Sunday, October 17, 2010

A tip

The best way to cut bell peppers is to slice off the bottom, then, with it standing upside down slice down the sides leaving a core of seeds.  It's sooooo easy. And while I'm on the subject of peppers, one of my peppers had a baby pepper growing inside it.  Isn't that cute?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Pizza sauce

The other night I wanted to make pizza (I had even just bought cheese for it!) but all the stores were closed and we were out of sauce.  I didn't know what to do, but then had the brilliant idea to make it out of our farm tomatoes.  I mashed them, strained the juice into a pot, flavored it with salt, sugar and the dried basil from our farm and then simmered it until it thickened.  It was so gratifying to know that the entire sauce was from my own hands.  Sure, not the salt and sugar, but none of the colonial women produced those either.  They traded for it.  Anyway, the sauce turned out great.  Next year I'll do much more.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Last Day

The organization which rents us the land and does all the training asked me to remove the black plastic and basically close up shop for the season.  Well, asked, isn't really the right word.  They told me if I didn't do it by Monday they would charge me for the labor to do it themselves.  When I got there and was harvesting the bountiful crops I thought that it wasn't exactly fair considering there was still a few weeks of harvest left, but then again, who am I kidding, now that I started my new job I'm at the farm rarely, if ever. 

Yesterday when we had stopped by we picked up a few of the bell peppers and jalapenos and on the way home Saphira, our two year old, was snapping them in half.  She thought it was a great game.  But then she stuck her fingers in her mouth and howled in pain.  We bought her a milk shake to ease the pain.  Then today, on the way to the farm she starts crying again and tears are running down her red face.  We couldn't believe she had done it again!  I'm not even sure where she got the pepper.  I assume it was on her carseat.  We bought her another milk shake and I spent quite a bit of time wiping her tongue and fingers with a wet napkin. 

We drove past a lot of farms selling tons of pumpkins (literally. tons.) I was considerably envious because I had planted two dozen pumpkin seeds early enough in the season that I really should have gotten a few pumpkins.  Some of the pumpkins we passed were gargantuan.  Timmy asked if the farmers injected them with steroids or something.  Although there may be tricks of the trade that I don't know about I answered that there were certain breeds that grew extra large.  One of those breeds I had planted and, again, I'm resentful that I didn't get one dang pumpkin out of the bunch. The problem I've had all season is that my crops have been "out-competed" all year by the weeds.  The weeds have completed for room, for water, for nutrients, for sunlight.  But the pumpkins?  I've determined that the competition for the pumpkins didn't come from my weeds, it came from the trees bordering my plot of land.  They probably cut the hours of sunlight in half; particularly the pumpkins which were on the edge. This, I suppose,  is a good lesson in the University of Life, more specifically, my agricultural major in this university of life.  When choosing land for planting, in the future, I will be sure to choose land with nothing blocking the sun.  This lesson was hopefully, worth more than the $40 I'm going to shell out to buy pumpkins for my kids to carve.   And once again, the reader has been spared the expense and can learn via my mistakes.  (Which is the beauty of reading.  I do so love to read). 

At the farm, removing the black plastic was a lot of work.  I ended up having to use a variety of techniques to get it all: standing, on my hands and knees, pulling walking forward, pulling walking backwards, pulling the plants first, pulling the plastic right over the plants, pulling the weeds from the sides, pulling the plastic right out from under the weeds, digging the plastic with my hands when it got stuck, gingerly tugging, ripping and tearing with no regard.  It was back breaking work, but I did it.  It was the kind of work that made me think: Oh, this is sooooo not worth it. 

I got to thinking about my urban farming vision.  My vision of doing just what Will Allen did in Milwaukee: bringing the beauty of home grown produce right into the ghetto.  Showing people what good food is.  Inspiring a new generation of gardeners and farmers and vegetable lovers.  I got to thinking about my dreams for America.  A roof top garden for everyone.  Victory gardens commonplace once again.  And I got to thinking that the end result won't necessarily be a lessor dependence on foreign oil, as I had thought before, since we would be shipping less from overseas, but really, if we can get Americans hooked on fresh produce again, hopefully everyone will be eating more and, yes, importing more.  And so, the net benefit for America, may not be measured in oil but rather a reduced healthcare cost as we reduce heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes and countless other afflictions.  Besides, if we can support farmers around the world I am all for that. 

I thought about a lot of other things too.  Farming is such beautiful meditation.  Just you and nature and your sweat and your thoughts.  I thought about the two cats we had.  One of them had a litter of kittens.  Then the other one started breastfeeding them and just took over the mothering.  It was the most bizarre thing in the world.  But beautiful at the same time.

I remembered the time that we were asked by the cousins if we would like to join them on a group date to see a famous comedian in Boston.  Timmy excitedly agreed in his drunken state.  The next day when he had sobered up and realized that he had committed to buying two $40 tickets he called to back out but it was too late!  They had already purchased the tickets!  And so we had to go.  But it was a wonderful, memorable evening, so a happy ending to a funny story,.

Timmy told me the whole story behind the chicken stealing event.  He said that one day he had tried to buy a chicken from a farmer who was very rude to him.  So the next day,  he and the rest of the football team were all cruising around after practice and he coordinated a farm raid in which they all ran at the same time, grabbed a chicken  (a dozen or so in total), threw them in the trunk and then drove away in their respective vehicles.  And (this gets better) then he got pulled over for a broken tail light.  The other boys were alerted to drive ahead and wait.  Several other cruisers showed up because young minority boys, of course, always require backup.  They had their hands on their guns as they approached the car.  The officer asked if they could search the car.  Timmy said they could search everything but the trunk.  "What's in the trunk?"  The officer asked.  Timmy knocked on it and the dozen chickens all squawked.  He said they had just bought the chickens from a farm and were going home to cook them. The officer was still curious to take a peek so Timmy unlatched it and the officer slowly raised it an inch.  Every chicken stuck it's head out, squawking furiously.  The cop shut it, wrote Timmy a ticket for the light and then let him go.  The football team met up at Timmy's house and slaughtered the chickens.  I said that there must have been blood everywhere but Timmy said that, no they sliced their throats over bowls and it was contained.  He said all the white guys were plucking feathers.  They had a great time,  made a huge batch of chicken soup and ate every last drop.  A memory every boy on that team will never forget.

Leaving all of the beautiful pepper plants to be mowed down broke our hearts.  We started pulling them with dreams of planting them inside pots and keeping them in the house.  Giving them to our friends.  Giving them away on craigslist.  But we eventually realized, as the pile kept growing and the knowledge sunk in that we had no pots at home or much room in our small house, we faced the truth that we'd have to let them go.  It was very hard.  Just like thinning seedlings is very hard for me to stomach.  I had to remind myself that farmers every year harvest their crops and then let their plants die.  It's the circle of life.  It's how it works.  It's the very nature of farming.  

Someday I will live in a glass house.  This isn't some random fantasy.  I decided this after visiting a friend who had a "three season porch" which is basically a glass room.  It was just one room in their large house, but, they admitted, they spend 90% of their time there.  It was just so beautiful and inviting.  They even slept in there, on the couch.  I would be in heaven in a place like that.  Why even build the rest of the house?  It doesn't have to be large.  I'm content in small (uncluttered) quarters.  Give me a Kindle and a computer and a mattress and I'll be happy.  So then my idea progressed into this plan to have an indoor garden in there too.  I thought of this when I was inside the green house- how I could just live in there.  It would be so nice.  So, I  combined my two dreams.  It wouldn't have to be messy and chaotic.  Just have some sort of shelving on the top in which I grow raspberries.  And a ladder with which I can pluck them every morning for my breakfast. 

We wrapped up and drove away with barrels of peppers and tomatoes and basil.  A decent season.  OK, a disappointing season.  But I don't regret it because I learned a lot and that was worth more than what I put into it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

basil

Earlier in the year, when I purchased trays of seedlings from a local non-profit, I had ordered one tray of basil.  I don't remember this, but apparently it's true because I have a whole row of basil.  Unfortunately the CSA has plenty of basil so can't purchase it from me.  But I go through a lot of basil at home in spaghetti and pizza sauce, which we make at least every week, so keeping it is not a problem.  I went to the farm today to cut and collect my basil so I can hang it to dry and put it in jars.  There is so much of it.  It's wonderful.  I foresee personal, homemade Christmas presents.  I hope it is the right variety for the flavor I'm looking for (that classic flavor you buy at the store). There was so much of it I filled a wheel barrel to overflowing and there's still a third of the crop left!  The SUV smells so good.

