Monday, June 30, 2008

perfect soil moisture for...

weeding!    I woke up last night to thunder and lightning, it rained 3/10 of an inch.  Just enough to not have to irrigate anything.... what a relief.

It is really quite enjoyable to cultivate out those pesky weeds around our luscious growing veggies when the soil moisture is perfect.  And as it was a sunny, windy day, the soil was drying out & the little weeds were dying quickly, never again to root.  Ha ha ha!  Grow little leeks, grow cilantro, grow tiny carrots!

Besides all the practical reasons, perfect soil moisture just feels good in your hands.  Like crumbly chewy brownie texture, without the sugary stickiness.  A whole field of it.   Something akin to velvet, but better. 

We also harvested some of the day... kohlrabi & scallions & carrots in the morning.  Washing them in a bin of cold water out in the field as the day heats up and the humidity hangs in the air.  I love my job.  The colors, the smells, the sounds of the crows and the crickets.  

And the fireflies that dance every night in the tall grass.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


I picked 12 1/2 pounds of strawberries yesterday, at Thompson Finch farm.  I took the green tops off them, sliced them in half, and put them all in the freezer.  I'm going to have smoothies for life!  And pies & muffins & ice cream toppings...

I also harvested mulberries from a friend's tree.  We held a blanket out under the branches, than someone else shook the tree as they fell.  They're delicious.

I had way too many to eat, so I put some in the dehydrator, with some cherries I got at the farmer's market.  I'm having urges to "put away" food for the winter-- & to see that all this abundance doesn't go to waste.   I don't think a winter of living off frozen spinach & strawberries sounds half bad.  Throw in a couple chickens & a root cellar, and I'm on my way towards self-sufficient homesteading all year round.  

Also, all this beautiful cabbage was just calling out "sauerkraut, sauerkraut!"  so of course I had to obey.   

Let me tell you a little bit about this amazing food & why I love to make & eat lots of it.  Basically as cabbage ferments, the friendly bacteria "lactobacilli" is created, which aids in digestion, increases vitamin levels, and produces beneficial enzymes which promote the growth of healthy flora in the digestive tract.  Studies have been done that show certain compounds created also prevent the growth of cancer.  It has tons of vitamin C, and keeps for a long time-- that's why sauerkraut was taken on sea voyages to prevent scurvy!  Fermented foods have a place in many traditional diets, including German, Japanese, Korean, & Chinese.  
Unfortunately most of what you can buy in the store today is "dead" because it has been pasteurized.  So you get the flavor of sauerkraut, and a lot of salt, without the benefits.  So you have to make it yourself, or support a small local "fermentor".  
When I had to take antibiotics for Lyme disease, the doctor told me I might want to also take "probiotics"... to restore my intestinal flora after the medication kills everything, and to prevent yeast infections & the like.   I think that with everyone on antibiotics these days so much (especially around here for Lyme disease), people should stock up on regular "sauerkraut medicine" to put some friendly bacteria back in our guts.  Yogurt is the most commonly thought of "probiotic" food, but I think sauerkraut's just as good, if not better.  Maybe I'll be making yogurt medicine when I have a cow...

The only ingredients in traditional sauerkraut are cabbage and salt, but you can also add lots of other ingredients, like herbs, spices, etc.  Some people use whey (a bi-product of making cheese) to do a "lactofermentation" but it's not really needed.

I decided to take advantage of the diversity of vegetables & herbs on the farm right now to experiment with different flavors & styles of sauerkraut.

The first step is to chop up the cabbage (and other ingredients).  Sharpened knives make this really enjoyable, and good music, and large bowls.

Then you mix it up with salt (about 1 1/2 tablespoons per head of cabbage), and pack it into jars (or a big crock-- I'm always on the lookout for a nice big ceramic sauerkraut crock in antique stores).  I have this handy little wooden "pounder" that helps me to mush it into the jars, but you can also use your hands, or anything else that might work.  The salt starts drawing out water from the vegetables, and you basically want to press it down until the liquid level rises higher than the veggies.
Then, I put a round stone that fits almost perfectly into each jar, to press down the cabbage and keep it submerged under the brine-water.  Any "floaties" I scoop out from the top--- they will create mold if left there.

The caps I put on just lightly, I don't screw them on.  Basically you want to allow the gases created to escape, without letting in foreign bacterias & molds that will make the batch go "off".
These jars will start to bubble in the next few days, and I will be tasting them for "readiness" after a week probably, or less!

