Thursday, November 17, 2011

Slowing Down

Late fall abundance, pre-frost
 Hard to believe that Thanksgiving is a week from today. Things have simplified considerably, especially after we finally got a killing frost a few weeks back. It was a strange moment before then when we had snow before we had even had a hard frost. We still had sunflowers blooming the morning after the big storm until the next night which was cold, clear and sub-zero. That ended the run for the summer crops. We've been having quite a lot of warm weather since then though and much of what was left in the ground is frost hardy and still chugging away. We are starting to see the end of more and more things though. We just harvested to last of our beets and scallions and there's not much celeriac and cilantro left out there. This weekend we have three Thanksgiving markets which will hopefully take a big dent out of what's left. With our onions, butternut squash and other storage crops it's still a really nice selection and we're hopeful that folks will turn out for these markets and clear us out.
snow capped arugula, morning of October 30th
Some things we still have in abundance. We're tempting fate a little bit with our last planting of carrots. We've only harvested about a quarter of it and guesstimate that we still have about 600 pounds in the ground. The 10 day forecast keeps us patient though. The longer they're in the ground and exposed to cold temps the more sugar they'll store up. Winter carrots are really a treat--so sweet. Washing that many carrots is a daunting task to have on our radar, but it's been going well doing about 200 pounds at a time. When we finally cleared the last of the 'bolero', our late summer variety, there were some real monsters in there. We weighed one in at just over a pound and then had some post carrot washing, slap-happy fun with the camera. 

We got some excellent news this fall from the Mass Dept. of Ag Resources. Back in June we applied for their MEGA grant (matching enterprise grants for agriculture program). It's one of few grants that we've come across that actually seemed like it was designed for us. It is a program to assist new farmers in making capital investments and providing technical and business mentoring. We were selected and have started the process by meeting with our mentors to show them where the farm is now and what improvements we're hoping to make. Eventually we'll work together to plan how best to continue investing in our business and they'll match us dollar for dollar. That's awesome. We're like kids in a candy store: electric fencing, irrigation, spin spreader, wheel track cultivator, potato digger, disc harrow.... We're glad they're going to help us prioritize and decide.
The Van   

One investment we went ahead an made this year was a market truck. It was impossible to get all of our produce, tents, tables, flowers and assorted market necessities into our little pick up come July. We borrowed Steve's minivan (Thanks Northstar Farm!) for a couple of weeks before we bought the Ford cube van pictured above. It was a bit of a desperation move involving a last minute bid on Ebay, but it's proved to be a really solid vehicle and a great investment. It's even diesel, so when we have the time and money we can convert it over to run on waste vegetable oil like our 240D which we converted with my dad several years back. We've always wanted to deliver our veg running on veg, and ideally, get our tractors switched over as well. I know, I step at a time--it's an exciting possibility though.
looking ahead
As we've started to slow down we've been spending a lot of time reviewing the season with an eye towards changes for next year. The picture above is of the lower field, which we did not grow vegetables in this year. We did manage to open up the ground and get a rye/ vetch cover crop planted to start building soil health and vitality for next year. Our hope for a long time now has been to have enough land to use a longer crop rotation. And there it is. A field that was not cropped at all this year ready for next year. It's satisfying to see and has us pondering what mix of crops we want to get into the plan for next season.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Catching our breath

 It's been 6 or 7 weeks since we had a moment to write. Or, truly, since we've had a moment to do just about anything. The farming season is far from over, but finally the pace is a bit more sane. If nothing else it gets dark earlier now, and it's awfully hard to farm in the dark (believe us, we've tried). The picture above was from early in August, when everything was looking a bit greener. By now the winter squash in that picture had died back, and just the other day we got all the winter squash and pumpkins into the shed. They're delicious! We're not sure what exactly is magic about our soil, but everything (carrots, cukes, squash...) is super sweet! We'll take it!
 August and early September were marked by a serious bounty of tomatoes, especially cherry tomatoes. Talk about sweet! We were picking up to 300 lbs of cherry tomatoes a week. Selling most, drying as many as we could on our food dehydrator (dried cherry tomatoes are amazing!)
 Also in the bountiful category has been the flowers. Several weddings' worth, and many farmers markets bouquets coming from the fields. We've been building flower customers. Ben's mom Addie has fully taken on the role of floral arranger, and has been a super help! And the bouquets are beautiful!

