Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Visit to the Bean Farm

As I slowly get deeper into this world of farming one thing that is interesting is how different various farms can be.  Big, small, diversified, focused, intensive, spacious, livestock, integrated, organic, non-organic, commercial, homesteading...these variables only touch the surface.  Sometimes the farms have their own utterly unique character, an unpredictable outgrowth of the farmer's personality, resources, luck, land and the irreducible mysteries of life and time.

Today we had another CRAFT visit to a neighboring farm.  This farm does a few heirloom tomatoes and vegetables but mostly they grow dried beans, specializing in unusual heirloom varieties like vermont cranberry, soldier, calypso or jacob's cattle.  Charlie, the farmer, has a full-time corporate job outside of farming, but found his way into it through part-time farmer friends of his decades ago who were growing beans in Maine.  Somewhere along the way he developed a passion for growing many different kinds of beans, often strains that were hard to come by or in danger of disappearing.  Now he grows them not only for market but also for seed and sells his beans to many seed companies, helping to perpetuate them and get them into the hands of other farmers and gardeners. 

These beans are often very beautiful.  Most of the well-known beans we all get at the supermarket are somewhat plain, if not monochromatic, but many of the varieties Charlie grows have startling colors and patterns.  I can't remember the name of it but he showed us one that was almost all white except for a small, marbled splotch of deep magenta.  Another had rich brown and green stripes along it, another was an unusual, gentle shade of green shading slowly into white.  

Charlie clearly also has a passion for old farm machinery and farm auctions.  He had several interesting old tractors with various implements, for plowing, cultivation, seeding and harvesting.  He even had a couple of combines, a type of machine that we don't (to my knowledge) use on Appleton, as its function is to cut up entire harvested plants and separate the seeds from the rest.  This is generally for dried beans and grains, which we don't grow.

It is a very interesting niche that he has carved out for himself.  I could talk about it quite a bit more, but I'm ready to read a bit and go to bed.  Sorry! 

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Discomforts of Farming

Today we had our first really hot day. I’m not actually sure how hot it got; the weather gods on the internet said it would get into the upper 80’s or even 90. It never felt quite that hot to me but it did feel, well, hot. I spent an hour or two after lunch planting onion seedlings, and if we had been doing that for all eight hours of our day I probably would have been pretty miserable by the end of it. But I spent the morning up on the cultivating tractor, weeding a last bed of beets and six beds of carrots. The carrots at this point are very small, thin, wispy fellows, and I had to take extra care to keep the wire baskets from going too deep and throwing soil on top of the little plants. I had a little elevation on the tractor so I caught a bit of breeze, and it wasn’t terribly strenuous, it just took a certain amount of focus and care.

I spent the last couple hours of the day with Eric mending fences. Our larger field, called Patch field, has an electric fence around it (so does the other field, called Underhill, after our friend Frodo Baggins I like to think) to keep the deer from eating up all our food. Many of the wooden posts holding the wires up were broken, split or splintered, and we were tasked with removing them. This took a lot of messing around and disagreeable contortions of the hands with a pair of pliers and wire cutters, resulting in several minor scrapes, blisters or small areas of pinched flesh, as well as general fatigue to the muscles in my hands.

There are plenty of discomforts in this job. None of them has been particularly overwhelming thus far, certainly not enough to counterbalance the positive experience I’m having learning about farming, spending time outside in a beautiful setting, working with other good, interesting people and working hard at something I believe in. But they are there. Kneeling, bending over, repetitive tasks in strange positions, sunburn, windburn, cold weather (we’ve had little enough of that so far), wet socks, grimy, beyond grimy hands and face, filthy clothes, hot, sweaty days, etc. I’m paying particular attention to taking care of my hands, keeping them moisturized whenever possible but mostly just trying to be mindful and careful with them anytime I’m using them in a way that could possibly injure them. This job doesn’t really seem to have many opportunities for major harm (with a reasonable amount of care and common sense) to the hands but they get a lot of hard, physical use. I’m making sure to strum my guitar or pick up my violin regularly to keep them limber and keep tabs on them.

It’s too early to tell yet whether I’ll get more used to the various discomforts of this sort as the season goes on or whether, really, I just ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

I’m starting to get very excited for the vegetables we’ll eventually be harvesting. It’ll still be awhile, but I had a conversation today discussing what stuff the respective we’s were most excited for, and I realized I’m excited for most of it. I suppose if forced to pick something I’ll say: hot chiles! I’m going to make hot sauce. Also, I can’t wait for good tomatoes and fresh oregano for the best greek salads ever in high summer (consult Chez Panisse Vegetables for the formula). And garlic, I’m really excited for that as well. Another high summer treat I’m looking forward to making is salsa, pico gallo in particular, if we have chiles, tomatoes, garlic, cilantro and onions up at the same time. The onions might come a little later, I’m not sure. If I have to buy an onion at the store it won’t kill me, but my guess is we’ll have one of the varieties up in the summer, or I can use scallions or shallots.

Until next time.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pictures of our CSA in action

One view of the Great Pasture.
A young member of the white park cattle breed.
Another view of the Great Pasture.
Some nice tree silhouettes.
Cows out to pasture.
On their way to pasture.
A stone lion guarding the paddock area, where we have our lunch on nice days.
Some cows and an old, unusual silo.
Our illustrious greenhouse.
Red lettuce seedlings.
An array of different lettuce seedlings.
The interior of the greenhouse.
The barn.
This is one of the tractors I drive.  It has the seeding attachments on it.
Little kohlrabis, one of our prettier seedlings.
A just planted strawberry plant, which will produce a crop for us next June.
The strawberry bed planted last spring, which will start producing fruit in a month or so.
One of our spinach survivors from last year's crop.
A few beds of beets that I cultivated.  You can see the narrow rows of beets in-between the wider weeded areas.
A picture I took of one of the farm's little brooks that I think looks a lot like a Monet painting.
These are onion seedlings planted in a kind of biodegradable mulch made out of corn starch.
The same.
A view of one of our fields, with a small crew of volunteers planting onions.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Transplanting, cultivation...

We had another beautiful day, windy, cool and bright in the morning and still, sunny and (almost) hot in the afternoon. The last couple of days, when I’ve had my hands deep in the soil, I’ve noticed that it iss really coming alive, with worms and bugs squirming about more and more. This, of course, is a pretty good sign of good soil. I’ve seen the soil analysis of the farm, and we’ve got lots of the organic matter that all these critters love. If a person is looking around at different farms that might be for sale or available to farm, good quality soil is the most important factor in farming vegetables successfully. There are many different ways that a farmer can improve the soil, but it is generally a long, painstaking, incremental process. I can see that the future might bring a time when it becomes crucial to re-invigorate millions of acres of that have been farmed exclusively with commercial fertilizers and pesticides and have subsequently lost much of their intrinsic life and nutrients. I would applaud anybody trying to figure out good ways to bring soil health and fertility up, but it would be a hard row to hoe.

Today we did more transplanting of plants that were started in the greenhouse out into the fields. We did some of it with the transplanter, a contraption that is attached to the back of one of our bigger tractors. First these big wheels with triangular spikes punch dimples into the soil a couple inches deep. Behind the dimpler are two attached seats, low to the ground, that a couple of us sit on. Trays in front of us are filled with seedlings, and we take the plants and their attached plug of soil and roots and push them into the dimples and cover the plug with soil. Sounds simple enough, and almost relaxing (sitting down as the tractor moves slowly up the bed…) but for an inexperienced hand like me it can get pretty intense trying to keep up with the (incredibly slow) pace of the tractor. I think they call the different settings turtle 1, turtle 2, turtle 3, etc. Yesterday we did lettuce, today we did cabbages, kohlrabi and onions.

The other major event of the day was I got up on one of the little G tractors again to do some cultivation. In this situation cultivation refers essentially to weeding, running squared-off wire baskets over the soil between the rows of desirable plants, in this case beets. The wire baskets run over and rotate at a depth of about an inch or so and churn up the little weeds that have gotten started and would soon grow up to compete with the beets for space and nutrients. It takes a bit of a delicate touch to ‘stay within the lines’, so to speak, as the space that allows the beets to go between the baskets safely is only three or four inches wide. But the really tricky part was getting the right depth of the baskets, as if they’re too shallow they don’t do much good, and if they’re too deep they tend to disrupt the soil too much, bringing up even more weed seeds from the soil and throwing soil on top of the beets. Anyway, it was kind of intense but a good, new learning experience.

