Friday, October 21, 2011

It's the end of the season as we know it.

See, I told you. At some point in the season, things just get too busy to take pictures. Or maybe I just need to get better at remembering to take pictures. Either way, here's a little jumble of everything you've missed in the last few months...

At some point we got the on-site farm stand going.  Armed with a fabulously rustic little stand built by Hugh Cummings of HughNameIt out of recycled pallets (I don't know if he knows it, but he's part of an eco-fashion-trend.  Check out this and that) I set about trying to hock veggies for dollars.  Some days were great: steady customers, good conversations, comfortable weather.  And then some days I stood shivering under a tent for the one person who decided to brave the weather.

We got all kinds at the stand, I loved that part of it.  I was most excited when a neighbor would walk out their front door and right on over to the stand to buy a few tomatoes or some salad for that night's dinner.  I had a regular neighbor/customer that would get one pound of a particular variety of green beans every time I had it because it was the only vegetable their daughters would gladly eat.  I had another set of neighbors that always wanted just cilantro and maybe a few hot peppers, but would all the same take a walk around the beds, and ask here and there what certain plants were.  It was awesome, and not even in a sarcastic way.  My own neighbors, on the block that I live in, would also stop by with some regularity and I am pretty sure I would see them more often at the stand than I did on  our own block!

 The north half of the farm in...September?  Maybe October?  Late season, anyways.  The broccoli in the foreground is coming along, the fall peas are trying really hard on the trellis, the radishes and mustard greens are hiding under their row cover blankets.  In the waaaaay back, the anise hyssop is probably being assaulted by hungry bees.

Fall at the farm has its really beautiful moments.  I think by September, despite the endless wet weather, the farm had really come into its own.  Maybe it was the fact that I was excited by little fat purple carrots (they were delicious, by the way), or maybe I was just thankful that the farm was still standing, but I swear on some mornings it was like walking into a little oasis.  Finally, it hit me that I had done it, the plants were doing their thing and in one year this space had transformed from mulch and haggard beds to a productive space that has been shown off to organizations like American Farmland Trust and has had games of tag played in it by laughing kids.  Both parties seem to approve.

So what now?  I've got a few "veggies in wintertime" experiments running at home.  The treviso radicchio you see to your right can apparently be cut down, dug up and "forced" like they do for Belgian endive.  The roots are hanging out in my fridge and in a few weeks I'll take them out stick them in the basement with a big box over them to block out any light.  The blanched shoots will hopefully appear a few weeks later. I'm also trying to over winter some lemongrass cuttings so that I don't have to spend another twenty dollars on them next year.  I've promised myself that I will start the trays of pea shoots, sunflower sprouts and microgreens for the Kingston Winter Farmers Market after I pen this blog post, so I had better get on it!  Have a tasty and happy Thanksgiving, and I will see you at the first market day: December 3rd, 10am, Old Dutch Church, Kingston, NY!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

*CRASH* scuffle, fumble, platz....I'm alright!

Hi all,
Just a quick little note to let you all know that I'm alright and the farm is alright. Frankly I was pretty nervous about hurricane/tropical storm Irene, but in the end, only the tomatoes and squash got beat up. Everything else fared pretty well. More on the everything else later. In the meantime, go visit any farmer that is down by any river in our area. Let them know you are willing and wanting to help.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Summer Heirloom Review- a little late

