Farm Week: June 2, 2014

Another busy week here on the farm. Some heavy downpours last weekend pushed back our plans for planting our outdoor tomatoes, but our greenhouse tomatoes are pruned and trellised and well on their way to production. Even with a soggy field, we kept filling up the field with food. As the field fills and the weather keeps up, we find ourselves staring down the start of a long and ongoing battle against the weeds. Now is the part of the season where we have to split our attention between finishing our seeding and transplanting, weeding the crops that are getting established, and harvesting for the CSA and markets. Complicating matters as always is the weather, which can alternately keep us out of the fields, fry us while we’re in the fields, or give the weeds a head start. As always, there is plenty to be done. 

We also made our first cutting of hay on about five acres this week, and Mat used the horses for most of the process. I was only involved at the last minute (or last few hours, I guess). I drove the old Allis-Chalmers tractor around in concentric circles, pulling a baler and a hay wagon. Mat stacked the bales, and we ended up finishing in plenty of time before the rain started on Saturday afternoon. Sometimes I look at farm equipment and marvel at the ingenuity. Whoever thought of a way to pick up hay off the ground, arrange it in tight bales, and tie it off with twine was imaginative, to say the least. The machine seems to be the  definition of a contraption, with its rhythmic clanking metal and constantly moving parts. Fascinating.

Thinking about: ingenuity, time management, rhythm

Eating: spaghetti with homemade cream sauce with ham, broccoli, and spring onions; arugula salads; french toast made with Renard’s buckwheat pear and hazelnut bread

Reading: Steven Apfelbaum’s Nature’s Second Chance: Restoring the Ecology of Stone Prairie Farm, Susan Bourette’s Meat: A Love Story, Plutarch’s Selected Essays on Love, the Family, and the Good Life

Farm Week: May 12, 2014

Another exciting and productive week here on the farm. Once again, we worked around the weather to keep filling up our fields for the season. We planted our onions, shallots, and scallions, which is a big crop for us. We kept planting lots of greens, like chard, cabbage, and lettuce. During those times we couldn’t be out in the fields, whether they were actively being drenched or were too wet to plant, we continued the seeding process indoors. There’s something almost meditative about hearing rain fall outside while you’re planting seeds that will result in delicious vegetables weeks, or even months, from now. 

The many new arrivals of last week are as cute as ever, or maybe even cuter. The newest two litters of pigs are making their first few forays into the pasture, and they are tiny but very sturdy. As I mentioned last week, we stumbled into a bit of an unorthodox situation in regards to lots and lots of day-old chicks. Well, it was a gamble after all. These were not a mixed “barnyard mix” as advertised, but instead a discount mix consisting of all male chicks from heritage laying breeds. That means our new laying flock is a few more months off than we thought, but that we’ll have a freezer full of birds nonetheless. I also helped in the first check of our two new honeybee colonies. We were able to find the queens in colonies, and we’ll be checking back in periodically to make sure they’re going strong.  

Thinking about: storage solutions, sprouts, timely hoeing

Eating: lots of asparagus!, fresh-harvested shitakes, lentil soup with duck stock, shitakes, and fresh ginger

Reading: Temple Grandin’s Humane Livestock Handling, Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, John Seymour’s Guide to Self-Sufficiency

Farm Week: May 5, 2014

My second week here on the farm was quite a whirlwind of adolescent arrivals. We started off the week with a visit from an exchange group of French fourth graders, who were living with host families in nearby Ripon for two weeks. They were very well-behaved, asked a mix of intelligent and adorable questions, and took pictures of everything. Also arriving this week on the farm were 14 adorable newborn piglets. Two new sows farrowed on the same beautiful day without any problems, though when I woke up to thunderstorms later that night, the newborn pigs were the first thing I thought of.

We had been planning to order some new chicks to raise up into a pasture-based laying flock, and were just finalizing our breed choices when we were presented with an opportunity that was just too good to pass up. For half of the planned price, we bought twice the planned chicks, and so now we find ourselves with 200 chicks, some layers, some meat birds, and all of indeterminate breed and sex at this stage. It was a bit of a gamble, but at the end of the day (make that the end of the summer), we’ll hopefully end up with a trailer full of laying hens in the pasture and a freezer full of chicken for sale. 

As the weather continues to warm up, we continue to slowly fill the field with seeds and seedlings. We planted our potatoes this week, four different varieties. We continued to transplant brassicas and mustards, like cabbage, kohlrabi, and pak choi. We finished ripping out the remnants of early spring spinach production, and transplanted a whole range of tomatoes and peppers to get a jump on the weather and take advantage of the demand for early tomatoes at the market.

