Tag Archives: local

Suddenly Summer–Time for Bees and More Planting


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The sun sets over the farm. The rows are laid out with drip tape and plastic, using our “new” bed layer, all ready for planting melons, cabbages, and eggplants. We will slowly convert all of our irrigation to this system which saves water and reduces weeding. We will wait another week to plant the heat-loving melons, eggplants, tomatoes and peppers though, as nights here still hover just above 40. We need nights in the mid-50s for these plantings. It is so hard to be patient!

In the meantime, several successions of cold-loving crops have gone in, such as onions, (more than 3800 of the sweet Walla Walla variety, plus more bunching onions) spinach, kale, chard, beets, turnips, lettuces and greens. All this on top of the protected plantings of carrots greens and onions started in February and March in the two hoophouses, which were moved last month. The two houses are already filled with their summer crops.

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Artichokes, a new crop we’re trying out this year, have been planted inside the small hoophouse. Since this photo, a row and a half of cayenne peppers also got put in. You can see the garlic growing on the other side of the hoophouse.DSC_0013Rosie was game to try out the new two seater planter we got on loan. Our maiden voyage was to plant 600 strawberry plants for next season.

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Rosie and Bill took their positions on the back while Mike drove.

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After a lot of trial and error they got it done. We still need to learn how to set up and use this tool properly!

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Each person alternatively drops a plant between two revolving discs which open up the ground and put the plant in the proper position. It was a little bit daunting, but in the end, much kinder on the knees! We hope to use this planter to get all the broccoli and cauliflower in.

DSC_0009Meanwhile, in the large hoophouse, the tomatoes are growing very well. We’ve also planted a bed of ginger along one side, and will grow pickling cucumbers on a trellis along the other side. We are working to maximize valuable growing space inside the hoophouses.

DSC_0008The mesclun mix is ready for its third cutting! Romaine heads are getting bigger, in time for our first CSA shares which begin June 10. Bunching onions will make a delicious addition to our first shares, along with baby spinach, radishes, and fully grown sweet winter carrots!

DSC_0081And in the middle of all this activity, the bees arrived! We lost all four of our hives last winter. One we knew had a weak queen. We knew we had at least two swarms,  maybe three, last summer. Two of the hives hung on until nearly spring, but didn’t make it. We were left with two broodboxes full of honey, which we will put on the hives in September to help get our bees through next winter. We are about a month late getting the two bee packages in. However, we have enough hive equipment to give these new bees fully built out comb in two deep boxes, which should help them along. If you are starting from scratch, it takes the bees quite awhile to just build comb on all the frames, so we are hopeful that the bees will have an advantage this year. Our main intention is to get these bees pollinating our crops. Some honey at the end of the season is really a bonus for us!

DSC_0056Two of our interns, Rosie and Alisha (doing a great job as photographer, which is why she is not in the photos! Thanks Lish!) helped install the packages. It was a first for both of them, and quite exciting!

DSC_0034This was a first for me, as well, installing packages without Mike and Bill’s input. But we did ok.  The queens must be accepted by the hive (by smell,) so they come protected in little cages that you hang inside the hive. They chew their way out through a candy plug. By the time they get out, usually, the hive has accepted her. We will check in 7 days, and hopefully remove the empty queen cages. In another 7 days after that, we check once more to determine that the queen is laying capped brood. Fingers crossed!

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Rocking that bee-hoodie Rosie!

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Filed under Bees, CSA Shares, Four Season Gardening, Greenhouse, Planting, Spring, Uncategorized

Burned carrots and many lessons learned…


This is a cautionary tale, which may help someone else, and which may yet have a happy ending. There is so much to learn, and we, humbly, are still learning. So stay tuned…

This is a story that unfolded over a period of days, put in perspective by the horror unfolding with the Boston Marathon bombings, and the weeklong manhunt to catch the perpetrators. (Lesson 1: It’s only carrots, after all…)

Last week, we took delivery of about 20 yards of compost from a local facility where its made. With our hearts in Boston, and one ear tuned to the horrific news reports, we kept to our regular work routines and began applying the new compost. We used it to top dress the carrots in our two hoophouses. These, if you remember, are the carrots planted in February and March. The first plantings were coming along nicely, and had grown to about 3 inches.

Once I began working in the small greenhouse, I became concerned about a strong odor from the compost, which I described to Richie, doing the same thing in our larger greenhouse, as “animal,” of urine, or ammonia. Did we get the wrong stuff? I called the trucking company that had delivered it and was told they had already been in touch with the head of the compost company after a previous query about the same odor. He had reassured them that the compost was completely safe to use. The compost was still working, they had been told, but it was ok. Ok to use in an open field, and to be tilled under before planting, I now realize in hindsight. My application to tender baby carrots was another use entirely. (Lesson 2: The “experts” don’t always know everything. Go with your gut.)

However, allowing myself to be reassured, I covered the carrots with a layer of reemay cloth, and closed the greenhouse up tight for the night as we are still getting below freezing  temps at night, and must still protect the beds.