At the end of my second week, I still feel good about where I am and what I’m doing, and am looking forward to learning more stuff next week. I hope to take some pictures soon, but it is tough to get it in during a work day. I may head over there this weekend with my camera and my binoculars to take in a different side of Appleton Farms.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Great Pasture

Well, I feel that it’s been an eventful couple of days. Yesterday, we did a couple new things. For one, a couple of us took a thorough tour of the farm led by Wayne, who oversees all operations on the entire property. It’s really quite an interesting slice of land, full of history, scenery and ongoing, vibrant agriculture and conservation.

A few words about Appleton Farms. It is the oldest farm in the U.S., having been farmed continuously since it was awarded as a royal land grant in…1636? 1638? I’ll get back to you on that. It is almost exactly 1000 acres. About 400 are mostly wooded, set off as a place of recreation, with many trails for hikers. Another few hundred comprise the farm, but really are made up of many different operations, from marginal agricultural land that is just mowed once a season and is primarily wildlife habitat, to grazing land for the dairy and beef cattle, to continuously mowed land for hay, and a few extra acres (about 30) for our humble CSA vegetable operation. The remaining land is roads, buildings, houses (there are quite a few houses on the farm, mostly on the perimeter abutting local paved roads).

I think the highlight of the tour was getting a close look at what is called the Great Pasture, which is a 140 acre single block of lovely pasture, apparently the largest whole block of field or pasture in Ipswich. It is rolling land studded with a few gnarled old trees, oaks mostly, and some rocky outcrops. It is home to a herd (is that the right term?) of interesting cattle of the White Park breed, bred by the Romans a couple thousand years ago in Britain. They are lovely, dignified and docile. They remain on the great pasture year round. I’ve also been told that in a month or so the Great Pasture becomes one of the best places for grassland birds in the state, with lots ob bobolinks and meadowlarks (I’ve already heard meadowlarks near the CSA fields). I’m hoping for vesper sparrows and grasshopper sparrows, but Wayne says they have not been documented on the farm, so I’m going to make surveying the pasture a weekend mission a few times throughout the season. We’ll see if we can eke out a grasshopper sparrow somewhere.

Then, after work yesterday, we went to our first CRAFT seminar of the year, which travels to different farms throughout the season to watch some sort of farming practice in action and learn. Yesterday, of all things, was chicken processing, which consists essentially of killing the chicken with a quick cut through the major blood vessels of the neck, a short dip in scalding water to loosen the feathers, a minute in some sort of rotating machine with soft rubber spokes to remove the feather, and then evisceration and cleaning. Due to a time crunch I didn’t actively participate, and truth to tell I wasn’t really in the mood to at the time, but I eat chicken and I think it would be a good thing to learn. In a smaller homesteading farm where you only killed a few chickens a year, a lot of those steps would be done without all those specialized devices. Not that Green Meadows is Tyson Farms, exactly, but I’m sure they do a couple-few hundred chickens a year. They are trying to educate their customer base to buy the scrawnier, ‘chickenier’-tasting breeds that they use, which are hardier and wilder but smaller and having less breast meat.

Today, we planted strawberries, finished constructing the compost station contraption, applied self-decomposing rows of corn-starch mulch to the onion beds, transplanted our first batch of lettuce into the fields (and interesting operation, I will have to describe it more but I’m hungrier and am going off to dinner) and seeded leeks in the greenhouse.

Adios, amoebas. Sorry if this post seems rushed, but I didn't write yesterday and wanted to get something down.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Misty Morning Hop

So we got some rain today, but holy of holies, we spent most of the day indoors. Greenhouse work, mostly, preparing a lot of seeded trays of various types of lettuce. Red Rosie, Galesse, Sylvestra, Black Seeded Simpson, a few other types I can’t remember. This was our fourth seeding of lettuce. Lettuce grows pretty quickly, and of course doesn’t last forever, and I believe that our shareholders expect to have lettuce pretty much all the time, so we plant lettuce every week. No complaints from me, who also loves lettuce and salads. I also prepared a few trays of beets, a golden variety. I will be curious to try all these different varieties and see what kind of differences I notice.

I was excited to see today that the lettuce transplants I did last week are surviving nicely, even thriving, standing up tall and growing lush, fat leaves. In my observations of other farm folk doing various jobs of transplanting, there is a spectrum of care but a general trust in the plant’s ability to survive a bit of (generally not intentional) mistreatment. These plants, for the most part, want to grow and if they can get their roots in the soil and have a bit of water and light, they can orient themselves nicely. But in any case, I’m glad to see that I wasn’t doing anything grievously wrong.

