News and blog
Hard to believe, but the 2013 season is at an end. That just flew by, didn't it? And yet April seems so long ago. This time of year we are busy getting in the last of the harvest, cleaning up the fields, planting the high tunnels for limited winter production, and otherwise preparing for winter. Cover crops are planted, garlic is in the ground, our organic certification inspection is over and done with (we passed, needless to say) and we are finally starting to relax a little. Once it gets really cold and nothing can be done in the fields (usually early December), we'll even take a few weeks off, regroup, and start planning for 2014. And then there is always our very lengthy winter project list. I also plan onspending a lot of time in front of the fire, staying nice and toasty. Any good reading suggestions? Last year I read "The Tragedy of King Richard the 3rd" by some Shakespeare fellow, but I didn't care for it much-- worst dectective novel ever.
I hope you enjoyed your harvest share experience with us. I was prety satisfied, on the whole, with crop production and quality, although there were, as always, a few weak spots. It was especially gratifying to have good melons and cucumbers, crops which have sledom fared well for us in the past, and a strong bean performance after last year's debacle was satisfying as well. My biggest regret is that I did not manage to write a regular newsletter/ blog as I have in the past, or schedule a shareholder picnic and farm tour. It was a very difficult year for me, personally. Hopefully I will be more communicastive and social next year and more like my old self. We welcome your feedback, positive and negative. We're doing this in large part for you, and if you're not happy, the whole thing is kind of pointless, so speak up. Be nice, though, because I am extremely sensative and you wouldn't want to make me cry, would you? We do plan on making some changes to allow you even greater choice as to what goes in your boxes, made possible through the miracle of internet technology.
Running efven a small family farm such as ours is quite a major undertaking and I could never do it without good help and plenty of it. First in line is my dedicated and hardworking staff. Whether in the field, in the packing room, or at market, you guys are the best ever. Go team! I have had phenonimal support from my family, Dana, who singlehandedly weeded the carrots, Simon, for his many hours of top quality work this summer, Evelyn, for being the life of the party (even when there is no party), my parents, who are spending their retirement working for me (some retirement!), my sister, for being my emotional lifeline and not charging me interest, and my brother, for giving me inspiration and hope in my darkest hours. Also my crack team of helath professionals, for keeping me in fine fettle all year long, and finally, all our harvest share shareholders and market customers-- without you we're nothing. Have a great Winter!
I like to joke and tell people that when I first started farming, I didn't know which end of the tractor had the udder. Slowly, though, I grew to appreciate all the fine work these animals do, and am now quite comfortable with them-- perhaps a little too much so. Here is what happened the other day:
Weeds had sprouted in the potato patch, and soil conditions were right for cultivating, so I tought I'd hop on my 1952 Farmall Super A cultivating tractor and give it a go. It's a great tractor, still running well after 61 years, but it does have two quirks. One is that one of the shovels is very close to the ground because of where the gas tank is situated, so that there is only a few inches of clearance. The other is that the poor fellow has a hard time starting once it has been running for a while, so that I am reluctant to shut it off in the field. Anyway, it started up just fine and I headed up the hill (our farm is at the base of the Tuscarora Mountain, so there is only one hill and it comprises the entire farm) and did a fine job cultivating the potatoes and also winter squash. Here is a picture of the potato field, so you can admire what a fine job I did.
Isn't that lovely? It was with a great feeling of satisfaction that I started driving down the hill. Right about at the cucumbers, however, I noticed that the lowest shovel had caught on a piece of irrigation hose and I was dragging the entire watering system downhill. So, I brought the tractor to a halt, put it in neutral, applied the brake lock, and got off to untangle the mess. As I was doing so, it seemed to me that the tractor was starting to roll forward. Sure enough, the brake lock had become disengaged and she (the tractor) was heading downhill picking up speed. I didn't have to consider for long what to do-- I ran along side her, faster and faster, trying to vault onto the saddle and avoid getting run over, all the while shouting "Whoa! Whoa Nellie!" to little effect. I am pleased to say I managed to get on just before she slipped away forever, with only minor injuries. I'm not sure where the tractor would have ended up-- possibilities include a deep ravine, greenhouse, haywagon parked near the peppers, or possibly Mrs. Brackbill's living room. I am sure it must have looked hilarious to anyone watching, however, there were no witnesses aside from two turkey vultures, who were unimpressed.
And now on to eggs. Did you know we sell them? You can order them from the a la carte store. Our hens are free ranging on pasture and fed only certified organic, soy free feed. Here is a picture of the hen setup so you can see the fine conditions they experience.
