Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hard rain and hope

Last Friday, on Earth Day, we finally got some plants in the ground! The season has officially begun. I'm sure they are happily drinking up all this rain right now, glad to put their roots down into real dirt and not be confined to their plastic greenhouse tray cells. Five beds of broccoli, three beds of cauliflower, and three beds of cabbage. All planted by hand, tenderly but efficiently. We put frost cloth over everything, to keep the flea beetles and cabbage moths off the plants, but also to give them some extra warmth on the colder nights. In a few weeks we'll take it off and cultivate the weeds out.

It was quite a haul to get all those plants in. Six of us working all day. As evening approached, my farmhands left, but I was still going. I knew the rain was coming again that night, and the forecast for the next week was more and more precipitation. So I fought off exhaustion and planted six beds of sugar snap peas. I tilled, marked beds, and pushed the seeder down the rows until it was too dark for me to see the lines anymore. The raindrops were already starting to fall. It was my first twelve hour day and I was beat!

But I'm glad we pushed a bit. We are still very behind, the greenhouse is overflowing with plants ready to go in the field, and we have missed several successions of spinach, greens, beets, and carrots. We need to plow half the farm. All this will happen as soon as we get a window of dry sunny weather! I am trying to conserve my energy, get spare projects done and rest up for the next big planting day. I am done being depressed about the rain. We will just have a late season, plant extra root storage crops to keep distribution going into November. We adapt, we order more potting soil to tide the plants over in the greenhouse.
We were in the greenhouse all day today potting up peppers. Thunder, lightning, torrential rain, hot humidity, we worked through it all. I looked out to see the big raindrops splashing in the mud puddles. The ground is so saturated it just can't take anymore water. Puddles and small lakes sit on the fields where I've never seen them before. Mud Creek is living up to its name, and flows with a strong current, the color of milk chocolate.

Tonight it was just about dusk and I walked outside and noticed how the setting sun was turning the storm clouds pink and orange. Then a large rainbow appeared, right in front of me. Maybe a sign of hope? It can't rain forever.

A mourning dove has built her nest amongst our cultivator parts on a shelf in the shed. This picture shows one egg, but now she has two. We're hoping to see the little ones hatch out... we are careful and quiet when we go near to grab a tool. She remains there motionless looking at you with her sleek body and beady black eyes, until, at the last minute she flutters up with a startling exclamation. But she always comes back to the nest later. Even after that huge windstorm yesterday, she's still there. Dedication.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Eggs and Baskets

In the spirit of the holiday this weekend, I thought I'd share a funny story from the farm that sheds some light on the origins of some of our Easter practices. See, we have this chicken.

Her name is Henrietta. She was donated to the farm by a city dweller who happens to keep backyard hens, but this hen misbehaved. She started pecking other hens' eggs and eating them! Once they get this habit, they can't break it, and the other hens will learn how good eggs actually taste. But she wasn't pecking her own eggs. Apparently she would pace back and forth outside the nestboxes waiting for the other hens to lay their eggs.

But she is so cute! She is a Golden Polish Crested hen, and she wears an elegant (silly) hat. So we took her in, and she lives a free life at the farm, mostly spending her time eating beetles, worms, and grubs from under the leaves in the forest.
One day she was pacing around the shed looking up at the tables and tractors, and I suddenly knew what she was looking for. A nest to lay her eggs. I had figured she would just find a cozy place under a shrub or something, but apparently she wanted something more nest-like. So I grabbed an old wicker basket, and immediately she perked up and looked interested. We put some hay in the bottom of it so she would be more at home. We even put a golf ball in it, because if they see another hen's egg they figure the place is hen-approved.

The bottom was rounded, so the first time she hopped in there, she rolled right over! She was frightened off for a while, and kept trying to get up on the tractors we had parked in the shed. Then we realized that she wanted to be up high somewhere, away from predators perhaps. A good instinct. So the basket was placed on the seat of our Allis Chalmers G, with stones around the bottom to keep it from rolling.

She could wait no longer-- up into the basket she hopped, and spent half an hour making sure every piece of straw was in place, turning and moving it around with her beak into a comfortable nest.
When we returned an hour later, a clean bright white egg lay in the straw next to the golf ball. I felt a strong urge to get out the Easter egg dye. It seems that this holiday lines up pretty well to natural farm life... hens don't lay many eggs over the winter, but as soon as spring comes around they start to get the urge. The egg hunting tradition may have evolved out of a practical search to find the chosen nesting spots of free-range hens around the farmyard. And the basket? Complete with straw (not the pink cellophane kind though!)... who knew that was the preferred place for eggs? Well, ask any kid this weekend and they could tell you that. Foil-wrapped chocolate eggs especially. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Earth Day Celebrations

Some fun "green" events coming up (Mud Creek will be there!):

Sierra Club's 13th Annual Environmental Forum - Thursday, April 21st

Earth Day Expo - Saturday, April 30th

And I thought we all needed a reminder of sunny things...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Winter's finale

I am watching through the window as large lazy snowflakes fall outside. They seem to be floating confusedly towards the ground, looking around at the green grass and the daffodils, and agreeing with me-- what the heck are they doing there? The fifty-mile-an-hour wind gusts we had earlier today have a different personality-- something like "get out of my way!" I guess spring brings surprises.