*Update: a long overdue post...for some reason (maybe summer and storms got in the way) I have been procrastinating on finishing this piece. It's rainy, it's cold, it's done....*
It's summer and solanaceae rule the day. This family of plants are at home with heat and we here in the north tend to spend much of our season catering to their every whim and need. Too much water? too little water? needs covering? needs pollinating? needs trellising? Out of all of them, I would say eggplant is the fussiest. OP and heirloom eggplants in particular get a bad rap for being highly dependent on the perfect season and the utmost in care to even have a decent harvest. Enter my new favorite heirloom:
Kamo (Kitazawa Seed Co.) is a Japanese heirloom eggplant originating in the Kyoto region. Apparently it is highly prized in Japan for its sweet flavor and smooth texture (it's also cute as a button). When I harvested the first one, the weight gave it away. Full sized at four inches across, this diminutive specimen was easily the weight of a full sized "American" eggplant. I fried it up to sample this new-to-me variety and holy moly, what yumminess exuded from each bite. I should eat so well every day. It has produced just as well as the two hybrids I am growing and might actually out pace them as the season progresses. If I really had to say one not so great thing, it would be that the leaf cover is pretty dense and the shaded eggplants don't get as beautifully dark and shiny. Also I have seen a couple of split ones, which are still usable (they don't rot like tomatoes do) but they aren't pretty.

OK, I am growing about 10 different heirloom tomatoes, and everyone's got their favorite. So I am just going to do one variety and then get on with it. This one, Cour di Bue (Baker Creek), is new to me. It is pretty aptly named, I actually get a little creeped out when I harvest these. It's almost like plucking an anatomical heart out of a tomato plant chest. You need to find the perfect ripeness for these, overripe is not so great, but the taste is excellent, a little sweet, a little acidic and very tomatoey. The plants have done pretty well for themselves, not the weakest, not the hardiest, we'll see how long they last into the fall. Oh, by the way, Baker Creek classifies them as a red tomato. In my eyes they are most certainly pink...

I was lying before. Kamo is not my favorite. Although this doesn't classify as an heirloom yet, I hope that someday it will. Bridge to Paris (Hudson Valley Seed Library) is just about the most perfect pepper. It also has the distinction of being born at a farm I used to work at. Although I didn't begin to de-hybridize the original La Paris, I took on the legacy and raised it every year in its own patch so we could confidently save the seed. I also tried to take out most of the rogue "hotties" that showed up in the gene pool every once and a while, but I hear there are still a few out there. This pepper is productive, has few sunscalded peppers because of its heavy leaf cover (as long as you support it to keep the plant upright) and the drier flesh is perfect for roasting, frying, etc. It is best when it is candy apple red and I think it is far tastier that most bell peppers.

Rattlesnake Pole Bean (High Mowing): I know this is a favorite of a farmer friend of mine, so I decided to grow it this year. I have not been disappointed. Early, productive, vigorous vines. I only wish I had another 10' of fence for it to climb up. It seems to produce in very strong flushes, so far it is on its second one...will it make a third? They do develop strings on the pods when they get to be about 6 inches long, so watch out for those when cooking. Also the purple stripes disappear completely, but the beans themselves do turn a very pleasing bright green. Beany tasting, but not dry, I bet it would be perfect for a revamped green bean casserole or a bean salad.

Gobbo Di Nizzia Cardoon (Baker Creek): I've never eaten a cardoon, I've never grown a cardoon (until now) and I've only seen them once, at a market in California. So this was truly a new experience for me. It looked good in the middle of winter as I was snuggled up with all the seed catalogs. I pictured early September (when this will be harvested) and its perfect crisp days and I thought, why the heck not? Well, it's almost time and it looks good...but I'm not quite sure when to pick it or what it should taste like. But it does look good.

Dragon's Tongue Beans or Dragon Langerie Beans (Hudson Valley Seed Library and High Mowing): I actually took a couple of packets of seeds from both these companies and put them together, so I can't quite tell you if the two seed populations differ from each other, but I have to say they are doing great overall. But hey, this variety has been part of my growing plan since 2008, so that's no surprise. I was surprised though, by how big the beans got this year. I swear I was pulling out 8" beans that were still tender and snappy! Anyways, yes, this is a pretty bean, but it is also quite productive and tasty as well. Again, be aware that those lovely purple stripes don't make it through cooking, but eaten raw with a creamy dip, they are pretty fabulous.