While I was at the farm I gleaned the other ripe crops and decided to grab some carrots, too, for the week.  Problem was... and this is the most stereotypical, city-slicker, hilarious-yet-humiliating mistake... I had just gotten a manicure.  Yes.  A manicure.  And pulling the carrots made me chip the paint on one of my nails.  ha ha.  So that endeavor came to an end.

I brought my dog with me.  OK, OK, it's not really my dog.  It's my neighbor's dog but I pretend she's mine.  I bring her to the farm as often as I can.  She just loves to romp around the fields.  It's like doggie heaven.  Plus she's nice protection.  Not that I'm really afraid.  OK, who am I kidding.  I'm never afraid.  When the acclaimed  Zogby poll called and asked me, amongst their survey questions, if I felt "safe in my neighborhood"  I replied "yes".  Even though there are drug dealers outside my back window.  ha ha.  I digress... One time another farmer was working in his field next to me.  We worked peacefully next to each other for hours and then out of the blue my dog starts barking at him.  I try calling her back and walk toward her to, hopefully, grab her collar, but she keeps moving forward until we were a few feet from that poor other farmer.  I started backing up and that did the trick.  The dog was trying to stay between us.  I locked her in the car and apologized to that poor other farmer but he was totally cool about it.  He said, when the sun went down it probably made the dog more wary, or maybe her vision wasn't great in the dim light.  Anyway, I learned my lesson.  I wouldn't let her roam free near other people again, though the situation hasn't arisen.

At home I grouped the basil into small bunches with rubber bands and then hung them upside down to dry.  The hanging required some real ingenuity.  I used a 60ft extension cord, because it was strong and I didn't have any twine.  Then I clipped the stems to the extension cord with tie-wraps.  There is quite a bit of basil there.  It's in the garage and when we open the garage door I almost wonder if the neighbors think we are harvesting marijuana or something because it looks like a mass production of herbs.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I had promised some jalapenos and tomatoes to the CSA I am a part of, yesterday.  So after work, at dusk actually, I took my 2 and 6 year old with me to the farm to collect jalapenos and tomatoes.  I knew it was a crap-shoot taking them with me.  They could enjoy it.  More likely they would make my peaceful-nature-savoring-enjoyment-all-to-myself  time absolutely miserable.  Of course they did the latter.  But I had to take that gamble because now that I'm working  at my new job the kids don't see me all day and I'm a firm believer that children spell love: T-I-M-E.  I had actually had a horrible day at work but I didn't want to take it out on the kids because that's not fair to them, so we sang songs on the way up.  We sang the old Sunday-school song: "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. Where? Down in my heart. Where? Down in my heart...."  And then I explained to Dimitri that that song is particularly fun to sing if you are Cambodian (which he is) because in Khmer (Cambodian language) joy means the f-word.  ha ha.

 So we get there.  It's getting quite dark quite fast.  I've got zip lock baggies and I'm collecting jalapenos in bags of five.  I get 25 or 30 bags of them so that was a great success.  Then some cherry and sungold tomatos in the cute little pint containers I buy at the restaurant supply store for $.25.  I was supposed to pick up a dozen full sized tomatoes too, for the drop, but I accidentally left them at the farm.  It was for the best though because they were not of the quality that I would want to (figuratively) put my name on. 

 So, as I said, the kids were miserable.  Saphira cried some and made me hold her a lot- which is perfectly understandable given that the weeds are up to her shoulders (embarrassed blush).  Dimitri kept trying to steal my keys because he wanted to turn on the car and practice driving!  He got them on two occasions and I had to chase him once and I hit him the second time, which completely goes against my discipline views, so I spent the next half hour debating, in my head, as to whether spanking/hitting is ever appropriate in discipline and if I crossed a line, or is it necessary in the same way that you may need to slap a baby's hand when they try to touch something hot.  (Of course, in that situation, you would always remove the temptation.  But in some hypothetical situation in which you could not remove the source of heat.  Say, you live in a cabin and cook on a fire and have no fencing.)

I finished harvesting the crops.  I drove to the drop off point.  At this point it is pitch black outside.  Thankfully there were other farmers there making drops so it didn't seem so eerie.  Dimitri, at one point dropped a pint of tomatoes.  I thought they all had fallen (thankfully only some did).  I wanted to cry.  But I remained calm.  I got to show the kids the walk in refrigerator, which is pretty cool.  It's inside a small feeder truck.  If you could see it, you would die.  It's loaded with fresh organic fruits and vegetables from local farms.  It smells so good.  There are crates and crates of peaches and cantaloupe.  You can almost taste them. 

I left the tomatoes in the outside drop off point because it's not good to refrigerate or wash those. 

And with that, we were off, to hit the hay and start a new day tomorrow.  Hopefully a better one. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Just my luck

The cherry tomato crop has been abundant and wonderful.  It has inspired me to plant much more of them next year.  And these little orange ones called Sungold tomatoes are so sweet.  They are absolutely heavenly.  I could sell a million of them easily. (With some free samples to hook the customer).

I started fantasizing about planting rows and rows of tomatoes next year and making tomato sauce with it.  We make a fabulous tomato sauce.  We don't even buy tomato sauce for our spaghetti.  We make it with plain tomato sauce- or even paste and water, a pinch of salt and sugar and a secret ingredient*, ground beef, also browned with salt, sugar and secret ingredient... mmmmm.  Imagine if I used fresh basil from my farm too? It would be to-die-for.  I saw canning jars at the store and it got me excited. 

In the mean time, we have three overflowing trays of cherry tomatoes on our kitchen table.  I've been eating them for breakfast and snacks.  Just constantly.  I even bring bowls of them with me in the car.  Here is where the title of this blog post will start to make sense.  You are not going to believe this... I think I am allergic to tomatoes.  I mean, really???  Could I have worse luck???  My face is breaking out like crazy.  Why, oh why, couldn't I just go into anaphylactic shock like normal people?  Why do I have to look like I'm going through puberty again?  I am also allergic to corn which does the same thing to me, but I've been avoiding corn- more specifically corn syrup.  I had a (new) McDonald berry-smoothie, which I thought could be the cause, but I looked at the ingredients online and there is no corn-syrup.  There is only one explanation.  (I mean, I know I'm not pregnant.  That would be the other explanation). 

Why did I have to come to this realization at this moment in time?  When my tomatoes were the saving grace of my farm?

Well, on the bright side, I may never have figured out this allergy if it weren't for this scenario.  Eating tomatoes 24/7?  That would never have happened were it not for my farm. 


*OK, I'll fess up.  The secret ingredient is MSG.  I can see the horror on the faces of my crunchy readers.  But I've researched it a bit and just can't see the proof that it's harmful unless you have a personal reaction to it.  My husband's family cooks with it and it really does make everything taste better.  And, anecdotally, the people of their culture are incredibly healthy.
Sun gold tomatoes

Budget

Well, It's becoming quite obvious that this year will end in major deficit.  My peppers are kind of small.  My beets are my only sale to the CSA so far.  My watermelon and cantaloupe were utter failures.  There are two inch high cantaloupe seedlings as of mid July.  I might get a pumpkin out of the deal, which we will totally enjoy carving.    I do not see this deficit as failure however because: a) Between the classes and mentoring, I am getting an education far more valuable than the money it is costing me.  b) my kids are getting the fresh air, sunshine and exercise that I am always nagging them to get.   c) the carrots and tomatoes have been plentiful and delicious. Enjoyable and a slight savings in grocery bills. d) there is the difficult to measure cost-benefit of all the other expensive activities I didn't have to take the kids to, to get them out of the house, like parking at the ocean, museums entrance fees, or what-have-you.

I was at the farmers market the other day, as a customer, and the other farmer's crops were intimidatingly plentiful.  They had pretty baskets and displays.  I'll need to buy some pretty baskets next year if I sell.  I have the tent and table though, which is a start.

I have quite a few cherry tomatoes which I'm thinking of packaging in environmentally harmful Styrofoam trays and selling for $2, because we won't be able to eat them all.  That might make my total profit this year $150, as compared to my expenses of well over $1000.  Yeah, the government subsidy of small farmers is making more sense to me at this moment.  Not that small farmers should be as inexperienced and incompetent as me, but it's quite obvious how small the profit margins are in this industry and we need to support our local organic farmers, both for the health benefits they provide to the community and to lower our dependence of foreign oil.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Q)   How can you tell if a plant is a "mustard"*?
A)   If it has flea beatle damage (little holes in the leaves)


I harvested my first batch of beets.  23 bunches- about four or five in a bunch.  They were all beautiful and large- many of them the size of baseballs.  I sold them to the CSA at about $3 a bunch, for a total of $66.  A drop in the bucket of the money I've put into this farm.  McKenzie has advised me to do a whole lot more beets and sell them because they are a fast turn around.  And.  Frankly, the rest of my farm isn't panning out so well.  ha ha.  When we harvested them she taught me to turn the bucket on its side and lay them root-forward so that when you turn the bucket right side up they are all neatly arranged root down. 

