Weeks 37-40: November 12- December

 

 

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Sidney collecting eggs

With the summer CSA drawn to a close, the last few weeks have been a lot more relaxed. We have been working on a number of cleanup and maintenance projects, wrapping up the season and getting ready for winter.

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New roof for the walk-in AC unit

I’ve spent lots of my time recently in the shop working on equipment fixes and improvements. I started by fixing the Grimm tedder, which broke during our very last haying in September. After David oriented me to his stick welder, I welded new skids onto our ancient single-horse springtooth, the old ones of which had finally worn off. I then moved onto fabricating a new frame for the culti-packer. This tool is pulled behind the seed drill to help firm the soil and improve germination. Previously it was towed by a pair of chains, but the loose hitch was an issue on hills and making tight turns. With fifteen feet of steel square tube, I built a frame, a short tongue, and a hitch on the back of the drill, which should keep the whole package much more rigid in the future. I am so excited to be welding! It feels great to add a new skill, but I’m also really enjoying putting things together and making a new tool essentially from scratch. I also installed a new fuel filter on the truck, re-built the single tree, fixed the table saw, built a roof for the A/C unit that powers the cooler, and I’m working on a new handle for the transplanter, new cover chains for the grain drill, and reinforcing parts of the four-horse evener. Especially when the weather is crummy, I appreciate having lots of indoor work!

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Grinding on the single springtooth

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The new culti-packer frame

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I wish all my welds were this good.

We also have some very exciting new members of the farm family! This last Tuesday (and in the wee hours of Wednesday) Red gave birth to six teeny little piglets!!! They are very small, very cute, and so far, very healthy, which is great. Sidney did lots to improve her pen in preparation, including a stronger ramp and a better door to give her access to the outdoors, as well as a second heat lamp.

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Nursing piglets!!

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Red checking out the new ramp

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One happy hog

Around the farm, we’ve been doing lots of cleanup. We pulled up the last of the pepper and tomato stakes, rolled up the last of the row cover, and packed up all of the irrigation. We spread all of last winter’s hen bedding to clear their area out for them, and also have been spreading lots of manure on hay and vegetable fields. We also finished pruning the berries, and have been cleaning up a few piles of random junk leftover from the spring’s cabin construction project. Owen has been spending lots of time with the chainsaw cleaning the field edges, pushing back the bushes and clearing fallen logs. Sidney has spent part of a few days inputting paper harvest records and other notes into the computer. Also, it snowed!

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We only have a few weeks left here at Natural Roots, and after the holidays we will be moving back to Hinesburg. We’ve got big plans for next year, including more chickens, a big garden, and some sheep! We’ll try to post when we have exciting things to share!

-Brian

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on the porch of our cabin, which we will say goodbye to soon

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Weeks 35 and 36: October 20-November 11

 

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After a warm October, we have seen some wild weather over the last two weeks. It started last Sunday night, when we received nearly five inches of rain. The river came up by several feet, and came over it’s banks and onto the fields in a few places. Fortunately most of the crop fields and all of the fallow fields have a protective blanket of cover crop, so there was no major erosion. We did have a lot of silt deposited at the two river crossings, changing the topography a bit. The water pushed some residue around but all together we were very fortunate.

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Cauliflower and chard stubble in a deep puddle

The rain did make for a soupy carrot harvest though. With mounting deer pressure and approaching cold, last week was a major push to get the storage carrots dug, washed, bagged, and up the road to our storage cooler. When we started Monday morning, we were pulling the carrots out of an ankle-deep puddle, but by Wednesday afternoon we had 1850# stacked up, plus an additional 800# of seconds!!

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Owen and Sidney harvesting wet carrots

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Owen loading, David and Anna sorting, and Brian bagging and weighing carrots!