After lunch, we did some more greenhouse work and then Eric and I launched into a construction project, a fairly basic one, cleaning up the sides of a pallet and attaching a guard rail of sorts around it so that we can put some Rubbermaid bins for compost on it and move the whole thing around on a flatbed without garbage spilling out all over the place.

We also did a fieldwalk in the late morning, with Jamie taking the whole crew around our fields discussing what was happening, concerns, things to remember for next season, and checking on the progress of the plants already in the ground. It’s early enough in the season right now that if, say, the peas were all moldy and rotting and not germinating, we could get another batch planted and still have a nice bunch of peas for our shareholders in some reasonable frame of time. The fieldwalk helps to orient us, know where we stand and what problems might be arising, as well as to keep track of things for adjustment or confirmation in future seasons. I was designated to take notes which I will transcribe onto the computer throughout the year.

Actually, this was a very pleasant, relaxed day, of conversation and decent productivity, and I reacquainted myself with some old skills (very basic skills, really) in carpentry, sawing and screwing and nailing and whatnot. The fields looked verdant and mysterious in the mist, blackbirds, bluebirds and meadowlarks were singing, the red-tailed was hunting, and it almost seemed you could watch the plants grow.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Potatoes, scallions, beets, spinach, carrots...

Today we did some more…potato planting. One’s first week on a new job is by definition going to be a series of brand new tasks, with little opportunity to get bored or tired. But of course many of our tasks we will do over and over again. Seeding, transplanting, weeding, harvesting…these chores will occupy much of our time this season. Of course, with all the different kinds of vegetables we grow, the process is a little different for each one. However, with onions and potatoes, which take some time to grow and that are all planted around the same time (instead of in succession), it becomes a pretty big project to get them all in the ground over the course of a week or two.

It sounds like I’m complaining, but I’m not. Or not much. It wasn’t a thrill a minute, but I find myself kind of interested in the learning process, even with fairly basic, repetitive tasks. The way I slowly figured out the best rhythm for pushing the potato into the ground and following with a sweep of the other hand to cover with soil. Figuring that when dropping potatoes into the furrows I can stand and drop instead of bending over, and that I have better accuracy if I sort of toss them with a bit of overhand instead of just letting them roll out of my hand. Or when watering the greenhouse, how much more efficient it is to start at one end instead of the other, and to use the spray adjustment to reach more trays from one location instead of moving all over the place. Simple things, but finding little ways to do things more efficiently or better makes the time go quicker and keeps me mindful of my task. The key is to stop and think for a minute or so when something about what you’re doing is irritating you; often just a bit of thought will provide you with a solution.

I got up on the tractor again today, the G, to seed more spinach, carrots (tiny little seeds), and beets, that fancy Italian candy-striped variety called chioggia. That was fun, and after that I went over to join the group of folks transplanting scallions. For this, we had trays of scallions that had got their start in the greenhouse and were in small bunches maybe 6 inches high or so. A tractor had gone over the beds, putting small dimples into the soil. We would remove a plug of scallions from a tray and push it into the dimple and then cover with soil. I found myself a little excited by this, for the simple reason that I really like scallions. In salads, eggs, and stir-fries especially. I think my favorite flavor of omelet is with mushrooms, scallions and swiss cheese.

Anyway, so begins week two of my new life on the farm. Tomorrow I believe we are supposed to get some rain, and as I write this the skies are darkening and the wind is picking up.

So long!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Thoughts on the end of a first week of farming

We continued with potatoes for some time today, after doing the morning rounds at the greenhouse. We finished up planting the storage potatoes and then started putting some red-skinned variety into the ground. Sorry, I plan to be better about giving out specifics of variety and such but I didn’t ask and I don’t have my crop plan by my side at the moment. I’m in bed, mostly horizontal, tired and sick and I’m not getting up to get it.

Today was our warmest day yet, with full sun most of the day; t-shirt weather really. I am really going to have to watch out for how the elements treat my skin over the coming months. I have this vision of being up here in the country (sort of), close to the ocean and nice hiking, swimming, etc, and doing endless outdoor activities on my weekends. But I can also see enjoying having a couple-day reprieve from the sun and wind! We’ll see how it all works out.