The combinations/flavors I'm experimenting with are:

Cabbage, turnip, carrot, parsley
Cabbage, turnip, carrot, parsley, kohlrabi, scallions
Cabbage, swiss chard
Cabbage, dill
Cabbage, mint, calendula petals
Cabbage, basil
Cabbage, cilantro, scallions
Cabbage, parsley, garlic scapes
Cabbage, purslane
Just purslane (I've heard you can pickle it)

I'll let you know how this experiment turns out!  Ask me if you'd like a taste!

a real summer harvest share

Today I felt like the real bounty had begun.  Enough with the greens, let's get on to heavier vegetables!  Things like cabbage, carrots, & zucchini that require (and build) muscle in the lifting of the boxes.  The beets were just glowing, as were the stems of rainbow chard & the fresh young carrots.  
And the round pale-green cabbages & kohlrabis...  crunchy & crisp, full of water & cancer-fighting goodness, these things will make you live forever.
I'm really enjoying making food these days... strolling around the farm to see what I'd like to eat, then combining several things with some fresh herbs maybe & chopping, steaming, roasting, marinading, & devouring!

Friday, June 27, 2008

tomato support team

Most of the day we harvested-- exciting crops like rainbow chard & lettuce from a new field-- "Y".  It always feels pretty good to cut into that first row, everything looking all lush & bounteous.  The field we have been harvesting from, W1, is almost all done now!  

In the afternoon we put up the tomato trellises!  The sprawling plants needed the support badly.  We put 5' pipes in with the post-pounder every 2 plants (3'). 
Then we strapped boxes of plastic twine onto our belts & put the string through two holes in either ends of a piece of dowel.  This provided us with enough leverage-- "arm extension"-- to lift gently underneath the tomato plants and wrap around the posts at a height of about a foot off the ground.
As the tomato plants grow, we will continue to wrap the twine down both sides of the rows, tucking in the sprawling branches to a contained vertical space.  In between we will mulch to keep the weeds down.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A good day to plow

Well, we finally had a break in the "scattered thunderstorms" forecast, and although the sky was cloudy & misting a bit all day, there was no real precipitation today.  A good thing, because the purslane we weeded yesterday was already starting to grow back--- we raked it out away from the plants more & hopefully it dried enough to be mostly dead before we get the next storm (probably tomorrow) to rain in all those weeds again.

And we realized we needed more ground to plant into soon (and looking at our crop plan), so I hopped on the New Holland tractor & hooked up the plow.  It was a bit rusty from not being used for a few weeks!  I hoped to make it nice and shiny by the end of the day.
My first assignment-- fields "C" and "D"...  the rye/vetch had been closely mowed by Nick last week.  Now I would turn over the sod so it can decompose into the soil and provide nutrients for our fall crops.
Lessons in plowing:  Drive straight.  Make sure the sod is turning over evenly.  Avoid hitting the exposed bedrock that pops up unexpectedly in some areas.  Avoid hitting the irrigation boxes at the edge of the field.  Adjust the positions of the arms to level the two blades to the surface you're plowing.
A view looking back at the barns, one third done.
The rest of the crew (several volunteers came today) is hoeing the melon patch.  I regret that they have to listen to the drone of my diesel engine instead of a pleasant morning of birdsong.  
Next assignment:  field "Z", next to the potatoes.  Check out those potatoes!  They're starting to flower, which means they're starting to make tubers underground too.  
All plowed.
Here is an interesting row:  buckwheat (a summer cover crop) sown down the middle of the melon field.  A "harvest lane"  to provide vehicular access for bringing out the bounty of those enormous fruits!  We decided to sow buckwheat to keep down the weeds, and its flowers will attract beneficial insects & pollinators.  It comes up really fast, and grows so fast the weeds don't really have a chance, they get outcompeted.
Look at these vining watermelons!  Pretty soon it will be harder to weed in there...  I see some flowers!  I can't wait for those juicy red slices.
And a sunset over the freshly plowed field, and some rows of beans.  The humidity is 89%.  Nick pointed out how the field seemed to be steaming.  It was a long day, but I took some time to prance around with the fairies in the flower garden.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


This morning we rototilled, marked, and planted 6 beds in fields E and F.  These included transplanted lettuce, scallions, and parsley, and direct-seeded carrots, beans, herbs, summer squash, and cucumbers!  It felt pretty good to place that first cucumber seed into the soil of the new field "F" that I had plowed up from sod just over a month ago.  