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We spent this week finishing up the last lingering harvests. Monday we dug and washed 1200# of parsnips, Wednesday we stripped all of the kale plants, and Thursday we pulled the last two rows of leeks! We finished up be stripping the collard plants, and with that, we finished the last harvest of the 2017 vegetable season!!

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One huckuva taproot

Because there is very little to look at in the field, last Sunday we spent out field walk time in the house looking over spreadsheets related to the winter share. Typically of winter CSAs, our share asks more of the customer than summer shares generally do. Our share is picked up self-serve out of the cooler every other week, meaning people will weigh their own veggies and have to do a bit of storage for themselves. Additionally, we have been distributing all of the squash and sweet potatoes this week. Those vegetables are best stored at around 50 degrees and at low humidity, which we don’t have the infrastructure to do at a large scale. It was great to look at all the planning that went into deciding the size and price of the share, how many shares to sell, and how much produce to grow specifically for storage. Winter CSAs, featuring storage crops and greenhouse-grown greens, are a major area of growth for small vegetable farms around here. Growing for winter is an exciting prospect for me. For one thing, I love hearty winter food, but also because I really like growing bulky, sturdy, calorie-dense food and providing in the cold and dark time of the year.

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Stripped kale stalks

Last weekend was Franklin County Cider Days, a celebration of apples, fermentation, and tasty cider around western Mass. We went to two different cider tastings near us, and also got to see our friends Edgar and Liz, who farm in eastern Mass and came to visit. In addition to drinking delicious cider, it was also nice to daydream about the future of the small orchard we planted in Hinesburg this spring.

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Bundled up

The last few nights have seen temperatures rapidly plummet into the teens and low twenties. It made for a bit of a double scramble as we rushed to get crops out of the ground and freeze-proof the many animals of the farm. With the end of harvests, the end of the summer CSA, and the sudden chill, it’s suddenly feeling very wintry. With vegetable work largely behind us, we will finally be getting to pressing berry pruning, and other cleanup. I’ve got a whole log of equipment fixes and improvements that need to happen, and there are also some building projects coming up as well! For now though, we are patting ourselves on the back and looking back at an another amazing season of growing vegetables!

-Brian

 

 

 

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Why was the farmer given an award? Because he was outstanding in his field!

 

Weeks 31-34: October 2-27

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the road to our cabin

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Brian with Cody, a sweet old dog we’re taking care of right now

Hello again! After a sojourn away from the blog, we are back and ready to fill you in on the last 4 weeks of action.

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beautiful cayenne sauce fermenting

It’s been an epic month of fall harvests. Over the past 4 weeks, we have completed the harvests of beets, rutabaga, winter squash, potatoes, daikon radish, watermelon radish, turnips, celeriac, sweet potatoes, and cabbage! All of those crops are now washed, bagged, and in the walk-in cooler, except the squash which is upstairs in the CSA barn. It’s been so satisfying to bring in thousands upon thousands of pounds of food for the winter. This is a favorite time of year for Brian and I, not only for the gorgeous weather and New England colorscape, but also because of these massive harvests of hardy storage crops that we find most fulfilling as farmers.

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Owen huffing squash up into the barn. Major muscles on this one.

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Cabbage!!!

We’ve had repeated frosts, beginning October 16 that have killed our eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and other tender crops. To my view, after a long season of enjoying these summer crops, I am glad to say, “goodbye and see ya next time.” As a response to these Fall frosts, we have been putting the fields to bed by discing in spent crops and seeding down cover crops, and by putting away tools like tomato stakes and row cover fabric.

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Morning frost on a flowering pea cover crop

One huge project over the past weeks was cracking seed garlic apart, planting, and covering it. There was quite a bit of math that entered into the calculation of how much seed to crack open, and in the end it was nearly perfect. We planted 3,500 row feeet, or 10,500 cloves. As I have written previously (2014 blog while in Maine), garlic planting is a spiritually meaningful task for the farmer because it joins the current season with the next one. While most everything in the field was planted in the spring and is gone by this time of year, sowing garlic is moment for looking ahead to 2018 and creating an indissoluble covenant with the future of the land.

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In mid-October, Brian and I took a 3 day vacation up to Vermont. Brian’s grandparents, aunt, and uncle were visiting from Washington and California, so we got to see them for a few days. We also got to check out the work that is being done on the barn that Brian’s parents bought just over a year ago– a new foundation, among other things! It’s very exciting to see that process up close. We also saw many dear friends in Burlington.

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Some really fun things from last week included tearing up a beaver dam and doing wagon rides for the CSA. There was a beaver dam built a bit downstream from our river crossing that took the crossing from human ankle-height to the height of the horses’ bellies in a matter of 2 days. Those critters are really master builders; I was so taken by the skilled craft of the structure. Beavers are, for the most part, highly protected by stateĀ  law, except for the right to maintain agricultural crossings. David got on the back of our strongest horse, Gus, pulling a harrow behind them. The rest of us waded in to loosen debris with various tools, and we brought it down in a few hours, and basically went swimming ourselves. Later in the week, on a picturesque Autumn day, David lined up straw bales on a wagon and gave wagon tours of the farm for the CSA members. The rides were very popular with all ages, and they were running laps around us all afternoon as we harvested cabbages.

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The beaver dam

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David and Gus working on breaking down the dam

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Fall hillside, Owen harvesting carrots.

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October light is precious

I would like to finish with a recipe for a soup Brian made a couple of weeks ago that was out-of-this-world amazing.

Ingredients:

  • pork bones
  • ginger
  • garlic
  • onion
  • purple daikon radish
  • collards
  • purple mustard greens
  • udon noodles
  • salt
  • bacon
  • matchbox peppers

Directions:

Simmer bones in water for as long as possible. (We did it for 12 hours). Remove bones, feed a nibble of pork fat to Amos the dog. Bring broth to a boil, add chopped ginger, garlic, and onion. Slice daikon, throw it in. Chiffonade the collards, dump them in. (If you don’t know how to chiffonade, watch a video it will change your life). Add udon noodles. Meanwhile, slice bacon and peppers into small pieces and saute to crispy perfection. When udon noodles are one minute away, slice and add mustard greens. Salt to taste. Serve with bacon & peppers on top. Buon appetito!

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Collecting eggs on the weekend

Love To All and Happy Fall,

Sidney

 

Weeks 29 & 30: September 16-30

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Fall has finally arrived! We have been busy with voluminous harvests, and the CSA distribution is at its peak of abundance. The beginning of this week was quite hot, but it has cooled down a lot and we even had a light, patchy frost Thursday night.

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Tomatoes!

We have been picking most of the time recently. Our morning harvests for CSA have been larger, as we have been picking a few hundred pounds of broccoli and cauliflower each time. We also have had a brief but delicious burst of sweet corn, and we also have been getting bok choy and delicious fall spinach. We have also been bringing in lots of colorful sweet peppers and juicy tomatoes.

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Sidney harvesting beets

In addition to hearty fall crops, we are beginning to bring in some of our storage crops that we will distribute long after the end of the growing season. Over the last two weeks we brought in the storage beets, totaling 2,625 pounds! This week we also brought in three wagonloads of winter squash! We still have butternuts left in the field, but all of our acorns, jesters, delicata, buttercup, kuri, carnival, kabocha, and pie pumpkins are now in bins in the upstairs of the CSA barn!!

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Beets in the walk-in!

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Around all of the harvest, we also managed to fit in a CRAFT visit this week. The three of us drove down to Stanfordville, NY to tour Sister’s Hill Farm. The farm is owned by the Sisters of Charity and operated by Dave Hambleton and his crew of three apprentices. The theme of the tour was systems eficciency, and we looked at their wash/pack/CSA distribution area, as well as their bed setup and cultivation system. Their wash system was very well-designed: they use a single type of container for harvest, storage, and display; move things around with hand trucks on the large concrete slab; have an in-ground scale to minimize lifting. In the field, they use the same bed marker for all crops, making transplanting, direct-seeding, and cultivation straightforward.