We had a couple of other modest tasks today; Jamie and I took a look at the wash station to try and figure out an easy, efficient system to get water to the two big tubs and then went to a plumbing supply store to get a few fittings. Jamie likes to solicit ideas and input for systems like this, and it feels good to brainstorm with he and the others, though I’m sure he has a much better understanding than I do of what needs to happen and what might work and what might not.

We finished up the day in a bed of chard, putting up thin metal hoops every 15 feet or so over the 5 foot wide beds and then covering the entire bed with row cover material (a lightweight, white, thin synthetic material that lets a lot of light through but conserves moisture and heat). This should help us get the young plants growing more quickly, especially at this early stage during the season of less sun and colder weather. It would be nice if we have as much variety of produce available as possible when the shareholders begin to pick up at the beginning of June.

Thus ended my first week on the farm. I am tired! Good tired, mostly, though as I’ve mentioned I’ve still got my cold and am ready to be done with it. So far the work has been manageable, varied and the days not very long. Reasonably hard work though. It’s definitely going to get tougher.

At this point, I do feel that what I’ve been saying and hoping for over a month now is coming true, that given the devastating, wrenching lost of my sister Esme in early March, I can’t really imagine another way to spend my time that would offer me more in the way of healing my heart and helping me to go on. This, growing good, healthy food in a thoughtful, sustainable manner, being outside in a beautiful place, engaging in varied tasks of physical and mental challenge, learning new things, interesting things, about the world, about plants and animals, about people and about myself, getting to know new friends who share some of these same interests, spending time again in a shared community, a shared household after living on my own for years…It’s only been 5 days, I’m tired and sick, I am anxious about what I will do with myself in the future, I am constantly heartsick, missing my sister desperately and having grave problems coming to terms with a state of the world and of our culture that I see as terribly out of balance, dangerous and ill…but I am happy to be doing what I am now doing.

May all beings find peace and joy in their lives. Love to all.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Planting Potatoes

Okay, so I have a cold, and this is the 4th time in two and a half months I’ve been sick, and I am getting sick of it.

 Nonetheless, this one has been relatively easy on me, and though I didn’t get a good sleep last night the sun was shining today and we planted potatoes.  Several small chores started the day, amongst them opening up the greenhouse windows and doors, uncovering the cold frames, and getting the tractor implement that makes the furrows for potatoes set up properly.  We then moved on to a rousing set of cutting up more seed potatoes, which we had started on yesterday, accompanied by some silly banter and word-association games. 

 After that we did a quick spot of thinning and transplanting, working on some flowers called bachelor blue buttons or some such thing.  In addition to all the fine produce we grow, we also have some rows of flowers that our shareholders can pick.  But this was just a quick fill of lost time, we were soon onto potato planting.

 For this the tractor runs shallow furrows into the prepared soil about three or four feet apart (I should know this), or is it five, and we follow along after, some folk dropping cut seed potato pieces into the furrows about 8 inches apart, and others pushing these down into the soil and then covering them up.  We finished four long beds before lunch.

 These are cellaring potatoes we were planting today, intended for harvest in the fall and a variety that keeps well for long periods of time in cold storage.  I should find out what that means in terms of starch content.  I think it would be high, and a good baking potato, but I’m not sure. 

 After lunch Becky, another new housemate of mine who is in her third year at the farm, and I went to the local co-op to purchase some Rubbermaid containers for compost and our washing station as well as to check out some potential hose fittings.  A nice store, I’ll check it out again sometime off of the company dime to wander around and see everything they have to offer.

 Finally, I did a quick spot of watering in the greenhouse before Jamie (my boss) gave us the go ahead to go home.  I should be resting but we’ve been playing some music here at the house, and despite the copious amounts of matter my sinuses have been producing it’s been nice to do a bit of strumming and singing (and a bit of fiddling as well). 

 But now it is starting to get late and I will be off to bed.

 Love to all.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Yet another day on the farm.

Short and to the point.

Today, I…

Watered the greenhouse. Better to mist from a distance rather than having the hose too close to the seedlings. Make sure the water saturates the entire pod of soil. Morning watering can be heavy, as the heat of the day will make sure it doesn’t stay too moist.

Filled seedling trays with soil. A nice, relatively mindless task.

Helped to uncover the coldframes.

Planted a variety of bok choy (joi choi) into seedling trays. 1 or 2 seeds per cell. The seeds were small and difficult to handle, so sometimes more fell in. Will just have to thin later if they all sprout.

Went on a gas run – took empty gas cans to the gas station and filled them up. Apparently, tractors run on gasoline. Also visited the hardware store and the auto-parts store for various items, drill batteries, hydraulic tubing, tractor battery…

Had a very interesting talk on soil science, samples and testing after lunch. Will talk more about this later, but this farm has really nice soil. The most important things, pH and organic matter, were right in the zone. Other things that come up are nitrogen (also very important but hard to measure reliably), phosphorus, cation exchange capacity, several other nutrients, any pollutant problems.

Finished up the day preparing potatoes for planting, which will probably happen, or at least get started, tomorrow. Cut seed potatoes into chunks, making sure that each chunk has at least one or more good eyes. Small, new potato-sized ones went in whole, big ones would be cut into as many as four separate chunks.

That’s it!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Day 2 on the Farm

I would like to keep this record of my apprentice as complete as possible, meaning as many days as I can bear to take the time to write something. Inevitably, of course, because of time constraints and other commitments, as well as general fatigue and/or apathy, there are going to be many days when I don’t write anything. But many days, if not most (I’m only 2 days in; I can afford to be optimistic) I’d like to at least take some sort of basic accounting of what I did that day and what I learned, both for my own records and also to give other folks an idea of how I spend my time.

So today…

I started out by helping with a few basic tractor maintenance projects. Again with the little old seeding tractor, the ‘G’, which as far as I can tell was made perhaps 50 years ago. An ingenious, and surpisingly simple, machine. Anyway, we started by checking the tire pressure and filling up the tires to the appropriate amount (12 rear, 15 front). Then we tried to locate all the ‘grease points’ (or grease ‘nipples’) on the machine and pump them full of…grease. Most of these are located at a place where the hydraulic systems drive metal against metal and thus need to be well lubricated. Then I was tasked with a largely fruitless effort to replace the grease nipple at a spot where it had disappeared, but the replacement parts did not thread properly, and I suspect that the threading on the tractor was shot. Anyway, some kind of jerry-rigged option seemed acceptable and we went with that.

Next we removed the hydraulic tubing from a large tractor attachment called a disc harrower, which breaks up the soil into finer bits after the initial plowing. As some of the bolts were rusted shut against each other, this took quite a bit of elbow grease, and resulted in a lot of actual grease spraying out onto my jeans.

After that I got a brief lesson in the initial plowing of a field, with one of the bigger tractors which I have not learned to drive yet. In order to avoid wasted time circling and backing up, to get as much of the field plowed as possible, and to avoid running the tires over the soil too much it takes a bit of thought and planning to get your plowing pattern down so that you can do it smoothly and efficiently without freaking out. So I got a quick lesson and then watched my new housemate Susan do a long circuit around fields 5-8, driving the large, sharp wedges into the soil to turn it over.

Next up I went back to the greenhouse area where we were working on setting up the cold frames. Joe, a local fellow who works on the farm, and I worked to install some brackets to hold some short lengths of rebar that would in turn hold the ends of semi-rigid black tubing that would provide the structure for the plastic sheeting to go over. When that was done, a volunteer class from a local school put out trays of onion seedlings into the frames and then covered them up with the plastic.

Then lunch!

After lunch, I spent the rest of the day on some greenhouse work. Making tray labels (‘4/14 Bright Lights’ – a variety of chard that we were seeding into trays), filling up plastic trays with soil, thinning out trays of lettuce and transplanting some of the excess plants into new trays, and ending the day seeding the ‘bright lights’ chard.

Also, a snapshot of what is already going on in the fields (it’s not as if the farm was idle before I arrived):
There are garlic shoots coming up that were planted in the fall
There is an over-winter crop of spinach coming up again, which will not be used commercially but that we are eating – it is delicious and wonderfully fleshy.
The strawberry plants have been uncovered (they had a heavy layer of straw on them during the winter).
The first planting of peas are sending up shoots.

Actually, there are too many things already happening for me to list them all, or to remember them all. The greenhouse is already a hothouse (pardon me) of activity.

