Saturday, October 31, 2009

Last Tasks

All apologies for not writing more recently!


You know that you are nearing the end of the growing season when you can count the remaining major tasks you have to complete on one, or maybe two hands.  That’s not to say that there’s not an endless array of things you could do, many of them very helpful (if not necessary in the grand scheme of things), but there are only a few things of pressing importance that really need to be done before the truly cold weather hits. 


Before things wrap up, we need to:

Finish weeding the strawberries (almost done, maybe a half hour more with a crew of 4)

Mulch the strawberries (cover the plants with hay to protect them during the winter)

Plant the garlic

Mulch the garlic

Remove the rest of the plastic mulch and drip-irrigation tape from the fields

Clean the tractor implements and store in the barn cellar

One last swipe at cover-cropping the remaining open fields once major harvesting is done


That’s really just about it, ignoring for the moment the fact that we still have harvesting to do for the last week that we are open, the one-time winter share we are offering Thanksgiving week, and a few additional sales to restaurants and local farmstands.  Soon, in a couple of weeks, my hours will drop drastically and I will be able to focus on a combination of personal creative projects, farm study and travel with my greatly expanded amount of personal time.  I will continue to put in hours at the farm throughout the off-season, and hope to learn a lot and get some interesting projects accomplished. 


Some things that I will probably work on at Appleton during the off-season:


Some kind of information database organizing farming knowledge, procedures, schedules and checklists at Appleton.

Field scheduling for next year.

Seed ordering.

Equipment maintenance. 

Budget work.

Construction projects (such as a hoop house for tomatoes) and equipment/infrastructure maintenance.


Eventually, the weather will turn a bit milder around the beginning of March and we will begin to prepare the fields with plowing and we will start to plant seeds in the greenhouse.  I am looking forward to going through another season with this year’s experience under my belt and gaining whatever perspective and wisdom that will offer, as well as learning some new skills and taking on some more responsibility.  In particular I hope to do some of the primary field preparation and plowing with the Kubota tractor and participate in harvest management once the distribution starts up again next June. 


Have a Happy Halloweed, everybody.  Peace and love to all.


Sunday, October 18, 2009


Here's streaming audio of a new song I recorded, called 'Greenwood':

Or, here's the link to download it to your computer:

Have a good day! Peace to everybody.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

It's cold...

The first trees I saw that turned to their fall colors, a line of maples bordering a little creek on Appleton Farm, have now lost all of their leaves and stand barren in the chilly October wind. As our deciduous trees shed their colorful cloaks, I am putting mine on, every day a new layer it seems. Yesterday, I wore a full set of polypropilene long-johns, t-shirt, fleece sweater, thick hooded sweatshirt, hooded rainjacket, knit wool cap, also gloves, two pairs socks, boots, work pants, rain pants, gloves, etc. It is cold! We had a genuine frost two or three times this week; one of them was almost more of a freeze than a frost, the temperature having gotten down to (or very close to) 32 during the night. I have no real problem making myself comfortable with all of those layers except for my hands, which of course need to continue working, usually with more delicacy than a pair of thick mittens can afford. So I make do with fleece fingerless, or thin leather, rubber dishwasher, or even surgical, depending on the situation. None of them keep my hands warm. Oh well.

We have pretty much lost our pepper plants, our eggplants, our green beans, our basil, and a few various other things, but surprisingly (to myself at least) most of our stuff that is still in rotation has made it through these severe temperatures intact, including tender-seeming greens like lettuce, arugula and spinach. The heartier fare, like cabbage, collards, carrots and parsnips certainly have nothing to fear from these first cold nights.

My thoughts have turned, finally and after a season of slothful weekends, to putting some food up for the winter. The bulk of this will be simple storage of vegetables that should store well fore some time, either in the pantry, the cellar, or the refrigerator. Potatoes, onions, butternut squash, shallots, sugar pumpkins, carrots, beets, celeriac. I have already started the hoarding. I have also started a bit of blanching and freezing, which I will do mostly with broccoli, cauliflower and spinach (I have already done some broccoli, as well as strawberries and basil pureed in olive oil earlier in the season).

