Saturday, May 28, 2011

Heat and what it means to vegetables

The summer-like weather we've been having lately has been really nice-- if you have an ice-cream cone in your hand. Out in the field, it can be brutal. You can see the heat rising off the bare tilled earth, making the trees in the distance look all wavy. While the newcomer may only be able to stand an hour or so hunched over planting thousands of tiny onion plants, us farmers and farmhands are teaching our bodies to withstand it. We drink gallons of water each day, eat salty foods, and take breaks in the shade every few hours. We wear long sleeves and wide-brimmed hats to keep from burning. Gloves for the hands, sunglasses for the eyes, knee-pads for the knees. We sweat, and we learn to ignore it. At the end of the day, you can trace the white salt lines on our shirts.

Before this last big storm (which really didn't drop too much rain) we hustled to get all the plants in the ground-- tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, fennel, squash, cucumbers, beans, carrots, herbs, leeks, flowers, lettuce, and over 12,000 onions. We plowed while the ground was still somewhat dry-- several new acres across the street are opened up now and will be planted into in a few weeks. Some of the interns worked their first 10-hour day. It amazes me that they were all still smiling at the end of the week, as I wished them a good Memorial Day weekend and told them to rest up and stretch a lot.

For vegetables, what does the heat mean?

Well, all our spring crops are pretty confused, because they were supposed to go in the ground a few weeks earlier than they did, and the weather they like is something cooler than the 80 degrees we've been experiencing. Peas, radishes, turnips, arugula, spinach, tat soi, bok choi, broccoli, and cabbage are some of the crops that love cool weather-- they may decide to "bolt" which means flower early instead of making nice big leaves. That would be sad, but we take what nature gives us, and there's not much we can do about it.

The summer crops love this weather! All those peppers, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, beans, and eggplants are enjoying themselves. We will do what we can to stay on top of our planting schedule and encourage these heat-loving plants to do what they do best-- flower and make fruit!

Well, I guess it's another reason to plant fifty different vegetables-- when nature rolls the dice at least something is going to win. At least we're not under the Mississippi River.

We all put our eggs into some basket. We do everything we can to ensure our endeavors are successful. This robin built a nest on top of our fridge in our outdoor kitchen. We are constantly eating meals and snacking nearby, and scaring her off repeatedly. She must be pretty stressed out. But she's learned to deal with us, and her eggs have hatched and I see her hopping about with worms in her mouth, trying to sneak by when we're not opening the fridge door.
Our chicken mascot, Henrietta, lives a free and lonely life, but is quite in her element, pecking for worms under the mulch and in the woods. She is luckier than most hens.
And our resident mourning dove succeeded in raising her two children on top of our cultivator parts in our tool shed, even though I constantly bothered her by going into the shed to get a wrench or screwdriver several times a day. Here's some photos of the last week in the nest, when they got to be so big she couldn't sit on them anymore.
Awkward-looking, aren't they? She waited until they were almost as big as her, and we watched their feathers develop every day from spiky little pins to more graceful fluff.
Finally, one day last week I went in to get a tool, and I saw the mother off the nest, a foot away, looking scared and strange. She had been talking to them, words of encouragement I can only imagine. I left them alone for a few hours. Then I couldn't stand it anymore and went to look again. Only one bird was left in the nest, with it's awkward neck stretched out, looking around nervously. I went up to it, then stepped back, thinking I should get my camera to get one last picture before it was gone from our lives. At that moment, it flew right up to a high branch in the nearby apple tree. Just like that, nonchalantly, like it had always known how to fly. I looked down at the empty nest, and felt a bit sad, but also proud of that mourning dove family. And privileged to have witnessed the Big Step in it's life.

All of the natural things we get to see around the farm exist here only because there is a healthy eco-system around the Mud Creek/McMahon Road area. We saw orioles this week, and goldfinches, and bluebirds, and pileated woodpeckers. Red foxes commonly cross our fields. Blue herons and red-tailed hawks build their large nests in the wild spaces and edges that civilization hasn't destroyed yet.

