Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Wildlife & Plant Happenings at Bug Hill Farm

The spring procession with all its familiar sights and sounds wake up my winter dulled senses!   A "romp" of otters recently cavorted in the pond, splashing like toddlers and accompanied by a chorus of spring peepers, wood frogs, and red wing black birds' liquid songs.  Beaver have emerged from their lodge, and a pair of wood ducks raised my hopes that they may stay and nest.  A pair of mallards with the male's iridescent green neck visited, along with a pair of mergansers, and of course our much maligned (some would say unjustly, just because they are common) Canadian Geese have returned to nest on one of the beaver lodges. The geese have a daily routine of morning grazing in the hayfield across the road, then flying over the farm noisily splashing down in the pond for evening refuge.  A wildlife biologist I knew in grad school used to say "keep the common common" meaning with all the focus on diminishing rarer species, let's not forget that the common needs to be kept common (conservation and protection for all species, rare and common, before it becomes threatened as well.

Alma rolling in the Bluets

Coltsfoot, a naturalized European is blooming (leaves appear after flowering) and in the field, black currants are leafing out, the new shoots aroma perfectly captures the medicinal hint of the ripe fruit used to make Cassis.  I love this smell! Bluets or Quaker Ladies just starting to bloom are Alma's favorite for rolling in (but then so is just about everything including the most pungent scat she can find on the trails!)  Up at this elevation (1700') spring comes late - maples flower buds are just beginning to show color and blueberry buds are tight and green with promise of the flowers and fruits to come.  Early flowers like maple and Cornelian Cherry (in bloom for the last week) are important nectar for native bumblebees until later bloomers like native blueberries come in.

Hope you can join Alma and I on our next excursion!


Monday, June 17, 2013

Beginner’s Mind: Starting an ecologically-based farm business on marginal lands in the highlands of western Massachusetts

The path to the pond. 
The rough-mowed trail led through an old field of asters and goldenrod edged with native high bush blueberry and American cranberry, humming with native pollinators. The trail continued through a stand of multiple-trunked ash, red maple, and beech typical of New England’s often cut woodlands. At woods’ edge, native water lilies, and yellow water poppy bloomed in a goodly sized pond. Spruce, yellow and paper birch colonized ledge outcrops and stonewalls defined the pond’s east side. Directly across the pond was what appeared to be an old skid road, more evidence of past logging. A beaver lodge nudged cattails and at the muddy water’s edge, moose tracks and scat made a new landscape seem familiar. Thls land, 38 acres in all, was to become my home and my business.

Farming by Chance

Decades of hiking and living in northern New Hampshire’s White Mountains helped make my new home at 1700-foot elevation in the western Massachusetts highlands feel like home. This is the southern limit of a northern forest type and the northern limit of central New England woods where northern species like yellow birch, spruce and fir meet white ash and red oak. When moving to the new house and fifty acres in 2005, I had no intention to do any large-scale gardening much less farming on what was clearly marginal, poorly drained land. With a new graduate degree, I was changing careers and intended to find a full time job in conservation.

However, plans change and five years later, after receiving a beginning farmer grant, I started Bug Hill Farm. I began by experimenting with black currants planted on the property over 40 years ago by a German doctor. I fell in love with these densely flavored, tart berries beloved in many parts of Europe, and began selling alcohol free cordials made from them at my local farmer’s markets. High tunnel production of raspberries followed, as did ever-expanding plantings of berries. A commercial kitchen for value added farm products was built in 2012, so that the farm could both wholesale and retail value added products.

Transitioning to Successional Habitat

My original intention of managing the land for biodiversity and conservation hasn’t changed, and the farm’s 2010 Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) grant for creating early successional habitat for wildlife has helped support that. With this grant, ten acres of second growth, poorer quality woods were cut leaving a few “seed” trees of red oak, sugar maple, and mature poplar. Over many years, the loss of early successional habitat, critical to the survival of many species, has resulted in greatly diminished populations of migratory birds and native pollinators. Middle-aged mostly unmanaged woods now dominate most of New England and may not support great biodiversity.

In spite of diminishing species in the mature forest, the public has a negative perception of patch clear cuts, and the resulting re-growth (early successional habitat) appears messy and chaotic. Three years after the cut, I hope the farm may help change that perception with our addition of new trails through regenerating native low and high bush blueberries. These native shrubs and young stands of poplar, cherry, and wild rubus species support increased numbers of migratory birds, insect pollinators, small mammals and reptiles – wildlife, like children, seem to enjoy “messy” landscapes. And by making our land available for exploration by neighbors, we hope to demonstrate the positive changes a messy landscape, created with careful cutting, can produce.

In 2012, the farm received a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grower grant titled Effects of Controlled Disturbance within Early-Successional Northeastern Forest Habitat: Evaluating Soil Quality, Plant Production, and Economic Feasibility. This grant may help new entry farmers who are considering the purchase of marginal lands because of the affordability when compared to prime agricultural land. Two questions faced by those considering this route is how much site disturbance is needed in order to establish some productive cropping and what alternative, perennial crops may be viable on marginal lands where annual row crops are not economically feasible or perhaps even desirable.

Experimenting with Change

With our three-year SARE grant, the farm is creating experimental plots of three types of disturbance (measuring for soil health).The control plots will utilize traditional cut, stump, till, and plant techniques. The other two plots will use non-traditional methods. In one, we will plant directly in early successional habitat, and in the third plot we will use a permaculture technique called hugelkultur. All plots will be planted with three species of berries (native New England elderberry cultivars, a native New England black chokeberry cultivar, and haskap, also called honeyberry, which is native throughout the cool temperate Northern Hemisphere.)

Managing natural succession on the farm includes finding younger people who will succeed me in managing the farm business and the land that supports it. What will the future look like at Bug Hill Farm? Businesses like ecosystems have various stages of growth. The farm is posed for that next stage, and hopefully it will encompass a different style of ownership that includes different ages and interests.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Brambleberry Shrub Galette

This is a delicious pastry Ellen, one of our new interns, makes with fruit material that remains after a batch of brambleberry shrub (although, it can be made with fresh fruit as well). Known as a galette, it is a sort of pie-type pastry, a free-form creation of crusty cake, in which one folds a circular piece of dough around a central blob of filling. Ellen's galettes have been delighting everyone on the Hill for some weeks now. Dirty and exhausted after a day in the fields and greenhouses we serve a hearty dinner, followed by a heavenly slice of galette to end the meal. Enjoy the recipe and share your thoughts!


·      1 ½ cups flour
·      ½ cup butter, softened
·      pinch of salt
·      2 t sugar
·      ¼ cup sour cream
·      ice water
·      1 egg (optional)
·      1 T honey (optional)

·      3 cups of brambleberry shrub fruit remainder (or fresh berries)
·      1 ½ cups sugar (use less for fresh berries)
·      2 T flour
·      2 T butter

Oven 400.


1.   Mix flour, butter, salt, and sugar with a fork until crumbly. Add the sour cream and enough ice water to make a workable dough. Pat into a round, wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.

2.   Combine must, sugar, and flour. Taste and adjust sugar.

3.   Whisk the egg and honey together in a small bowl.

4.   Roll crust into a circle about ¼ inch thick. Carefully transfer onto a baking sheet. Pile the filling in the middle, and dot with butter. Fold the crust over the filling, forming a rough circle with some of the filling visible through a large hole in the middle. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven.

5.   Remove the foil and brush the top with the egg-honey mixture. Bake another 20 minutes, or until the top is browned and the filling is bubbly.

6.   Cool slightly and remove from pan using a flexible cutting board. Serve with ice cream, whipped cream, or crème freche. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Boston Local Food Festival

Bug Hill farm will be at the 2nd annual Boston Local Food Festival. Join us for a taste of our spreads, sauces, toppings and cordials. Don't forget our organic berries and tomatoes. Themed “Healthy Local Food For All!” the festival is produced by Sustainable Business Network (SBN), and is based on the principals of green, local and fair. This free admission and zero waste event promotes the benefits of eating local food and offers a diversity of locally grown and sourced dishes at affordable prices of $5 or less. The Boston Local Food Festival is the premier event where eaters can support local restaurants, farmers, and food producers.

The festival takes place along the Fort Point Channel waterfront, extending from Boston Children’s Museum Plaza under Seaport Blvd., to Northern Avenue. Festivities include over 100 food vendors, farmers, educational exhibits, Do It Yourself demo booths, chef demos, a Seafood Throwdown competition and educational activities for children and families. A Crop Share program will be collecting harvested vegetables from attendees to share with those who are in need.

Festival-goers are encouraged to take public transportation, walk, bike, or take a water taxi. Mass Bike, sponsored by Boston Collaborative for Food and Fitness will have bicycle valet. The festival is accessible by the MBTA on the Silver Line’s Court House Station or the Red Line’s South Station.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

"Fresh Girl" Cocktail Features Black Currant Cordial

Held outdoors at the Log Cabin in Holyoke, MA, the fashion and farmers' market was a great hit. People enjoyed local food, a jazz band and a special elixer that featured our very own Kiss of Cassis. Guests were stunned to discover that they were experiencing the delicious taste of black currants put through a wine press and sweetened with local honey. We look forward to doing events like this in the future.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

What's ripening

Our strawberries are coming in but unfortunately, we do not have sufficient quantities for PYO. Look for the next post about when raspberries and red & black currants are ready for picking!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"Local Hero" Programs for Farms, Crafts and School Fund Raisers

This winter Bug Hill Fruit and Flower Farm will participate in our first winter "farmer's markets" in Ashfield, Northampton and Greenfield, Mass: winter fares

However, Winter Fares began this season with a first: instead of the usual school fund raising catalogues featuring trinkets imported from China or wrapping paper that nobody really wants, the local school and local business people decided to create a local foods & crafts catalogue. If this model spreads to other communities and other schools throughout the country, look out Wal-Mart! In our small town of Ashfield, sales totaled $20,000 - dollars that went to local craftspeople and farmers and dollars that stayed in the community! $6,000 of those dollars went directly to the school, more money than it had ever raised in previous catalogues of imported goods.

Be a local hero in your community and start promoting local farms and crafts in your next school fund raising catalogue!