I enjoyed playing the role of "quality control" as we washed them.  What beets do I want my name on?  What beets do not meet my standard and are relegated to the take home pile?  I ended up taking home about a dozen.  McKenzie said that when you bake them they are "like candy".  So I baked them in honey and cinnamon and nutmeg and it turned out pretty gross.  They are not "like candy".  I think they will end up in the garbage.  So far, stir frying them has been my only success.  The problem with that is that it turns everything pink, which isn't very appetizing, but as long as it tastes good, I'm ok with it.  McKenzie did give me fabulous advice though, that you can stir-fry the leaves- which I did and they are great.  And you can chop up the stems and stir-fry with them, which I did, and they were great.  They're like celery. 

A BCS mower
She taught me how to use the BCS  mower.  I did all the weeds in the paths and it looks 100x better now. McKenzie said my shoulders would be sore from it.  I said I would not be sore because I work out a lot.  We made a bet.  This is the second bet we made. The first bet was when I was skeptical that the drip tape would be able to water the entire area under the black plastic.  Since I lost that bet (I knew I would), I warned her that if she loses this bet we'll be even again.  She still took me on.  And I have won this one.  I even did a leg workout at the gym so as not to throw off the results.




* Also known as the brassica or cruciferae family. It includes Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Collards, Kale, Kohlrabi, Mustard, Rape, Rutabaga and Turnip.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Stolen!

This weekend's trip to the farm was fairly uneventful except for the fact that someone stole most of our lemongrass!  There were only two of the eight left!  And I think those were left because they blended in with the weeds next to them.  It's quite bizarre because the field is behind a locked gate (usually) and even more strange because only a very small percentage of people would even recognize what it is, let alone know how to cook with it.  It definitely wasn't an animal because it was gone down to the root.  And the bottom end is hard like a stick, I doubt an animal could even eat it.  And the holes seemed to be filled in.  So it's a mystery.  But I live by a philosophy in which I always "assign positive intent", which means that in every situation you always assume the best of a person.  So in this situation I'm going to assume that they really needed it and couldn't afford it, in which case I would have given it to them anyway.  Or maybe it was just some crazy teenager being silly.  Because my husband was once one of those crazy teenagers who, on occasion, took a chicken from farms actually quite near mine right now, brought it home and ate it.  So, if it was a someone just fooling around like that I can forgive them too because it's a stage some people go through and I guess in some sort of Karma way we owe it to the world anyway.

What to have before you start

Here is a list of what I will make sure I have before I start next year based on what I've learned this year.  I'll add to it as I come across more things.

  • dirt rake and shovel (both provided by New Entry for those of you, reading this, who are in the program).
  • your own weed wacker and goggles
  • seeds
  • garden gloves (I don't usually wear them, but it's a nice option).
  • stakes 
  • a hammer (for the stakes)
  • sunscreen if you're light skinned or have young children
  • fertilizer and a bin to keep it in and tarp to put over said bin
  • Baskets for harvest
  • A tent and table for the farmers market
  • A watering can in case you have problems with the drip tape like I did
  • work boots and work pants: either jeans/overalls or dickies or a mechanic suit.
  • drip tape and plastic

 You should also have a backpack to wear in the field containing:
  • bottled water
  • twine
  • scissors for cutting twine and crops that regrow and occasionally other things too.  (You'd be surprised).
  • rubber bands for banding the crops when harvesting and the one occasion when you stupidly forget to put your hair in a pony tail
  • baby wipes to wipe the sweat off your face when it starts dripping in your eyes, making them burn and reducing your visibility
  •  cell phone
  • bug spray

Friday, July 16, 2010

The wonder of plant regeneration

I love, love, love learning about the world around me. I was taught from a young age to notice the designs in nature. So when I cut these two melons up the other day and noticed the same zig-zag pattern I was just awed. Look at the beautiful way the seed travels from the center of the melon to the outside. When it reaches the rind I'm sure it will burrow to the other side and plant itself. It is so beautiful!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

War on weeds

I went to the farm today with no real plan.  Sure there was plenty to do.  But nothing urgent.  I guess you could say that that is a success in and of itself, because it means I've gotten slightly on top of things.  First I picked up my weekly field report which said about the weeds, and I quote, "weeds [in pathways] are waist high. Seriously competing for sunlight/nutrients.   Bunny came out of the weeds while I was here.  Weedwack ASAP."   Nothing I didn't know already.  I've been desperate for that weedwacker. (There is a mower, but only my husband knows how to use it and I have no intentions of trying to learn because it would be unsuccessful and a huge waste of time.  I mean, the weedwacker itself took me 15 minutes to figure out, and all you have to do is pull the rip cord).  I opened the shed with low expectations of the weed wacker being there.  And it wasn't.  But wait... what was that in the back?  Could it be?  The weedwacker.  I think I heard a chorus of angels sing that harmonized note when something majestic happens. 

I took to the weeds!  OSHA probably could have sited me for not yelling "timber" before I fell some of them.  I got about 1/3 of the way done before the thing died because it needed more gas and there was none available. Oh, and the blade fell off and I was very proud of myself for reassembling it.   My arms were tired anyway.  I then set about pulling them by hand.  It was hard work but had the added benefit of pulling them down to the roots which hopefully will buy me some time before the next weed crisis.  I started stooped over and by the end of the night was on my hands and knees; soaking wet from the storm earlier in the day.  I got most of the pathways cleared on either side of my plants so they can access the sunlight. I could see that their growth did seem to be slightly stunted from their need to compete for sunlight.  But it occurred to me that that could have protected them from last week's heat wave.  So let's just pretend that that was my plan all along.

On a completely different note: Remember the exquisite criss-cross design tomato stakes I put up?  Well I've given up on that.  I saw another farmer who just tied tomatoes to their own stake.  Seems easier to me.  Although it's nice to know my options.  When I tell you what I ended up doing though you will raise an eyebrow.  And if you could actually see it (maybe I'll take a picture) you will laugh.  Since it took me so long to stake them, there was already some serious tomato spreading going on.  So I basically tied up the plants with twine wrapped around them every which way back and forth between the stakes and the branches numerous times.  The heavy ones needed lots of support so I would pull it up in this direction tied to a stake and a little to the right tied to this other stake.  And basically it looks like this big jumbled mess.  We'll see how it works.  It reminds me of how I sew.  I was a straight A student in middle school who got my one C on my sewing project in home economics.  And in nursing school I witnessed a surgery and was inspired to become a surgeon until I realized it would require neat sewing skills. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Thinning

The hardest concept for me to accept as a new farmer is thinning.  It just seems like such a waste, ney, a travesty, to kill off a large percentage of your crop just to make room for a small percentage.  But I was looking at a neighbor farmers beets.  They were big, beautiful and about five inches apart each.  Obviously she did some pretty darn good thinning right from the start.  So today I thinned my cantaloupe and carrots.  The carrots were "baby-carrot" sized, so I didn't feel guilty thinning it because baby carrots rock.  The cantaloupe I knew I had to do because I'm already so behind on getting them in the ground that I couldn't fool around with the "maybe it will work smooshed together" experiment.    I had transplanted two dozen of them last week and most of them weren't doing well so that actually made it easier to thin, knowing that transplanting them wouldn't be very successful so: "I have no choice but to toss them," I could justify to myself.  Yes, the least-wasteful thing to do is to just plant seeds at the proper spacing.  I have to admit the cantaloupe I just tossed a bunch in each hole because I had so many and I wasn't sure they were even going to work, as they are part of my "food supply fertility" experiment.  Carrots and beets are pretty much impossible to plant appropriately because the seeds are so small.  I know they make pelleted carrot seeds to eliminate that problem.  (They are bigger, easier to handle and plant).  Maybe I'll try that.

After thinning the carrots I painstakingly washed and cut them and brought them to my sister in laws baby shower where everyone lovingly enjoyed them and complimented me... no, unfortunately that's not what happened.  Nobody touched them!  I don't think they avoided them.  There was just so much food.  A lot of the food there went uneaten.  Nevertheless it was one of those moments you kind of wanted to bang your head on the wall.  All that time and sweat and all I got out of it was this bowl of baby carrots that would have cost $2 at the store and nobody appreciated them.  (Even though I explained they were from my farm).  I know.  I know.  You, my reader, my friend, would have eaten and appreciated them.  I thank you for that. 