I am especially proud of the stained glass on the top of the wall. Eggs-- try some today!
Help! We are experiencing an acute box shortage. Please remember to return your boxes to us. Packaging is our third biggest expense (after labor and our house wine, a 1984 Chateau- Neuf du Pâpe) and it is in everybody's interests to keep costs down and reuse as much as possible.
Crop update: peas are done, okra just starting. Carrots next week, not the greatest crop ever, but still carrots. Eggplant is just starting to come in and peppers are a few weeks off. We harvested the first field tomato yesterday-- delicious! And, we saw a little baby melon! Zucchini and cucumbers still going strong.
Please note: For descriptions and instructions for the things you find in your boxes, visit our website under the "our variety" header. Kelley the summer intern has been working hard to update it so that it is as complete as possible.
Next week: All about compost!
June, July and August are by far the busiest months for us on the farm. In addition to harvesting and packing all the Spring crops, we spend the first part of June desperatelt trying to get all the Summer crops planted-- peppers, sweet potatoes, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, squash and melons-- the list goes on and on. As soon as they are all safely in the ground the peas start to ripen, zucchini demands daily harvesting and each week, it seems, brings in a new crop. Weeds are also very active in June and we begin seeding Fall crops next week. Its a lot of work, a lot of stress, but also extremely exciting. For me, it is intersting to compare my life now to my life in January. Now I am surrounded by activity, with countless things to do (and more fresh food than I have time to eat) while in winter the seemingly endless darkness weighs heavily upon me, few tasks are urgent and all I have to eat is turnips. These days we have anywhere between 4 and 11 people at the lunch table while in winter it is usually just me or one other person. Last winter I plowed through half of "The Complete works of William Shakespeare" while now I don't even have time to read the electric bill. It's pretty much the same thing every month anyway, so why bother?
In your boxes this week:
Looseleaf Bunching Cabbage "Tokyo Bekana"
"Pearl Drop" fresh onions
The cabbage is a looseleaf variety called "Tokyo Bekana". It grew quite large. Cook as you would any other cabbage, but not for as long-- the leaves are quite tender.
Snap Peas are an edible podded pea. Remove the stem, de-string, and enjoy raw or slightly cooked. We were a little short on peas this week so I actually bought some from another grower in our organic co-op. I rarely do this, but one of our pea fields failed outright and I feel that peas are too delicious a crop not to distribute in normal amounts.
How to store tokyo bekana, komatsuna, or any other leafy green not already in a plastic bag: the chief enimies to vegetable storage are wind, heat and moisture. Therefore, the best way to store them is in a plastic bag, with a paper towell in it (the bag), in the refrigerater.
Crop update: Beets should be ready next week, and possibly cucumbers. Also, I picked the first quart of okra today!
Now that a few weeks of (more or less) successful deliveries have gone by, I thought I'd go over a few ways that you can ensure that you are getting what you need out of your weekly box. Every week, two days before the delivery day, I send out an email with the tentative share for the week. It is a good idea to read this email. Often I give you a choice of two or more items-- last week, for example, was spinach or kale-- and if you have a preference, you can email me what it is. Also, sometimes we offer extras free of charge to the family and couples shares. This does not replace anything in the share, we offer it when we have extras of things I feel aren't popular enough to give out every week, or that you may be getting tired of, or I am worried that it might not all get used. Such items are designated "by request" in the weekly email. Finally, there is the substitution option. If there is something on the list that you really don't want, you can request that we substitute it for something you do. To see what we have available, check the a la carte list (on our website under the header "purchase") and pick a couple. Please give us more than one option to substitute for your unwanted item, as some things may be in short supply. However, I would encourage you to give everything a try at least once-- you never know what will become your new favorite until you do.
In your boxes this week:
Spinach or Kale
Strawberries have not been the best crop this year, although this week's seemed a bit better than last's. We had a good year with them last year and so I thought I knew a bit about strawberry culture. Pride comes before the fall, I guess. Hopefully they have one more week in them.
New this week is Kohlrabi. Kohlrabi is unusual among vegetables in that it is the swollen stem that is eaten. (The leaves are edible but are rather tough and strong, so plan accordingly.) The flavor is about halfway between broccoli and cabbage, with a hint of turnip and a little bit of oakiness in the nose, with a lingering finish reminiscent of black plums and linden flowers. The only real drawback to kohlrabi, and probably the reason why they have yet to conquer the culinary world, is that their peels are quite thick and difficult to remove. Carrot peelers are useless, you must use a sharp knife, being careful not to cut off your knuckles or tip of your pinky. Once this has been accomplished, the real fun begins. Slice the kohlrabi thinly and try a piece raw. This is how many people enjoy it, sometimes with lime, olive oil, and salt. If you wish to cook it, treat it as broccoli.
For descriptions, pictures, storage and cooking tips, and miscellaneous vegetable trivia, you can visit the "our variety" page in our website under the header "us and our products". One of our summer interns, Kelley, is busy updating this page and adding the relevant information. It is still a work in progress, but is getting better every week!
Crop update: It has been extremely cool and wet for June. Crops are all one to four weeks behind where they were last year. I was hoping for peas and zucchini next week, but it looks unlikely, so next week's box will be quite similar to the last two. It is, however, the best spinach crop we have ever had. Every year is different.
Finally, my dad has become quite enamored of facebook and is constantly updating our facebook page with pictures, farm happenings, and who knows what. I've never seen the facebook page, or any facebook page for that matter. Dana tried to show me how to use it once, but I just bleated, like a sheep, curled up in the fetal position and shut down entirely.
Hello and welcome to the 2013 harvest! By way of an introduction, I'm John. Together with my lovely wife, Dana, I run Jade Family Farm. We have two children, Evelyn, age 11, and Simon, age 14, both of whom are actively involved in the farm. My parents also do a tremendous amount on and for the farm, and Dana's mother has agereed to move in with us and milk the goats twice a day, only she doesn't know it yet. Generally, though, you should direct inquiries and complaints, in the unlikely event that there are any, to me, unless you are really angry, in which case please direct them to our one neighbor we don't like. Neither Dana nor I come from a farming background, but were drawn to it by the lure of easy money. Apparantly, we were misinformed.
In your boxes:
Tender young spinach (Thursday people) or tender young Kale (Tuesday People)
Easter Egg Radishes
Salad Mix is a combination of baby lettuces and other tender, tasty greens-- bok choy, mizuna, rapini, kale, tat soi and red giant mustard, to be precise. We wash it as well as we can and remove all bugs and weeds to the best of our ability, but as we do not possess a Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture certified commercial kitchen, our salad mix is not considered ready to eat and so our attorney reccommends that we reccomend that you thoroughly inspect and wash all produce before consumption.
Lettuce is something I rerally enjoy growing. Different varieties have different characteristics. One of our summer interns, Kelley, is busy posting pictures and descriptions of all of them on our website under the "our variety" page under the "us and our products" header. And not just lettuce, either!
Tender Young Spinach-- see "Tender Young Kale".
Tender Young Kale-- see "Tender Young Spinach"
Spring Onions are a tasty spring treat. These mild onions will be with us a few more weeks until the pearl drop and mini purplette onions arrive.
Many people enjoy pointing out that radish greens are perfectly edible, very nutritious, and serve admirably in soups and stews. However, I am not one of them.
Those of you who ordered a la carte may have noticed that your account balance listed on your orders had only a very tenuous connection to reality, at best. I am currently in the process of coprrecting this problem and hope to have it sorted out by next week.
Crop update: Strawberries are starting to ripen. There should be enough to ditribute some next week, but I can't yet say how many. Other crops are looking pretty good, although everything is late due to the cold spring and frost event in mid May. Peas are almost all trellised and about to begin flowering and the pea field is a wonderous sight to behold, if you ignore the weeds. The sorrel, however, doesn't look so hot, mostly because I forgot it as there and ran over it with the disc. Oops.
Things went more or less smoothly with the first delivery, but there are always some bugs to work out. thank you for your patience. Remember, the most reliable way to reach me with a pressing concern is by cell phone, 717 585 4897. I don't get reception everywhere on the farm (like inside the walk in cooler) and can't always hear it, but it's worth a try.
In other news our hens have just begun to lay. we should begin offering eggs for sale in a few weeks. Also, our barn cat Lucy had three adorable little kittens! Even I am forced to admit that they are the cutest darn things I ever did see.
For more farm related pictures and info, you can visit our facebook page, although I have never done so myself. Dad takes care of that. I'm told its really great!
With the arrival of warmer weather we have finally been able to get into the fields and start planting. Peas, beets, carrots, lettuce, salad mix, kale, spinach, onions and radishes are all in the ground and are at various stages of growth. here is a picture of our latest lettuce and or spinach planting, which should be ready by mid May. Amazing how fast they grow!I even planted a little yellow mustard seed (as in the popular condiment) -not as a commercial crop, but just for fun. Sometimes you to live it up a little. Apricots and plums are in bloom and fill the air with their intoxicating fragrance. The goats are enjoying the green grass and the myriad birds of field and forest sing all evening long. Springtime is lovely.