Dinokale (HV Seed Library) is also known as Tuscan kale or lacinato kale or many other variously intriguing names. I have grown it for many years from different seed suppliers and I have to say that the Seed Library's strain is the best, hands down (hence the photo). I don't know if it is the growing conditions here or if these seeds are somehow super bred, but I have had just one planting all year and it has consistently yielded leaves as long as my arm. Not just my whole arm! The plants are about 3 feet tall now and really do resemble northern palm trees. I might just get a full season down to winter with these babies. Oh, and besides that, they are tender and cook up a midnight green. I often like it better than the normal curly varieties. I cannot recommend the HVSL strain enough, I never knew Dinokale could be so awesome!

Clemson Spineless (HV Seed Library): Another one from the Seed Library. For a while my go-to variety for okra was Cajun Delight, a hybrid that was part of the transfer to Monsanto after they bought Seminis. So since then I have grown a few different varieties, and this year it was Clemson's turn. So far the results have been mixed. It's still a beautiful plant and I would grow it just for that, but the yield has been so-so. Granted okra really is a southern plant and had I lived in Georgia, I would have at least twenty different varieties to chose from, all producing exasperatingly large quantities, but still, it'd be nice to have more branching and therefore more yield potential. For the most part these guys have stayed with one stalk producing a pod every other day. It's a good thing okra's not a hugely popular item. As for taste, etc.: it's fine, though I wish the pods stayed tender when they were just a little bit bigger. They seem to be perfect at right around 3 inches.

Bonus photo: I've been doing my best to put up jars for the out-of-town Kickstarter contributors. I hope some of them like pickled okra ;) The other jars are cucumber spears, dilly wax beans, dilly romano beans, sunshine squash (a sweet pickle) and maple vanilla peach jam. Not shown are the jalepeno jelly and the eggplant-tomato relish (kind of like caponata, but less caper-y).

Life, Death and the Seasons, part 2

I'm still working through July with the photos here. Notice my one lonely tomato in the picture below:
If you've seen the facebook posts, you'll know that there are now more tomatoes. The big mama Striped German tomato I was waiting for was taken by a tomato hornworm, but there is another perfect one that should be ready tomorrow! Speaking of hornworms, here's one:
Actually, that's two different bugs. The hornworm is the big green guy (notice the "horn" on the butt end there) and the little white ovals are actually the pupae of the parasitoid wasp, Cotesia congregata (sorry, I cheated with google on the scientific name). The wasp larvae feed on the caterpillar's insides and then emerge to spin their little cocoons before flying away. In the process they prevent the hornworm from completing its life cycle and it dies before becoming a moth. I was told as a younger farmer to leave these guys alone if they are being parasitized, but then again, those caterpillars start out a lot smaller and they have to eat something to get that big...
Not much to say here. I like peppers. Peppers like me. Fin.
Below: a steamy July morning in the beans. They are still going strong and I am starting to move into my second succession. I don't think I regret my decision to plant so many beans. My back on the other hand, begs to differ...

So about that whole late July/August thing. Now is the time when we begin to transition from the height of the season to the end of the season. Even though we are hauling in the beans, squash and tomatoes, I've got one eye on that all important first frost date. Earlier in the season, if you were late with a planting or if your plants didn't survive for some reason, for the most part, you could replant with abandon and the most that happens is you have to wait a little longer for your harvest. On this end of the season, however, if you don't get in your crops by a certain date, you're out of luck for the rest of the year. If they are not killed by the frost, the plants just kind of hang out in suspended animation once the daylight hours start to dwindle. Even so, most farmers try anyways, replanting those fall carrots, last succession of beans, replacement broccoli for ones the groundhog ate (ahem). We also try to stretch the boundaries, sneaking in that one last harvest of lettuce. Every season, the stress builds in August as the harvests reach a frantic pace, the weeding is a lost cause, the seeding and planting has a tight schedule and all of a sudden you are surrounded by death and disease. Even the hardiest of squash plantings ultimately succumbs to too many bugs/droughts/floods and now is the time when some of your longer season plants just naturally begin to give up the ghost. Again, earlier in the season, most of the crops are harvested when the plant is in prime condition and then the rest of the plant is tilled in/pulled up for compost (think lettuce, radishes, spinach). For a lot of the longer season plants (think onions, tomatoes, potatoes and squash) you either wait for the plant to die back before you harvest, or you keep harvesting from the plant until it gives up, either by disease or by frost. So this time of the year, you can't help but be aware of the beginning of the end. It's a bit overwhelming - its a common sight to see farmers acting a little punchy in August, but it is also quite grounding and I personally think it makes the whole act of growing complete. To come to terms with the fragile beginnings, the exuberant growing phase and the sometimes painfully slow death every year, it kind of gives you pause. Ha, what am I's only August!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Life, Death and the Seasons, part 1