A wee bit of a hypocrit

Hey, I'm not a perfect environmentalist.  I'm a work in progress.  But I have to admit I feel guilty when I'm working on the farm guzzling my disposable bottle of Poland Springs water.  yeah.  That's bad.  I know.  There's the whole "island-of-plastic-the-size-of-Hawaii floating around the Pacific" aspect to it.  And there's the whole "It's a human rights travesty to charge money for water" aspect.  And the whole "We're ravaging beautiful rural New Hampshire out of greed" aspect.  And the whole: "it requires 7 times as much water as is in the bottle to produce and transport it" aspect.  Soooo, I basically need to get my act together and not use those.  We buy them in the summer for beach trips but they are addicting and you keep using them for other things.  Otherwise we drink generic brand bottled gallon water, which isn't great, but it's a step up.  Our city water is actually very very good.  But there is a tiny bit of a taste difference and in the end that makes a big difference.  Sometimes we'll run out of bottled gallons and switch for a day or two and I always plead the case to my husband that we should permanently switch.  And he always says that I'm free to switch, but everyone else is still going to drink the bottled water.  And he gets me every time, because I can't resist it if it's there.

As for the other options:
  • We've done Brita filters but they aren't very feasible for a family of six and I get kind of grossed out at the thought of them getting algae or slimy on the sides.
  • Delivered 5 gallon bottles- which are reused every time, so there's no waste: We did this for a few years until I discovered (to my horror) that the bottles have BPA in them.  I could have died when I saw that.  I read a study that says that girls whose mothers drank from BPA bottles during pregnancy had a more mean and aggressive tendencies.  And I, of course, drank it my whole pregnancy with my daughter.
  • We've never tried filters attached to the tap.  It's a viable option for us to consider.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Majority of seeds are in!

My biggest hurdle this year has been getting my seeds in!  Because of both time and money.  But I got a whole bunch of cucumber, snap pea and pumpkin seeds at WIC for free.  And then today at Walgreens they were 3/$1 so I got cantaloup, carrots, beets, watermelon, scallion and lettuce.  Score! Planting long rows is kind of mind numbing.  You can lose track of which hole you're at so I do four at a time. (And doing one at a time is too slow).  Dig four holes.  Fertilize four holes.  Seeds in four holes.  1,2,3,4.  You're always working on the last four. 

The cantaloupe I planted a few days ago sprouted.  It brought a smile to my face.  I should have known they would sprout, because last year they did for me too! (When I planted them in September.  They, of course, died soon after).  When I planted them I threw a couple seeds in each hole and now they are sprouting in little bunches.  I thinned and replanted some but there's no way I could do that to all of them.  Based on my beet observations  thinning them is critical for them to flourish.  It  pains me to throw out perfectly good plants.  I think I'll check with McKenzie and double check that it's necessary.  I'm sure it is, but it will make me feel better about it. 

These cantaloupe are part of my little experiment to find out how much of our food supply is infertile. 
  • Experiment A: the honeydew melon.  I think they didn't sprout.  It's hard to say for sure because they were buried in weeds and I didn't know what they were supposed to look like.  But there were no similar looking plants in rows.  
  • Experiment B: the cantaloupe.  It sprouted.  Will it fruit?
  • Experiment C: the watermelon.  Didn't sprout.  (At least not yet).

The weeds are just outrageous.  In the pathways between beds they are up to my waist, I exaggerate not. There is only one weed wacker between the three farm sites and I have only been lucky enough to have it once.  Every time I go though I hope that it's there and last time when it wasn't I had a bit of a manic attack and hyperventilated for about ten minutes.  It was all for the best though because I've been working til well after dark and I've needed every minute for seeding, weeding and watering (we've been having 100 degree weather.)  Once that is all caught up I can attack the weeds in the pathways. 


Every week my mentor assesses my field and writes a note for me of the things I'm doing right and the things that need attention, as well as good advice.  After the first week, I've, honestly, dreaded opening up that note on the bulletin board with my name on it. I'm sure the mentor is tempted to write "Hopeless.  Don't even try.  Just scrap the whole thing.  What were you thinking?  You were not cut out to be a farmer.  Don't quit your day job".  Nevertheless I open it, if nothing else to take it off the board and show the mentor that I actually showed up once during the week. She is good about writing compliments along with the suggestions. There have been a few bug issues- leaves with holes in them and such.  I'll have to deal with that soon.  She suggested to plant basil around my peppers to protect them!  How creative!  I've got some basil seedlings.  Maybe I can transplant them.

Today's note said that my Cambodian lettuce (don't know its actual name) is starting to bolt.  I had to look up the word bolt when I got home* but in the mean time I had a pretty good idea that it needed to be harvested because it was very big and many of the leaves brown from the heat. So I cut all the biggest leaves and also brought home a gigantic beet and three little carrots.  I think I'll pickle the lettuce.  The Cambodians eat that with teriaki sticks among other things and it goes very well with it.

 

*Bolting means getting ready to flower and then die. The plant often changes flavor when it starts to form a flower stalk.  Bolting is often related sudden changes in temperatures or very hot weather.

Friday, July 2, 2010

My helpers

On the way to the farm yesterday my son was making fun of me when I told him I needed to buy stakes.  He said a real farmer would make them out of sticks them-self.  And honestly, in my head, that thought had occurred to me before.  We were just joking around, but when we got there the boys took the ax and Brandon carved a point pretty easily on the end of a branch and we decided that maybe we really could make our own stakes.  It's not something I recommend, in a cost/benefit analysis sort of way, but what a great experience for my boys!  They often role play as woodworkers in their online games.  Now they get to try it out for real.  I sent them into the woods to gather long thick sticks to chop up and sharpen.  We brought the ax home to sharpen too.  It was dull as a butter knife.  The most dangerous knife is a dull one- and I imagine that's true for axes too.  It reminds me of something Abe Lincoln said, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. "

Mistakes I've made along the way

Some things I will do differently next year:
  1. Start (nearly) every plant in the greenhouse in early spring
  2. While I'm planting the seedlings in the plastic, straighten out the drip tape so it goes right down the middle
  3. Not kill the ladybugs!
  4. Buy all the seeds in late winter.  This year I didn't get the watermelon in because we never had the money for the seeds!.  :(  But really.  If there's a will there's a way.  You just have to MAKE a way.  It reminds me of a Jeanette Oak novel I read when I was a kid, in which the impoverished farming family endured three years of no water.  And on that third or fourth year they had no money but the mom sold her precious heirloom china to buy seeds to plant in the hopes that this would be the year that the rains came.  And they did.
  5. Put the bags of fertilizer in individual garbage bags.  We stacked them up on a tarp this year and covered them with another tarp, but they still managed to get wet.  Some of the bags are falling apart and the fertilizer inside is rotting.  It's so gross!!!!.  Also, sometimes when I come, the tarp is pulled back.  I don't know if it's the wind or an animal.  Is there a creature that could possibly like to eat fertilizer (besides the flies that are all over it)??  If it's a human getting into my stuff I don't really mind.  I'm a very "mi casa, su casa" kind of person.  If someone needs to borrow something of mine they are welcome to it.  And if they want it and I don't need it they are welcome to it too.
  6. Don't bother buying the $1 box of wildflower seeds that's picture on the front promises a luscious garden.  If it looks too good to be true, it is.  Plus the term "wild" should be a clue to you that they are going to spread everywhere in the form of troublesome weeds.
  7. Always wear long socks with your boots or your ankles will get raw.

Let's talk drip tape

When Don, the farm maintenance man layed the drip tape he ran out before my last three rows.  Even though I had paid for them, I didn't mind because I've been really relying on the other farmers a lot this year for sourcing and transporting materials, so it's sort of my turn to contribute- if you want to think of it that way.  There was old drip tape in the shed that I could use.  When I mentioned that I was going to lay it to McKenzie she exchanged an odd look with the other person in the room, as if I didn't know what I was in for.  I found out the next day when I lay the drip tape.  Unlike, say, crepe paper, you can't undo a twist by just flipping it, because then the twist will just pass to the other side of your hand.  Sooooo, you have to twist the whole length of drip tape at once.  The only way to do this is to hold the entire thing in your hand while you lay it and untwist it before it goes on the ground.  Luckily someone had wrapped the thing nicely.  Two of them were too short so I have to buy a connecting thingy.  In the meantime I'm using duct tape, which is OK but not great.  Necessity really is the mother of invention.  Just like when I used the back side of an ax to hammer in the tomato stakes since I didn't have a hammer.