We rounded out the week with the arrival of two packages of honeybees, which we housed in hives down by the pond, followed by a barbecue and bonfire with a few people who volunteer on the farm. We couldn’t have asked for a better night for it!

Thinking about: timing, new friends, muscle memory

Eating: homemade pizza with cow tongue sausage, yeast rolls with homemade ricotta and beet chutney, homemade mac and cheese with guanciale and spinach, fresh raw radishes with homemade butter and salt

Reading: Temple Grandin’s Humane Livestock Handling, Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg, Diana Henry’s Plenty

Farm Week: August 5-9, 2013

This week brought seasonally apt weather, another CRAFT visit, chickens coming in and chickens going out, and some seasonal sneezing. A nice week, weather-wise, ended with a Friday wet enough to preclude most farm work. So today we finished harvesting some tomatoes from the greenhouse and setting up the CSA pickup room for our members before calling it a day.

Last weekend, we did our second chicken harvest. It went much better than the first, largely because it was much cooler than the first time around, and we also had enough helpers to get an efficient flow going. With the last of the birds in the freezer for sale, I made a trip to the post office on Thursday night to pick up a box of peepers. Fifty-one tiny day-old chickens can sure make more noise than you'd expect. They're the fourth batch out of five, and it seems every time we get new chicks in the mail we're surprised at just how small they are. After making sure the new guys were all cozy in their brooder, I went to a barbecue where we grilled up some of last weekend's chicken in some of my homemade (farm grown) bbq sauce. Since the juxtaposition caused me no lack of appetite, I think it's safe to say I've made the transition from vegetarian to farmer-omnivore pretty completely.

In other news, I've finally looked up what ragweed looks like, but I'm not sure it will help me avoid it. It's all over the farm, and it's not really in full bloom yet. Already, my sneezes are echoing through the valley, so I better stock up on antihistamines before next week!

Thinking about: counter space, histamines, post-season plans

Reading: Melissa Bank's Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, Augusten Burrough's Magical Thinking, Michael Pollan's Cooked

Eating: polenta with gorgonzola cremificata; polenta with chicken neck, tomatoes, jalapenos, and homemade farmers cheese; rigatoni with homemade sausage and chard ragu

Farm Week: July 8-12, 2013 (with a poem!)

This week's post is a bit unorthodox, but it actually sums up this week (and the last two months) rather nicely:

It started with the rhythmic patter,
on wood, on canvas, on plastic and fiberglass.
Faint, then constant, then pounding.
It started then it stayed,
at last coming up to a roar
eventually receding in the mind
like so much white noise.
Hours became days became weeks,
the roar ceasing for few precious hours,
supplanted by the resulting rumble of the brook,
near breaching its brown banks,
with bated breath you awaited the flood.

And in and around the rain
you worked, layers of cotton
mouldering under layers of rubber,
hair curling under the humid hood,
toes, soles, souls soggy in your socks.
Staggering through kale,
mud covered the tops of your feet,
passive, feigning innocence,
then violently  grasping your boot,
relenting with an obscene SHLOOP!
Bent scythe-like, you filled your bins,
willing the clouds to part.

And then one day, at last, the heat came.
Your bodies from soggy to sweating and burnt,
your fields from grey to green.
But the relief was fleeting, for bending closer
to the earth, you saw the green not of
nightshades or cucurbits, but of
noxious weeds, galinsoga and sedge,
waging a battle you hadn't time to fight.
You peeled off socks, and sank
to your shins in soaked soil,
clawing to save your precious plants,
each day closer, yet farther from victory.

And on you worked, falling into rhythms:
harvest, hoe, sow, muster for battle.
Hundreds of row-feet planted,
thousands of plants saved. And yet,
another menace emerged, at first invisible.
From the tire-tracks of tractors,
from the lowest fields and pastures,
the winged militia took flight, evoking in you
a arhythmic dance, a slap, a flick,
an equine swing of the mane,
the perfumed attempt at evasion,
And finally, the itch, the scratch, the rub.

And as battle raged in you and around you,
you came upon treasures, buried and not.
The faint pip! of a root pulled from the ground,
the sweet smell when you pop off the carrot-top,
the small snap of the pea as you bite,
the mint and parsley and dill and cilantro,
that force the deep breathing of calm.
And finally, when the memory has all but gone,
you spy that glint of deep red in the greenhouse.
You pluck it, you smell it, your mouth waters.
Bacon sizzling, you reach for the toothy knife,
and at last you remember why you farm.

