Valley Bounty: Coyote Hill Farm
Ervin Meluleni and his wife Gloria, owners of Coyote Hill Farm in Bernardston, are hard at work making cider from their apple and pear trees. “Each of our apple trees is a different variety, which is ideal for us because it means the apples ripen at different times and cause some slight changes in flavor that can be fun to play with” says Meluleni.
For many years, the Meluleni’s made cider with a hand crank press. Upgrading to an electric grinder has simplified the process, allowing Meluleni to toss apples in and grind them with far less elbow grease. Once the apples are ground, they go into the cylinder of a prohibition era cider press. A piston exerts pressure, and the juice is forced to separate from the solids, creating unpasteurized apple cider ready to be packaged into half gallon containers and sold.
In addition to apples and pears, Coyote Hill Farm grows a wide variety of fruits and vegetables including sweet potatoes, winter squash, carrots, tomatoes, raspberries, beets, turnips, and more.
“This was a horrible year for our brassicas. Broccoli, cabbage, turnips… it was all desiccated by flea beetles,” explains Meluleni.
Pbyllotreta Cruciferae, more commonly known as flea beetles, are black, shiny beetles measuring only about 2mm long. Adults can survive the winter in wooded areas surrounding farms and move into the fields come May to feed and reproduce. Spring crops are eaten by overwintered adults, while fall crops can be desiccated by the larvae and summer adults.
Protective netting can keep the beetles from getting to the crops. “We’ve considered using netting, but the year that we did it ended up burning the plants,” explains Meluleni.“You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”
Coyote Hill Farm uses organic methods including paying a premium for biochar compost to grow their wide variety of vegetables. Biochar is a charcoal-like material produced through a pyrolysis process, meaning decomposition brought on by high temperatures. A lack of oxygen prevents combustion, and instead produces a mixture of solids (biochar), liquid (bio-oil), and gas (syngas). Biochar has been found to increase the carbon to nitrogen ratio of compost, keep compost moist and aerated, improve humus content, and lead to better plant growth.
Coyote Hill Farm is entirely powered by solar energy, including a solar greenhouse built by Meluleni that allows them to have tomatoes ready in early June before most other farms. The greenhouse has 92 black fifty-five gallon drums on the north wall. As the sun comes up, it heats up the drums, which then radiate heat throughout the house for the day.
If you are interested in purchasing from Coyote Hill, you can find them at the Bernardston and Northfield farmers’ markets.
To find more local farms near you, please visit buylocalfood.org/farmguide
Emma Gwyther is the development associate at Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.