Learning

I learned a few things at the farm today:

  • If you don't stake the tomatoes in its early stages it will grow like pumpkins, spreading across the ground.  Speaking of tomatoes; I have a few tiny ones and they make the plant smell heavenly
  • I gathered a bunch of the South-East-Asian-lettuce for my in-laws that were in full bloom.  When I presented them, they asked if this was the whole crop and I proudly told them that there was so much more back in the field!  Later my husband told me that what they really meant when they asked me that was: "You idiot!  You pulled them up by the roots!  Now they won't grow back."  ha ha.   Live and learn.  I'm not sure how I'm supposed to pull them up without the root though.  It slides out with a gentle tug.  I'm sure I'll figure it out next time.  Maybe it was for the best though.  I think they needed to be thinned.   
  • It's really important to keep the tools you are using on your person.  If you put it down, you will inevitably walk away from it and good luck finding it among all the plants!  This is especially true for me given my weed "situation".  I suddenly understood the value of those little loops in pants for holding hammers/tools!  These days it's just a fashion accessory.  But, dang, if you need it, it's really handy.  
  • When using the weed wacker always use goggles.  This of course isn't something I tried for even one minute.  But if I had tried it for one minute I would have discovered that the thing sprays you head to toe in green bits and pieces and it seems to me that one catch of a rock or dirt would result in permanent blindness.  All weed wackers should have an attachment for the storage of goggles to encourage use.  Luckily, I found some in a bin in the shed.  I was very proud of myself for getting the weed wacker started.  It took me a good fifteen minutes to figure out. I'm not mechanically inclined at all.  My husband is a mechanically inclined prodigy.  That's the beauty of marriage.  Complimenting each other.  "As iron sharpens iron", goes the expression.   This reminds me of a funny story from when we were dating.  His cell phone got locked somehow.  It was very peculiar.  He played with it extensively.  This is the sort of thing he can figure out.  But he just couldn't get it.  It's the sort of thing I could never figure out.  But I had the stroke of genius to go downstairs and call the cell phone company and get the code to unlock it.  I went upstairs and begged him to try.  I insisted that I could do it.  After a long while he begrudgingly let me try.  Beep beep beep beep.  I punched in the code and unlocked it.  He just about died.  I didn't tell him how I knew!!!  It was awesome!!!!  He worshiped my feet.  That was back in the early dating stage when you're still trying to impress the person.  I definitely scored points for that one.
OK, back to farming...Remember a few Sunday's ago the word nematode kept repeating in my head while I weeded?  Well today the word was aphid*!  I wasn't even sure what those words meant until I looked them up when I got home!  What a bizarre phenomenon.  Farming has a unique mind-clearing quality.

I bet I know what the farmer's wife's  favorite modern day invention is... the cell phone.  Otherwise it's impossible to get a hold of a farmer.  They are out there in, practically, the middle of no where.  And at about 300 feet the ability to understand what a person is saying drops way off.  On a related note: walking back and forth across the field, to the source of water, the shed, etc, is hugely time consuming.  It's really important to think three steps ahead to determine what you are going to need in the future.



*aphid:  A pest.  Numerous tiny soft-bodied insects that suck the sap from the stems and leaves of various plants, some developing wings when overcrowding occurs.

An impromptu mentoring session

Mckenzie and I pulled up to the farm at the same time today so she got to go over the state-of-the-field with me.    It was so convenient! I'm a spontaneous person anyway, so it works out even better for me than if we had scheduled something.  She showed me what she means when she says "weeding".  She pointed to an itty bitty bitty little green sprout and said I had to get that out.  I'm like, "are you serious?!"  But then she showed me how she does it: raking her fingers through the dirt really fast, just kind of bulldozing it.  It looked like a very do-able technique.  And I imagine if you're on top of your weeds like that it might actually take less time on the long run.  She said you should do it very very fast.  She's always talking about being fast and efficient and I totally understand why.  The profit margins on farming are very very very thin.  So keeping your man hours low is the only way to make it profitable.

In my original CSA* plan- back in late winter, I had committed to bringing in 120 bunches of beets. This is how the conversation with the CSA coordinator went:

me: "I don't have as many beets as I was signed up for."
Matthew: How many do you think you have?"
me: "mmm.  Maybe twenty"
Matthew: "Ok.  I'll put you down for twenty"
Me: "Ok thanks"
Matthew: "Bring the twenty bunches in Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning"
Me: "Oh bunches?"
Matthew: "yeah, how many bunches do you think you will have?"
Me: "um... four?" 

Pathetic I know.  It's because I didn't weed them until it was too late so they were competing for nutrients and space.  Plus they could be thinned more.  It's interesting how a beet by itself can be twice the size of two beets side-by-side.  Thankfully, my CSA coordinator, Matthew, is a total angel and he was very nice about it.  He says this year is a learning year.  The next time I harvest the beets (my next commitment is in 6 weeks) I will do it in the early morning before they've gotten any heat from the day.  Then immediately rinse them in cool water.  McKenzie says that's the difference between a beet or lettuce that will last one day and one that will last two weeks. 

I learned how to stake the tomato plants.  Home gardeners are probably familiar with the fancy circular metal stakes for tomatoes, but this way is cheaper, in my opinion cooler, and more feasible for large crops of tomatoes.  This is how you do it: Every two plants you pound in a stake deeply with a hammer.  Then using twine (I was wondering why I had to buy twine) you tie it tightly between the two stakes and then go back again.  This is the tricky part.  The twine makes a figure eight around the two plants/a criss-cross in the middle.    So basically the plant is going to grow through the narrow space between the two twines.  (Is twines a word?)   Repeat it every six inches up the stake. And when you have a whole row of tomatoes like me, repeat it another dozen or so times.  This, of course, should be done very very fast, as per McKenzie's instructions..  lol. 

*CSA   Community Supported Agriculture.  It's all the rage these days.  It's where the community basically invests in a farmer, so that he or she isn't taking on the whole risk and investment themself.  The customer buys a "share" for something like $700 a year. Sometimes they offer big and small shares; every week or every other week, that sort of thing.  Then you go to the designated pick up place and you get your fresh picked vegetables of the week.  Usually the harvest is bountiful so it pays for itself.  It's local.  It's (almost always, depending on the farm) organic.  It's a win-win for everyone.

A ghetto surprise

I live in the city, above an African Salon ("Salon D'Afrique").  Next to my apartment is a laundromat.  Today I was in the garbage strewn parking lot, between the two buildings, putting my daughter in her stroller, when I saw in the cracks of the pavement an itty bitty carrot top.  I bent down and pulled it up by the roots and it did have a straight root like a carrot.  Could it be a wild carrot?  In the middle of the city?  I chewed it and, to my surprise, it was!  I looked around and found some more in other cracks!  I picked and ate them all.  (though, given their size, maybe "tasted" is a more appropriate word.)  It's so exciting to me to be gaining some agriculture knowledge, that I can spot a plant and recognize it's leaf.  It reminds me of a random project I once did, (I'm known for those) in which I picked, dried, and cataloged every type of weed in my yard.  There were literally hundreds of them.  I just taped them into this little crayola construction paper booklet.  I never bothered looking up their names, but I did have a good time putting them in categories of similarity- pointy leaves, round leaves, multiple leaves per stem, single leaf per stem, one vein per leaf, multiple veins per leaf, etc. etc.  It was loads of fun; a chance to just admire the diversity all around us that we take for granted.  I had fantasies of discovering a new species.

Weeding is a form of meditation

The other day Mckenzie emailed me and mentioned gently that it looks like I'm a little behind on weeding and planting and would I like to meet with her?  I'm glad she positioned her question nonchalantly because I was very sensitive about the pathetic state of my farm.  I forwarded the email to my husband because he hasn't been to the farm in a while (he got a new job) and he was really clueless about the state of things.  Her email was the wake-up call he needed so he went with me to the farm after a long day of work even though he was exhausted.  We managed to go without the kids so it was kind of like a date.  We sat across from each other and planted our pepper seedlings.  It was romantic.   The only thing that would have made it more cliche was, perhaps a love making scene.  But that's never going to happen.  Too freakin dirty there.  No pun intended.  He said that we went faster if I dug the holes and he pulled out all the seedlings from the tray.  I know he just wanted to do that job because it's the fun one.  I didn't care though.  I like all the jobs. 

After seeing the disastrous state of things, he's made it a higher priority for me to get to the farm.  In life you have choices.  And every thing you do is , whether you like it or not, a choice not to do other things.  I learned that from this candid black woman at a conference for pre-med students at UMASS med school.  During the question & answer section this one girl was saying she wanted to be a forensic pathologist but she couldn't take advantage of this scholarship because of bla bla bla and she couldn't take this pre-med class because of bla bla bla.  And the awesome professor totally set her straight and explained that if she wanted to be a Med student she had to find a way to do it.   I've been thinking a lot about this concept because farming is really displacing a lot of other things in my life.  I haven't been to the gym in weeks!!!!  The only reason I'm OK with that is that I'm still getting a fair amount of exercise walking and biking around town and working on the farm.

