Category Archives: travel

D Acres Farm, waking up to homesteading

It seems we get drawn more and more to New Hampshire whenever we have a little time off or we need to decompress… This time it was Beth who suggested we head up for  few days during Columbus Day weekend. Our initial intention was to hike with our son and his girlfriend while enjoying the Fall change of colors.

Since we came up with the idea at the last minute, we had a hard time finding accommodations in traditional and not so traditional places, I even looked into staying in a yurt, without much luck. Beth then remembered a website our son had recommended www.airbnb.com where you can find less known places to stay. She called me midday three days before our planned departure to ask me, “How would you like staying at an educational farm?”. I guess she already knew the answer, because immediately after I responded, she said “We are already booked”.

The name of the place is D Acres, and it is located in Dorchester, New Hampshire. It is a homestead developed and run on the basic principles of permaculture. The farm occupies a small section of a 200 acre property. It is surrounded by wilderness and has a fantastic view of the foothills of the White Mountains from several vantage points.

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There are several buildings on the farm, the most prominent is the main house, that serves as a combination B&B-hostel and general meeting place for all guests.

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This building also houses a great kitchen and dining hall, a library well stocked with books pertaining to farming, gardening, permaculture, sustainability and other related themes, a fully functional wood workshop, and of course a root cellar and produce storage facility. The farm is not off the grid, but it boasts solar photovoltaic panels, solar heat collectors, and other sensible technology to help it run efficiently leaving less of a footprint on the environment.

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The other buildings on the property, although fully functional for their intended uses (greenhouses, chicken coop, temporary staff residence, outhouses, etc), are less conventional in looks and are happily decorated with hand painted signs and or sculptures.

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The structures and equipment at D Acres are mostly built with locally sourced materials. True to the focus of the farm, they find use for  commonly discarded items which they keep out of sight in a somewhat neat “Resource Pile” until needed.

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In the farm they currently have 2 oxen that help with weed control in the developed area and with muscle power whenever needed.

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They also have several pigs which are entrusted with plowing and preparing newly developed growing fields as they turn up the soil in their constant search for food.

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During our visit, we had a chance to feed the pigs with several cases of vegetables that would no longer be sellable at the local supermarket, and with buckets of kitchen scraps collected in local restaurants. They were all out of chickens at present, as they will be starting a new  flock soon, but they did have ducks in some of their ponds.

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Their farming fields were certainly impressive, they are oriented to make best use of the vital resources, soil, water and sun. Tree stumps are left in the field to decay and in turn return nutrients to the ground, their presence is not inconvenient as the ground is only worked by hand with pitchforks.

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Farming fields are heavily mulched with straw during the growing season to prevent weeds, control water and improve the soils. In the off season, the fields are planted with cover crops to further promote soil enrichment through natural processes of nitrogen fixation and composting.

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Crops are rotated to maximize production, all crops are grown organically. The farm produces all of its vegetables (except for grains and oils), and all of their meat. Surplus are offered for sale locally.

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The areas that are not dedicated to farming have been left in their natural state, with only a few well marked trails that loop around the forest and comeback to Base Camp, where visitors can elect to pitch a tent or hang a hammock.

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The most amazing aspect of the farm is how at ease one feels immediately upon arrival. Josh and Regina really make sure everyone feels at home. The food is fantastic, and is served family style in a very cordial atmosphere. The kitchen is also shared with guests that chose to prepare their own meals.

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There are just two house rules, no smoking, and no shoes upstairs. It is perhaps because of that that all guests feel compelled to maintain the harmony of the farm as if we were all invested in this great project. In future trips to NH we are most likely to stay again at D Acres, perhaps next time we can catch one of their educational programs, or get a chance to learn more about homesteading working side by side with them.

To learn more about D Acres Farm, visit their site at www.DAcres.org .

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A walk on the wild sid

It’s been a week since we came back from vacation. It is really hard getting back to the full swing of life, but we find ourselves in a more serene state of mind. Our vacation was wonderful. My wife Beth and I spent a week hopping between New Hampshire and Maine hiking and kayaking. Following are highlights of our trip.

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The Highland Center is located at the foothill of the White Mountains. Here you can get excellent bunk style accommodations and incredible food before hitting the trails. This or the center at Pinkham Notch are perfect stops for hikers venturing in the Whites who are  in need expert advise, directions, update on mountain weather, maps, etc.

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That first evening, after dinner, we went for a short walk on a trail around the Ammonnoosuc Lake while waiting for the Perseid meteorite showers.

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Back at the Lodge, students from the Carthage Institute of Astronomy had an array of high power telescopes and were giving great explanations on the what we were seeing. By far the most interesting thing I saw was the planet Saturn, the rings around it showing perfectly, just as if it was one of those glow in the dark cut-outs. The Perseid shower that night turned out to be no more than a trickle.

