Monday, October 18, 2010

The most common way to start a conversation with a farmer is to ask “So, how was the growing season?” and us farmers invariably answer with a summary of the weather report for the last 6 months. “Well, it started out purty wet n’ cold, had a late hard frost (got my apple buds) and we couldn’t get the tractor into the field until May! Then, this wet winter pushed the rocks right up to the surface! Why, we picked so many rocks, we could practically build a wall ‘round this whole farm. Then, the

summer turned down right brutal. By the time the tomatoes really got going in August, we hit the hot dry spell. Mind you, we had the best tomato harvest since we’ve been farming this land (nothing like the Blight of ‘09). This year we had so many tomatoes we couldn’t hardly give ‘em away! Well, round the end of September, the rain finally settled in and things started back up to growing again. Boy, those fall greens have been growing to-touch-the-sky and we’re happy to have them. We’re just hoping for a dry spell now, so we can get the garlic in the ground before the end of the month. We’re still going to market until Thanksgiving and then we’ll redd up this whole farm and get ready for next year!”

That’s what a farmer would have to say about it all.

Monday, October 11, 2010

This bit of sunshine is a pleasant surprise! We sure aren’t complaining about the rain (we needed it), but we’re gearing up to plant our garlic. This can be a monumental task, as we’ve set aside about 50 - 75 lbs of bulbs for next year’s crop. This doesn’t factor in the 20 lbs of our newest hard-neck variety, “Music”. Some of you may already know this, but each clove of garlic, when planted on its own, produces a whole new bulb of garlic. It’s best to get your cloves in the ground before the end of October - so, hoping that our fields dry out and we prep the soil, we’ll be planting garlic in every moment of spare time before the end of the month. You’re welcome to come on out and help if you’d like!

We’ve had a bit of a reality check with the Marcellus Shale drilling in our community. Just over the county line in Butler, there’s been a lot of drilling activity. We’ve seen them flaring the gas at the top of the drilling rig, heard constant loud industrial machinery and even witnessed the tanker trucks dumping waste water onto Ekastown Rd. This type of drilling is going to have a big impact in our region and it’s going to sneak up on us. It’s well worth a road trip to Washington Co. to see what the visual impact these kind of operations are going to have on us.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Week 18 Update

Fall has set in. We’ve got the wood stove cranking and have pulled out the long johns! There must be a bit of warm sunny days to come, but with this constant drizzle and crisp nights - our t-shirt days are passing by!

The nice thing about cold weather is that the weeds don’t seem to grow as quickly as the veggies, so it’s easier to stay ahead of the weeds. There’s lettuce mix and spicy greens mix on the way and we’ve got a spotty supply of spinach to harvest too.

We’ve finally got a good crop of carrots (they’re big, but few). This is due to Kitty’s determination that we can beat the weeds and grow good carrots. We’ll harvest them on Tuesday and see how many we come out with!

The pea greens are loving this cool wet weather and are really at their prime. Now, I know that some of you don’t know what to do with the pea greens and are letting them pile up. Obviously, they’re great raw in salads, but they are also good in a stir fry, or sauteed in butter with a bit of those leeks and a bit of a hot pepper. Dee-lish!

We only have three weeks left of the CSA. It’s hard to believe how quickly time goes by, especially when you measure it by the harvest of vegetables. It seems to come full circle, a bit.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Week 17 update

Four of us (Greg, Jen, Kitty and Nate) spent the weekend up in the Laurel Highlands at the Mother Earth News Fair. We had a great time learning new tips and tricks of sustainability, meeting like-minded people and coming away with ideas of how to improve our operations on the farm and build community. Many ominous words were thrown around: peak oil, economic down-turn, climate change . . . but in answer to that, the workshop themes covered such topics as resilience, local economies, healthy food, DIY, sustainable living and green design. We came away with new knowledge but also feeling like we may be a bit ahead of the curve. We’re inspired to increase our seed saving practices, to help secure our local food economies and explore biochar production, among may other opportunities!

