The Fresh Picked
This week at the farm was about getting into the flow of things. We are picking and cutting lots and lots of salad greens including arugula, mizzuna, baby kale, baby lettuce, and tatsoi. We are also harvesting about 1000 heads of lettuce per week as well as kale, rainbow swiss chard, bok choi, and kohlrabi. Looking ahead to next week we will be getting into napa cabbage which looks wonderful. Broccoli is crowning nicely and not at all far off. Squash is coming on strong and probably less than a week away. We've had several requests from area restaurants for squash blossoms which we are filling along with salad greens. In fact while I am writing this update our crew is picking orders for The Grilled Oyster (Potomac and DC), Suma (Bethesda), and the Daily Dish (Chevy Chase), which I will personally deliver as soon as it is picked. These restaurants are great at being flexible and utilizing what’s in season so if you don’t feel like cooking give them a try.
The task that resonated the most with me this week was pruning the tomatoes. Now in the circle of farm life I must confess I am not the most knowledgeable or efficient member of the field crew. In fact this week I have earned the nickname One Row Charlie. This is because out of the 30 or so rows of tomatoes which needed pruning I would do about one a day while my comrades handled the lion’s share. In my defense it takes me about twice as long as everybody else so it’s as if I am doing two rows as long as nobody is counting.
As Godofredo met me in the field he explained that every plant is different. You need to look at it and let it tell you how it wants to grow. Some branches are male and some are female. The females will produce the fruit. Each plant should have two or three main stems, the others have to go. This approach resonates with me. The objective to pruning the tomatoes is to increase airflow and minimize risk of disease. Also by selecting the branches which get to stay it determines where the plant will focus its energy. Too many branches? Then the plant’s resources are spread too thin. Too many leaves block the airflow and when it rains the leaves won’t dry which encourages molds, mildews, and disease. I’m ready to get going.
Almost immediately in the quiet of the tomato patch on a misty morning listening to the birds while I pinch, and bend up then down, careful not to tear the flesh of the stem, I am intoxicated by the powerful aroma of the plants. There is a green residue that cakes my fingers and carries the smell and I find myself thinking of a scene from the Godfather where Marlon Brando is pruning his tomatoes, lost in his thoughts in the sanctuary of his garden. I always liked that scene. Now I find myself getting lost in my thoughts with the hopes that as I simplify the plants I am also ridding myself of clutter and extraneous branches. Jeff announces how good the tomato plants are looking and I notice my trail of pruned suckers behind me and endless plants ready for pruning. It is a meditative state and very therapeutic. Even if only for one row.
Dear Early Season CSA Member,
Due to the weather warning tomorrow, Sunday, June 5th, we are changing CSA pickup times to 11am-1pm. Sorry for the inconvenience but we would rather everyone stay safe.
If you cannot make this time you may come to another pickup location this coming week.
Lights, Kohlrabi,...Action. This is the week we finally got electricity at the farm. Up until now we have been watering off generator power and haven’t been able to utilize our wells to their full potential. Of course we haven’t needed to do much watering with all the rain in May. This week, however, summer decided to show up to the party and the plants really began to take off. We got to use one of our new tractor implements, the Wunderbar Cultivator, which essentially weeds the walking aisles beside the crop rows. And Jeff’s Malamute, Airy, had a chance encounter with a huge black snake which Jeff caught on video. Don’t worry, no animals were harmed in the making of that film.
The plants are loving all the sunshine and now we are really starting to do some picking. We harvested 250 lb of kale (curly and tuscan), 60 lb of rainbow swiss chard, 150 bok choi, and about 1000 heads of lettuce. With each one I keep telling myself, “wow that’s the most beautiful head of lettuce I’ve ever seen.