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Early next morning we headed towards a section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) that we had not covered in our hike the previous year. We climbed the Crawford Path to the Mizpah Spring Hut, one of the AMC mountain huts located mid trail where hikers can take refuge, get some rest, food and water before continuing on their journey.

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From Mizpah we followed on the Webster Cliff Trail to summit Mount Jackson and Mount Webster where we got incredible views of the Presidential Mountain Range, and the ridge trail we had hiked in 2012.

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We descended Mt Webster on the Webster Jackson Trail, which ended up being very steep and rocky. It was not an easy trail to hike down, but it went by a couple waterfalls well worth the extra strain on the knees…or maybe not.

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At day 3 our original plans called for a start to our kayaking and camping trip down the Saco River. However, the day came in with copious rains, and since there was the chance of parts of the river getting shut down due to high water level, we decided to spend a day visiting Portland ME. The detour was well worthwhile, we walked around the city  harbor, had great chowder and lobster for lunch and visited some stores. That evening we were lucky to find a place to stay at a bed and breakfast in Naples ME. The Augustus Bove, a well kept and very comfortable B&B, attended by their owners Arlene and Dave. Great country atmosphere, fantastic breakfast, and you are sent off in the morning with a hug and a kiss, it does not get any better than that.

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The fourth day came in and the sun was shinning high in the sky, a perfect day to the start of our kayak/camping experience. We drove back into NH to Center Conway, and after stopping for some last minute supplies, went to Saco Valley Canoe to leave our car and get transferred with our kayaks and camping gear to the put in place on the river at Swans Falls over the ME border.

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With the boats fully loaded with gear, supplies and firewood we headed out towards the Broomfield Bridge, a point 19 miles down the river where we could be picked up from and transferred back to our car. The rules of the river are simple and reasonable, one can land and camp anywhere it is not posted as prohibited, campfires are only allowed on sandy beaches and after obtaining a permit, no out of state firewood and   pack in pack out rules apply.

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From the point we put in to our destination the Saco is a gentle, wide river flowing at about 2.5 miles an hour. The water is super clear, the scenery is fantastic, and at least during the week you can get away from crowds. DSCF4426

That night we camped by a beach we had all to ourselves about 8.5 miles down river. At the time we set up camp the sun was about to go below the tree line so it started getting dark and chilly pretty fast.

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In spite of the damp fire wood and kindling we managed to have a roaring fire on the beach. Our dinner that night was simply delicious, or should I say “simple but delicious”? Mac and cheese always tastes great when shared with right person and under the stars.

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Next day after tearing down our camp we had some  breakfast, hot instant oatmeal. I had forgotten I do not really like oatmeal, “but it is good for you and  it fills you up for a long time” said Beth, so I went along.

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We paddled and drifted for a few hours stopping to see whatever caught our attention that day, had lunch at another beautiful sandy beach, and ventured into two large ponds that connect with the Saco. In the latter, Lowell Pond we saw a bald eagle and a fledgling perching at our path.  DSCF4496 DSCF4515

Our intention to camp on the river a second night was abruptly changed when a post at mile 17 indicated that overnight camping was not permitted between that point and our destination at mile 19.

After being picked up and brought back to our car, that afternoon we headed Northwest towards Franconia Notch. The next morning we hiked up to the Lonesome Lake, where AMC has another mountain hut.

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The trail takes you up from the parking area on a gentle switchback. At the top there is a beautiful lake encircled by high mountains, the view is certainly  incredible.

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We had hoped to have lunch at the hut, but were not hungry then. To get back to our car we chose the longer way down following the Cascade Brook Trail, a very nice section of the AT with a very fit name.

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We stopped several times to admire the dozens of cascades that form on this rapidly descending river, as well as the massive granite formations on which it flows.

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That eve, tired but very happy, we started on our way South. We met with our friends Maureen and Brian had dinner with them, and spent the night at their beautiful cabin near Holderness NH. Next morning, we picked our son up from camp and spent the rest of the day driving around and sightseeing the lakes region of NH.

At the Lonesome Lake there is a memorial plaque that sums up how we feel about this week, it reads: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away”. I don’t know about you, but I am already planning our next adventure.

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B is the new farmer in charge

So we are finally getting ready to leave on vacation to beautiful New Hampshire and Maine. We have made plans for months in anticipation of this moment, having changed them quite a few times. I checked tons of websites and trail books, read dozens of trip reviews and watched quite a few videos to figure out how to best spend the few days we take off every summer.  I have spent many nights tracing possible trails and selecting daily destinations. This year we chose to combine hiking, kayaking and camping. With this in mind, I made lists of equipment we’d need on every leg of the trip, gathered most of it from our basement, custom built a few things to out rig our boats, and ordered whatever else we did not have but was on the list. Certainly if half of the fun is getting there, preparing for it is got to be at least a quarter.

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Throughout all this preparation, the thought of leaving my garden in the middle of the summer was constantly on my mind. After all it is the middle of production. We are getting a few pounds of tomatoes every day, the peppers are ready to be collected, every couple of days one or two eggplants are ready to eat, and all my seedlings still need to be watched to guarantee harvesting in the early fall. I did the best I could at increasing irrigation intervals to prevent a bake like it happened when we went away for a few days in early July. My main concern was “Who would be picking the fruit?”. We definitely do not want it to rot or go to waste.

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That is when B came to mind. I recalled she had offered to help me with my garden a few weeks ago. At the time I had offered to go pick her up and bring her over, but she declined because I did not have a booster seat in my car. B is my colleague’s daughter. She a  very bright 6 year old with beautiful brown eyes and an engaging personality. Who better than her  to take care of the place while we are gone?

Her appointment as farm tomato picker was sent to her  as a text  through her mom. B, jumped, danced and hollered “woohooo” as she was read that she had been chosen from among “hundreds of applicants”. That afternoon, she came to my house to learn the ropes and take the reigns of my “farm”. We met at the curb, and she skipped all the way from there to the backyard, stopping only to say hi to my wife Beth half way up. Once there we took time to touch and smell all the herbs, the scents and names of plants were all so new to her. She saw where the carrots are growing, and of course we spent some time picking cherry tomatoes, one of which she tasted but not liked. She learned that to pick eggplants you grab the fruit, not the prickly stem, and that some peppers can be very hot. She tasted fresh broccoli, and managed to walk in between narrowly planted rows of seedlings with some grace (this was the hardest thing for her, so this morning I planted a stick with orange blazing tape next to each seedling so she can see better where they are). Of all the things B got to try, I think watering the plants was the most fun, especially when we turned the hose in rain mode and she could get her head wet too.

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B’s short training visit yesterday made me somewhat wish I was not leaving so soon. Not because I am afraid she will not take good care, nor because I am going to miss my garden terribly while hiking or paddling through some amazing wilderness. I guess I wish I could spend more time showing her fun things, like how cucumber plants lash on to things, or why flowers attract bees, or just how to name a few plants or birds. I am sure we will have a chance in the future to do some gardening together. This is her week to explore and to be the farmer in charge. With an attitude like hers, she can only succeed. Hopefully next post we will have some of B’s gardening photos.

Do you share your garden experience with your children? What intrigues children the most in a garden? When do your children start joining you in the garden?

Annie’s Garden

This weekend, after the 4th of July BBQ, we took a drive upstate to Cooperstown NY with the kids. For those that cannot recognize the name, Cooperstown’s fame stems from being known as the birthplace of baseball, and the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

To us, however, Cooperstown is something more than the baseball themed stores and attractions that seem to populate Main Street and the outskirts of the village. To us it means family, a place where the pass of time seems to have graciously slowed down and where we can still see bits of how life used to be in a not distant past. My wife’s parents established there in the early 1960’s, and raised a family I am proud to be part of. My father in law held very dearly the title of native son of Cooperstown, to which he became entitled after residing there for 50 years. All of my wife’s family now resides there, and it is a special treat for us to come up and visit with all of them.

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My wife’s family home in Cooperstown

When in Cooperstown, and especially in the summer, my sister in law’s garden is a must stop for us. Annie is always innovating and trying new thing, and she is an open book when you have a question on anything pertaining to gardens. It was actually Annie who without knowing what she was doing at the time, planted the gardening seed in my head a few years ago. Even with that she had a green thumb…I still amaze at how bountiful her garden is, even in a much cooler climate and with a shorter growing season than ours on Long Island. Her vegetables, and flowers seem to fight for the limited space, and show how worthy of keeping they are by exploding with color, or giving incredible crops all season long.

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Beautiful colors and textures
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Borage flowers, a nice addition to lemonade
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Garlic flowers, are clipped off the plant to induce greater production, and can be a nice addition to a dish

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This year, a major addition was the construction of a natural fence to contain their garden. It is a very nice and interesting structure that I am sure will weather and age even more beautifully. To build it, her husband, Russ, bartered with local land owners to allow him to to cut the locust trees that he turned into posts, and the maple saplings that he interlaced in interesting shapes to form the fence. Russ tells me that the materials were cut and gathered by hand from over 6 acres of land, and dragged out of the woods without the use of machinery. Enjoy the photographs, leave any questions, I’ll get them answered for you.

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In order to use less locust trees, Russ split some of them into 4 posts
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Fence seen from the neighbor’s side