By the way, thinning a tray of lettuce and hoping to transplant them into another tray is a very delicate business! Trying to ease the excess plants (after germination and some root growth we really want only one plant per cell so that they can really thrive) out with their roots intact, and then to put them into another cell of soil, with the roots covered, is a task that I don’t think I really have the grasp of yet. But I understand that I will have some more practice. In the meantime, I have made a mental note of where the trays that I worked on are now located and will be very curious to see how those little plants fare, whether they will sprout a backbone and stand up straight, seeking the sun or if the will shrivel and fall against the dirt. Over and over again, as I gently pulled the little plants up, I would feel the little snap as the main root stem broke. Tricky, tricky. But maybe these plants are hardier than I think…I don’t really know anything at this point.

Anyway, there’s my second day. A nice, varied mix of activities and a gorgeous day of sun with almost no wind. And a short day again, 8 am to 3:30 again. I will be in for a rude awakening the first cold, rainy, windy day working 6-5.

Monday, April 13, 2009

First-day Farmer

I think that it helps if your first day on the farm is a bright and sunny one, even if the wind carries a chill in the morning. By mid-afternoon, however, it was about as nice a day as one could expect this time of year in New England. This was the first official day of work for many of us, and though we had some general orientation talks regarding the overview of the season, expectations, scheduling, safety issues and other topics, we also dove right in with some work.

Let’s see, what did I do today?

First up we went to the greenhouse where I cut off the tops of onion seedlings with a pair of scissors. This encourages root growth, which helps the plants survive and thrive the replanting process. Then I was taken off of that job to assist with the direct sowing of spinach and sugar snap pea seeds (direct sowing is when the seeds go straight into the fields where they will do all of their growing until harvest, as opposed to starting the seeds off in a greenhouse where they will get a gentle, warm and moist start into this often difficult world).

For this we used a tractor, a unit referred to as the “G” (though I asked and got an answer, I’m still not sure why this tractor is called this), with a sowing attachment on the front. I learned how to attach and remove the hopper, which contains the seeds, and how to switch out and rotate the discs that allow you to adjust for the size of the seed and how quickly they are dispersed into the soil.

The tractor was driven out to one of the fields and Melissa, the assistant farm manager, drove the tractor while Theresa (another worker bee like me) and I followed along on foot to make sure everything went smoothly, to stop the tractor if it jammed up and to check the sowing apparatus periodically to make sure that it was getting seeds into the ground properly. We started with three or four rows of spinach (a popular crop with our shareholders, apparently. I’m not surprised; I love spinach myself). Sowing this way on this farm is generally considered a two person job; one person for the tractor and another to call a halt and clear and/or fix the machinery if something goes astray.

After a nice lunch and some more introductory talks and paperwork, we went back out to the fields to sow sugar snap peas. These are some of the largest seeds we use, and are, of course, just peas, but a bit dried up and shriveled. This time I got to drive the tractor myself, after getting acquainted with the clutch, gear shifter and hydraulics and some general tractor tips and safety issues. For the peas, we would drive down one row sowing, and then cover the same row again in order to sow at a high enough density to ensure that enough seeds germinate to grow enough delicious sugar snap peas for our shareholders.

I will have to get a hold of some serious moisturizer for my hands and remember that the sun can be pretty intense even in April. At least I dressed warm enough! I’ve been out birding in April too many times (or to too many April Red Sox games) to not take the possibility of a nasty, wet chill seriously.

Anyway, it was an excellent first day on the farm, and frankly, I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I have no idea what I’ll be doing.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Scenes from My New Home

This is the house I now live in.  It is an old farmhouse, circa I have no idea, and is connected to the barn at left.  You can see the very nice screened-in porch that I'm sure I will sit in often.
This is the driveway out from the house, which meanders between fields, woods and salt marsh for a few hundred yards before coming out onto the nearest road.
This is the old, old farmhouse of the property, a type of house known as a salt box (I will have to take pictures of the backside to demonstrate what makes it a salt box.  And I will probably be wrong), which is maintained in all of its historic grandeur for tours.
This is the view of the salt marsh behind the house, at an extremely high tide.  Somewhere out there is the main channel of the Ipswich River.  I should get a kayak.
The back of my new home.
A wild turkey.
More turkeys, rummaging in the lawn behind the house.
This is a more typical view of a portion of the salt marsh.  You can see a slice of open ocean in the distance.
My room.  A painting of Esme has the place of honor, on the wall and in my heart.