As for our planting schedule this week we got in our first row of basil, more lettuce and beans. About 400 pepper plants (a nice mix of red, orange, and yellow bells, but don’t worry they all start green), bull horns, and hot hungarian wax. Also, 250 eggplant ranging from the hefty italian black varieties to the dainty, waifish fairytale. We planted about 250 more cucumbers, (slicing, persian, and pickle varieties), although unfortunately these will need to be the replacements for the 250 we lost. We are sad to announce that our first planting is no longer with us, they were casualties of a particularly cold night in May and a freak accident involving gusty winds and about 6000 square feet of row cover. May they rest in peace.
For the most part we held the pests at bay until the end of this week when we noticed areas of flea beetle pressure on bok choi and eggplant. It’s funny how certain breeds of insects have particular tastes. We addressed those isolated areas with an organically approved agent called, PyGanic, whose active ingredient derives from the chrysanthemum. It seems to have done the trick. Also we had the notion to apply an organically approved agent for sunscreen and pest management called Surround WP on our baby transplants before putting them in the ground. It sort of felt like we were getting a school of kids ready for the beach or summer camp with sunscreen and bug spray. The active ingredient in Surround is caolin clay. It’s non-toxic, tiny white particles block out the UV rays and create an undesirable barrier between the leaf of the plant and the predatory critter. It leaves a white film which rinses of quite easily in water.
That’s about it for this week. Next week we hope to start picking napa cabbage (so get those kimchi recipes handy) and kohlrabi. Make sure to drop by the stands, (Jones Mill is open daily, and Mass Ave on weekends, Tilden will open in a couple weeks); to get up close and personal with the stars of our story, the vegetables.
This week at the farm we braced ourselves for another week of rain. We spent time scouting and maintaining our vegetable beds and busied ourselves with the tasks we knew we wouldn’t have time to complete later in the season. We are harvesting kale and chard to fill the orders for the CSA and about to begin picking our lettuce.
There were a few moments of concern as well. It began with a forecasted cold snap which sent us on a quest for crop row cover to insulate our tender veggies from potential frost. I remember hearing once that the material used for row cover was the idea of a diaper manufacturer seeking an alternate market for the material they produced in abundance (someone may want to fact check me on this). While our tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, squash, and cucumbers spent much of the week under wraps, our basil plants scheduled for planting, sat around in transplant purgatory waiting for the evening temps to stabilize. They are going into the ground today, Friday, May 20.
We were troubled by the sudden emergence of a textural pattern on the lettuce leaves beginning to affect much of our crop. The plants seem very healthy otherwise. We took photos and investigated it via various experienced farmers and the University of Maryland Extension. We were reassured to find out it is most likely a condition acquired by too much water and not enough sunlight and should work itself out with less rain and more sun. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.
As a pre-emptive strategy we applied an organically approved agent to stunt the insect population of aphids, potato beetles, cucumber beetles, flea beetles, and flies which we are just starting to notice. It is a natural oil extracted from the neem tree which acts as a growth regulator and disrupts the molting process of these insects while in their larval stage. Our thought process is the more we can deal with things before they become a problem the better. Wasn’t it Benjamin Franklin that said, “an ounce of preparation is better than a pound of perspiration.” (someone should fact check me on that one too.)
I have to say the highlight of my week was spent as a guide touring farms in Woodbine with a few friends scouting locations for a film project. Although I felt like I was playing hookie while the rest of my crew busted out the tasks we’d been putting off all week, I must confess to the guilty pleasure of a moment in time; an appreciation for where we are currently in the season and getting a behind the scenes glimpse and sampling of the insights of the area’s farmers for whom I hold in high regard. Driving in my jeep wrangler with the windows down at Waterford Farm down tractor trails along fields of wheat and rye, along ponds fished by osprey with the Mark Twain-esque narration of the one and only Chuck Sharp, or having the behind the scenes glimpse of the wisdom, philosophy and layout of Larriland Farm with Lynn Moore amidst a gorgeous backdrop of seemingly endless orchards. What a lucky guy I am. Stay tuned next week for more ramblings of a bohemian farmer. Have a great week everybody.