Thinking about: start-up models, intentional community, creativity

Reading: Nathan Englander's What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, Shalom Auslander's Hope: A Tragedy, The Greenhorns' 2013 New Farmers Almanac, Selected Letters of Willa Cather

Eating: bacon and tomato on sourdough with homemade mayo, carrots fresh from the ground, penne with sauteed broccoli and garlic, some beautiful lemon birthday cake

Farm Week: June 24-28, 2013

This week dawned hot and muggy and stayed that way. A few times, the humidity condensed into afternoon thunderstorms, but we were thankfully spared the kind of downpours that have become all too familiar. As long as these daily deluges stay under a quarter inch each time, and maybe even closer to a tenth of an inch, we'll be fine.

As the fields slowly dry out, we've been able to get the tractor through some of the most important beds needing cultivation. Besides our usual harvest load, we kept up speed transplanting this week, getting a bit closer to caught up after weeks and weeks of rain delays. We've also started to get almost caught up on cultivation, through a mixture of actual cultivation and a bit of traige - cutting our losses. We hoed everywhere this week from a rocky hilltop to our lower fields, in mud and puddles halfway to our knees.

We also got our latest shipment of chicks in the mail, moving us up to a temporary population of three different flocks of birds at once. We're slaughtering our biggest birds next weekend, so we'll be back down to two flocks in another week. Dan (my business partner in this chicken venture) hadn't processed chickens before, so we decided to do a practice run of four of the biggest birds so that when we do the big harvest next weekend, we're all on the same page. We're grilling one of those birds up this afternoon, so I'll let you know if a bird you raise from a day-old chick really tastes better than a store-bought factory-raised chicken.

Thinking about: scalability, full-diet CSAs, trust

Reading: Kristin Kimball's The Dirty Life, David Sedaris' Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Eating: wraps with bacon, borlotti beans, chard, and garlic scapes; overripe strawberries; sugar snap peas

Farm Week: May 27-31, 2013

Spring came back with a bang this week, with some hot and humid weather, a little bit of an overnight downpour, and lots and lots of sun. The farm is still a little soggy from last week's deluge, but the near-90's heat has started to do it part to dry the beds out. Some crops have bounced back well from the hailstorm last week, but some of the crops in the lower fields are still a bit waterlogged (check out the picture below from earlier this week). We're also bouncing back from a grey week, soaking up the sun, then starting to sweat, then sagging, then righting all with a dip in the stream after work.

We spent much of this week battling weeds that for some unexplainable reason took rain and heat and sun as a sign to explode into being all at once. It's been a bit too soggy to drive the cultivator, but we did what we could with hoes (and sometimes hands). We also planted sweet potatoes this week, which get shipped up from somewhere down south as slips. Slips are basically one step removed from planting a potato directly, giving us in northern climates a head start on the sweet potato's long, warm growing season.

We also got our next batch of chicks in the mail! Fifty fluffy little things that look so much smaller than we remember our now-month-old chicks ever being. We won't have to be as worried about the chicks being too cold anymore, but now the hot days mean that we have to keep a careful eye on the water level for the birds outside.

Thinking about: harvest knives, hydration, uphill bicycle endurance

Eating: fresh salads! radishes! turnips! scallions!

Reading: Mary Roach's Gulp, Julie Klausner's I Don't Care About Your Band

Farm Week: May 20-24

There is nothing like a week of humidity and heavy downpours to really reinforce the importance of weather to someone who works entirely outdoors. When one is essentially camping, that importance becomes magnified: every trip to the bathroom or the kitchen sink involves planning. When those downpours are not just downpours, but veer into the territory of lightning, hail, and tornado warnings, the camper does not have a basement to hide out in. Instead, one must take cover, say, under a nearby concrete bridge. Hypothetically, that might have happened this week to some hypothetical semi-campers.

On the hottest day yet, with a humidity so thick you could cut it with the dullest of better knives, we transplanted about an acre with of beets, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Before making a beeline for a dip in the stream, we covered about a third of them to protect them from potentially damaging downpours. Had we heard anything about hail, we probably would have tried to cover the rest of them, but the damage wasn't as bad as it could have been. The plants that were still small had less surface area to damage - the large leaves of older, larger plants were a bit holey after the hail. We had taken advantage of the heat to move our not-so-chicky chickens out to the pasture, which meant that we had to go rescue them after the huge storm. The rain continued all week and into the weekend, so we and the chickens are itching to get outside next week, when the weather looks much much more enjoyable. Meanwhile, I hope the riverbank holds up!

Thinking about: weather patterns, Bluths, good breeding

Eating: fresh-picked greens(!), farro salad, avocado and freshest egg breakfast tacos

Reading: Kelly Klober's Dirt Hog, Michael Ruhlman's Ratio, Jane Smith's The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants