Saturday, May 31, 2008

finally some rain

It was the first Saturday CSA distribution & things went smoothly.  I met so many of our members, but I'm not sure I'll remember all the names!  Everyone went home with loads of spinach, lettuce, arugula, radishes, & turnips.  I can't wait to get to know everyone throughout the summer--- it is so satisfying to smile & shake hands with the people who are directly going to ingest the fruits of your labor.  

It was also a bit strange to see the place from the consumer perspective.  We put our bins of veggies out, re-stocking them throughout the morning, and it looks a little like a grocery store.  Here there are fresh, succulent leaves of spinach, and shiny red bunches of radishes.  I've actually never seen anything so fresh in any supermarket.  But watching a hundred people place these veggies into plastic bags, and carry them to their cars in canvas or paper bags, was something else.  

I've seen those groceries at their seed stage, coming out of white paper packets from Johnny's.  I've pulled a rusty hoe next to rows of tiny seedlings, my gloved fingers have massaged the dry earth around the little spinach plants, my sore back has lifted and placed frost-cloth over them.  And then my freshly sharpened knife and I have plucked these leaves from an inch above the ground, to dunk, dry, lift, and carry them to the table.  I am a "producer" of food-- but food produces itself, I just help it along.  It's quite a miracle, actually.  And I love to be part of it all.  Of course all the folks eating the spinach are part of it as well.  I wouldn't have a job if it weren't for their support (the "CS" in "CSA")... and their gratitude & feedback is what keeps me going when my back starts hurting & I think about maybe a nice air-conditioned office somewhere...   but food!  We all love food.

This is what rye looks like when it "goes to seed"... everything's been growing faster than we can mow it down.  But it's quite beautiful, all this lush spring green.
This is what vetch looks like in flower.  

And I planted the rest of the 3 Sisters Garden!   Hopi Blue Corn, from greenhouse starts, and also some direct-seed corn.  In the corners I planted Mammoth Sunflowers.  Around the bottom edge I will plant broom corn in a few days when it's ready in the greenhouse.  I also planted some Amaranth, which makes these beautiful tall magenta flowers, as well as an edible grain.  There will also be some other varieties of tall sunflowers.  All of these plants will form the first "sister"... the one that stands "tall and proud" and will form a living trellis structure for the beans to grow on!  Everything was planted with 3' spacing in between.
It was hot and humid while I was planting (barefoot) and I kept hearing rumbles that sounded like planes in the distance.  It was bright & sunny so I didn't even think it was thunder until it kept happening enough for me to realize a storm was approaching!
Maybe I wouldn't need to irrigate the plot after all!  I begged the sky to let loose it's burden.  And it answered with wind & lightning.   I ran around the farm, putting the sheep and chickens in, closing gates & greenhouse, and even managed to rapidly plant a row of my own project-plants next to the peppers & flower garden:  okra, colored cotton, dragons-tongue beans, epazote, & cayenne peppers.  I wanted to take advantage of the natural irrigation that was about to happen.  I hate moving pipes.  Everything closed up, I laid down on the deck behind the barn & watched the clouds swirl until they started dropping.
We did get some rain, almost 1/2"... but it blew over in an hour or so, and the sun came out again.  I want steady rain!  I want the ground to be saturated deep down, so all those corn roots can follow the drops down & secure themselves in the ground.  I want a week of rainy days.  Unfortunately my desires have no influence on the weather.  I take what it gives, and work around what it doesn't.  Being a farmer is incredibly humbling.

Friday, May 30, 2008

harvesting before the heat

We started harvesting today at 5:30 am.  Picked spinach first, our fingers numb with the cold wet dew.  Submerging it in the wash bin was the coldest part, but the sun rose over the trees and started warming things up quickly.

We cut arugula then, and heads of lettuce.  We pulled radishes & turnips, bunched them with twist-ties, and washed them off with the hose-sprayer.   We cut tat soi as well, as it was starting to flower with all the heat & would soon be unharvestable.  But this morning it was delicious! 

We were lucky to have 3 volunteers come out to help us harvest.  The sun was scorching down on us by 10:30am, and the turnip greens were starting to wilt.  Hopefully tomorrow we'll get some rain, as everything could use a big drink, even with all the irrigating we've been doing. 

 The forecast called for "likely light rain showers, scattered thunderstorms"... for the next few days.  Seems like a pattern might be happening here, more "storms" and less real precipitation actually falling on the ground.  Global warming scares me.  I think it means as farmers we need to focus more on water-saving techniques, crops that are drought-resistant and tough, and diversifying our crops so that if some varieties are overcome with pests or disease due to unstable weather patterns, we will still have some crops that succeed.  

This evening Nick & I started planting our "Three Sisters"garden!  He chisel-plowed to loosen up the soil, then rototilled one more time to break up the big chunks of sod.  It looked pretty plantable, and besides lots of rocks, the tilth is beautiful!  We layed out the path the will go through it, which we plan to line with arches of branches & grow beans & gourds up it.  And we started planting the Hopi Blue Corn, the first "sister".  We mixed in a few handfuls of homemade compost underneath each corn "mound".  The mounds are not really hills, but we plant to hill up the soil as the corn grows a little bit.  Each mound has 2-3 corn plants in it.  We really hope the groundhogs & rabbits don't happen to see these succulent little seedlings we've set out!

Thursday, May 29, 2008


Today was another hot day... we had the irrigation running all day, switching valves for different fields every few hours.

We had to get some of the large plants out of the greenhouse & into the ground, so we got started transplanting early in the morning.  First I rototilled the rows again to create a nice tilth to plant into & destroy any germinating weeds.  Then Dave ran over the beds with the bed-marking tractor, so we had 3 distinct lines to plant onto, and 1' intervals to decide where to put the plants.  We planted lettuce, parsley, fennel, and leeks all by hand.  Then we planted tomatoes by hand too!  We set up some more drip irrigation for the tomato rows.  I got to put in the experimental heirloom varieties I had brought with me from California... we'll see how they do!

This morning when I let the chickens out, I noticed the 4-wk-old chicks had been roosting separately from mama-- they couldn't fit under her anymore.  Then this afternoon, I saw the mama hen hanging out with the other two non-mother hens near the compost pile.  I couldn't see the chicks anywhere, and feared they might have all been picked off by hawks!  But I heard peeping coming from the bushes.  

Then this evening when locking the chickens up for the night, I spied the mama hen roosting next to the other hens!  And all her small-feathered babies running around the henhouse peeping! I looked at mama, she looked at me, and we understood: it was about time.  I'm sure they'll be fine for the night... all their chick feathers are almost molted off & they have nice coats of adult chicken-feathers.

The 2-day olds are a different story-- they are still all huddled safe & warm underneath mama"2" for the night.  There are 8 of them!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

drip drip drop

Well, I forgot to talk about yesterday's weather-- it got up to about 85 degrees and was so sticky-humid I wanted to hose myself down by 8am!  I looked at the poor little plants & could feel a collective wilting instinct.  Then in the afternoon, dark clouds blew in, and threatened rain (50% said the weather report)... we crossed our fingers.  It did dump on us when we were driving through Yonkers, but hardly no rain fell on the farm.  There were strong winds all night, and the soil just dried up.  Thirsty plant roots don't make a sound, but I swear they were trying to shout something at us.

So we turned on irrigation, and watered as fast as we could pump it-- several hours of sprinklers on 7 rows, then we move the big clumsy PVC pipes over to the next section of field.  Besides overhead watering, Farmer Dave uses drip irrigation sometimes.  It puts the water right next to the plants roots, decreasing evaporation & saving water.  But it takes time to set it up, and then we'll have to worry about moving it when we need to cultivate.  
We decided to put drip irrigation in most of the upper fields.  We hook up a valve & filter to the main line, & piece together a header of 1 1/2" black plastic tubing (we're re-using scraps Dave has saved from previous years).  This requires hose clamps & a gas torch to melt the plastic a little.  Then we pulled 1/2" drip tape down each row of plants needing water, hook those into the header line, plug them up at the ends, plug up any holes from previous uses, and turn on the water.  Unless you're using brand new tubing, there will always be little geysers spritzing out at various points through the field, from mouse-chewed holes, etc.  And there will be the gushers.  Thankfully it was another hot, cloudless day, and we got soaked trying to put couplers in all the leaks.


But by the end of the day, I could tell the plants were breathing easier & thanking us. 

We tucked the eggplant back into it's Reemay blanket, but left the others uncovered.  Eggplant can easily get flea beetle damage (lots of little holes in the leaves) if not protected with this cloth.

Let's check out the greenhouse these days:
Watermelons & cantelopes!
Lettuces ready to go in the ground.
Chard looking spectacular as ever.
Fennel almost ready...
Scallions still growing.
And our three-sisters corn has sprouted!  Hopefully soon we'll get the ground all ready in our experimental garden plot to plant these in little "hills"...

And my grass-lovin' buddies are enjoying the shade, contentedly chewing their cud.
The chicks are now 4 weeks old, and looking a little adolescent.  They stray farther from mama hen, foraging their own from the compost heap & lawn.  But when mama starts clucking, they all run & follow her. 
And we have a new mama in the henhouse!  
In the past 24 hours, at least 6 have successfully broken out of their eggshells & even ventured a foot or two away & started eating chick-feed.  Mama was pretty hungry too.  I watched them for about an hour tonight, the little ones rolling over themselves and meekly looking around with wide open eyes.  There are 3 black ones, 2 yellow, and a striped brown one.

All is well on the farm tonight, and I enjoy a large dinner of roasted vegetables & salad, as I consider the work needing to be done tomorrow.

first distribution!

Today we harvested everything else we needed for our first distribution of veggies to CSA members.  We base the contents of the shares mainly on what is ready in the fields at the time... so this time it was:  1 head of lettuce, 1/2lb spinach, 3/4lb arugula, 3/4lb salad mix, 1 bunch radishes or turnips, 1/4lb tat soi or red mustard.  I can hear the crunching of a hundred mouthfuls of salad!  There's a lot more greens in the field ready to be harvested, so the next few weeks should be plentiful in that arena--- including beautiful chard, kale, and chinese cabbage.
After harvesting all morning, washing off the heads of lettuce & bunches of radishes & turnips, weighing each box & putting them in the cooler during lunch, then loading them up into the van, Nick & I drove down to the Bronx to drop off our bounty.  It was great to meet some of the people receiving our produce, and to see the smiles of folks who've waited a long time for this farm freshness.  It felt like a great start to an abundant summer!

Upon returning, we arrived just in time to meet the last members who were picking up their shares at the farm.  We then put the leftovers back in the cooler, the signs & tables away, swept up & celebrated!  

The sheep are pretty happy with their salad too.

Monday, May 26, 2008

photos from last week...

Last week we visited Markristo Farm-- here some pictures from it! They grow a lot of lettuce on black plastic for weed control. They have this huge greens washer where the lettuce rolls through, and falls into these bins, where they are then dried in a spinning drier, and then bagged & boxed, and sent off to restaurants.
There was some spinach there that had overwintered without any frost-cloth at all on it. They were harvesting it for super-early greens, at a premium price because not much else is growing in early spring.   The farmer said it was probably global warming that allowed the spinach to survive the winter-- ah, the permanent season extension.

Here we are back at our farm, pulling off the Reemay from some rows to harvest and weed.

We had quite a bit of help weeding!  It has been wonderful weather.
And the first harvest-- arugula & radishes!
Dew on broccoli leaves in the morning... and the first few fernlike leaves of carrots!


It was a beautiful Memorial Day morning.  I pulled my rain-pants (waterproof overalls) on so that I could gather up the still-wet-with-dew Reemay cloth from the rows & place it in the path so we could harvest!  Succulent spinach & lettuce.  These fields are just exploding with greens!

The "Bright Lights" chard glows in the morning sun.
We cut the spinach off to the ground, hoping that the next few weeks will not bring really hot weather so we can get another harvest out of these plants.  Spinach likes it cool.
Lettuce is harvested two ways.  Direct-seeded "salad mix" lettuce we cut to about 2" from the ground, and this will re-grow.  This is sometimes called the "cut-and-come-again" method.  In other rows we have transplanted seedlings we started in the greenhouse.  These make nice heads, as we've spaced them regularly.  We cut every other head of lettuce, allowing the remaining ones to fill in & get really big!  The ones we've cut for tomorrow's distribution are still pretty large.  We dunk them in a water basin, shake them off, and pack them into boxes.
I can't wait until all our CSA members take that first bite of salad they've brought home from our fields!