Sorry, it's been a while. It's not that I haven't been taking pictures or thinking of fabulous one liners for the blog. It's just that one, I have been too busy/worried/hot to even think about sitting down and writing out my thoughts and two, the story of the farm and its occupants has been moving along so fast I have quite frankly been overwhelmed with all the things I should have written down. I like data, but unfortunately for my science career I am a poor data logger. But enough about me, this is a garden blog after after all, on with the pictures and the highlights!
This set of pictures is from about two weeks ago. Maybe three? If I took a picture of it today, everything would either be twice as tall or dead. Some of the new plantings of beans and brassicas did not make it (damn you woodchucks), the cucumbers are still slowly but surely dying and suddenly the weeds have taken over the unmulched paths. But other than that, the place is pretty much going like gangbusters. And don't worry, I am trying my hardest to ensure bountiful fall crops. The broccoli, kale, cauliflower and cabbages have been replanted and a seeding of snow peas has replaced the lack of cucumbers. (Update: my second planting of kale and the fennel has been taken by the woodchuck family, double damn you.)
Pretty purple eggplant flowers are replaced by stunningly shiny, inky eggplants. Beyond the normal dark purple American type, I am also growing both dark and light purple elongated Chinese types, a Japanese variety that looks a lot like a dumpling, another variety that is white and green striped and ovoid and finally a miniature variety that has the fruit in bunches like cherry tomatoes. As you can tell, I like a lot of variety in my eggplant. It is such an old, widespread and under-appreciated veggie, I feel it's necessary to have its various incarnations represented.
The beans are in big time. The ones above are green and yellow haricots verts. I have the luxury of growing these finicky varieties because I can harvest them thoroughly and often. Without that, the beans quickly become overgrown and tough and the plants think they've done their job of making seeds and begin to go into senescence. I've been pulling bean harvests like this twice a week. As for rest of the harvest, I have been working through the remainder of spring plantings and am now coming into the summer stuff. The squash has come in hard and fast and even with their illness, the cukes have actually proven steady at harvest time. Oh, see that chicken wire at the bottom of the fence? That is the latest in my attempts to keep an entire FAMILY of woodchucks from eating more than their fair share of produce. The chicken wire goes most of the way around now.
When I took this picture I was very excited to see the first tomato ripening. This variety, Juliet, actually came in earlier than my "early" variety, Moscovitch. But now they are all producing except the late heirlooms. I've got a Striped German the size of my head that I am anxiously awaiting to ripen. The tomatoes have a little bit of something on the bottom of the plants. It's definitely not late blight, but a little troublesome all the same. I think the plants will still produce well, but I'll have to keep an eye on them.

Probably the view a juvenile woodchuck gets before squeezing itself through the fence. I wish someone had told me that baby woodchucks are just as voracious as their mothers but can fit through 2" holes. Next up, my musings about late July and August, a time when my mind is actually on the first frosts of autumn while knee deep (usually literally) in the steamy lushness of summer.