We need to all work together as a community to stand up for these citizens of the world, because animals don't have a voice, a vote, or a lobbyist. The land across the tracks from our fields is slated for development, and they want to cram 100 houses on it. I got up last Monday at a town board meeting, to speak out against it. Read the article here: More about that drama later, I'm sure!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The 2011 farm crew!

From left to right: Eli, Luke, me, Tristan, Kim, Colleen, & Margaret
A hard-working bunch!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rain and rest

It's raining again! But this time I welcomed it with open arms as a refreshing break. We had a nice full week of sunshine and warm weather, and got almost caught up with our planting and plowing. We did our first cultivation with our Farmall Cub, and started irrigating.
We plowed all the fields that were supposed to be plowed a few weeks ago, including a new field across the street. The plus side of waiting another few weeks is we got extra growth from our winter cover crop, rye and vetch. It was over three feet tall, and we turned it under the soil to compost right on the spot. Now we have to wait another week or so before we plant anything into it, until the rye decomposes slightly. This means more delay for the onions, potatoes, peppers, and other crops waiting to go in the ground. But the extra organic matter will benefit the vegetables, as well as the nitrogen that the hairy vetch fixes into the soil.
The ground was just about perfect moisture, and the plowing was easy and satisfying.
Meanwhile, as the blazing sun baked the freshly tilled beds we've been planting on, there was plenty of work to be done keeping these baby plants alive! The tender lettuce that we take from the greenhouse and plunk into the ground needs immediate watering or it will wilt in the almost eighty-degree heat. The tiny carrot, parsnip, and beet seeds we direct seed into the field need irrigating almost every day to keep them from drying out until they germinate. Stressful times! We try to stay patient and calm with our irrigation work or it gets quickly frustrating.
Our interns, Colleen, Tristan, and Kim, are getting better at rolling out drip tape lines, hooking up valves, and fixing leaks. It's hard work in the heat, and we all got a little sunburned. We planted celeriac, potatoes, scallions, herbs, and more lettuce, greens, and carrots. We have well over an acre of vegetables planted so far, and the farm looks huge and beautiful.
We even managed to pick dandelion flowers for making dandelion wine! Now we take a few days off to rest up for the next big planting haul-- early next week maybe? Stop by to see some busy farmers when the soil dries up again.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Sun! Busy times!

The sun has emerged from the clouds, and it's kicking us into gear. While we still have to wait a few days until the fields are dry, we're busy getting lots of other projects done. We've started the mowing-- we mow around the fields to keep the meadow rodent population at bay (mostly voles, rabbits, groundhogs). And it does look really nice. Feel free to stop by the farm and take a walk around-- we've got lots planted and the place is starting to shine.
We did a bunch of tractor maintenance... and there's more to do this week. We want all our tools in the best working order, so we can get the job done efficiently when the ground is ready! Here is Tristan (an intern) greasing the bearings on our 1948 Farmall Cub.
We finally got our tractor shed up! It will park all 3 tractors, the lawn mower, the fertilizer spreader, and 2 pallets of organic fertilizer. Very exciting, as it will clear up room in our tool sheds and our intern kitchen!
Plants keep coming out of the greenhouse by the thousands, ready to go in the ground. We are gearing up for another round of broccoli, cabbage, bok choi, lettuce, and more.
The onions (now out of the greenhouse, but still waiting in their trays) are looking spectacular. Hopefully they will hang on for another 2 weeks so we can plow the field they'll be going into. The winter rye we are plowing under is over two feet tall now, and needs a bit of time to decompose before we plant the crop. But it will enrich the soil by composting in place. When I go out to the field to check the soil moisture, each shovel-full turned over produces a few HUGE earthworms-- they are doing their job of improving soil structure.

Monday, May 2, 2011

May Day

We finally got plants in the ground! A lot of them! Enjoy these photos: