News and blog
It isn't spring yet, but the longer days and brighter sun cause hope to spring anew in the heart and unease in the gut, when I realize how much I still have to get done before Spring comes. So, it's back to work despite the cold! My father just got back from three weeks! in Mexico, leaving me behind to face the snow and bitter cold with nothing but a thin, watery gruel to eat, so upon his return I wasted no time in putting the old man to work. Here he is sowing a pollinator seed mix.
We prepared the ground last fall, and as the snow melts, the frequent freezing and thawing should work the seeds snugly into the earth, and we will have a nice stand of flowering native plants come summer. There are 27 species alltogether in the mix, all selected to support native pollinators and provide habitat for other beneficial insects.
And here is dad again starting to prune the orchard.
Its a little early, but we hate feeling rushed, and with 80 or so trees of different kinds, we can no longer do the job in an afternoon. Now that some of the trees are old enough to bear fruit, pruning takes on a new kind of excitement.
I've been busy too! With what? I'll tell you later.
Here it is, the dead of winter, and although I like to pretend otherwise, spring is still a long way off. Lots of people ask me what farmers do in the winter. First let me clarify: there is usually a pretty big difference between what we intend to do and what we actually do in the winter. I have a huge winter project list, ranging from the mandatory (tractor maintenance, building repairs) to the to the whimsical (an outdoor sauna, a fireman's pole from the upper barn to the lower barn). Some of these will actually get done, but these last few weeks I've been staying indoors a lot, trying to keep warm (which would be easier if I set my thermostat above 52 degrees, but I don't). Anyway, I have used this indoor opportunity to replace the impossible to clean linoleum that was on the kitchen floor, and instead have now bright, cheerful, easy to clean TVC tiles. I had planned on a puce and pink combination, but apparently puce isn't a very popular color these days. (It is a brownish purple, in case you were wondering). They didn't have maroon either, or burgundy, so I settled on purple and yellow (see photo). Nice, huh?
We also had some excavation work done. We are having gutters installed on out barn roof and put in an underground storage tank to collect the runoff. Then, we can use the water to irrigate our high tunnels, and since rain water has no minerals in it, we won't have to worry about salt buildup in the protected environment of the tunnels, where it never rains. Also, the water won't run down our driveway and wash it our periodically, as has been the pattern over the last decade. here is a picture of the manhole cover to our new irrigation source.
yes, I know it is an extremely ugly picture, but what else can I post this time of year? No cute baby animals, no growing plants, no happy farm workers going about their daily tasks....
Even though spring is a long way off, my "vacation", as it were, is really almost over. Seeding of onions and early lettuce and spinach starts in two weeks, and with the advent of longer days and warmer temperatures in February, I start to get that feeling of unease and dissatisfaction if I'm not working on some farm project. How much of my to- do list will actually get done? Stay tuned!
Actually, I have no idea how to keep your marriage interesting, but here's what I do for mine: every time I go out for something out of the ordinary, I always tell my wife Dana the same thing. What I say is "I have to go see a man about a dog." Sometimes what I bring home looks like this:
(In case somebody is confused, this is actually a calf, not a dog.) Once-- and only once-- I actually did bring home a dog, our beloved Sparky, who is now just like one of the family-- but I won't say which one. Two weeks ago, though, I went to see a man about a dog and look what I brought back!
I am referring to the shiny new orange tractor, in the background, with me astride it. Hannah and Suzie are in front, transplanting lettuce. The tractor is great. It starts reliably, has a brake lock, a fuel gauge that works, and an functional electrical system-- all things lacking in the old tractor. And, thanks to 0% financing, I'm able to enjoy all these features any time I want, even at night, because this tractor has headlights which work, too! This is the first new vehicle I have ever owned and probably will be the only new vehicle I ever will own. Take that, midlife crisis!
Other than that we have been very busy with field work and planting. We planted carrots, peas, all sorts of greens, radishes, beets-- all the early stuff. Here is a picture of a newly germinated pea.
Unfortunately the weather cooled off right after the peas germinated and most of them rotted in the ground. Frustrating. Today I replanted. Keep your fingers crossed.
Please note: there can be a big difference between a good marriage and an interesting one. Probably for a harmonious union, you should always consult your spouse before bringing home livestock or agricultural implements/ vehicles. Oh, and also remember their birthday.
Now that the ice has finally melted and the danger of frostbite is diminished, we have begun to be more active outside. Most exciting is that we actually planted things in the ground! I even had Hannah take a great picture of Suzie planting kohlrabi, but unfortunately the camera I gave her to use had no memory card in it, and no film either, so instead here is what they looked like in the greenhouse before being brought to the field.
You'll just have to imagine someone planting them. In addition to kohlrabi, we also planted lettuce, spinach, kale, broccolini, bok choy, cabbages, and, most importantly, escarole. Well, it's important to me, anyway.
We have also been pruning our fruit trees and bushes. Here is a picture of me contemplating a partially pruned currant bush. I have such a stern frown on my face because I really don't know much about pruning currants and find the task difficult and stressful.
and here is the fully pruned bush. There, that wasn't so bad, was it?
We also started another orchard. Every year, we plant about a dozen fruit trees. The first were planted in 2006, so most are still too young to bear, but some of you may recall that we were able to offer pie cherries and both Asian and European pears last season. We also have a fair number of apple trees, five peach trees, plums, two apricots, medlars, quinces, paw paws, persimmons.... in a few years this place will be a regular fruitopia! Here is a picture of a newly planted Asian pear tree.
Doesn't look like much, does it? Just wait!
Other than that we are still waiting for some dry weather so we can finally get in the ground with the tractor and really start planting in earnest-- peas, carrots and beets are all begging to be planted ASAP-- not to mention radishes, salad greens, arugula....
Next week: tips on how to keep your marriage interesting. (really!) Stay tuned!
I was going to call this blog entry "waiting for Spring" until I realized that is what I called the last entry two weeks ago. apparently, we are still waiting, although this warm spell gives us hope. Also, the maple sap is now flowing, which means things are starting to happen. We have very few maple trees on our farm but nonetheless Dad and Hannah managed to make about 3 quarts of syrup last year-- and it only took them two whole days! You can see why maple syrup is so expensive.
The farm is slowly coming to life in other ways, too. I planted beets and carrots in the high tunnel yesterday for an early crop. Here is a picture of me pushing the seeder through the newly raked bed. Please note the look of steely determination on my face.
You will notice the wooden boards along the carrot bed. I read a charming little book last winter about late 19th century French intensive gardening, and was so inspired I have decided to adopt a few of the techniques therein described. Chief among these is raised beds, although I am utilizing the greenhouse effect for heat rather than the 50 tons of horse manure per acre as was done in 1900. For those of you unfamiliar with typical manure applications, that's a lot of poop! But, in the days before automobiles, horses were more common than they are today.
One of our interns from last year, Steve, is currently visiting us for two weeks, and naturally we put him right to work. Here is a picture of Steve adding rodent proofing to our second walk in cooler. Please note the look of steely determination on his face.
Never mind, I guess you can't see his face. We will be using this cooler for crops that like to be stored cool, but not too cold-- mostly tomatoes, eggplant, okra, zucchini and melons. Hard to believe that when we started out nine years ago all we had was an extra refrigerator in the barn!
Our chickens are really enjoying the warmer weather, going outdoors and basking in the sun. I have promised to move them to fresh pasture as soon as the ground thaws. Here is a picture of a Buff Orpington hen, on the right, setting on her eggs with what can only be described as a look of steely determination. The Rhode Island Red X Leghorn on the left is merely curious.
Harvest share signups are continuous and ongoing. Why not sign up today?
Wow, I thought that winter would never end! Oh wait-- it hasn't. There is still snow on the ground, a pile of ice 4 feet tall in front of the seeding room door, and the National Weather Service says more cold weather on the way. Nonetheless there are definite signs of spring. Most notably, three of our four does kidded on Thursday-- all within 2 hours of each other-- which created a little too much excitement. Here is a picture of one of the kids.
and another one of Tulip and two of her kids. she looks so proud!
We're especially excited about Tulip because she is such a pleasure to milk, and didn't kid last year. Delicious milk too-- good and goaty. Or, as I prefer to express it, flavorful.
And if that isn't enough cuteness, here is a picture of some baby chicks we just got in. They should start laying in July or August.
But it's not just fun with animals around here. We have been busy with seeding the greenhouse so we will have transplants to plant in March and April, and thus veggies to harvest in June. Here is a picture of the flats in greenhouse-- in two weeks everything will be green.
What else is going on? We're getting our labor situation finalized for the season, trying to get a few winter projects finished... and waiting for the ground to thaw!
Oh yes, lest I forget-- here's a gentle reminder to sign up for the 2014 harvest share, if you are going to, sooner rather than later-- it really helps us to plan if we have an idea how many shareholders we have. You can visit the website, www.jadefamilyfarm.com, to do this. That's all for now-- think spring!
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.