Today farming displaced church.  This, of course, is a source of guilt because I do try to follow the commands of the Lord and one of them is to observe the sabbath.  I spent a good deal of time contemplating the situation as I weeded in the peaceful field by myself.  Weeding is meditative to me.  It is a form of rest to me.  So how could this be breaking the sabbath?  In this day and age, getting up and dressed and dragging the kids out the door to church seems as much like work as every other day in which we do the same thing to go to school and work and errands.  So how is that a day of rest?  So, even though I am not against Sunday church service, I think it is a bit of a mistake to insinuate that attending church meets the qualifications of a sabbath observed.

 As I sat there weeding, Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata went through my head.  It's a beautiful song, but when you only a know three bars of the song, like me, it gets old fast.  After the 10th run through your mind you kind of want to bash your head in.  I also kept thinking the word "nematode" over and over (microscopic worm/parasite) for no particular reason.  Normally my mind is always racing with ideas and thoughts.  Perhaps it's good for me to sometimes think of nothingness.

By the time I left I had gotten all the weeding caught up.  It was the most gratifying feeling ever.  Especially after the previous week in which we were falling behind and I had nightmares that I had accidentally pulled up all my carrots. 

Speaking of carrots, I've eaten a few of them.  They are itty bitty.  One might even mistake it for a weed.  But... and this might seem obvious, but to me it is fascinating... it tastes like carrot.    How can something so small capture a taste essence so perfectly?  I also brought home a bunch of fully grown beets in a basket.  The pride you feel in home-grown produce makes all the time and money investment worth it.  And I don't even like beets.  lol.  Well, I'm starting to like them now.  The only experience I have with them is every Easter when my mom serves pickled beets.  I never touch them (and I eat everything).  I can imagine how it became an Easter tradition though- back in the days when there weren't super-markets.  Easter came at the end of winter, so there was nothing but pickled/canned/dried produce left to eat.  Nothing fresh. 

When I was speaking with a Portuguese neighbor, I told him I was going to plant watermelon and he immediately protested that it was too late.  These immigrant gardeners really know there stuff.  I knew I was in trouble when he said that.  So I came up with a brilliant plan b.  I have decided to drive several hours north to a farm in New Hampshire and buy a crap-load of strawberry plants.  I have to call them first and see if they will bear fruit this year or not.  I only want the ones that will.  Sure, it will be more expensive than the watermelon seeds would have been, but there's no way I'm just letting all that land go to waste and I really had my heart set on fruit.

Bugs

The variety of bugs you come across is amazing.  A lot of spiders, surprisingly.  Also a huge amount of ladybugs.  At first we thought they were adorable.  Until we figured out that they weren't just there to look pretty.  So we killed dozens of them.  Then I went home and googled them and found out that they are called "A gardners best friend" because they eat pests.  DOH!

After a day at the farm, one evening, I was breastfeeding Saphira and I saw a tick on the back of her earlobe (ironically, the same place I found one on my son when he was her age). I'm so lucky to have caught it. The risk of lyme disease transmission is minimal to nil in the first 24 hours. Nevertheless I was pretty vexed. Even more frightening was finding another tick on my scalp the next day! - possibly more than 24 hours after attachment!

The last report I did in school when I got my RN was on Lyme Disease so, of course, I'm pretty phobic of it. It can range from mild to incapacitating. And it has the unenviable distinction of being a controversial disease. Meaning that, if you have a severe case of it, you will be hard-pressed to find a doctor to prescribe the long-term antibiotics that you need. This is because (soap box rant here:) the medical community is so ridiculously paranoid about causing a super bug. If they were so concerned they should look at the larger root of the problem- the factory styled farms that pump out our meat supply, at the cost of unsanitary conditions and the necessary antibiotics to keep this practice viable.

I happen to know the real cure to Lyme Disease. OK, it hasn't been proven, but it worked for the author of Cure Unknown: Inside the Lyme Epidemic and it makes a lot of sense scientifically. I will share it with you for the minority reader who will actually care: When someone with Lyme Disease takes a round of antibiotics they will experience a herxheimer response, in which they get really sick from all the spirochetes dying. But a certain percentage of spirochetes remain protected, in cyst form. When those come out of hibernation the body is, once again, ravaged by Lyme Disease. But if a patient were to take three rounds of antibiotics, with a break in between each, to allow the cysts to revert to spirochete form they can kill (theoretically) them all.

Depressing

Today, when I went to the farm the weeds were everywhere. It makes me think of the verses in Genesis 3.

"Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground"

Yup. Depressing. My neighbor farmer, Dominic, and I commiserated. He commented that the weeds were all-consuming. I have three beds (200 feet each) that aren't covered by black plastic and they are 100% weeds. Just one long row of green. Half of it was never planted on. I may just give up on them. Or maybe there is a way to just dig up all the weeds at once since there are no plants to avoid. The rows of black plastic are beautiful to look at. One lone plant in the middle. No weeds surrounding it. I could kiss it. I think next year I'll do all black plastic. I'm not sure if that's even possible with the small roots- carrots and beets, but if there is a way, I will find it.

Black plastic is kind of ugly. In a nearby town (think: snooty, upperclass) there is this public garden for all the kids to learn how to plant in. I was reading the plan for it and it said there would not be any ugly black plastic (I can't remember the exact wording); that it would be all natural practices, etc. I think that environmentally concerned citizens have this idealized dream of sustainable farming practices. And there is nothing wrong with that. It's like this goal that we should shoot for. And certainly there are things that non-negotiable- like cancer causing pesticides. But it's easy to judge without a full understanding of farming. I am slowly learning that hard lesson. I remember, before this year of farming, reading about how to make a green house. I decided that if I were to make a green house I wouldn't use PCV piping which is environmentally irresponsible. But at my New Entry training they did a brief overview of how to make a green house and there was no discussion of alternatives to PCV piping, which makes me think that an alternative is not very viable- either because of labor or material cost.

I spent a great deal of time weeding the carrots. We pulled various green stems to see which was the top of a carrot. We decided that carrots were kind of whitish with a straight root-no little hairy roots branching off. Once we got that straight we had at it. But I doubt my farm mentors will even be able to tell that I weeded. It still looks overgrown.

We didn't have time to touch the beet weeds. Though I admit to pulling up one beet, brushing the dirt off and attempting to bite it to see what it tastes like. I guess you really need to wash it though to get rid of that dirt taste.

I planted two more trays of peppers. I have two more to go. I'm almost done!

I checked the pumpkin seeds I planted several days ago. The seeds hadn't even cracked open yet. Like the weed problem: Depressing. I'm beginning to think I've missed the window of opportunity to plant our watermelon and cantaloupe, which basically my whole budget rested on this year. Depressing. Next year I think I'll sprout them indoors in May. I don't mind taking a financial hit this year. It was more for the experience than anything.

The last several times I've gone to the farm I was alone (or with small children). I think it's dumb how people can be excited about something in theory but when it comes time to actually doing the work, they're no where to be seen. I think there is something deep down in my soul that needs to be close to nature and that motivates me to go. Maybe that is why I'm so sensitive to sunlight. I don't do well with night shifts and the short days of winter. Also, I enjoy working hard. I think that's because I moved every other year growing up. When moving day came you just pick up a box and carry it to the moving truck. Repeat as necessary. And if you did it slowly the job never got done, but if you did it quickly, it did.

Predators!

We saw a rainbow on the way to the farm. Dimitri wanted to look for the pot of gold. I told him it was a myth. Strangely, I've heard songs about rainbows a lot over the past few days. Cue the twilight music. My mom would just say that "I'm just more aware of it" but I don't think so.

When we got out of the Mango (that's what we call our Dodge Durango) a fellow farmer met me and said that our field had been ravaged by the turkeys. Terror filled my heart as I headed to the field. All that work! It could be gone in an instant! For one minute I actually felt sympathy for my mean old neighbor who killed my bunny. I used to let my bunny wander the back yard and it would sneak under the fence and eat my neighbors garden.

Thankfully the field was OK. Only about a half dozen plants had been eaten. It was kind of cute. They were all in a row. All their stems bitten off. You could just imagine the creature munching on them. I kind of hope they were the deer and not the turkey. Deer are cuter. I got word that they've put up electric fencing since then. Hopefully that will take care of it.