We welcomed our first intern of the season this April 5th. Stephen hails from Kutztown, Pennsylvania and is signed on to stay with us the whole season, if he can stand it that long. Every intern is required to take on a special project of his or her choosing, and Steve has chosen a static aeriated pile composting system, about which I am very excited.
Also new to our farm is this handsome sheep, shown here before shearing.The little fellow in front is a lamb. I named her "peaches" (the sheep, not the lamb, who is a future ram named Agamemnon) because got her from a farm in Peach Bottom, Lancaster County. She is an East Friesian milking sheep, which is a pretty unusal breed, even in East Friesia. Most people dont think of sheep as being milking animals, but such famous cheeses as mozzerella, romano, and roquefort were traditionally made from sheeps milk. Probably, though, I'll just drink big frothy mugs of it, still warm from the udder.
In other news we finished our moveable chicken coop (in this case when I say "we" I actually mean "Hannah") and the high tunnel is moving right alond. Here is a picture of me perched atop a piece of expensive rental equipment, doing the job and trying to smile. Thats all for now!
The title just about says it all-- we're primed and ready, eagerly awaiting some halfway decent weather so we can get started. Not that we have been completely idle-- oh no, far from it. Our new chicken coop is almost done, including some very nice detail painting done by Hannah's mother who came to visit one day. I am waiting for it to be full of hens, though, before I send you another picture of it. But here is a picture of two baby goats, Inky and Binky, which Ramona delivered into the world two weeks ago.
Okay, that didn't work out so good. Trust me, they're very cute. The kids are fun to have around and of course the milk that Ramona gives is out of this world. Our other doe, Tulip, is due to kid any day now.
We're also moving ahead with out second high tunnel, shown here with the rafters up behind the stubble of last fall's crops. This new tunnel should enable us to grow well into the winter and offer a winter harvest share for the first time in 2013.
Despite the cold weather-- does anyone remember March of 2012, when it was 70 degrees?- we have managed to put a few things in the ground, which we then cover with plastic over wire hoops to create a kind of mini greenhouse. Some of them are even growing a little, but all in all this March is making me glad we start our harvest share deliveries at the end of May, not at the beginning. Speaking of which, we are filling up rapidly, so if you are planning on joing the harvest share this year, but have not yet done so, I reccomend acting sooner rather than later.
Other farm activities this time of year include pruning the fruit trees and currant bushes, sending soil samples to the lab, and seeding all sorts of crops in the greenhouse. Also we are cleaning up the fields and making sure our tractors are in good working order, or at least able to start. We can't wait for some real Spring weather-- won't be long now!
Now that the days are getting longer and the sun brighter, signs of life are beginning to revisit the barren earth, and the farm begins slowly to wake up. We humans, too, are gradually emerging from our winter torpor and are getting back to work. I find that the nicer the weather, the more energy and enthusiasm we have and more gets accomplished. Fortunately there is plenty to keep us busy this time of year as we hurry to complete our winter projects before Spring truly arrives. As you can see from this photograph, our five star mobile henhouse is nearing completion (roosts to the left, nesting boxes to the right).
We have 50 pullets ordered for May, and although that probably won't be enough eggs to satisfy all our customers, harvest share enrollees get first "crack" at them, as it were. Also our greenhouse is in full swing, with most of the 20,000 onions we planted up and growing and in addition to early spinach, chard, beets, lettuce, kale and John's favorite, escarole.
I even forgot the trauma of 2008 and decided to try spring cauliflower again.
I'm also hard at work constructing a new high tunnel (that's just an unheated field greenhouse). Some assembly required. We received a NRCS grant for the thing, which is great, but it puts us on a tight schedule with regards to actually finishing it. We should be ready to set up the rafters next warm day we have.
In other news we are getting ready for the arrival of baby goats sometime in the second week of March and harvest share signups are ongoing-- see website for details. Your early signup is always appreciated, as it helps me plan out the season and purchase the neccessary supplies for the same in a timely manner. Plus, I just spent my last $400 on a sheep. Maybe not the wisest thing to do, but if there's one thing I learned these last ten years, it's that if you wait until just the right time to follow your dreams, you never will. how's everybody doing? Drop us a line!
John, Dana, Simon, Evelyn and the Jade crew