This week reminded me more of my stint in Seattle than mid-May in the DC area. At the farm the dark saturated coffee grind soil and thick fog has me daydreaming of fresh roasted coffee in a thick clay mug, reading a newspaper or noodling on a guitar. Despite the urge to go back to bed we have managed to forge ahead with our planting schedule and even picked our first harvest. Here is this week’s dirt.
We planted about an acre of tomatoes, peppers, beans, eggplant, cucumbers, and zuchinnis. In addition to our red and yellow beefsteak tomatoes we also have a nice selection of heirloom, roma, and cherry tomatoes. Having the experience at the stands to know which are the most desired varieties really came in handy this past winter when ordering seeds. It is rewarding to feel the transplants of sungolds, cherokees, brandyboys, and amish paste between my fingers.
The transplanter is a very cool device. Last year when planting, my back would complain as I crawled around on my hands and knees in the dirt. This year its a more civilized affair. With a driver on the tractor and one to three on the seats of the transplanter we cruise along plugging holes with baby plants. The transplanter pokes holes in the plastic spaced to the specific crop and fills them with water. For those of us in the seats our job is to keep plugging them holes. It’s nice to get into a zone focusing on the rhythm of pulling a plant from the tray, reaching down, and pushing it into the drenched soil. When your tray is empty you can look back and see a nice straight line of evenly spaced, freshly watered plants. We get done in a couple hours what would have taken us all week last year. It’s a good feeling.
This week we also harvested our first crop of kale and chard. Our plants look very healthy. The curly kale leaves are the color of the blue ridge mountains and snap off the stalk as we move down the row in the drizzling rain.
To wrap up this week, after hearing the forecast for Sunday night of possible temps dipping down into the thirties we made the quick decision to run up to Shippensburg for some row cover which is essentially an acre sized blanket for our plants. It seems a theme this year as we complete a task while patting ourselves on the back here comes another humbling wave about to break. Tomatoes don’t like temps dipping below 41 degrees and the vine crops such as cucumbers and squash need it even warmer. Stay tuned next week for tales of unseasonably cold May nights and adventures in tomato staking. Have a great week everyone.
This week I am not going to say there has been “too much rain”. Yes, the ground is completely saturated which is keeping us and our tractors out of the fields. Yes our spirits are feeling a bit soggy. True that we could use some more sunshine to get these plants growing. However, I am absolutely not complaining. This is due to my own observations of the farm community. I’ve noticed a certain taboo amongst the other farmers that you don’t talk about “too much rain”. When I bring up the weather there is a certain knowing glance or a poker face not to chime in with me. My working theory is that you could jinx yourself right into a draught. So this week, albeit like somebody left the water running upstairs above a ceiling of thick grey clouds, I am not going to say there has been, “too much rain.”
Despite the weather this week which included a hail storm that left mounds of gumdrop-sized ice cubes in Potomac but nothing in Woodbine, we have actually accomplished a good bit at the farm. This week’s plantings included our first of many rounds of tomatoes, cucumbers, zuchinni, summer squashes, and green beans. We added another succession planting of lettuce, chard, and bok choi as well. The cloudy weather gives the new transplants a good opportunity to get acclimated and adjust to the soil without the stress of direct sun beating down on them. We actually noticed how quickly the plants are sending their roots deep into the ground. And although we didn’t get to work in the fields as much as we would have liked, it was a great opportunity to get cleaned and organized at the packing house and implement our new inventory management and organization systems.
Coming up this week we hope to be planting peppers, and eggplant. We will be preparing even more 80’ X 200’ beds for planting, and getting our tomato stakes cleaned and sanitized and ready for use. Our electricity, which will power our water supply (currently we are using generators), is about to be activated, and we will continue to setup irrigation in zones to each of our vegetable beds. Have a great week everybody.