Rain or Shine

Day four at the farm. It was pouring out all afternoon, but I was going to go; rain or shine. I have about $70 worth of seedlings in the greenhouse that are drying out like the Sahara. And that's just what I paid for them. Their crop value is in the hundreds. So I was going to go and water them and, rain or shine, plant as many as I could. It made me think of those stories in the Laura Ingles books where the whole family has to get up in the middle of the night to save the crops from an unexpected frost. We farmers gotta do what we gotta do. But thankfully it wasn't raining when I got there.  (Though on later occasions I did weed during rain storms.  It wasn't bad at all.  As long as it's warm out it's actually quite soothing).

I wore my husband's mechanic outfit and some boots. I've pretty much given up on wearing my own clothes. I just leave covered in mud anyway and it's only a matter of time before I blow out the knees in the pants.

When I got there I met a new neighboring farmer, Tim. He was making three rows and they were beautiful. Dang, all these perfectionist farmers are making me look bad. It was nice to have a friend nearby though. We chit chatted about how there is so much to do and everything is top priority; there is nothing that can wait. And we both said at the same time: "why do we do this to ourselves?" lol. For me: I have to plant my seedlings, plant my melons, and weed my beets and carrots. It's all urgent. The beets, by the way, look about the same as they did before I weeded them last time. It's very depressing.

I spent the next two hours planting seedlings. The tomato plants were looking very sad. Hopefully I saved them. When they were still in the trays I watered them all, seemingly enough. But when we took them all out there was only two millimeters of wet dirt. I had no idea how much water it took to really water them.

Dimitri was with me. I dug holes, fertilized them, then he put the plant in and filled in the dirt. The plants slipped right out of the square with a gentle tug on the stem. It was a satisfying feeling to pull them out- if that makes any sense. It was the perfect job for him. He also did some watering (all the kids favorite job). By the end he just sat there next to me. We chatted and he showed off the math problems that he knew. It was the sort of lackadaisical conversation that would be hard to have at home with all of the distractions.

When you mix in the (organic) fertilizer it's important to mix it in or the nitrogen just evaporates. Keeping Nitrogen in the soil is a constant goal of the farmer. One way to do this is to plant soybeans or peas which are nitrogen fixers. They don't actually add Nitrogen but they don't take it away either. The other way- and this is an important thing all farmers must do- is to let a part of their field "fallow" every couple of years. You just plant a cover crop like clovers and let it rest. Another way to utilize every part of the land (especially here where land is so valuable) is to plant clovers in the walking paths so they can be enriched while the beds are being drained. It's also helpful in reducing the mud. Oddly, water treatment facilities dump so much Nitrogen into lakes that they have to pay Nitrogen credits because of the oxygen it depletes and the algae it creates. It's too bad you can't make fertilizer out of that. Well, that's a whole other issue. I read a book about the sludge from water treatment being used as fertilizer and all the terrible chronic diseases and cancers the farmers got from it. There are so many toxins being dumped in our sewage supply ranging from embalming chemicals from funeral homes to pharmaceuticals dumped down household drains . That's an environmental issue that really needs to be addressed.

Green Thumb

I officially can use the expression "green thumb" about myself because today I literally had a green thumb! I weeded my beets for two hours and that was the result. Ok. ok. It was more yellow than green. But I'm still counting it.

I took Brandon, Wolfie and Saphira with me. Timmy went fishing with Dimitri. Which, if you think about it, means that he was hunting while I was gathering. ha ha.

We had a lot of work to do. The season is just starting to get really busy. McKenzie emphasized that I had to get the beets thinned ASAP, so that was the main goal. I also wanted to plant as many of my pepper and tomato seedlings as possible. I was lucky I went today because they were dry and starting to wilt.

We worked for 3 1/2 hours and I'm really proud of Brandon and Wolfie because they really did work. I only had to yell at them a little. And when I say yell, I mean yell, because the field is so big you can't just talk to each other when you are on other ends. At one point they were spraying each other with the hose. And at another point Brandon sat down for 15 minutes and widdled a piece of wood into a point with his name (crudely) written on it. But other than that, they were working pretty consistently. As I kneeled there in the dirt I kept thinking how awesome it was that we have this project that we have to do for hours every week. It forces us into the out-doors/fresh-air that I crave so much for myself and the kids. I feel so blessed.


The last time we came in the evening the bugs were brutal, so this time I remembered the bug spray. It wasn't bad though this time, for some reason.

We saw a turkey. :) McKenzie says they are building turkey and deer fencing because they eat everything.

Wolfie did a great job of poking holes in the black plastic and mixing in fertilizer. Brandon and Wolfie planted about 100 feet of seedlings (approximately a foot apart each). We turned on the drip tape for the first time. I weeded the beets. At first I was looking closely to see which ones had red stems so I wouldn't pick beets. But I quickly figured out that I'd never get done if I continued at that leisurely pace. So I started pretty much pulling everything like a mad woman. The beets were obvious. So there was no need to analyze what was or wasn't a beet. Just avoid the big patches of red-stemmed- similar looking ones. It was also a great job to do with Saphira because she sat next to me and could pretty much grab anything and it was almost guaranteed to be a weed. And if it was a beet, it probably needed to be thinned anyway. While I weeded them I also thined them about three finger lengths apart. There were long patches with no beets. And then long patches of densely growing beets. Which makes me think that maybe it would have been better if I had planted the seeds by hand. I replanted as many of them that I could in the bare patches. I still had a lot left when the sun was going down so I took them with me and hopefully will be able to plant them at my in-law's houses tomorrow. I don't know how much they will wilt in the car overnight. I don't know how hardy they are.

By the end of the day Wolfie was sick of me saying the word beets so he made me replace them with the word bread when i spoke of them; like "Look at this big bread" or "Boys, go water the bread".

Day 2

May 1st. It's a beautiful Saturday morning so we gathered up the troops and I packed up every conceivable thing I could think of; including a folding table to eat lunch on ( a wasted effort however, because there was already one there). I relished the chance to sport the hippy farmer look. I wore work boots, a long skirt and a tank plus two french braids framing my face. My brother in law, Bun; niece, Jennifer and nephew, Calvin came along.

I was surprised that our neighboring farmers weren't there since the weather was perfect and everyone had so much planting to do. Our farm maintenance man, Don, had made raised beds for us with his tractor. To the untrained eye, they might look like rows of dirt; but to the farmers who made a single bed by hand last week, it was a work of art to rival Mona Lisa.

The kids worked with us for the first hour and then played. I was overjoyed watching them. I don't think I've ever seen them play so hard: running non-stop, back and forth through the rows and pouring cool water on their heads with the watering can. Thank God that Bun brought sun screen or they would have burned. I never think of that because I don't burn and my husband is dark skinned so I know it's unusual for them to burn. But the first scorching day of the spring on baby skin was turning Saphira's face pink.

Timmy used the rototiller to finish one half done bed and make a clean finish to the two ends of the field. We smoothed out the 200 foot bed and fertilized it. The way the tractor made our beds there is, like, a lump in the middle of each path. I hate to see the land go to waste so we're going to turn most of them into mini-beds, good enough for small crops, like our row of carrots. Timmy planted carrots and he had started to double back on the row with the extra seeds when I saw him from across the field. "STOP!!!!!!" I yelled. "Do you know how much work it is to thin carrot seedlings??"- one of the many things I've learned from farm class.

I have to say, before this year I was very naive about farming. Well, I knew I had a lot to learn and that's what drew me to this program which provided me with classes and a mentor, but let's just say I didn't know what I didn't know. Yes, it can be as simple as seed + water + sun + soil = plant, but that is just the beginning. That is like 1+1 = 2 in the world of agriculture. I'm used to being the class brainiac- especially in nursing school. I was usually the first one done with the tests and I did well, despite never reading the texts or studying more than just the night before. In farm class I was lucky if I could follow the conversation. Half of the vocabulary was a foreign language to me. Neptunes? Drip tape? Night shades? Mouldboard? disc and sickle mowers? nematode? tilth? hard pan? Sub soiling? Cucurbitaceae?* huh?? wha??? I loved the challenge though, the new world of knowledge opening up to me.

We also planted honey dew melons. These are a part of my little experiments this year. I had saved a bunch of seeds last summer to plant. Later I found out about "hybrids" and "heirlooms". Apparently much of the produce we eat comes from hybrid seeds that produce quality fruit but the seeds inside those fruit are sterile. I'm curious a) if that's true. (ha ha. I've got to see it to believe it. I'm such a dork). and b) how many of the seeds I collected this is true for. What is the percentage of our food supply that is altered like this?

