Get the Dirt!

Figgery Figloo Super Cold Winter Survival

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One of our most interesting projects this winter is watching the effectiveness of the "figloo" or insulated box that I built around the eight greenhouse fig trees. It is a very simple design... 35 bales of hay laid on the ground pushed tightly together to form a rectangular "well" forming walls around the fig trees. On top of that I placed 10 sheets of inch thick 4x8 insulation boards, their ends resting 6 inches onto each wall, with a prop holding up the center so the insulation doesn't sag in the center (you can see the 2x4 board in this picture). Rocks hold down the edges of the insulation boards to keep a pretty tight seal against the bales. In the picture above I've got both ends of the insulation "roof" propped up to inspect underneath. Normally these are down to keep the "earth heat" in. Earth heat being the main driver of heat gain inside the figloo. Similar to a basement under a house, the earth always stays warm (around 50 degrees F) due to the thermal mass of the planet. As long as the soil of the interior of the figloo doesn't freeze solid. The ground will continue to radiate "earth heat" into the figloo chamber. If you consider on this day that exterior to the greenhouse there was a -30 degree F wind chill (yes NEGATIVE 30 degrees), and inside with the figs it's a balmy 31 degrees F, the figloo is holding a 60 degree difference between outside and inside!

Figgery Figloo Winter Greenhouse for Mountain Fig Trees

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Last night it was 10 degrees F outside the greenhouse and 43 degrees F inside the “figloo”. As the winter proceeds I will continue to check on the temperatures and observing the condition of the figs, as well as the perennial kale and artichokes that are also under the insulation of the figloo. I'll be writing more about the details of this system, including all the techniques that are being used to hopefully keep the fig tree trunks alive until spring.

Figgery Greenhouse Fig Fruit Is Ripe

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So after four months of patient tender care, fig fruit have started to ripen! The picture above is showing
Ronde de Bordeaux left, Saint Rita longer pink/green skinned almost ripe to the right. 

As the days draw towards fall, more figs will come ripe (hopefully) and I'll be able to have a sense of the early varieties with good flavor. Most likely if we get enough warm days between now and the end of September, most of the other fig fruit will be harvested and eaten. Otherwise we'll wait until next year, as all the trees will have deep roots and can produce and ripen fruit more consistently.

If you'd like to be the first customer to purchase and grow these tasty, early to ripen, hardy figs, get your order in now at the and buy some fig tree cuttings today!

Paulownia tomentosa Empress Tree Potential Intensive Silvopasture

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Livestock tree forage characteristics for Northeast Temperate Climate Intensive Silvopasture:

-Long lived woody perennial tree or shrub
-Palatable and nutritious for sheep and cattle
-Easy to propagate for low cost installation
-Quick to establish, grazable in 2 years
-Indigenous North American plant, or at least manageable if naturalized in the area

Paulownia tomentosa (Empress Tree, princess tree, foxglove-tree, or kiri) in Southern New York could work:

-As long as the roots get established, listed hardy to -15 F (climate zone 5, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York)

(Agroforestry Queen Meghan Giroux Burlington VT)

-Top growth most likely to be winter killed (as die back perennial), which is preferable as it keeps the plant:
*to young to flower and spread seed
*more palatable/nutritious?

-Tree is high in nutrients, especially protein, ~20%

-Can be propagated by seed, root, or stem cuttings

-As a 'C4' plant, growth is extremely fast (one of the fastest growing trees in the world!)

My son, under second year overwintered seedlings, Ithaca, NY, July 25, 2018

Hopefully by this time next year I will have grazed sheep in a hedge of Paulownia that I've established from cloned varieties, in Brooktondale, NY. Expect an update on this blog in 2019!

Then, the thinking is possibly planting an acre of Paulownia at 6 foot spacing, ~1000 trees per acre, VOILA! Intensive Silvopasture!

P.S. You might be wondering why not Black Locust? Well, due to it's characteristics of spreading by root suckers, and having thorns, Paulownia seems like it might be easier to manage

P.P.S. Intensive Silvopasture has been shown to both significantly increase carbon sequestration in grazing landscapes, AND jack meat and milk productivity. If native trees are added at the paddock edges more improvements can be made... From Drawdown the book, regarding tropical intensive silvopasture, "Trees keep the wind in check and improve water retention, which causes increases in biomass. The combination of flora can reduce the ambient temperature... which enhances humidity and plant growth [and reduce stress in animals]. Species biodiversity doubles... Stocking rates nearly triple. Meat production in pounds per acre per year is four to ten times higher then in conventional systems."

New Sheep and Cattle Silvopasture Forage Trial Update

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Starting February 2018 new plant seeds were prepared and sprouted inside in flats to give them a head start going into the growing season. With a little tender care (inside and outdoors), including watering, weeding and transplanting, many of the successes now can be shared.

Leading up to this project, I did significant research to understand the potential of underutilized livestock forage species. There is a lot of information out there about plants that have been planted around the USA and world that are good, but have lost favor in the "market" or conventional grazing industry for various reasons. OR, there are plants that are grown for other industries but have potential as forage for livestock in new configurations, like silvopasture systems.

Here is pictorial run through of some of this years' seedling successes (although they need a full winter, and tested as animal fodder before we can give them the thumbs up):

Illinois Bundleflower (Desmanthus illinoensis)

Big Trefoil (Lotus pedunculatus) with Willows (Salix sp.)

Chickpea Milkvetch 'HiPal' (Astragalus cicer) on the right

Empress Tree (from potted plant, Paulownia tomentosa) with Wild Senna (Senna hebecarpa) 

Mulberry (started from dormant branch cutting Morus sp.) with Black Locust (started from dormant root cutting Robinia pseudoacacia)  

Indigo Bush (Amorpha fruticosa)

As this trial continues my plan is to update findings on this blog. Ultimately those species that turn out to meet the following characteristics will win out and I'll publish details about them, including hardiness, palatability, vigor, growth habit, and polyculture potential.

Black Locust - Robinia pseudoacacia - Cut and Carry Forage for Livestock

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Today I decided to experiment with feeding some black locust leaves to the Shelterbelt Farm "flerd". Below you'll see the process and how easy it was to utilize this wonderful plant as a food for livestock...

What is black locust and why write about it? From, “Black Locust: A Multi-purpose Tree Species for Temperate Climates”:

Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia L.) is a nitrogen-fixing legume, native to southeastern North America and now naturalized extensively in the temperate regions of North America, Europe, and Asia. This tree is useful but underutilized for lumber, poles, wood fiber, land reclamation, beekeeping, fuel and forage. It grows very rapidly survives droughts and severe winters, tolerates infertile and acidic soils (Miller et al. 1987), and produces livestock feed nutritionally equivalent to alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) (Baertsche et al. 1986). Commercial feed production, as silage, hay or leaf meal, appears feasible.
(excerpt from:

It took me 3 minutes to cut this amount of fresh Locust root sprouts (the trunk was cut down Winter 2018).

Yummy "tree alfalfa"

A picture is worth a thousand words, many of the branches were stripped of their leaves.

To learn more about utilizing black locust in your agroforestry system, check out this great article by my friend Steve Gabriel:


Mediterranean Figgery Greenhouse video

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This is my first video review of the new project, the Mediterranean “Figgery” Greenhouse. Throughout the last two months (April, May 2018) we’ve been cleaning out the old sheep “barn” of manure and bedding to establish a growing area for eight hardy fig varieties, mixed in with other edible crops including: perennial kale, seedless Concord grapes, strawberries, artichokes, and planting this fall, garlic bulbs. My plan is to post video updates throughout the season as the system progresses. Excuse my newbie video editing skills, I’m just getting the hang of it 🙂

Converting fallow land in New York into biomass and silvopasture

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I’m continuously amazed when witnessing the tenacity of life in the world around me. In particular is the viewscape along the highway between Western Massachusetts and Central New York. While driving along the highway, the scenic beauty and hundreds of years of agricultural history is obviously there, what strikes me particularly is how extensive the shrubland has become in these communities. New York estimates there’s nearly 3 million acres of unused and underutilized non-forest land in the State.

And there’s a confluence creating this enormous fallowing, including high tax rates, changing demographics, and socio-economic instability etc. So, what I’m witnessing on that drive is hundreds of miles of mid-succession in the northeast temperate forest biome, or more simply fields turning back to forest.

You might be asking why is this so interesting or striking? I could answer, what I am, you are witnessing, is the collapse of New York’s farm economy. You can find other indicators from increasing unemployment, to a rising opioid epidemic, political disfunction (I’m talking about you Mr. T), the constant threat from the hydraulic fracking industry, and there are many other signs.

So, what might a regenerative agricultural practitioner, like myself, offer in such a situation? How might these “problems” point to a solution?

I think it is important to connect this regional observation to the larger web of disruptions throughout the globe. One of the largest being the rise in global CO2, from 280 ppm in the interglacial period to 407 ppm today. There is no doubt, clearing of forests, destruction of soil, and the burning of fossil fuels, all human disturbances, have gotten us to this accumulation. One that is creating a wildly undulating global weather situation, with a difficult to predict outcome (although it is now pretty clear the outcome will be dire if business as usual continues.)

What comes out from this analysis is not only is our global socio-economic system, and humanity for that matter, under overwhelming stress, but, from a scientific perspective the carbon cycle is, well, TOTALLY FUCKED UP!

YYYEEET, at the same time, the old fields, like the picture above, continue to grow into shrubland.

What are those fallow field shrubs, perennial grasses, and soil their roots are in made of?


The same carbon in the C of CO2. Carbon as problem becomes carbon as solution.

More and more this realization is leaking into the halls of power. We need this solution to move up to the top of the priority list. We need communities throughout New York and everywhere to see underutilized, degraded, and fallow land as an opportunity for healing, an opportunity for economic renewal, and an opportunity for regeneration.

What I’m proposing is a grand project for New York, what I’m calling reNewLand.

Picture by Jonathan Bates of Shelterbelt Farm (example of what could be)

reNewLand draft mission statement:

"We are a one gigaton carbon drawdown project that covers millions of acres over multiple Northeastern states leveraging biomass and silvopasture to renew marginal and underutilized non-timber agriculture lands. This project is a jobs program starting in New York that plants millions of trees for energizing a cascade of regeneration, manifesting true wealth for local economies, including clean water and food, healthy soil, increased biodiversity and real work."

Below I've included a mindmap that generally outlines the different parts of the project

This project is not about bringing us back to some golden bygone age of economic prosperity and industrial agricultural growth. The pinnacle of the 20th century was “better living through chemistry”, in the 21st century BIOLOGY is remembered as the driver of a clean, healthy food system. Food being the foundation of any human endeavor, might a redesign of the local, regional and global food system be a creative way to meld a more thoughtful, kind, and rational society?

This project will need lots of money, land, hands and minds. Call me to get involved 413-588-8435

You may also enjoy these ideas put to story...

"Imagine walking into a warm, vibrant, supportive space where people come together to celebrate themselves, their families, and the community, land and animals around them. People are laughing, drinking and eating and gathering the foods and other life supporting needs for the week… fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy, companionship, fresh air, inspiring beverages, and many other goods.

You go outside to enjoy the abundant fruit and nuts dripping from orchard branches, see happy sheep munching breakfast, and watch bees making their golden honey. You meet up with a few folks gathered around an artesian spring, drinking down the sweet refreshing water together. You remembered to make one last stop inside and see that the space is heated with prunings from the orchard and woodlot.

Waving goodbye to your friends on your way out you grab a few bags of biochar to take home for the garden. Following you on the bike ride home is a co-operatively owned bio-oil truck caring the carbon negative fuel you and your neighbors will need to stay cozy during the coming winter."

Two Months Until Spring (Food Forest Farm Newsletter: Regenerative Living Guide)

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Check out a sample of our newsletter the "Regenerative Living Guide" Winter 2017, below. If you like what you read, find "Get Farm News" on the bottom of every page to sign up. This month's newsletter includes our spring plant sale announcement; read (re)Generation: A monthly article by Jonathan Bates; and links to inspiring and useful topics:

"It's well into January and in the last two days the temperature has swung from 2 degrees to 50 degrees in Western Massachusetts (not normal even for New England standards). Currently I am typing this newsletter while comfortably sitting inside our four-year-old backyard bioshelter permaculture greenhouse. We harvested the last of the calamondin citrus and are excited to see the lettuce just getting big enough to eat. Fresh salad for dinner tonight!