 A couple weeks ago we survived hurricane Irene. Overall things weathered the storm fairly well. The flowers particularly took a beating (the picture below is the same patch of sunflowers photographed above after the storm).  A few other things were particularly hard hit by the wind, and perhaps salt spray. It's hard to pin point whether the leaves suffered from wind burn or salt burn. But the hurricane  sped up the decline of our tomatoes.
 ... our tomatoes are pretty well done for the season (which is earlier than expected) ... but that's okay, we were pretty tired of picking them anyway. And replacing them is lots of fall veggies. Bountiful greens,
 Really nice sweet beets, and excellent sweet carrots.
We also have a beautiful crop of onions drying in the barn. And a ton of variety still coming out of the fields. The weather is getting cooler, and we're thrilled. We're loving coming home at the totally civilized hour of 8pm and roasting squash, onions, cabbage, leeks, potatoes, eggplant... mmm. Deliciousness.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Summer Goes Kabloom!

Fields filling up, plants getting big
During our first year at Holly Hill Farm we ate at a Chinese restaurant called Feng Shui a lot. This was 2006, a pretty lousy farming season due to really a wet May and June. Hannah and I were trying to make a good impression so we were working hard despite the foul weather, trying in vain to get things to grow and keep up with our cropping schedule. Not much was working out, but we kept at it full tilt, without much success. At that time I got a now infamous fortune cookie that said something like, "It's been a good start, now try harder," which made me laugh pretty hard.

This year, by contrast, the weather has been pretty cooperative and, once the soil warmed up enough to break down all the rye straw, we've been doing pretty darn well. There still is a feeling similar to back in '06 though. I think it has to do with just plain how hard you work in your first year on a new piece of land. Maybe it's muscle memory going back to then. But the good news, despite the haunting feeling, is that things are growing great. The bad new is we have to harvest it all. This is the time of year when the harvest ramps up dramatically, so basically, it's been a good start, now work harder. 

Farmer, fully cooked, on a bed of baby lettuces

Hannah snapped this shot when I joked about wanting to dive in to a bed of baby lettuces that were getting too big to harvest. She said, "why not, we're not going to sell them." And so I did.

We were pretty spoiled at Holly Hill Farm when it came to marketing. Demand at the farm stand was strong and grew right along with our increased success over the years. We didn't always sell everything, but we got pretty close. Things are different here for sure. There is a lot more competition from other, more established farms. Our crop plan was pretty ambitious so we're ending up with more unsold and unharvested crops than we're used to. That can easily be adjusted this off-season when we can do simple things like drop our salad mix plantings from 100 feet to 75 or 60. But right now, it's been hard to make that call. "But what if sales really pick up when everyone's home gardens are through producing...or when it gets hot...or when that cool restaurant decides we're awesome...." We're scared to scale back. We got so used to demand being greater than supply. The fun side affect is that we get to lie in the salad mix--feels so naughty.
Here come the flowers!

And, just when we thought it wasn't possible to get more done during a day--look who's about to demand LOTS of out time:

Hannah says, "put down the camera and get to work."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

growing, picking, selling

Farmers markets are now in pretty full swing, we are in the middle of our fourth week of markets. Customers have been really positive about our stuff... and most importantly, they're buying it; that's a crucial piece of the farming game. We've been working out some marketing details like how much arugula can we sell at our Sunday market? and how to keep our greens fresh during an hour drive to the market followed by four hours sitting in a parking lot. ...but we've made improvements, and it's mostly working well.  It's been interesting selling in markets that are totally new to us, after selling for 5 years at the same markets in Cohasset, where we ended up knowing most of our customers. We're slowly learning our new customers, and hare seeing a lot of repeat buyers. ...we've also had a few die hard customers from our time at Holly Hill seek us out and make the trip to our new markets, which we totally appreciate.

