Wednesday, October 22, 2008

a homestead

I visited this lovely homestead in New Paltz for the Hudson Valley Growers potluck last night.

The living roof on their front porch was supposed to be planted with "hens & chicks", but weeds & grasses got established... it still looks great though. Ducks wander through the front yard, digging their bills into the mulch and grass to find bugs. They lay about the same amount of eggs as the chickens, and they taste similar. The only thing he feeds the ducks & chickens is a handful of cracked corn every day, then they forage for the rest of their diet, since they are truly "free-range". The garden supplies this couple with all the vegetables they need the entire year. They haven't tilled the soil in 26 years. A compost mulch of several inches is applied annually. Cover crops are selected to be "winter-kill" like these oats, so they don't need to be tilled. A simple drip irrigation system is used, with 1/4" tubing down the short rows. Row cover is on some of the beds for frost protection. The kale is huge!
There are also plenty of fruit trees & shrubs around the property (which is only about 2 or 3 acres)... 12 blueberry bushes in a "cage" of bird netting, apples, pears, currants, grapes, and these hardy kiwis (trellised):
And pawpaws! They are this amazing fruit, the largest fruit actually native to North America. The trees get pretty large with large tropical-looking leaves, but you can prune them down to managable size. The fruits are about the size of a small mango, and taste like a combination of banana, mango, pineapple, and avocado. Incredible. I will definitely be growing some of these on my farm.
Because compost is so central to this "farmden", there are about a dozen bins of composting material in different stages. He throws all the kitchen waste, garden waste, weeds, grass clippings from a nearby field, and some horse manure from the neighbors in there, and keeps a close eye on the moisture level. Thick black plastic coverings prevent unwanted evaporation or excess rainwater penetration. The slats used to construct the bins are really interesting.
They have interlocking edges that can easily be removed and reassembled.
A very inspiring place. He also grows his own popcorn, an heirloom variety of polenta corn (I got some seeds to try next year!), and makes delicious sourdough bread. We feasted on a huge salad of a thousand different colors, entirely from the backyard.

Monday, October 20, 2008

happy hour

This evening after work I ran down to my new greenhouse to check out what tools we'd need to disassemble it next weekend. Then I got back to the farm with enough daylight left to harvest the cilantro I had left in the field for the last month or so... coriander seeds now! I spread it out in the greenhouse to dry on the benches. I have no idea how I will separate seed from stalk efficiently, but we'll see what happens. As I covered up the fields for another hard frost, the sun sank down behind the trees. The clouds blushed pink across the brilliant sky, and the surrounding trees and barns became silhouettes.
I started thinking about what other people my age did in those hours after work and before dinner, young people in cities. Happy hour. How vastly different these joyful moments I find in the evenings are from sitting in some crowded bar filled with chattering and smells of cigarettes and cologne.
I wish for everyone in the world to experience the kind of happy hour that we get almost daily here on the farm-- the peace of hearing birds and critters settle in for a cold night, and having a hungry stomach from a long day of work in the bright, brisk, october air.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

autumn and rockburgers

The shares are heavy again, not with watermelons & giant zucchini, but with winter squash,

celery root, carrots and parsnips. But we also have lots of light stuff too: we gave members a choice of 6 different greens (1 lb total)-- arugula, tat soi, spinach, broccoli raab, red mustard, and golden frill mustard. I'd have to say that spinach would have been my pick! But that golden frill is super spicy and a nice way to clear up any sinus congestion! Or add a spunk to your salad.
And we also gave kale & chard, and the last of the green beans. Maybe the last red peppers?
Sweet potatoes were a delicious addition, but we didn't grow that many of them. The problem with the harvest was that many of the tubers were huge (over 2 pounds easy), but many more of them were tiny. Even "piddly"... I'm not sure I'd grow them again, or if Farmer Dave will. I think this crop does better in the south with a longer growing season.
Distribution was busy-- it was chilly all morning too.
And I couldn't help but put more pictures up of my scarlet runner beans. I think I'll grow a bunch of these next year, maybe for members, maybe for an extra income source in the winter?
Unfortunately when you cook them they lose their violet glow. But they sure are delicious. Not many people get to taste fresh shelled beans... usually they eat them after they've been dried, cooked, and canned.
I drove out to Massachusetts for the last apprentice meeting yesterday. The trees through the Berkshires were just glowing.
Hillsides covered in patchwork quilts.
The apprentice meeting went really well, and we talked specifics about what everyone was going to do next year. Many people are going to intern another year, or move up to managing a farm. A few are going to start their own farms. We brainstormed ideas & shared stories... it's an exciting time. We went over specific rhetoric for lease agreements with landowners, and sample budgets for equipment costs. Then a terrific potluck supper with 3 kinds of steamy creamy soups-- butternut squash, beet, and potato. Add a cup of chai tea and I'm in heaven, sitting near the fireplace in a warm farmhouse.