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Marking a bed at Sister’s Hill

This week I also had the chance to make it to another farm tour, this one organized by UMASS Extension. We toured the wash/pack area at Atlas Farm, a 95-acre Organic veggie operation in Deerfield, and talked about produce safety compliance and wash efficiency. Atlas is one of the biggest vegetable farms I’ve ever visited and the equipment and labor-power involved is huge. Their wash system is very simple though. Most of their fruits go through the same style of brusher-washer that we have, though it has a few accessories to help things move more quickly. They also use a hydrocooler to cool and rinse greens and herbs before they go in the cooler. Last of all they have a separate, larger brusher-washer and barrel washer for potatoes and root crops. Despite the size, I felt like I was able to glean some useful strategies. Most crucial is having a cement floor, so that lots of produce can be moved around on wheels instead of being carried. The other is simply having space to maneuver, move things around, and expand if needed.

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Around our own farm, I also installed a new in-feed brusher to our brush-washer, speeding up the beet wash. Sidney was able to take a morning off to see her dear friend Abigail, visiting from Bellingham, WA. We also spent some weekend time processing apples into sauce and butter for the winter! Owen, David and Leora all spent this weekend in New Hampshire at the Draft Animal Power Network annual gathering.

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New in-feed brusher on our old washer

The big fall harvest is one of my favorite parts of being a farmer. As tasty and valuable as herbs, zucchini, lettuce, and all the other summery vegetables are, the fall storage crops really bring me joy. I love cooking hearty fall and winter meals with hearty vegetables, and the crispness in the air is so refreshing after the heat of summer.

Happy Fall!

Brian

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Making applesauce!

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Sidney and Abigail

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Scarlet Runner beans grown on our cabin

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Super long beet taproot

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Weeks 27&28: September 4-15

Hello all! We are feeling much more sane and rested these days as the heat of summer is behind us and things are slowing down. There is even some fall color showing up on the trees! The rapidly shifting seasons of New England are one of my favorite things about living here.

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the boys won’t smile for a photo, what else is new

Among the reasons for a turndown in harriedness around here is the completion of fallow field work. As of late last week, I finished spreading compost and our custom mineral blend on all of the fallow fields and then David disced them and sowed fall cover crops. For most of the fields, that was oats and peas, which are now about knee-height, and for a few others it was rye and sweet clover, which are just beginning to germinate. The oat/pea mix will winterkill, leaving a bare seedbed in the spring for early cropping, while the rye/sweet clover mix will survive the winter and continue growing in the spring for later season cropping. We have also sowed oats throughout most of the remaining crop fields in areas that are done growing. Things like lettuce, cucumbers, melons, beans, and other crops that we’re through with were disced down and then seeded to oats. This is especially important here because the crop fields are immediately adjacent to a river, and the early Fall is flood season. Every inch of land that has roots in it is less likely to wash away in a flood.

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Red & Fred

In preparation for the big harvest of fall & winter storage crops like cabbage, brussel sprouts, winter squash, carrots, beets, and other roots, Brian has been working on updating a neighbor’s walk-in cooler. A farmer down the road has a much larger cooler than we do, and lets us use it for the winter, but it needs rodent-proofing, mold cleaning, insulation work, and cooling unit fixes. Brian is chipping away at that list as Natural Roots advertises its very first year of a Fall CSA share! The details are up on the website.

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Freedom Ranger broiler chick, new life on the farm

In the last blog entry, Brian reported that we had finished haying for the season–but wait! there’s more! We actually brought in one load of 3rd cut hay this week. David saw a stretch of nice weather coming up and jumped at the opportunity to put a little more in the barn. 3rd cut is dense stuff, very dark green and a lot more aromatic and heavy than 2nd. It is volume-poor but nitrogen-rich and will provide some good calories for those horsies.