Here is what the carrots looked like when I put them to bed:

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Here is what they looked like the next day:

DSC_0920Severely burned carrot plants…Ouch! It looked like we had sprayed the crop with Agent Orange! And there was a definite line of demarcation of healthy plants remaining where I had left off the previous day. I immediately called the trucking company and they promised to follow up.

I don’t mean to indict compost with this story. In fact, the compost we were delivered IS perfectly fine and we will use it with great confidence on our fields. To gardeners, compost is “black gold” because of its many benefits in the garden. Compost is a great material for garden soil. Adding compost to clay soils makes them easier to work and plant. In sandy soils, the addition of compost improves the water holding capacity of the soil. By adding organic matter to the soil, compost can help improve plant growth and health. Composting is a most important tool for an organic gardener.

(Lesson 3: Compost is not compost, is not compost.) Too much green matter in relation to brown in a compost pile can result in excess nitrogen as the bacteria consumes the green matter, which results in the formation of ammonia gas when the compost is new. This eventually dissipates, harmlessly, into the air. The resulting compost is fine and safe to use. It is safe even to use while it has this smell, as long as it is being tilled into the ground. In fact, it may add some benefits in the short term. But it is not so good to use on tender plants in a closed environment. This I now understand in hindsight…

I definitely compounded my first mistake in using the unseasoned compost on beds which I then covered with cloth inside a tightly closed greenhouse. I inadvertently captured and concentrated ammonia fumes around the baby plants. Once this had been discovered, we began ventilating, and watered heavily, which stopped the ongoing damage.

In our big greenhouse, where we had also top dressed with the same stuff, the carrots are fine. Why? We have since come to the conclusion that there is more air circulation in the larger house, and the compost had been applied a little more thinly.

This really feels like a significant setback. Here we have a crop with potential worth of several thousand dollars. Part of that worth is centered around producing locally grown carrots weeks ahead of anyone planting them outside, and for which we can charge a premium price at the markets where we sell them.

This morning, we were paid a visit by the head of the compost facility, who I am pleased to say, came out here to see what I was talking about. I think he learned a few things from me. He was surprised to see carrots growing in an unheated greenhouse. He hadn’t heard of Eliot Coleman and was not familiar with the concept of moveable hoophouses. I told him: “You will soon be seeing more of this, hopefully, as more farmers learn how to extend the season using this method. I want you to be able to warn others so they don’t make the same mistake that I did.”

As for the carrots, “Wait and see,” he said. “You will probably be surprised. We see this when the compost is applied to broadgrass.” (Turf. I am not suprised that his biggest customers are landscapers applying this product to lawns.)

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This morning, I am slightly encouraged about the carrots. There does seem to be vibrant healthy growth coming from the middle of each plant which survived. The smallest plants, however, did not make it, so there has been loss. But it is not the end of the world. This is farming. We will replant.

To repeat Lesson 1: Its only April. There will be carrots. And no carrot is important, really, when compared to what we lost in Boston last week.

Keep calm and plant on!

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Filed under Four Season Gardening, Greenhouse, Lessons Learned, Planting, Spring

Maine Town Declares Food Sovereignty


I am sharing an important post today from the blog “Food Renegade,” about a town in Maine that has declared Food Sovereignty.

To quote the first paragraph: “Sedgwick, Maine has done what no other town in the United States has done. The town unanimously passed an ordinance giving its citizens the right “to produce, process, sell, purchase, and consume local foods of their choosing.” This includes raw milk, locally slaughtered meats, and just about anything else you can imagine. It’s also a decided bucking of state and federal laws. Read the whole article here: http://www.foodrenegade.com/maine-town-declares-food-sovereignty/. Please come back and share what you think about this after reading…

Meanwhile, here on our own farm…

Yesterday's rain melted away most of the snow cover.

Yesterday’s rain has melted away most of the snow cover.

Inside the large hoophouse, all but one bed is planted.

Inside the large hoophouse, all but one bed is planted.

Emerging mesclun mix.

Emerging mesclun mix.

Michael is working on a cold frame where we will experiment with propagating some starts this year.

Michael is working on a cold frame where we will experiment with propagating some starts this year.

It is hard to imagine, but soon these rows will be brimming with life.

It is hard to imagine, but soon these rows will be brimming with life.

Inside the small hoophouse, the first bed of carrots has emerged.

Inside the small hoophouse, the first bed of carrots has emerged.

We will harvest full-grown carrots by the time we give out our first shares in June.

We will harvest full-grown carrots by the time we give out our first shares in June.

The same view of the barn as yesterday's post so you can see how much snow has melted!

The same view of the barn as yesterday’s post so you can see how much snow has melted!

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Filed under CSA Shares, Farming and the Laws, Four Season Gardening, Greenhouse, Planting, Spring

Winter Carrots — A Sweet Treat!


This is the second winter we’ve stored carrots underground. The winter carrots are definitely the sweetest and tastiest of all. Something about the cold temperatures concentrates the sugars and flavor.

Here is how we do it…

One last planting of Rainbow and Napoli carrots went in the garden behind my house near the end of the summer, where they grew to full-size.DSC_0204

We sold some at market, gave some to shares which ended in December, and used quite a few in our soups and stews.