Perched up high on our John Deere taking in the surroundings of fresh green tree lines, rolling hills, red barns and whinnying horses over yonder, I felt a strong sense of pride for all we’ve accomplished so far this season and am truly feeling the role of the farmer. The engine grumbles beneath me while fat tractor tires roll. The chisel claws the ground behind me like a giant bear turning over dirt, rocks, and clumps of grass. A murder of crows hangs around feasting on plump, freshly revealed earthworms, whom I find myself feeling sorry with a tinge of guilt for laying them so exposed. Suddenly my sense of accomplishment dissipates as I notice the wind unravelling all our previous days hard work of laying black plastic mulch down about ninety 200’ rows. Many of the nice, straight, and tight buried plastic rows have lifted and undulate wildly like an army of tethered giant serpents trying to take flight. I recall a literary quote that, “...life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,” and at that moment I realize, I am that idiot.
The past several days we had spent laying black plastic mulch. The purpose of the plastic mulch is to prohibit the growth of weeds, retain soil moisture, and heat up the soil to encourage early plant growth. I was so excited to be using our Rain-Flo plastic mulch layer. I loved its simplicity and the ingenuity of its design. One of us would drive the tractor while the other two would maintain a rhythm of unrolling, staking, slicing, shoveling then following the tractor another 200’ then repeat. As soon as you begin thinking of something else, you get pulled back into the sequence.
Several days earlier we had hit a bump in the road. We had realized that the disc harrow we had purchased to till our fields wasn’t really getting the job done. We made the quick decision to purchase a rototiller and spent the rest of the afternoon assembling it. Problem solved.
There seems to be a pattern this month of hitting bumps in the road, working out solutions, then overcoming the hurdle. As soon as we begin patting ourselves on the back then … bump, bump, here we go again. I can see the progress in the quilt work of our farm plots. Some are freshly plowed in rough, clumpy ground; while others tilled in fine fluffy soil; others in black plastic zebra stripes, and yet others have stripes with green polka dots of lettuce and kale.
Over the past few weeks we have planted our first transplants which were seeded by our staff over at Sharp Farms. These include kale, lettuce, bok choi, broccoli, napa cabbage, rainbow chard, spring onions and kohlrabi. This weekend, based on the current weather forecast, we are feeling pretty good about planting our first thousand tomato plants. Perhaps next week we will be ready to plant our first round of peppers, zucchinis, and cucumbers.
We are also direct seeding a weekly schedule of arugula, baby kale, baby lettuce, spinach, radishes, carrots and beets. Our first seeding didn’t germinate due to a cold snap, however the second one seems to be doing pretty good. That’s it for this week. Stay tuned for weekly farm updates.
Wait a minute, where did the sun go? I swear spring was here and we were ready to get planting. This morning after finishing the roof of the barn, completely drenched in a cold hard rain, with ten pounds of construction mud on each boot, I felt plunged back into winter. It seems March came in like a lion and went out like an eskimo. Despite this seeming seasonal backstep, we have made much progress at the farm. Here is an overview of where we are:
On March 31, we planted our first six rows of direct seeded crops. These included spinach, arugula, mizzuna, tatsoi, radishes, baby lettuce and kale. It has been too cold for any of these to germinate so we held off this week on planting any more. These were directly seeded into raised beds in 200’ rows. Next week is looking a bit warmer and we’re hoping for germination.
While my coworkers were discing the soil, mowing the grass, and building a barn this week and getting whipped around by a cold wind, I decided to exit stage left and peek in on the greenhouse operation. Things are super busy and the plants look gorgeous. It’s an eclectic bunch working there in the greenhouses and the conversations of winter travel, botanical knowledge, and daily thoughts accompany the rhythm of shifting flats, thinning cells, and planting seeds. It’s great to see all the baby pepper and tomato plants foreshadowing summer and a shag carpet of cool crops just about ready to get hardened off and planted in the ground. Next week we will pick up our first order which will include broccoli, kale (curly and tuscan), lettuce (green leaf, red leaf and romaine), swiss chard, scallions, kohlrabi, and cabbage. These transplants are about four to six weeks ahead of our direct seeded rows which gives us a bit of a head start.
