Treble Ridge Farm

Our produce plots are part of our hog-pasture rotation system.  When hogs are on pasture, they don’t just politely nip off the top of the plant the way sheep and cows do.  They stick their noses in the ground and plow it all up so they can eat the bugs and roots as well as the leaves.  This is very detrimental if you’re trying to keep a permanent pasture system functioning the way it would for cattle.  Farmers attempting to keep pigs on pasture have three options.  First, they can provide each pig with so much ground that the plants regrow faster than the pigs can dig them up.  Since pigs are very efficient at rooting, this can require vast amounts of land.  Also, the plants that tend to sprout and thrive in the disturbed areas are not grasses and legumes, but broadleaf plants of the sort typically considered weeds in pasture systems, so over time the quality of the pasture would inevitably decline.  Second, you can put nose-rings on the pigs and force them to nibble the grass like sheep (because the ring hurts their nose if they try to root).  We consider this an unnecessary and borderline cruel frustration of the pigs’ natural instincts.  Third, you can use the pigs’ natural style of grazing to your advantage.  This is what we do.

We leave the pigs on each pasture plot until it is thoroughly rooted up and fertilized.  Spilled and undigested grain sprouts after the pigs are moved, creating an automatic cover crop that protects the bared soil.  The following year, we till the plot and plant another cover crop to further discourage weeds and build organic matter.  In year three, we till in the cover crop residues and plant produce crops.  In year four, we plant perennial pasture crops (orchardgrass, alfalfa, and chicory) and allow them to establish undisturbed for the entire season before starting the whole cycle over again the following year.  The long wait and tillage events that come between removing pigs from the pasture and planting produce crops there ensure that there is no danger from pathogenic bacteria. 
Pig-Tilled GroundSprouted GrainCover Crop
When selecting produce crops, we aim for a balance of diversity and sanity.  Planting dozens of different crops and maintaining succession planting schedules is just too much of a headache with everything else we have going on, but obviously we are not the sort of farm that places all its eggs in one basket, either.  We usually have about half a dozen to a dozen produce crops on any kind of commercial scale.  We select crops that are reliable even when somewhat neglected during the growing season and that store well.
CabbagesStrawberries in Plastic MulchCalvin with Garden ToolsTrailer Full of Pumpkins
In organic produce plots, the most labor-intensive part of good management is weeding the established crop.  We rely more heavily than we would like on plastic mulch, which keeps the weeds away from the root zone of the crop with minimal effort on our part.  Unfortunately, there’s that part at the end of the season where we rip up a bunch of plastic and send it to the dump.  There is one manufacturer producing a biodegradable plastic mulch that is allowed for use on organic farms in Europe, but the USDA in all its wisdom decided that a minute quantity of a synthetic substance in the mulch disqualified it for use on American organic farms.  Recently a petition was submitted to add biodegradable plastic mulches to the NOP list of permitted synthetics, so hopefully in a year or two we will have better options.  

Our primary commercial crops for 2012 are pumpkins, cabbage, broccoli, cucumbers, tomatoes for processing, melons, strawberries, husk cherries, lettuce, and onions.  We also often have small quantities of many different other things available.  You can find Treble Ridge Farm produce at the farm (please contact us in advance to set up a mutually convenient time to visit), at the Rising Tide Community Market in Damariscotta, at the Sheepscot General Store in Whitefield, through the Sheepscot Valley Multi-Farm CSA, and through the Crown of Maine Organic Cooperative (based in Vassalboro but shipping all over the state).

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