Before the ground froze, a trench about 18 inches deep was dug alongside the carrot patch. The remaining carrots were dug out and laid in the trench with the greens still on. Enough dirt was sprinkled in around them to hold them upright. A thick layer of salt hay was mounded on top to prevent the ground from freezing underneath.DSC_0207

Yesterday’s temps were in the 40s, and I went out back to replenish my supply. Moving aside the hay, I groped around in the wet earth and pulled them out one at a time. They were still fresh, firm, and rendolent with that unique carrotty fragrance.DSC_0208

Food? Doesn’t look like much until they come inside for a rinse…DSC_0203

Yummy, sweet and gorgeous! I wish you could taste how different these are from the ones you get in the supermarket!

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Filed under Canning and Preserving, Cooking with Fresh Vegetables, CSA Shares, Four Season Gardening

Late Season Goodness


People think as soon as Labor Day arrives garden time is over.

Not so. Not here.

Our Late Season shareholders will tell you different.

  • Here’s what their second share looked like last week:

 

 

 

 

But surely, you say, in the meantime, we got 5 inches of snow and all kinds of cold weather! Of course the garden is gone now!

Nope!

Lots of things are still growing and thriving under the hoops and inside the greenhouse, not to mention what’s in the root cellar.

Cold-hearty crops such as beets, lettuce, rutabaga, kohlrabi, mache, spinach are all doing very well thank you, under here:

 

 

 

 

 

 

And carrots here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

And take a look in the greenhouse! These crops will be ready for harvest in December.

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Garlic!


Richie and I planted two big beds of garlic yesterday. After a surprise snowstorm around Halloween, I began to fear we would be too late, but the ground is not yet frozen, and we are likely to have some milder days before real winter sets in. Hopefully, we are just in time…

Developing your own garlic crop takes great patience. It’s a very expensive crop to grow if you’re buying new seed stock. And when you love garlic as much as we do, it takes steely resolve and discipline to save the biggest bulbs year after year, to replant.

I don’t think I could live without garlic in my kitchen, and nothing tastes better than our own home grown garlic. After the July garlic harvest it’s a garlic bonanza here. In the beginning, it seems like we will have plenty. It goes into all our marinaras, salsas and savory dishes that we preserve and freeze for the winter. It flavors our omelettes and stews, and adds pizzazz to our pizzas. We give it out to our shareholders. We sell some at the farmer’s markets. It doesn’t take long before our supply starts to dwindle and we begin to look longingly at our seed crop. But we hold back. You see, we have to save the best of our harvest to put right back into the ground in October, or early November. It’s hard, but we are strong because we know there’s a huge reward for our stewardship. What’s a large enough garlic crop? When you have to go to the supermarket to buy more, you don’t have enough, and we’re not quite there yet…

Hardneck garlic is the crop of choice in the Northeast, and it needs to be planted in the fall for a mid-July harvest. It takes time and experimentation to discover which varieties will do best in your own soil. Finally, after three years of holding back our best bulbs, this year’s harvest yielded us a 1/2 bushel basket brimming with very large and beautiful Music bulbs. Clearly, this is the variety for Mehaffey Farm– great big fat heads averaging 6 or 7 huge cloves each. Each clove will produce another whole head. We carefully stored the basket high and dry up on one of the beams in my house where they sat, mocking us with their plump perfection for three whole months. (Eat Me!) It’s a good thing we get a generous supply of the smallish, and in the least bit less than perfect heads to use in our kitchen!

Garlic planting time was a little late this year, partly because of the unexpected Halloween snowstorm, but also because October was a chaotic month filled with change at Mehaffey Farm. Ross and Casey and Shelby moved out and into their own place — a good move for them as every young couple needs their own nest! We miss having the baby around every day, and we loved having the baby and her parents here, but it is good for everyone to have more space and a home that’s refuge to go to at he end of the day instead of the Grand Central Station my house had become… And while I miss my morning coffee and newspaper cuddles with Shelby, we still get to see her every Monday and Tuesday when her mama goes to work on the evening shift, where she’s a nursing supervisor at Woodbrier in Wilmington.

Then, at the end of the month, Mike and Desi moved into the farmhouse with Grammie. This is a wonderful turn of events that the whole family is happy about. The old family house where Grammie has been living alone for 7 years is very large and very empty. The kids will breathe new life into the old farmhouse,  which was designed for a family to live in!

Also in October, we are finally getting our chimney fixed by our son Michael! It had started to crumble after living in our house for nearly 30 years, and it wasn’t going to make it through one more winter. Last week Michael signed papers to buy the masonry/construction business from his cousin Graham, who he’s been working with for the past few years.

Meanwhile, we are nearly half-way into our Late Season shares which consist of cold-hearty crops, root storage crops and canned goods every other week until Christmas. We’ve covered large crops of cold-hearty vegetables with hoops and reemay cloth, and we have lots of winter squash and potates in the root cellar. It may seem like the season is over, but our bounty continues. (Here’s a peek into our greenhouse of crops that will appear in our late season shares in December…a post for another day!)

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Filed under Canning and Preserving, CSA Shares, Four Season Gardening, Greenhouse

Firing on all cylinders…


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