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Georgina the pig exploring some new territory

New in the CSA this week, we had leeks, onions, cauliflower, pie pumpkins, buttercup squash, and (finally!) ripe bell peppers. Most of the ripe ones so far are Carmen and Escamillo, both long and pointed like a poblano, and both some of the sweetest, most flavorful peppers I’ve ever had. David called Carmen “the queen of peppers” — it’s definitely a favorite variety among farmers, and, in fact, award-winning.

This week we went to Brookfield Farm in Amherst for a CRAFT visit. In my sophomore year of college, I spent one day a week volunteering there and I learned so much from the farmers and the crew, and have such wonderful memories of fleeing campus every Thursday to immerse myself in farm life. The theme of this visit was Business Management. Farmer Dan gave a brief tour and then talked us through his spreadsheets, philosophy, and approach to budgeting, investment, and business sustainability. Brian, Owen, and I all learned a lot and oohed and aahed at many exciting things around the farm.

Last weekend, Brian and Owen helped our landlord Christian harvest all of the rice from his paddy, totaling about 150 sq. ft. He has been growing this variety of rice and saving seed for 35 years, and he normally harvests enough for him and his wife to eat all year!

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On Thursday, Brian and I took the day off to go to an A’s game at Fenway! The Athletics lost 6-2, but no matter! It was such a fun day and we both think Fenway is a terrific ballpark. It’s small, charming, full of history, and right in town. Afterwards, we went our for Ethiopian food, one of our favorites from Oakland. Last weekend, friends Kiah and Aly came over and made a peach pie from all of the no-good ones in the farm shop. We also got a visit from our dear friend Claire this week, and Owen got a surprise visit from his friend Jo.

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Kiah with her peach pie

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We are looking forward to those big fall harvests coming up!

 

 

Weeks 25 & 26: August 19 – September 1

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Sidney driving a loaded wagon of beets, carrots, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes

The month of August is finally behind us, and our twenty-sixth week marks half a year since we have been working and living at Natural Roots! The last few weeks have brought the beginnings of seasonal change. Last week was very hot and fairly humid, while this week has turned much drier, and quite a bit cooler. We are getting nighttime lows in the forties, and although it may yet warm up again, we can really feel fall coming. After the hectic energy of the last month, it feels as though we are turning a corner and heading in a good direction.

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Peppers!

Although the cooler weather is just beginning to slow down the summer squash and eggplants, we are finally beginning to ripen plenty of tomatoes, and the peppers are also showing some blush. After I spent last Sunday fixing the digging blade on the potato digger, we have been mechanically digging potatoes, which is much faster and more thorough. The potatoes (and the tomatoes too) are showing signs of late blight, a disease that can destroy potato vines as well as tubers in storage. However, the disease can only infect live tissue, so to try to prevent transmission from the leaves to the tubers, David and I brought out Puff the Magic Cultivator (a flame weeder). I put together our fire-breathing chariot this spring to fry potato beetles, but we never quite got it working properly, and it spent most of the summer in the shed. With a few adjustments, we brought it out to the potato patch to try to burn the leaves off of the tops of the potato plants. I am sorry to report that I didn’t have a camera with me, but the clouds of smoke, and the roar of the propane burners were quite impressive. The destruction was less impressive, but we managed to burn some of the leaves and hopefully kill the tops a bit faster than they would have otherwise. Regardless, the potato harvest has been impressive so far, with lots of large, clean tubers. We dug some really interesting colored varieties as well that were very popular in the CSA.

The other major project this week has been harvesting the last hay of the season. David mowed on Monday, and although we had a ton of harvesting to work around, we managed to tedd Tuesday and Wednesday and pick up nine(!) loads between Thursday and Friday. We filled up the entire fifth bay of the barn, all the way to the rafters and then some. We also put some second cut on top of the first cut, and David said this is the fullest that the barn has ever been!