On the farm things are super busy, but growing well. Between harvesting, keeping things watered (it's been dry for a few weeks now, and we're still working with just a garden hose...time to place a drip irrigation order!), keeping on top of weeds, and keeping planting more successions of crops. Whew!
The good news on that front is that we've brought in some help. 20 hours a week. That should help us from getting totally buried under weeds. The other good news is that we're busy because there's a lot to harvest. Sugar snap peas were the big winners for the past few weeks. We  picked 150 lbs a week for 2 or 3 weeks in a row, and they're just now slowing down. And they were so beautiful and delicious. We're now starting to dig new potatoes, harvest onions, lots of greens, our flowers are starting. And we've eaten a few cherry tomatoes. We'll be selling some soon. It's really summer!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ready, Set, Farm!

Well, It's been a pretty full  sprint here for a couple months... and it's only June! But we have some stuff to show for all the work. (like sugar snap peas that we just started picking this evening, yum!) We have to keep reminding ourselves to put down the hoe and pick up the camera to snap a few pictures. Here's a side by side, at the very least it helps ME feel like we've made some good progress.  Over the past 12 or so weeks.
The fields in late March

Same view, about June 10

We've been working hard on our war against weeds. So far we're keeping mostly on top of it, though we have pulled the plug on a few beds of really grassy early salad greens. Anyway, we're on to harvesting our third and forth plantings of greens, which are really nice, and not too weedy. We'll just call plantings 1 and 2 cover crop, and turn them back into the soil. The rye grass on the farm is about four feet tall and has seed heads on it. It's really lovely, and if I get a chance I'll harvest some to dry and use in dried flower wreaths in the Fall,  but seed heads are not what we want. The last thing we need is for rye to drop seed in our fields again (as it did the past 2 years... which is why we currently have rye growing in our fields to begin with). Today, after weeks of debating, arguing, procrastinating and hand wringing, we finally bought tractor mounted flail mower, phew! Once it arrives we should be able to start mowing. We weren't about to try to mow our 5 acre lower field with our little push mower. We're crossing our fingers we get the rye mowed before the seedheads fully mature.

Tomorrow we start marketing our produce in earnest. We'll be at the Plymouth Farmers Market Thursday afternoons, the Sakonnet Growers Market in Tiverton Saturday mornings. On Fridays we're launching a local farm stand in conjunction with Northstar Farm. It will be held at Northstar Farm, 1154 Main Rd in Westport, only 1 1/2 miles from our farm. The farm stand will be 2-6 on Fridays. We'll also be doing the Fairhaven Farmers Market Sunday afternoons. ... So it's a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday marathon marketing session. Somewhere in there we'll squeeze in some farm work.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Most stuff growing. Some, not so much

Coming Soon--Sugar Snap Peas!

And lots of them!
I got ants in my plants! We think they are imported European Fire Ants, an invasive species that can be a pest when they feed on the soft tissue at the base of plants, affectively girdling them. The photo sequence below shows how it goes down:

This guy is not looking too happy...

What? Freaking Ants...
And the eventual outcome.

It takes us a while to respond to new pest problems. At first we wonder to ourselves, "what the hell?" loud enough so that the other of us will hear and hopefully come over and take care of the problem. This rarely works.

Then it takes some close observation and head scratching and, often, many a google search to come up with a diagnosis and plan. Unfortunately, the time lag this time was enough for the little buggers to completely decimate the broccoli. Eventually we started to treat new seedlings that the ants seem to prefer, transplanted brassicas, cleome and, of all things, marigolds, with spinosad, a certifiably organic biological insecticide. Then we attacked their mounds that are close to the plantings of these plants with a drench of the stuff. Next, once UPS brings it, we'll used a baited version that the worker ants are supposed to carry back to the nests and share with the whole colony, which should keep their population in check. I don't like having to take measures as drastic as this because it usually means something is out of whack. I prefer to get the whole system into a better balance so that these particular ants are better kept in check by a robust and thriving soil menagerie, but you also gotta do something when you see your hard work flopping over and dying one plant at a time.  

Tomatoes in the ground, lower bed

And the upper bed, with stakes
The onset of some hot weather got us into gear transplanting out tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. We got all of our tomatoes in over the course of one very full day and the next morning. As Hannah pointed out in her last post, many of our seedlings had stretched during a week of warm, but overcast conditions. We re-spaded the ground so that we could plant them plenty deep, but even still they were pretty spindly looking and quite vulnerable to the nasty winds that followed (in the same weather front that caused tornadoes in western Mass.) We ended up loosing quite a few plants.
unlucky tomato, broken at ground level
Luckily we had enough replacements waiting in the wings and the tomato patch is looking really good now with all the stakes driven in and the first round of string supporting the plants. We're growing over 20 varieties, including some new to us ones like "Japanese Black Trifele" and "Crimson Sprinter." We can't help but try some new ones every year.

The other thing you should notice from all the photos is how dry it appears. The serious winds and a good couple weeks without significant rain has really dried things out. The soil is seriously dusty on top, but still holding some moisture below. Luckily, as I type, it's raining again, the third day in a row. We won't be exposed as irrigationless morons just yet. There is just too much to figure out and, with the farmers' markets starting next week, we're more focused on making sure we have something to sell than figuring out some of the bigger picture pieces that are looming on the lower portion of our list. We'll get to it, eventually.

Hannah with a backpack sprayer full of fish emulsion fortified water, getting ready to water in tomato seedlings
And Ben looking a little toasty after pounding 150 stakes

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Keeping busy

Last week in synopsis:  
  • Plants growing, mostly happily. Though we're starting to see some flea beetles and, strangely, ants have been a pest on a few things. especially decimating our broccoli seedlings. Woudn't have predicted that one!

  •  Picked rocks from our two summer fields. Several bucket loads. What they lack in numbers they make up for in size, there were some monsters! Good thing we got a tractor with a bucket!
  •  First harvest of the season: arugula, spring mix, baby kale, radishes and cilantro

  • First sales of the season. Plant sale in Plymouth Saturday, and Sunday plant/veggie sale Northstar Farm on Sunday
  • Working in the fields until dark several nights last week
Our tomato seedlings shot up! Last week they were 6" tall, now some of them are now 18" tall, yikes! We'll be getting them into the ground in the next few days. It's starting to really feel like summer. We're running to keep up with it all.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

New arrivals to the farm and the fields

Despite all the rain and grey weather we've been having, we're getting lots done at Skinny Dip Farm. We made a big push at the end of last week to get a lot of plants in the ground, including our early tomatoes, early summer squash, cucumbers and basil (all are covered with row cover to keep them a bit warmer. Good thing because it's been cool all week!) We also transplanted lots of flowers last week, and today we planted dahlia tubers. Last weekend we spread soil amendments and did secondary tillage in our two summer fields, so they are ready to go, which is good because our spring field is almost full of crops. We have lots of summer crops growing well in the greenhouse, getting ready for planting. As well as dozens of flats getting ready to be sold as seedlings. We're doing a plant sale in Plymouth MA on Saturday 5/28, and I think we'll also do one Sunday 5/29 in Westport... still figuring out details for the Sunday sale. 

On monday we took a road trip up to Holly Hill Farm (which we used to manage) to visit, as well as to pick up our other tractor, a 1952 Allis Chalmers G cultivating tractor. The good folks at Holly Hill were generous enough to let us store our tractor there all winter (and spring). We had to rent a trailer to get it to Westport, but it made the trip in one piece, and we think it's happy to be in its new home. It actually fits perfectly in the shed on the farm, thankfully, so we can keep it out of the weather.
Now we need to adjust the tire spacing on the G, so it will fit our bed spacing, and we'll be ready to cultivate. Exciting! We just bought this tractor off Craigslist last November, so we've never used it, and after farming the past five years at Holly Hill Farm without any mechanical cultivation, we are really fired up to do so serious mechanical cultivation! Plus, I've wanted an Allis Chalmers G since I was 16 years old, no joke!