Monday, July 4, 2011

BUGS! (Oh, and Happy Independence Day)

The bees (and pollinating flies and wasps) have finally come to South Pine Street. They took their sweet old time, for most of June I was hand pollinating squashes and sadly watching my unpollinated cucumbers shrivel off the vine (they're trickier to do than squashes). Although the beds were creepy crawling with ants, millepedes and worms, somehow the buzzy insects were having a hard time finding the place. As I was kneeling face deep in the zucchini, it was strangely silent. And then one day, I heard it. Zzzzzzzzzzz.....pth....zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. And I looked up. Yes! I saw a little bee butt sticking our of a cucumber flower:

By the way, in case you haven't heard about colony collapse disorder in bees and what that might mean for food production, most of the fruits and "veggie" fruits (think cucumbers, eggplants, tomatoes, etc.) need a pollinator. Members of cucurbit family, such as melons and squashes are especially needy because their flowers are imperfect. This means that each flower is either a male flower or a female flower and they absolutely require a pollinator to act as the intermediary and bring the pollen to the pistil. Most, including myself on occasion, refer to them as being dioecious, but that is an incorrect use of the term because dioecious means that the whole plant itself is either male or female. There, that is your plant geek moment for the day.

So anyways, one bee became five and soon enough there were all kinds of buzzies flitting about the place. I'd like to think that part of the reason for their arrival is the fact that we recently put in the "landscaped area" in the back. Full of flowering perennials, the area has at least two functions. One is to make the place pretty, though as you can see I take pride in the way the crop beds look, and the other is to attract beneficial insects, including pollinators. It was right about the time those plants arrived that I started to see and hear my friends coming to visit. I would also like to think that the honey bees I have been seeing are coming from my neighbor Kate's house. She just installed a new colony this year and I can only hope to contribute to their winter stash.

Unfortunately though, not all bugs are good for plants. Right before I was rejoicing the bees and wasps, I was cursing the cucumber beetles. DAMN YOU CUCUMBER BEEEEETLES! I would be screaming in my head. At least 1/3 of my cucumber plants have bacterial wilt now. Cucumbers, one of my favorite crops in the garden are being taken over by a completely terminal disease spread, for the most part, by infected cucumber beetles that chew on the leaves and then poop it out right next to the open wound. This infects the plants with a bacteria that colonizes and spreads through the xylem, making the plants appear to wilt even though they are getting plenty of water. Within a week or so, the whole plant droops and shrivels up and there is nothing you can do about it but dig it up carefully and dispose of it in the trash, not the compost. The only way to prevent it is to prevent the appearance of those bugs in the first place, which is very hard to do.

This is pretty much what organic farming is. The struggle between the good bugs and the bad bugs. Keeping a healthy ecosystem, but making sure that ultimately, your plants win. I think the cucumbers might have lost this round, but there is always next year. And what is my plan for next year? Probably I will cover the cukes with row cover like I did the summer squash and I will remove it when the plants are big and beginning to flower so that the bees can move in and do their job. Cross your fingers.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Spring Heirlooms Review

This would be the farm in June....

Now as you well know, I have been trying to focus on heirloom and OP varieties of plants this year, partially because I have to freedom to (hey, it's the first year, I can do anything I want!) and partially because I really wanted to see what all the craze was about. I have relied on certain heirlooms in the past because they had a reputation for blowing the hybrids out of the water (think "heirloom tomatoes"). But there is a certain appeal to using hybrids - they often are more robust at the onset and they often are bred to mature at the same time, usually a good thing. And hey, if I'm going to buy most of my seeds every year anyways, the heirlooms won't be acclimated to my specific location, which is part of the magic. So in the past, my brassica, cucurbit and several legume choices have often been hybrids. But not this year! So here are my reviews of some of the heirlooms I have been using in the garden. No candy coating here, it's the whole truth, at least from my perspective...
First up: Di Ferenze Fennel, from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. This is the fennel you grow for the bulbs, not the seeds. Apparently the neighborhood woodchuck loves it and I can see why, the flavor in this variety is really quite good- more pronounced and fresh than I expected. However, I have had to harvest all the bulbs before they reached a nice big size because they all started to bolt! Is that just their final size or did some stress set them off? Because of their smaller size, their stringy to crunch ratio is rather high, so they would have to be cooked for quite a while or cut up really thin. Overall, not totally disappointing but not the greatest either. I'm growing another set in the fall, perhaps they will fair better and if not, I'm going to Perfection- another OP, with bolt resistance built in!