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Owen driving a loaded hay wagon

 

Owen has been very busy over the last few weeks spraying for a multitude of pests and diseases. This is the farm’s first year offering a winter CSA share, and there are lots of storage crops in need of protection. Owen has been spraying the tomatoes for late blight and hornworms, the cucumbers for downy mildew, the beets for cercospora leaf spot, the brussel sprouts, cabbages, and cauliflower for cabbage moth and aphids.

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Cantelopes and Watermelons

In another exciting sign of the season, we harvested the first winter squash, a variety called kabocha. The leeks are also sizing up soon, and we will probably begin harvesting them soon. We also transplanted the last bed of lettuce, and next week we will transplant and direct-seed the last two beds on the whole farm! We of course have also been chipping away at the berry pruning, and we trellised the peppers because they are falling over with so many fruits. A few more fields were seeded to oats and peas, and the fallow fields seeded a few weeks back are lush and green. With Gaelen off to college, we have been joined by an awesome new worker Sarah, who lives in Conway and who has worked on farms in Maine and Texas.

-Brian

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Beautiful savoy cabbages

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A lush carpet of oats and peas

 

Weeks 23 & 24: August 7-18

Hi folks! Peak summer is upon us, which means that we’re all busy and tired, so this will one will be short. I’m going to highlight a few fun things, but most of all we’ve been trying to keep up with all of the everything that August heaps on us. Plants say “grow grow GROW!” and I say “sheesh! take it easy, will ya?!”

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indian pipes spotted on a hike

I spread a whole lot of our mineral blend on the fallow fields, which is mostly lime but also contains a custom mix of minerals to adjust our nutrient balance. Following those applications David incorporated the minerals with a disc and then sowed oats and peas, which are now beautifully germinated and taking root! All of these fields being sowed to their winter cover crop gives such peace of mind and feels like a lot of work is behind us.

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Brian plowing!

In the last two weeks, Owen was on vacation for a week and then Anna the next. In their absences, many of us had to shift our normal responsibilities to cover for them, but we made it work. Owen came back with his partner Ryann and their sweet pup Briony! She wasn’t able to stay for very long, but it was great to meet the rest of Owen’s family. Rounding out the VIP visit list was a visit from Hunter Link, apprentice from 2015, Brian’s sister Helen on my birthday, Helen AGAIN with Brian’s parents, and Owen and Ryann’s friend Paige. Lastly, Brian and I made a quick sojourn to Boston to see our friend Andrew from high school and his whole family. Also in the people department: Gaelen’s last day was this past Friday, and we will miss just everything about him!

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flowers from Helen and David

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kids in rain suits, sharing a bike for efficiency and hilarity

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Andrew and Brian in Boston

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Owen? eggplant?

 

Shoutout to Helen, who brought me chocolate and flowers on my birthday, and then came back two weeks later with a chocolate cake!!! Also to Anna who made blueberry pie for my birthday, and David who brought me sunflowers at breakfast!

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Brian moving the chicken coop in the morning fog

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CSA barn

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buckwheat in full bloom

Anna being gone was a bit rough- but illuminating! I subbed for her in the CSA barn, not just during pickups, but keeping it stocked throughout the week. David took over her home responsibilities and field seeding.

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selling local flowers, mushrooms, peaches, and apples at the CSA stand

We’ve been renovating the berries, which involves taking out the old canes that fruited this year and trellising up the new canes which will fruit next year. More on that next time.

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berries: before

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berries: after

We’ve gotten into edamame, watermelons, cantaloupe, and a bumper crop of broccoli. We also took in all of our onions, which was surprisingly fast and quite satisfying to be done with.

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We have so much produce right now that a lot is going to wholesale- squash, zucchini, eggplants, kale, parsley, and eggs.

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Summer is busy!

 

~Sidney