After hooking up drip irrigation to the transplanted rows & covering up the cucumbers & squash with Reemay, we ventured over to field A which has been covered up since it was planted about 2 weeks ago.  There has been a lot of rain and sun in those two weeks.  So we were prepared for what we saw... a WEEDSPLOSION!
Most of the weeds are Purslane, a succulent kind of plant that grows really well here apparently.  I personally like to eat it-- it has lots of vitamin C, A, and even Omega-3 fatty acids!  I like it better than lettuce, it's crunchy, tangy & delicious mixed with other veggies (like my salad today of boiled beets, raw kohlrabi, purslane, mint, orange juice, & apple cider vinegar)  And it grows without you having to plant it.  

But I also enjoy winter squash.  So in order to have winter squash we must "away" with the purslane.  And there are a million purslanes here to "away" with.
Farmer Dave said that if we had put off cultivating this field for just a few more days, it would have been an absolute nightmare.  Thankfully the weather cooperated & we got our nice sunny day to weed.  Not even threatening storm clouds today!
We hooked up the "sweeps" underneath the Cub tractor (sweeps are basically shovel-type blades that scrape through the soil unearthing all those little weeds), and polished them up with a grinder & steel wool, and then waxed them up.  
This would prevent soil from sticking to the sweeps and clogging up the beds or covering the plants.  Sharp blades make for easier work I am learning over and over.And here's the sweeps in action, taking out 90 percent of those pesky purslanes:
Dave makes two passes on each bed, leaving only a thin row of weeds directly around the squash plants.  
Then there is nothing to do but get on our hands & knees again & scrape those weeds out with our fingers.  This field seems huge, and the sun is beating down on us.  Like the day Nick & I planted these squash.  I try to picture that cool autumn morning when I will be lifting heavy orange pumpkins from this field... winter squash, born out of such a summer heat.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

harvesting on our own

Farmer Dave has been pretty ill the last few days with a sinus infection, so Nick & I had to do all the harvesting for today's share by ourselves.  We were pretty proud of ourselves for getting everything together when the boss called in sick yesterday-- a good test for when we will need to run our own farms in the future.  I think we had a pretty yummy share this week, including basil, zucchini, kohlrabi, broccoli, bok choi, lettuce, scallions, garlic scapes, turnips, & pick-your-own peas.
We also opened up the flower garden for the first time, for pick-your-own bouquets!  Today we had enough for 6 stems each, but the bunches will become much larger later in the summer as more blooms arrive.  I put this small vase of flowers in my bathroom window & I remembered how much I enjoy fresh flowers inside the house.  Even though I live in a beautiful place, and I can walk about 25 steps outside and be surrounded by flowers, having them inside just feels so luxurious.  Daily reminders to enjoy life's colors & shapes just for the sake of joy.
Speaking of enjoying colors & shapes, here's some beautiful chinese cabbage.  I'd like to make a woodcut of this maybe.  
And the scallions lying so gracefully on this table.
The weather has been crazy lately.  Sun, rain, sun, rain, hail?, thunder, lightning, sun.  Humidity, cool mornings.  Pretty nice to work in.  Farmer Dave says that's enough rain for a while, it can stop now.  The crops are happy.  The weeds are happy too.  A few days of drying out would be perfect to get all our cultivating done, and some plowing and rototilling and planting.  I ran out to the fields this evening when I saw golden drops of rain coming down in the evening sunlight, and sure enough there was a big rainbow arching over the trees.  The first one of the season.

Monday, June 23, 2008

a visit to Hearty Roots Farm & Awesome Farm

This evening I took an inspiring tour of Hearty Roots farm ( with other local farm apprentices, the theme of the tour being "Becoming a Farmer."  
We got the low-down from Benjamin about how the operation is run, and the 5-year history of the farm, from the first year cultivating less than an acre for 30 CSA members with a borrowed tractor and one full-time farmer-- up to today's 10 acres of crops supporting 330 shares and 5 full-time farmers, two part-time farmers, and three tractors.
The amazing thing was to see how it was started and is still run by young people who had very limited experience farming before-- city kids mostly.   It seems like a successful operation, and their fields looked really great.  (Plus they have a really great sandy soil without any rocks!!!)