Sugar Snap Pea, I think mine are from High Mowing Seeds, but they might be Hudson Valley Seed Library: technically not an heirloom, but headed in that direction. Introduced in 1979, Sugar Snap is actually still my favorite variety of snap pea. Their height is so impressive, and they often keep going into July if you let them, but you'll need a ladder to harvest. Mine are a good 7 feet now. And their taste is perfect, not saccharine sweet, with a crisp that is great fresh or cooked. I love it!

Desiree Dwarf Blauwschoker Pea, Baker Creek. It's funny, purple veggies really do taste different. I tried these as tiny snow peas in some fresh salads and I'm letting the rest mature to see how they are cooked. Lots of pods on small plants. They say they don't need trellising, but I beg to differ. Ok on taste, not very sweet, but unless the peas out of the pod are wowers, I probably won't get this one again.

The above two are Scarlet Ohno Revival, from High Mowing. A reworking of a Japanese heirloom called, you guessed it, Scarlet Ohno. What a beautiful plant! If you've seen other Japanese salad turnips, you'll know what this tastes like. It is much milder than fall turnips with an irresistible texture that's not quite crunchy...more tender and succulent. A definite winner.

Costata Romanesco, from Hudson Valley Seed Library. I have yet to taste an actual zucchini from these plants, but I have to say, those male squash blossoms are impressive! Like, bigger than my hand! And since I get to sell those guys, that's fine with me. I think I see a fruit developing, but in the meantime, the plants have been vigorous and this is probably a variety best suited for a home garden that wants lots of tasty blossoms and the occasional tasty (I imagine) squash. Very good if you feel overwhelmed by TMZ (too much zucchini). Update!: I have had my first zucchini and it is good, really quite good. Fantastic texture, not at all bitter. And I see a couple more on the plants. This shows promise.

De Ciccio Broccoli from Hudson Valley Seed Library. They weren't kidding with the staggered harvest! I had gotten some heads two weeks ago and some are still waiting to even show a little bump in the crown. Amazing taste, with very tender stalks, but I might just need a little more uniformity in my harvest. I'll see how Calabrese does in the fall. That being said, I planted some extra early broccoli and the plants have been making side shoots for about a month now!

So why grow heirlooms in the first place? Part of it is a connection to the history of gardening and agriculture. Part of it is the independence of knowing that you can save your own seed and still get the same variety. And if you do save your own seed or you have a local seed saving community (like Hudson Valley Seed Library) then you can adapt the variety to your own region. I think I will stick to my mix of some hybrids and mostly heirlooms and OPs, especially the ones I can save seed for. Stay tuned for the next review later in the season, there's still plenty of growing left to do!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ask and you shall receive and then some

Welcome June! After that hot spell we have gotten a beautiful mix of rainy, sunny and mild days. Everything (except my sad onions) is responding accordingly by growing at least two inches a day. Normally I would be cursing the weeds, but that Croswell soil has kept weeding down to an appreciable, but not overwhelming level.

It's going to be mostly pictures today. The images speak for themselves. But I do have to say that I have the most supportive community rallying for me this season. Earlier in the year, a wheelbarrow was stolen (I'd like to think borrowed) from the farm. These things happen in the city, and if that's the worst of it, I'm lucky. I put out a sign that said "Please bring back our wheelbarrow" thinking it would guilt the borrower into returning it. No such luck. However, one afternoon a car of folks drove by and one of them asked if my wheelbarrow had been returned. I answered no and an amazing phrase came from his mouth: "Oh, OK we'll get one for you then." And then they drove away. Believe it or not, a week or so later I get a phone call from them. They were hoping to put together the wheelbarrow before dropping it off, but were finding they couldn't get to it. Would I mind putting it together myself? Of course not! That afternoon a wheelbarrow-in-a-box was delivered to the farm and I had it together within the hour. So far it has hauled compost, carried veggies and contained dirt. It has so much more ahead of it. Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Moriarty!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hot Hot Hot