On the home front, our friend down the road has hooked us up with five 300 gallon plastic barrels (they used to contain honey!). We’re going to clean them out and then use them as water storage for animals and/or as rain barrels for the barn and house. We plan to decrease our usage of municipal water and conserve any run-off into our streams and rivers. As little as one-tenth of an inch of rain can cause sewage overflow into our rivers. We might as well catch that rain and water the garden!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

It’s crazy how quickly time passes! Already we’re seeing hints of fall colors and crisp nights. We seeded our two high tunnels for the late season harvest with spicy greens mix, turnips (yes - more!), lettuce mix, cilantro, carrots and nasturtiums. We planted late season tomatoes (Cosmonaut Volkov) in hopes of harvesting them after heavy frosts settle in. In the spring, (during the excessively wet months) we built raised beds in the back half of each tunnel and filled them with compost. It’s aways easy to leave the tunnels out of our rotation system - as it is such valuable space and it’s hard to leave them fallow for green manure or cover cropping. Instead, we’ll keep adding organic matter and healthy nutrients to keep them going. Sometimes compost can be high in nitrogen and therefore is good for growing leafy greens but not root crops which prefer phosphorus for successful growth. We’re planting a variety of vegetables and will feel out this new soil situation before we set our minds on growing any particular variety.

Keep thinking rainy thoughts for us. Although we did get some rain - it’s been a particularly dry summer/fall and we sure could use more regular amounts of rain. We’re coming full circle and will start providing you with more cool weather crops (greens, squash and potatoes) soon.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Week of July 26-30

-Intern Renata Langis leaves for California after this week

Week's Events:
We harvested Winterbor Kale, Sungold Cherry Tomatoes, Patty Pan Squash, Zucchini, Cucumbers, Purple Cherokee heirloom tomatoes, Islander (Purple) and Green Bell Peppers, Chili Peppers, and Basil
Voluptuous Purple Cherokee Heirloom Tomatoes in high tunnel

We transplanted Romanesco, Orange, and Purple varieties of cauliflower for fall

-We prepped high tunnel II for the next crop of tomatoes by incorporating compost into the beds and transplanting the tomato seedlings
-We seeded Chinese Cabbage, Kohlrabi, Nevada Lettuce, and Jericho Lettuce for fall

Greg Boulos transporting compost into the high tunnel for tomato bed preparation

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Week of July 19-23

-Intern Ezra Citron has left us after staying for two months.  Thanks and Bon Vacance a Ezra!
-Summer fruits are flourishing! Tomatoes and now Peppers, Cucumbers, and Zucchini are ripe for harvest!

New Mulching technique:
Instead of planting first and waiting for seedlings to grow so we may mulch around them (more labor intensive and more pre-weeding involved) we have decided to experiment with the technique of mulching the ground after drip tape first, then planting into the mulch to combat initial weed spikes that affect plant growth in its most vulnerable stage of development.  We are testing this technique with broccoli for fall.

This Week's Events:
Harvest: Sungold Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Zucchini, Basil, Swiss Chard, Winterbor Kale, Beet Greens


Beautiful purple bell peppers!!!

Garlic Drying and Tying: Last week we laid out the 5,000 heads of garlic on a tarp in the tractor barn to dry. 
                                     This week we hand tied all of those heads in a day's work 9am-7pm with only 3
Renata standing in awe of all the garlic we were about to tie all day

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Week of July 12-16

-Sungold Tomatoes are ripening significantly by now and peppers and heirloom tomatoes are growing!
-We harvested over 5,200 heads of garlic in one day!  But that's only the beginning--we still have to do drying, curing,...

This Week's Events
Harvest: Red Russian and Winterbor Kale, Red Cabbage, Cilantro, Dill, Basil, Swiss Chard, GARLIC!!!

Triumphant shot of us after harvesting some 5,200 heads of garlic--and after swallowing a raw clove of garlic in cheers!  All in a day's work!

Tomatoes: We finished staking, tying, weeding, and spraying (with Regalia Biofungicide against Late Blight) all the tomatoes in the home field.  Ready to ripen!