Looking forward to next week, before we can plant the greenhouse order into the ground, we will finish our barn, layout our irrigation, and spread the plastic mulch. We will probably need generators to power our water supply since our electricity has not been activated yet, however everything on our end is complete. Frankly, I can’t wait to move forward from anticipation to perspiration as our season gets going full steam ahead. Also glad to bring everyone along with us for the ride through our newsletter updates.
Farm Update, March 2016
March has been a very interesting transition month as we have gone from paper to plow. Over the winter most of what we have done is research: whether that be attending farm conferences, surfing the web, pouring through books, questioning farmers or working with extension agencies. We drilled a couple of wells and purchased some equipment including our tractors. Tested our soil, familiarized ourselves with irrigation and composting techniques, the life cycle of bugs, benefits of cover cropping. We also waited for the soil to dry out a bit. March has been a month of action and here is where we are.
Firstly it has been great for Norman’s Farm Market to be mentoring with Denise Sharp of Sharp’s Farm who is growing all our transplants from seed in her greenhouses. Denise is an encyclopedia of horticultural knowledge and field experience and Jeff and I have thoroughly enjoyed our meetings in her sunroom with its panoramic view of the farm watching the waterfowl down at the pond and discussing our seed order. Jeff and I are like sponges, trying to absorb every word on a meandering track with Denise and learning all kinds of details. I write profusely trying to capture every word, “...The shade of the spent melon vines help keep the fall broccoli planting cool and get established it also gives you an extra crop on the same plastic mulch..Planting alyssum in the picker’s lanes at the end of each row is easily stepped over and attracts beneficial insects. It’s like a lounge where they can wait for dinner.” Our core staff of Anne, Torrey, and Yamileth have been apprenticing with Denise, planting seeds, thinning trays, and learning the ropes of the greenhouse. I find it to be a symbiotic relationship.
Meanwhile down the road at our new farm we had the pleasure of taking our plan from an 8 ½ “ by 11” sheet of paper onto a 10 acre plot of land. It is as if the tractor and chisel plow become the pencil drawing out our grid of soon to be vegetable plots. One of my favorite books from this winter was Elliot Coleman’s “New Organic Grower”. His method in laying out a 5 acre farm in 10 individual ½ acre plots on a 10 year rotation of cash and cover crops, inspired us to develop our own method. Our area will be made up of 24 or so ⅓ acre plots, each one with thirteen 200’ rows. Developing a pattern of rotation which takes into account all kinds of factors including timing, nutrient requirements, impact on the soil, etc… is a thought process you can get lost in. It feels like you are solving a puzzle and creating some kind of composition at the same time. It’s like soduko meets songwriting. This year will be a work in progress but we feel good about a solid well thought out plan as a blueprint for us to go off of. I’ve been warned that mother nature doesn’t necessarily think too much of plans though, so ask me in a couple months how closely we are sticking to it.
Coming up over the next few weeks we will be raising our first barn; as well as chisel plowing and discing our fields. We will layout our irrigation and lay plastic mulch. We are aiming for late March for our first direct seeding. We will be planting arugula, spinach, lettuce, kale, tatsoi, mizzuna, radishes and carrots. Our first transplants are scheduled for the week of April 10 and will include broccoli, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, head lettuce, and scallions. Stay tuned for more updates.
Dear 2016 CSA Members,
Our Sunday CSA pickup has been changed on us by the County, we cannot be at Rock Creek Forest Elementary School this season due to another organization being at Rock Creek on Sundays until 2pm, therefore, we must change back to North Chevy Chase Elementary School on Sundays from 12-3pm.
We are sorry for any inconvenience this may occur.
Please let me know if there is any issue. Thank you so much for understanding and we are excited for the season to begin!
Please note this email is sent to all CSA members, regardless of your pickup.