Today we worked in the greenhouse all day, trying to find extra square feet to cram trays of plants in, that were destined to get planted out into the field last week. The roots of the poor little guys are starting to curl around their pots, seeking more of that promised nourishment. We gave the hungriest of them more space (larger-celled trays) and more soil, spending the day that we would otherwise have spent putting them in the ground.

But the ground, alas, is not ready for them still! I did get about an acre plowed last Tuesday, and now we just wait for it to dry again so we can till and plant. As soon as that window comes, I will need all hands on deck to help me plant. We transplant all by hand (it's more fun and social that way) so if anyone would like to help, give me a holler! Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, swiss chard, kale, onions, kohlrabi, and more...

In the meantime, check out this documentary film showing Wednesday night at the Victor Library:

Wednesday, April 20, 7 PM Victor Free Library, 15 West Main Street, Victor, 14564
(behind Canandaigua National Bank)

"The largest domestic natural gas drilling boom in history has swept across the United States. The Halliburton-developed drilling technology of "fracking" or hydraulic fracturing has unlocked a "Saudia Arabia of natural gas" just beneath us. But is fracking safe? When filmmaker Josh Fox is asked to lease his land for drilling, he embarks on a cross-country odyssey uncovering a trail of secrets, lies and contamination. A recently drilled nearby Pennsylvania town reports that residents are able to light their drinking water on fire. This is just one of the many absurd and astonishing revelations of a new country called GASLAND. Part verite travelogue, part expose, part mystery, part bluegrass banjo meltdown, part showdown."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Almost spring

Today's high temperature was over seventy degrees. I saw the first mosquito, a robin gathering dry grass for a nest, five deer, three woodchucks, four woodpeckers, one rabbit, I wore a T-shirt at 7pm, and we tuned up the plow. My neighbor Jack has generously let us borrow it for the third year, and has coached me through the ins and outs of coulter repair, field adjustment, and soil moisture.
We hooked up the old plow and drove out to the fields to try it out. I went about twenty feet into the field and stopped, got off the tractor, and dug my hands into the soil. Still a bit too wet. It was truth that I didn't want to hear or believe. More plowing could wreck the soil. I thought about all the CSA members expecting their spring vegetables May 30th... argh, these decisions! I stood there pressing clumps of soil into balls, and felt defeated. You just can't negotiate with the ground-- it determines the whole game. So we stopped.

The heat tomorrow will build more, and then thunderstorms are forecast for all day tomorrow. Hopefully we won't be under a heavy cloud and they'll just blow over us... then in a few days I can get back out there on the tractor and try plowing again. Meanwhile the greenhouse is almost overflowing, and there are hundreds of chard, kale, and lettuce plants ready to go in the ground. If only the ground were ready for them! We will probably have to pot up some of these plants, to give them bigger space to grow in, until the field is ready. The time is soon, no doubt. The spring peepers are singing at the top of their lungs.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Slow thaw

We took a walk through the fields on a very balmy afternoon a few days ago. There was a very distinct spring-y smell in the air-- the ground warming up, the earthworms wriggling around, the natural processes of decomposition beginning again, and all the life of the soil waking up. I dug into the field with a shovel, and felt the moisture level with my hands... getting drier. (How exciting to smell this soil and remember last summer!) The sun and the wind have been doing their best to prepare the fields for cultivation. Driving a tractor into a field before it's ready (dry enough) you can do serious permanent damage to the soil structure, compacting it and making it inhabitable for our tender, particular vegetables. So while every ounce of my anxious-for-spring intentions say "plow! plow!", again my schedule defaults to the whims of the weather and the dirt.

After my walk it rained almost two inches again, and the fields puddled up again with the great mud. Robins hop around pulling earthworms, my boots make squishing sounds walking around, and the grey clouds force us to burn more propane to keep our greenhouse warm. It will probably be another week or so before we can even think about entering the field with a plow. This pushes back my pre-planned schedule a ways. We are 2 or 3 weeks behind. Peas should be going in the ground... yesterday! Everything depends now on the sun and the rain and the temperatures-- but it looks like the first harvest might not be until June. If we push back the pick-up days a week or two we will extend the distributions into November, to make sure we give out 22 weeks of produce.

Meanwhile, I've been in the greenhouse a lot lately, planting thousands of seeds in trays, making room for more trays... we're close to maximum capacity! We've had some super helpful volunteers who've come out to help with all this seeding -- thank you so much. If you're interested in getting your hands dirty a bit, email me to get on the volunteer list. There's lots to do.

And hopefully it will stop precipitating soon so we can get this season started!