Okay, now the funny story of the week. (You can tell we don't get off the farm very much.)
While Nick & I were digging potatoes one day, talking politics and making up songs, he found a rock that looked exactly like a hamburger bun. Split in 2 down the middle, rounded and perfect. We goofed around with it and then I found the patty not 5 more feet down the row! We had unearthed the Rockburger. We put lettuce and onions on it for showing off at distribution.
Wanna take a bite?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tomatoes & eggplants, out of the ground

I just can't get enough of these crisp fall mornings. Seeing the moon set in the west as the sun rises in the east, pink clouds announcing the glorious dawn. And to be in the field at that hour, hunched down pulling carrots, or cutting lettuce, is something almost religious.
For once yesterday, we got a chance to not focus on harvesting though for an entire day! We walked the farm and made a big "to-do" list for wrapping up the rest of the season. It included putting away all the irrigation (we won't need it anymore), tilling in the rows as we're done with them & planting cover crops, and general clean-up of the whole farm.

We spent most of the day yanking out tomato trellises. We had to pull the poles out, cut and pull the twine, and then in this field, actually yank the plants themselves out. We pulled the long black drip-tape irrigation lines out and set them aside. We piled the crispy plants up & scooped them with the bucket on the front-loader. It was a sight to see, a ball of tomato vines almost the size of the tractor itself, hoisted up (directly in front of my view), perilously balancing until we dumped it into a pile by the compost area.
The leftover rotten tomatoes squished underfoot. The morning sun blazed through yellow and orange leaves.
And this is the cleaned-up field, now ready to be cover-cropped. The green behind the bare field is already in lush rye cover.

Then we turned our attention to the eggplants. These poor looking things have no leaves left, due to frosty weather, but plenty of rotten ornaments hanging from their sticks. Baba ganouj anyone?
I took the chisel plow through the rows with the big John Deere, to loosen up their grip on the earth. They are basically like small trees, with quite developed root systems! Then we went through and yanked them all up by hand & made piles again. We'll have to ferry these to the compost as well.
The amazing warm weather has probably ended for now, and there is a chance of frost tonight. We covered everything. It's kind of a hassle, but worth it to protect our crops.
Sometimes when the frost-cloth gets wet it is quite heavy & takes a lot of fanagling to pull it over the plants without damaging them. We secure it in place with sandbags.
All wrapped up for the night!
And I couldn't resist taking an autumn stroll around the grounds (during a particularly beautiful afternoon)...

These orange leaves are from a Sassafras tree. I knew I already like this tree a lot, because you can eat the leaves (they taste kind of licorice-y), and make root beer from the roots, but now the show they're putting on in the fall makes them one of my absolute favorites!
Looking around this morning while in a far field, I realized a grey hue to the forest surrounding me... the leaves are about halfway gone. It happened so fast! It is amazing to watch them cascade down in the wind, especially when the sun is shining on them. But still, I feel like saying: hold on a little longer, why don't you? Do we really need to rush the coming winter? I prepare myself internally for months of looking at bare tree skeletons.
Oh, another thing.... roosters! We have plenty of them.
They make their presence known, many times a day. Lately they've been having crowing contests. One after the other, or sometimes in unison. Each has it's particular cock-a-doodle. Nick & I discuss the finer art of rooster crowing, judging each one for it's ability, or sometimes just laughing. One in particular sounds like it smokes several packs a day. Almost painful to listen to.
They travel in packs, following hens around & causing general trouble.
Oh, roosters. The minstrels of the farm. We don't watch that much TV on the farm, consequently, we talk henhouse drama.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"farmer in chief"

A great article from my favorite food-politics author in the New York Times:

Sunday, October 12, 2008

fall mornings

I usually get up before the sun rises these days, and again and again I am amazed at how my universe changes from black night to pale dawn to the bright colors of fall. October is just incredible.
I was watching the presidential debates last week while shelling these beans. Purple scarlet runner beans, red & white speckled lima beans. I cooked them up... unfortunately they turn brown, but they were absolutely delicious! There is nothing that warms & fills you better than fresh beans.
On that note, here's a recent article I felt was appropriate:

106-year-old voter chooses Obama
By David Willey BBC News, Rome
Sister Cecilia Gaudette
A 106-year-old American nun living in a convent in Rome could well be the oldest person to vote in the 2008 US Presidential election.
Sister Cecilia Gaudette, who last voted for President Eisenhower in 1952, has registered to vote and says she will vote for Democrat Barack Obama.
Although hard of hearing, she keeps herself informed by reading newspapers and watching TV at the convent.
"I'm encouraged by Senator Obama," she says.
"I've never met him, but he seems to be a good man with a good private life. That's the first thing. Then he must be able to govern," she adds.
Sitting in her modest office in the convent where she has lived for the past 50 years, the diminutive nun appears uninterested in the row inside the American Catholic church over Senator Obama's support for pro-choice policies on abortion.
Asked about her hopes for the US under an Obama presidency, she says: "Peace abroad. I don't worry about the Iraq war because I can't do anything about it. Lord knows how it will end."
"It is very complicated," she said. "Those Eastern people are not like we are."
But despite taking part in the 4 November election, Sister Cecilia does not intend to return to the US.
"I have no plans for the future. I am too old to go back to the US. Life has changed too much."
But she still watches "very important events" on TV. The election comes under this category.

Monday, October 6, 2008

wrapping up summer

Someone must have told the geese that there was a hard freeze coming tonight. All day, their echoing song carried them southward in glorious Vs. I thought about their destination. I wondered why so many humans decide to stick out the winter up here, as I remembered what swaying palm trees look like and the warm blue-green water of the gulf of mexico. It was cold all day, and a passing storm cloud rained on us for several hours. Cold and wet. Picking beans on our knees.

Glancing up from the fields, though, to gaze at the geese in the dramatic sky, cradled by orange trees shedding their leaves gently into the drifting breezes, I was reminded why October is my favorite month. There's nothing else like it, really.

We harvested lettuce, chard, the last of the green beans, and the last of the (tiny) eggplants.
We spent the afternoon covering all of our remaining crops with frost-cloth.
Dust from months of storage in the barn shook off into my face. We rolled out the giant balls of cloth down the paths, then pulled & stretched them across the rows.
I felt like we were putting the beds to bed. Tucking them in, the sides lined with sandbags against windy gusts. The white cloth reflects the afternoon sun into my face. Now the farm is more ocean-like. Large seas of green rye... (this will not be harmed by the frost). And large seas of white now too. Like in the spring, when we got started here.

After work I picked the rest of the dry beans from my trellis. Most of them were still green, not completely dry. But I will cook these up as "shelling beans"... they will boil just like dry beans, and be even more tender. Black beans, scarlet runner beans, lima beans. Oh, and the last harvest of purple long beans. I picked frantically, the sun setting quickly & the cold creeping in. The clouds had cleared and the crescent moon rose. This means even colder-- it could get down to the 20s.
I wondered what it would be like to watch the frost settle on the leaves. I know in the morning what it looks like. And then when the sun comes out a few hours later, the wilty brown-black that the plants turn. It is a sad thing.

As twilight crept into night, I ran down to the tomato rows, composting themselves in the field, rotten red ornaments hanging on crispy brown vines. There were a few green tomatoes left, I picked a bucket of them, maybe I will preserve them or fry them! Tomatillos, too. I will make a salsa & freeze it probably. I just couldn't bear to see all this summer disappear overnight. So one last bold attempt to squirrell away food for the winter.
I turned the heat on in my house finally.

In other news...
I bought the greenhouse! I now own a 28' by 48' growing castle with a fuel-oil heater. It even came with the tables. Now the task of dissassembling it, trucking it back to Rochester, and reassembling it on some as-yet-undecided piece of property.

I spent last weekend looking at other land options. Nothing definite yet, but good options.

I'll keep you posted.