The hard stuff, that I hope to get started on today, is the pickling. I have chosen not to do traditional canning or pickling, but just a few choice recipes of lactic fermentation, which I will describe in more detail at some future post. It is essentially a type of preserving in salt or brine that encourages microbial organisms to flourish that turn the vegetable’s sugars into lactic acid, which sours them and creates an environment preventing spoilage. The most famous recipe of this sort is for sauerkraut. Kim chi is a spicy Korean pickle of this sort. It can also be done with a traditional cucumber-type pickle, dill and all. This method of pickling preserves more nutrients, so I’ve been told, than traditional canning or pickling, and creates a fizzy brine that is supposedly good for digestion.

Anyway, we’ll see how far I get. First I have to go to the Essex Co-op and get some jars.

Peace to everybody.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Cover Cropping

The farm is in an interesting place right now; we are steadily moving into Fall, with all the things that Fall brings: cold mornings, blustery, clear afternoons, jackets and gloves, red maple leaves, fields of brown, yellow and red grasses, flying V’s of honking geese, roadside pumpkins, early nightfall and late sunrise. The air makes it feel like the farm is winding down and winter is just around the corner, and in fact we only have four more weeks of distributing produce to our shareholders. Yet in many ways we are at the very peak of production; we have never had such a variety and plenitude of good food grown and harvested in our own fields here at Appleton Farms. This last week we gave out New England Pie Pumpkin, Spaghetti Squash, a variety of decorative gourds, white potatoes, yellow onions, red onions, heads of garlic, tomatillos, summer crisp lettuce, oak leaf lettuce, green peppers, colored peppers, Italian red peppers, toscano chard, red chard, collard greens, arugula, mustard greens, tatsoi, spinach, carrots, beets, chard, globe eggplants, purple eggplant, white eggplant, fennel, turnips, daikon radishes, bok choy…I know I’m missing a couple things, and of course that’s not including the pick-your-own fields, which are on the downswing but still offering green beans, basil, parlsey, dill, cilantro, perennial herbs and cut flowers.

Besides harvesting all of this bounty, however, we are firmly engaged in a lot of end-of-season work. One of the biggest projects for this time of year is cover cropping. This is not something that we can leave off until we finish our harvest, as it will be too cold by then to ensure good germination of the cover-crop seeds. On Thursday I got a chance to do some cover-cropping and learn a bit about this very important farming practice.

Cover cropping, in short, is planting a field with some kind of crop after you are done harvesting from that field. This crop will germinate and grow in the fall and the plants and network of roots left intact in the soil over the winter. This is done for two primary reasons, to protect the soil from erosion and to retain and bind nutrients and organic matter in the soil. Many cover crops, such as peas (and other leguminous plants) are able to fix nitrogen into the soil, helping to maintain high levels of this extremely important element available to plants. Strong networks of roots and plants prevent snowmelt, rain and wind from washing away top soil and leaching nutrients below the topsoil.

Sometimes we do very large swaths of land with our biggest tractor, but on Thursday I did just a few smaller patches, maybe an acre in total, with our mid-sized tractor and a hand-seeder. First off, the finished beds need to be mowed to cut down the plants and cut up the thicker weed stems. This had already been done to the fields I was working on. Then I came in with our John Deere High Crop tractor, fitted with a discing implement, which is a set of sharp metal discs that can be lowered into the soil and rolled along to break up the soil and weed/crop refuse. Each bed usually has to be gone over a couple of times to make sure that enough good topsoil is exposed and there is not a lot thick layers of green vegetable matter on top. Then, I went along with a hand seeder filled with rye seed, and with the help of a hand crank spinning a disc underneath the bag I flung seed out in all directions while walking down a disced bed. I was probably able to cover about forty feet from left to right, or about four beds or so, at a time. Then, the seed generously applied, I went back over the beds with the disc again, just once and with the discs set quite shallow, to make sure that there was good contact between the seed and the soil, to ensure good germination.

That’s it; now I am very interested to see the results of my efforts (though I’ve already seen plenty of fields come up in either rye or oats and peas, but this was my first adventure in cover-cropping and I always have propriety feelings over my own personal efforts).

Anyway, peace to everybody.