We watered the seeds with the watering can, walking back and forth from the faucet to the field which took a ridiculous amount of time. We only have one bed planted too! (Three, two-hundred foot rows) There's a dozen more to go! We've spent so much time on it and there's so much to go. It just goes to show you how big a quarter acre really is. There's no way we could farm without drip tape. I look forward to setting that up soon. Did you know that 75% of water sprayed on crops, as opposed to dripped on the soil, is wasted to evaporation? That's a considerable strain on resources. Both money and water.

We took a break to eat stir fry beef and broccoli on rice. and ice cold water. Unfortunately for me, Bun brought two boxes of doughnuts. I say "unfortunately" because I have no will power and by the end of the day I had eaten four of them. Hopefully it was still a caloric break-even though, with all the hard work I put in at the farm. At one point sweat was dripping off my forehead and stinging my eyes. I love that feeling. It's refreshing to work hard like that.

I also planted a border of flowers and the front of every bed. Hopefully it will be real pretty. Maybe my neighboring farmers will be envious. no. that's mean.

Once home, we were all so desperate for a shower we hopped in 2 or 3 at a time. We were exhausted, and quite astounded to find that we'd only been there three hours. One thing that's hard about being a farmer is that coming home from the farm is like coming home from the beach. Everyone's tired. There's a load of laundry and a sink of dishes to bring in from the car and wash. There's garbage and sand. Cleaning up is a job in and of itself. All in all, it was a good day though.

  • *Neptunes: Fish emulsion, used as a powerful fertilizer
  • Drip Tape: A thin tubing run across your beds that drips water on your plants
  • Night shades: the nickname for the solanaceae family. potatoes, peppers, egg plants, tomatoes etc.
  • Mouldboard: A plow
  • Disc and sickle mowers: handle large, rough areas that need to be mowed
  • Nematode: A parasitic worm that can cause severe crop loss
  • Tilth: soil that has the proper ratio of sand, clay and organic matter to grow healthy crops
  • Hard pan: A layer of compacted, cement-like soil right under the top layer. Also called plow pan
  • Sub-soiling: Deep tillage to break up hard pan
  • Cucurbitaceae: the family of plants that includes gourds, pumpkins, melons, squash

First day on the farm

I am recording our first year of farming to dispel and/or confirm all the romantic notions I had in my head when venturing into this... Let the reader be the judge.

Our first day on the farm! We drove around for a half an hour looking for it. The GPS said it was in the middle of this gorgeous residential neighborhood but we couldn't for the life of us find it. Finally, on a whim, my husband turned into this dirt driveway between two mansions and there it was, in the back. I am a little annoyed that the farm is in the middle of this upscale neighborhood because that means that every day, to and from the farm, we will be tempted to covet... the expansive lawns, the three car garages, the apple orchards in the back yards, the stone exteriors to the mansions, the gigantic outdoor pools with fountain spouting rocks, the flawlessly era-replicated architecture...

At the farm we were anxious to get to work so the boys and I started filling a wheel barrel with rocks from our quarter acre. We probably got 10% of them, but hey, that's something. The ground was soft. Our feet sunk in a few inches with each step. I encouraged the boys to not be afraid to get dirty. I was most excited about the fact that the kids could just run around freely and get fresh air without me worrying about them, or watching them like a hawk like I would have to in the city. Saphira wanted to hang out mostly in the car though, which caused us to nervously watch her from afar in the field- afraid, I guess, that she might fall out or slam the door on herself or something.

Timmy made one raised bed with a lawn-mower like machine and then made one walking row on the right and started the one on the left when the machine broke. He made the rest with a rake which was exhausting. Brandon and I smoothed the bed and removed rocks that were brought to the surface. We had to keep reminding the kids (and ourselves) not to walk on the bed, because we needed the dirt to be fluffy for the beets we were planting- a root crop. It will probably become second nature after all the beds are made, with all the nice rows in place, and after the plants start cropping up, differentiating the walking paths from the growing beds.


Then Brandon and I sprinkled organic fertilizer. The fertilizer was like rabbit food in consistency- a little smellier. I used my hands to spread it and it felt good to get dirty. On the first day of farm class I had to write a paragraph about myself and I wrote how I love the stimulation of all the senses that takes place in farming: the feel of the dirt, the smell of the fresh air, the sounds of the birds and bugs, the vibrant color of a red pepper, the unsurpassed taste of freshly grown produce. So, here I was, on the first day, feeling that dirt between my fingers, and loving it.

While Timmy and I labored we kept thinking about our ancestors who did this first. I kept remembering how the colonists chopped down trees to clear a field and the ridiculous amount of work that is. All I had to do was toss a few rocks out of a field (that has been farmed on before) and that, alone, seemed like too much work. It's interesting to note that he was thinking of his Cambodian people and I was thinking of colonists. Is that because we feel an unconscious connection to our own blood, I wonder?

The one romantic notion that was quickly dispelled, I was quite dismayed to discover, was the whole "family bonding" thing. I still hold out hope that we will have lots of laughing and playing together this summer as we undertake this venture. Buuuut, for today, there was quite a bit of bickering. Me, snapping at Brandon that he was "doing it wrong" and Brandon and Dimitri fighting over a stupid little shovel. Dimitri deliberately walking on the raised bed to piss me off. Saphira ending the day with non-stop crying because she was tired. Oh well. Tomorrow is a fresh start. (Wolfie wasn't there because he got invited to his cousins house by his Aunt, which is rare. Plus he was at a field training yesterday. And he perpetually picks on Dimitri and I figured we would have enough stress on our first day as it is).

We planted the beets with this cool seed spreading tool. It took a while to set up, which made me impatiently think that it would be easier to just drop the seeds in ourselves. But once we got it going, the tool turned out to be pretty darn cool, much faster and more even than we could have done by hand. There was a measuring part that helped you make straight rows but I thought it was stupid because you have a two foot area: how hard is it to "stay on the side" or "stay in the middle". So we didn't really use the tool. I could have done the lines perfectly, but I let Timmy and Brandon do it and the lines are crooked. I don't really care. Obviously the reader is starting to gather that I am a layed back sort of person. We will see how this plays out over the course of our year. There are advantageous to my personality though. I think it makes me a good mother. If you are uptight, it makes for a miserable time raising four kids (and if the Lord blesses us we will have more).

The last step was to water the rows, but it looked like it was going to rain, and the forecast for the next day was rain, so we decided not to. 24 hours later, as I write this, it has yet to start raining. ha ha.

Before we left we peeked at our neighbors 1/4 acre to compare her row of carrot seeds. Her rows were perfectly straight, emphasized by the darkness of the rows of wet soil. We told ourselves that ours wasn't bad. But hers definitely looked better. Our mentor, McKenzie, might have a frustrating year with us. She seems to have a high regard for neatness in farming. Probably for good reason. We shall see.

As we piled in the car, tired; and quickly, to appease the screaming toddler, I felt immensely dirty. And I cringed at the thought of all that mud entering with us- cloth seats, I might add. Oh well, I thought. I might as well get comfortable with the idea since we have a whole summer ahead of us like this. We'll definitely vacuum it a lot though. In the car we scarfed down the strawberries, carrots and grilled cheese sandwiches I made. The sandwiches were soggy, the strawberries spilled and we daintily picked up the carrots, cringing at the thought of the fertilizer and dirt on our hands (though we did rinse in cold water). So our romantic lunch, turned out to be: not so much.

At home we all showered and bathed. I just couldn't get that feeling of dirt off my hands though. I lathered lotion on them. I'll have to buy a gallon of lotion for the summer.

All in all, our first day was a success. All of the Cambodian relatives are so excited to get out there and join us and I can't wait to have them. Oh, and, I got a tan, which is pretty cool. I'm going to be a blond bombshell by the end of the summer.

Speech!

I'm farming a quarter acre this year through a local program called New Entry which trains and leases land to new farmers. I'll be planting watermelon, cantaloupe, beets, carrots and green peppers. I'll be selling them at local farmers markets and also through a CSA. Here is a video of me at graduation in which I told the story of "How I got here". My speech starts at 16:00 It's pretty cool, if I don't say so myself.


The beginning


I started saving seeds and vermicomposting as ways to satisfy the gardener in me- even though it's too late to start a garden now. And I have no land. My quest for land led me to find a local program called "World PEAS" run by Tufts University. It teaches people how to be farmers. I've already signed up for their course. And when it's done I get to lease a quarter acre from them at a dirt cheap (tee hee) price.

At the introductory class I got to talk to other people like myself! It was so gratifying to talk to someone in real life who understands me. We had the kind of conversations I could never have with normal people on the street. We could talk about dorky farming things like "Will Allen. You KNOW Will Allen?!" and "Evil corporations like Monsanto are trying to take over the world". And "What are your thoughts on HR 875?"