Seeding: We seeded Pak Choy, Lettuce, and Watermelon

Fertilizing: We applied compost tea (made from composted urban food waste) from our very own Mobity Bits soil company.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Week of July 4-9

-Blackberry Meadows now has 14 quails! Their eggs are miniscule (about the size of a quarter), but are considered a gourmet delicacy.  Quails can start to lay eggs after only 8 weeks.
-Finally got a thunderstorm after nearly three weeks of no rain and a heat wave!

Week's Events:
Harvest: Red Russian and Winter Bore Kale, Swiss Chard, Cabbage, Cilantro, Basil, and ...(drumroll) a few Sungold Tomatoes!

Kitty and Lynn weeding zuchinni and cucumbers on hilltop field

Mulching: We mulched the eggplants and tomatoes for summer using new tractor mulcher (see below)

Irrigation: Hot weather and unpredictable rains call for drip irrigation to guarantee sufficient water for crops.  We added irrigation using our rainwater harvesting irrigation system (using our pond on site) to the tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, zuchinni, and cucumbers.

Seeding:  We seeded lettuce (eek!) and basil for fall this week

Friday, July 2, 2010

Week of June 28-July 3

              The new technique of lengthening the freshness of lettuce by pulling out the taproot when harvesting proved successful.  Renata suggested this to keep the lettuce from wilting (we had an unusually large amount to harvest due to near-bolting point) and Jen was able to sell it at market days later as a result! :)

Week's Events:
Harvest: Red Russian Kale, Basil, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Cilantro, and Red Cabbage

          We used the waterwheel transplanter to transplant lettuce, eggplant, tomatoes, and tomatillos.  The waterwheel is a device digs holes (while adding water and fertilizer) into the rows with a turning wheel, which we plant the seedlings into.

Kitty and Jen on the waterwheel behind the tractor, ready to transplant lettuce
Renata and Kitty covered in mud after transplanting vicious lettuce (only 12 in spacing between plantings!)

Rock Picking!
We picked rocks for hours by hand!  It was invigorating but productive!

Here's our mountain of rocks (some the size of a human head or larger--big pieces of shale!)

Seeding:  We seeded more lettuce, and all the kale and cabbage for fall.

Week of June 21st! Summer Has Officially Begun!

-New farm intern, Renata, has arrived (on the first day of summer)
-Farm has recently invested in new machinery to replace labor by hand:
1) Tractor Mulcher- This device chews up hay bales and spits out the chopped up debris with a big plastic tube, allowing us to save hours of hand mulching
2) Rock Harvester- This device picks up rocks (of which we have bundensome that inhibit cultivation and crop planting).

Week's Events:
Harvest: Russian Red Kale, Napa Cabbage, Red Sail and Green Lettuce, Kohlrabi, and Broccoli.

 Jen, Heath, and Ezra harvesting kale for CSA

Mulching: As of this week, the tomatoes, kale, onions, and leeks have all been mulched with the new mulcher.  The effects of mulching are immediate and dramatic: all of a sudden without weed pressure, the crops skyrocket!

Intercropping:  In order to reduce weed pressure, Renata had proposed the idea of intercropping the already established leeks with lettuce to crowd out weeds (but not the leeks, which already have grown over a foot in height).  Lettuce has an affinity for our wet weather and grows relatively fast, creating a dense cover to suppress weeds and retain moisture (reduce evapotranspiration) for crops, and having a later start, will allow the already established leeks to grow uninhibited.  We intercropped three rows by hand.  Let's see whether this intercropping experiment of differential crop structures and timing will work!

Weeding: Heath mowed extensive acreage of thistle and other overgrown weeded patches to create new rows for squash planting.  Thistle, which has begun to seed, is increasingly a threat.  Renata has proposed the idea of solarization with clear plastic mulch (using extra greenhouse plastic), which Jen says will help kill the thistle weed seeds which have already dropped, and other surface weeds as well.  Jen plans to apply the new technique of solarization for the summer fallow fields as an experiment for weed control.

Seeding: We seeded all the cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli (brassicas) for fall!