snow loads being a major one.) I knew about it, but one large-scale greenhouse manufacturer/provider was not interested in finding me a solution for a small-scale operation. This is simplifying our conversation, but there it stands. I appreciate his honesty, though I hope to find a way around this.
In conclusion, I picked up a flyer for “Baby Goat Yoga”. Goats that massage your back. Their friendly goats walk on your back and cuddle with you (presumably when they’re not on your back). I’ve had cats that do a lighter-weight sort of body work – so maybe this is something to consider? I’m personally dubious but at least somewhat intrigued….
Go to these conferences with a willingness to explore, but for two or three things – be personally wary despite a necessary inquisitiveness. That being said… I just might try the goat thing… maybe. It could be good… (IF I do try this, I’ll report back.)
A workshop I’d have loved to have seen: The Science of Assessing and Improving the Health of Your Soil – but the (switched) presenter hails from Amherst, close enough for me to do my own follow-up. It conflicted with another presentation I wanted to visit.
PS, for your curiosity, I am not getting any kickback or fees for anything I’ve mentioned in this post. All comments are based on my own observations. For whatever they’re worth. But I do stand by what I observed as being what I observed.
Got home at 8:45 pm, and tucked myself into bed. I am, alas, no longer a Night Owl.
Mid-February, barring a blizzard or ice storm, I plan to attend the Vermont version of their winter NOFA conference. That one will be a two/three day event (but I’ll only attend the first two days).
We will also happily drop into Farm Fresh Tuesdays, since a lot of this post will help certain farming endeavors.