field report

  • drilling barley May 19, 2017

    I am looking back to see if the barley is coming out of the shoots and being drilled into the soil – The 1950’s John Deere grain drill is over 60 years old. We are moving through drilling barley to an 18 acre field behind the farmhouse. We plowed this land and then disk harrowed 7 times. It is a very sacred process to see the earth transformed as we spread manure, a gift from the pigs, plow and disk harrow, always stopping to pick rocks and fill the bucket on the front of the tractors. We are constantly aware of the rain and how dry or wet the day will be. On this day, I keep driving through two thunderstorms, lightening on the distant hills. 7 pm, the first rain came hard, it was not expected until 10 pm and so I was moving though it, no raincoat. I was soaked and stood up on the tractor to stay a bit dryer, and kept driving as the soil was not being hurt yet by the impact of the tractor’s weight. We had to get this done because the seeds needed time to germinate, and the moist, warm soil was an ideal incubator for this. Barley has to be planted early, by May 20 Jack tells me. Through the day, the fragrance of the Balm of Gilead poplars kept drifting over the fields. The honey bees and the Order of Hymenoptera will be draw to this resin in the air. For a beekeeper, this is also intoxicating. Spring is here. This barley will be the second ingredient in our Thornhill Farm rye whiskey, a partnership with Caledonia Spirits, be sprouted for the pigs and enable us to grow all of their food, and also be offered to breweries and bakeries.

our farm

The goal of this farm is to conserve the cropland and forest, and by a careful stewardship of these natural resources, grow grains, elderberries, pigs and honeybees and by producing value added products for the marketplace, employ people and bless the community of Greensboro, Vermont and beyond.

winter rye – currently 24 acres are growing, planted in September 2015, to be harvested in July 2016. This will be used by Caledonia Spirits in Hardwick, Vermont to make a rye whiskey. All of the grain grown on the farm will also be used to feed the pigs and eliminate the need for purchased grain from outside the farm.

elderberries – currently 2.5 acres under cultivation, seven cultivars including the original & named nursery for Lewis Hill’s two cultivars Coomer and Berry Hill. The elderberries will be used by Caledonia Spirits to make their elderberry cordial. Lewis Hill’s home and nursery is less than a mile away from this land, where he planned to cultivate elderberries on a commercial basis.

pigs – are on the farm primarily to improve the soil. The crops that the honey bees gather are an indication of the health of the soil. The soils of our upland farms in Vermont is worn out. Raising pigs are one of the best ways to restore the soil as they root around and defecate. With our foresters and ecologist, we have identified some acreage of the forest that can have the wood harvested for lumber for barns, building and heating our homes. The pigs then are put to pasture here, clean up the balance wood on the land, improve the soil and prepare the land for planting grains and elderberries.

honey bees – on the farm will pollinate our flowers.  Todd began a relationship with honey bees over 50 years when he and his brother Tom, 9 years old, bought their first hive for their family farm. They were enchanted by how industrious the bees were, giving them honey, pollen, propolis and beeswax for candles and salve. Around 40% of what is eaten is pollinated by insects, this to a great degree by honey bees. Because there are so few nectar & pollen plants on Thornhill Farm, we are planting these plants for the bees. We know the soil is worn out on the farm because our honey bees make so little honey. This is why we have pigs. When the forest is cleared, we do not burn the wood that is left behind, but chip it and mix these wood chips with manure and fungus mycelium to make piles of compost to improve the soil. Last summer we grew peas and oats as a green manure crop, and the pea flowers gave voluminous amounts of nectar to the honey bees and pollinating insects.