Well, I guess we went straight from March into August. I'm actually sitting inside now because it is just too hot out there. And too humid. I guess this a good thing because up until now I was too busy to post anything.
The farm is looking quite nice these days and I am thankful for the visitors that come by just to take a peek and maybe chat a little. Please keep 'em coming, but do know that if I start moving, it doesn't mean I don't want to keep talking, it's just that I've got things to do. But I can walk and talk at the same time, so if you've got legs, use them and we'll be fine. Other than that, it is also just worthwhile to sit for a bit and take it all in.

Yes, how these things have grown! The summer squash in the foreground is so big it's prematurely shading out the spinach and radishes underneath. There's three varieties in there: Magda, a cousa-type squash (of Lebanese origin) that produces chubby grey green squash that are slightly nutty and rich in flavor. They are in fact my favorite. Next to them is Zephyr, one of the few hybrids I am growing this year, but it is so worth it. Their fruit is bi-color, yellow on top and spring green at the base. Such a pretty little squash. Last is an old standby, Costata Romanesco, an Italian heirloom. This squash is know for its superior flavor and classic zucchini looks. You don't often find this variety for sale in the US because it has been surpassed by more productive varieties. Even I admit to not having grown it myself until this year. But I figured, why not grow it and see for myself how it does and how it tastes. I see little flower buds on the plants...
In back of the squash are the peas. In the past week or so they gone from being about 3 1/2 feet high to being taller than me (I'm 5 feet tall). These are Sugar Snap peas, the variety that made them famous. They are just flowering now, but I do have Sugar Ann peas that are ready.

These are them. Also a snap pea, meaning you can eat the pod and all, they are a full week earlier than the Sugar Snaps and I think some years they even taste better. The hard part about peas is waiting until they have reached the perfect level of fatness. Too skinny and they are not as sweet. Too fat and they are tough and stringy. Usually my first pea of the season is just under perfection because I just can't wait. It isn't until about the third or fourth (handful of) peas that I am able to summon the strength to restrain myself. Along with driving a tractor and staking a thousand tomatoes, these are the things you learn when apprenticing at a farm - how to pick the perfect pea.

And speaking of peas, remember the dwarf blue variety that was just coming up in April? Well now they've started flowering! They are beautiful, I have to say, but I wonder if the peas taste good? I'll know in a couple of days! At the very least I could use the flowers in a spring mesclun mix, but I'll give them a chance to impress me first. There's a small pod there on the bottom left. I was curious so yesterday I pulled off a shriveled flower after it bloomed and there was a tiny pea pod that was actually mostly green. Today it is a deep deep purple. In two more days, who knows?

In another area of the garden, the first tomato flowers are coming on. This is an early variety called Moskovitch (there's another Russian-themed variety out there called Cosmonaut Volkov, what is that all about?) These first flowers may or may not produce fruits, but it's still a sure sign that real summer is on the way. That and the basil is almost big enough to harvest.

And finally, a few words about compost and soil. Visitors to the farm have asked me where I got the soil for the raised beds. The short answer is from Croswell Enterprises in Kingston/Marbletown. They were kind enough to give me the contractor's price on my 32 yards of soil, which is good because we needed the discount. They handily delivered it to the farm in a dump truck and it was all shoveling from there. So far it has worked out well, but I am finding I need to do a little more fertilizing than I am used to (of course with an all natural organic fertilizer mix, and by the way, I normally do very minimal fertilizing to none at all, even a "normal amount" is more than I am used to). Perhaps this is dues to the coarse texture and the raised beds it is in (read: well drained, a good thing in this season, but still might let some nutrients out with all the water). The amazing thing to most visitors is how weedless the farm is. Believe you me this has nothing to my growing skills, it is all about the soil. Apparently the Croswell soil is weed free. I don't know how they do it, but I thank them for it.

As for the rest of the beds I, with some help from Rebecca Martin and my dear husband Daniel, shuttled about 10 yards of composted horse manure from Frog Hollow Farm in Esopus. They kindly loaded it into a borrowed pickup truck (thanks Chiz from Heart Street!) with a front loader, but on the delivery end, once again it was all shovels and a lot of grunting after about the fifth truckload. You can't beat free, fully composted horse manure to begin with, but this was primo stuff - full of worms and with no smell whatsoever. In addition the owner of the farm, Nancy Rosen believes in natural horse care and happened to be a former member of the farm I managed in Gardiner. She doesn't have to share her giant pile of poop with me, but she does. Thanks Nancy!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Day, A Rainy Day

Well, raining again, must be a good time for a post.

I figure I'd do a photo-tour of a typical morning, raining or not. Ready?

pulling up in the rainPulling up to the farm. On nicer days I'd like to pull up on a bike instead of in a truck, but I think I'll need some towing capacity first. Anybody know where I can get or make a cheap bike trailer?

Notice the white stuff in the foreground. It's old floating row cover from a farmer-friend that I'm giving new life too. What was once a holey, 30 ft wide by 100 long piece is now several 7ft wide by ~30ft long pieces. Perfect for the raised beds. Floating row cover (or Reemay to some) is a non-woven plastic "fabric" that lets warmth, sunshine and rain in while keeping bugs out. It also acts like a blanket, keeping the plants inside extra warm, up to 5 degrees overnight. There's eggplant underneath there and since they like it toasty, the row cover will stay on until even after they've put out the first flowers. The cover will have to come off sometime though, to let the pollinators in.

spinach row This morning I harvested the first crop off the farm! Jeanine Lindhorst from Cooking Matters (another arm of The Queens Galley) needed some spinach for a class she is teaching today. There's about 3 minutes between the harvest and my drop-off at The Queens Galley. The rest of the spinach will probably be sold later this week to restaurants, etc. to make some much needed moolah for the Galley.

Radishes These French Breakfast radishes will also be sold off. Two Brothers Old Trolley Kitchen in particular are looking forward to these. They seem to have gone on a radish kick as of late, serving them with soft butter and salt. I am hoping these will be perfect for them, not too spicy with a hint of bite, crispy and fresh (About 7 minutes to Trolley Kitchen). I wonder if they would have been spicier if it were drier.

Hudson Coffee Traders
Every few days I go to Hudson Coffee Traders to pick up used coffee grinds, filters and whatever food scraps they collect in buckets for me. Usually sometime during my pick-up I meet someone new who is interested in urban farming. I guess people tend to notice a small women lugging full buckets out of a coffee shop. Today I met a guy who may be coming over to see the farm when it is not raining. We talked about urban farm crop swaps and how the skyline of NYC is greening up.

coffee buckets Buckets in the truck ready for their trip to the farm. See what I mean about the bike trailer? It's an easy 3/4 of a mile to the farm from the coffee shop, but I can't put the buckets on my handlebars!

cold frameWhen I get back to the farm I open up the cold frame for a moment to let it self-water (i.e. get rained on) while I browse around and do odd jobs. If it weren't raining I would probably put reemay on the tomatoes I planted yesterday, they will have to wait until tomorrow. I would probably also seed the first beans of the season: soybeans for edamame and Dragon's Tongue - a purple stripey bean that can eaten either as a snap bean or a shelled bean. But alas, I merely go to tuck the peas back onto the trellis. They've gotten knocked around a bit from the wind and rain, so they'll need a little encouragement to keep climbing.

I also check on the progress of my napa cabbage. I'm hoping a few of them will be ready by the time we open the farm stand at the farm in June. Whenever they come in, I'll be ready with a knife to make kim chi. The cilantro surrounding the cabbage will be sold at the Kingston Farmers Market next week!