A sister farm renting "marginal land" adjacent to the farm ( is host to Icelandic sheep, a guard donkey (protection against coyotes), and several flocks of chickens.
They are working towards a completely grass-based meat operation.  Sheep only need to eat grass, with hay (dried grass) in the winter.  But chickens require grain, which is becoming more and more expensive, especially organic grain.  They are experimenting with feeding some chickens no grain-- only vegetable scraps & compost, like the Vermont Compost Company does apparently ( very interesting idea.  I know from watching our hens here at the farm, chickens do love compost-- they spend most of their days scratching & pecking through it.  
The breed of sheep they chose is Icelandic-- a very sturdy breed that provides excellent wool, meat, and milk if they want to have a dairy component to the business in the future.  The fact that they're adapted to very cold climates means they don't need a barn for the winter-- just a portable hoophouse that provides a windblock and dry cover.  They move the sheep every day or two through pastures with solar-powered electronet fencing, and try to not graze them on the same piece of land within a 2-3 month cycle, to avoid parasites.

Oh, and they had some nice-looking broccoli at Hearty Roots-- the variety is called "Blue Wind"... these heads are side-shoots, a bonus secondary growth after the first big head of broccoli was already cut!  Mmmm.

an eventful saturday distribution

Saturday we gave out one of the most bounteous shares yet-- loaded with tons of spring greens, and a few new summer crops like zucchini & basil!  And yummy kohlrabi which can be eaten raw, sliced up, maybe with a little salt & chili powder...
We had a table of extra plants to give away, the leftover ones that wouldn't fit in our fields!  Many CSA members walked away with a few tomato, eggplant, or melon plants, ready to go in their home gardens.  We also had eggs for sale from the farmer down the road-- he sold everything he brought! 
And we had the final entries for our t-shirt contest, celebrating the 10th year anniversary of being a CSA farm.  Every member voted on their favorite design-- it was a tough decision to make, with so many great entries.
Lots of folks went out to the pea field & picked their own Sugar Snap Peas.  It was great to see everyone out there.
Nick cleaned out the barn-- he took everything out, swept back into those dusty corners, and put it back organized so that now we have twice the room we did before!  Now we can park the tractors, the mowers, the carts, and tools & implements easily without having to move everything around.
And these are the first set of "baby chicks"... looking nearly grown up.  They have quite the hairdos lately, and check out the different colors on their feet.  The 2nd set of chicks is growing up fast too.  Not only plants enjoy this weather apparently.

Friday, June 20, 2008

kohlrabi and friends

We harvested all morning, and had lots of help from volunteers.  Besides being super helpful in the fields, they bring us home-baked goodies which we eat during our mid-morning break.  One of the perks of being a farmer I guess!  Thanks Nancy & Catherine!  (And Judy & Daniel too!)

Here's us harvesting kohlrabi:
Kohlrabi is basically a broccoli or collard plant, but instead of growing a big flower or leaves, it makes a big stem.  A big round weird alien-spaceship stem.  To harvest, first you tug it up from the ground.  Then you take these big tree pruners and lop off the roots (full of dirt).  Then you cut off the leaves with a sharp knife.
Here's a box of them ready to get washed:
We also harvested scallions for the first time.  We tug them from the ground gently, then we wash them, separate them, pull off a leaf or two for aesthetics, and bunch again.  They take a lot of time all in all, but they sure look yummy!
Nancy & Judy pulled up the rest of the turnips from our first turnip bed.  We removed the leaves on them because they weren't that appealing, and we're already giving so many other greens this week!
Other greens include:  heads of lettuce, heads of bok choi, & heads of chinese cabbage!  Oh, and beautiful broccoli.  And summer squash.  And basil.  It's going to be a huge share.  Here's everybody helping to wash kohlrabi & turnips:
Here's what the field looks like after a harvest (this was chinese cabbage):
I spent the afternoon on the big John Deere, tilling in the crop residue in field W1.  Under the rotating blades went discarded leaves & stems of broccoli, spinach that had become too tough with the heat, and lettuce stubs.  All back into the soil to decay & provide organic matter & nutrients for the next crop.  Soon we will seed a summer cover crop into this ground.

We also hilled potatoes this afternoon.  It's hard because they're over two feet tall, and you have to make sure you're hilling up the dirt evenly on both sides, but not knocking over any plants.  The potatoes grow in the mounds you make, off the buried stems of the plant.