Like many of you, I'm drooling over the plant and seed catalogs, excited for the coming growing season. The sun is coming up earlier each day and setting later each evening. Even though we have our bioshelter, which provides a small amount of citrus, herbs and greens this time of year, I still yearn for those long summer nights when I can put my hands in warm soil, and eat perennial vegetables or pick the ripe hanging fruit, like my favorite paw paw.

For those that are new to Food Forest Farm, along with monthly tours, seasonal workshops, and many other fun, tasty educational events, we run a nationally known useful and edible plant nursery. The process for preparing plants for spring shipping begins during the month of November, and ends with your plants arriving in March or April. At our production farm, we have "mother" plants that we dig up and propagate from. The cuttings done from those mother plants are carefully cataloged and put in burlap bags which are overwintered underground in a trench. Those plants stay at the perfect temperature, naturally, without using global climate damaging refrigeration.

Throughout the winter, while you place your pre-orders at, the plants are snuggled in tight just waiting to be shipped to you and their new home.

Now is the time to get your order in. Each year we sell out, so get the orders in now while you can! Those buried jewels of deliciousness are waiting for you. You'll be putting your hands in that warm luscious soil before you know it :)

The Revolutionary Moment
(re)Generation: A monthly article by Jonathan Bates

I'm not going to talk about Donald Trump. I am going to speak to the current state of the human condition we find ourselves in here in the U.S.A.

My Mom grew up in the Deep South, living on a farm with a vegetable business that her Mom started in 1936. Depending on "truck farming", as it was called then, they would all get up early, harvest the vegetables for that day, and bring them to market. Not so different then what's done on countless small farms today. What was different back then was the MAJORITY of people in North America were farmers! Now, with less then 2 percent of the population growing most of the food we (and our meat) eats, the world is a different place.

Since the most recent election, I've been reflecting on this socio-economic sea change that occurred over the last 70 years. What happened to the 95 percent of the USA that doesn't farm any more? Did they all move to the city? Well, many of them did, including my Mom. But, something else happened. Those that stayed hold onto their culture, they get off farm jobs so they can stay on their land, they work in factories just outside of town, maybe even jobs that are connected to farm life: ranching, horse farms, slaughterhouses, feedlots, grain storage and production, dairy, transportation, refrigeration, machine manufacturing, forestry and landscape jobs, and even somewhere along the thousands of miles of rural and suburban strip malls in every town, everywhere.

So, millions of Americans stayed "rural", even though they aren't farming. Those rural folks have a culture, family and friends around them that believe a set of values and view of the world. I do realize that I am over simplifying their situation. And the most recent political era we have entered into is way more complex and nuanced then what I am laying out with this "rural" perspective. But, what I am doing is bringing light to the fact that there are wide gaps that have formed between many who live rural, and people who have grown up urban. Many urbanites have been in the "city" for many generations, and only know life in the city, which has it's own culture, values and world view (I should know, I grew up sub-urban... which I am considering city here).

Now, onto the Revolutionary Moment... We know there is some kind of divide among people in this Country. Much of it is cultural. Yet, there is an opportunity in what seems like a vast, unsolvable problem... Rural folks and urban folks are still bound by the common principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I'm not talking here about the life, liberty and happiness of our Constitution, although that is an important historical document. What I mean is, we are all human beings, we all want clean water, food and air, to be in communities and families that are nurturing, healthy and loving. All of us also make decisions every day, doing our best, striving, and many of us fight every day for those things.

Some of you reading this may not internalize that some people have more, and some have less. This phenomenon happens in rural places and urban places, and has been used to divide people everywhere for a long time. But, it is a phenomenon that is changeable, and not inevitable. If folks can come together realizing we all have common needs, we can reach across Party, culture, race, lifestyle, and identity. Move towards a new paradigm, a paradigm free of the entanglement of "World View" towards an organization of humanity that values life, abundance, and true freedom. If we can work hard together for real every day decision making power, in and for our neighborhoods, communities, towns and cities, we might just turn this Revolutionary Moment into the Utopia we've always longed for.

P.S. (We don't need Trump or Hillary for the freedom of which I speak.)"

NEWSLETTER INSPIRING AND USEFUL TOPIC LINKS: Portland Assembly | Order Spring Plants | Cherán. 5 Years of Self-government


Photos by Eric Toensmeier and others.

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