2013 apprentice

Last weekend was reasonably dry, which means… I was able to take pictures on Tuesday afternoon! Although we’re still toting lots of summer crops to markets and pick-ups, we’ve been thinking ahead to fall and seeding and transplanting lots of fall crops over the last several weeks. And so, I present a taste of what’s to come!


From left to right, I present some of our tiny miracle brassicas – Caraflex cabbage, Super Red 80 cabbage, and Nelson Brussels sprouts. Why miracle brassicas? These, along with some broccoli and cauliflower, were transplanted over the course of last week. They were, however, looking a bit rough, thanks to lots of hungry harlequin bugs and cabbage loopers in the high tunnel – and by rough, I mean, “If these little guys make it, it’s going to be a miracle.” I was pleasantly surprised on my photo expedition this week to see that they’ve all grown a bit, and they each have a few new leaves intact. It’s very encouraging! We transplanted kale, kohlrabi, and more broccoli this week, and I’m hoping that they make similar progress over the next few weeks.

We have a few plantings of fennel in the ground at the moment. Fennel is a member of the carrot family, and has ferny leaves much like dill (also a member of the carrot family). Fennel has an anise or licorice flavor, and can be eaten raw or cooked.

We’ve started to see young winter squash starting to form, like the butternut squash-in-progress here. Of all of the fall crops that I’ll miss after I leave next week, winter squash are second only to sweet potatoes on my list. As we weeded a later planting of winter squash this afternoon, we could see some tiny (1-1.5″) sweet dumpling and Delicata squash starting to form as well!

Our watermelon radishes were seeded about two weeks ago, and look to be doing well. They’re a milder radish than the French breakfast radishes that we had in the spring, and really do look like little watermelons – green outside, pink inside. There were a few in storage from last fall when I arrived in May, and they were very popular at the market! In the same field, we also have several varieties of turnips that are about as far along as the radishes. Bad joke alert: one should never turn-up one’s nose at turnips… (I’m rather partial to them.)

And we’ll finish up with Cara’s obligatory flower pictures – I can’t help it! The butterflies are really quite partial to the zinnias, and our second planting of zinnias are looking great!

Hope to see lots of you at the market tomorrow morning! I can’t believe it’s my last Saturday market – I’m going to miss them!

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Published by Penguin Group (USA), Inc., 2009

In Defense of Food  was one of the first books I borrowed from Theresa’s collection, before I started blogging. As I finish rereading a chapter of my most recent book (Agrarian Dreams, about organic farming in California – stay tuned!) and taking a few notes for my post, I thought I’d fill the void with a previous read. I read Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma in college. Actually, I read it three and a half times in college – it was assigned for my applied plant science class, my community and environmental health class, another environmental science class, and I read a section of it while researching a paper in my freshman writing seminar. (Omnivore and I are good friends by now.) Having found that book very thought-provoking (it was one of the driving factors in my decision to give up eating meat as a junior at Furman), I was excited to read another of Michael Pollan’s books.

In Defense of Food is Pollan’s argument against the abundance of processed food that pervades American food culture, and against what he labels ‘nutritionism’ – the reduction of food into specific nutrients that are marketed to us. We’ve all seen food packages that exclaim, “Contains omega-3 fatty acids” or “Fortified with vitamin A or D or Q” (yes, I am aware that there is no vitamin Q). Pollan alluded also to an oat bran craze that occurred before my awareness of food systems. This reductionist view of food as nutrients allows, as the book notes, Frito-Lay potato chips friend in peanut oil to claim that they are a good source of polyunsaturated fatty acids. (Um, potato chip companies making health claims strikes me as a bit…wrong.)

Pollan’s response to the current food culture boils (food pun intended) down to seven words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” This doesn’t sound that complicated or revolutionary. (What would we eat besides food?) The final pages delve into this mantra further, providing the following guidelines for a healthier American food culture:

Eat food.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              – Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. (Go-Gurt is Pollan’s example of choice.)                                                                                                                                          – Don’t eat anything that is incapable of rotting. (Ahem, McDonald’s fries and Twinkies.)                                                                                                                                                                                   – Avoid food products containing ingredients that are A) unfamiliar, B) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or D) that include high-fructose corn syrup. These are markers for highly processed foods.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  – Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.                                                                                                                                                                                                                – Get out of the supermarket whenever possible – farmers’ markets, CSAs (shameless plug, courtesy of Michael Pollan), etc. Shake the hand that feeds you. (I’ve researched the farmers’ markets in my hometown so that when I return to the Western Shore, I can check them out!)

Not too much.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     – Pay more, eat less. (Opt for quality over quantity.)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            – Eat meals – not in front of a TV or computer, not in a moving car; sit down with family and develop a family food culture.                                                                                                                              – Do all your eating at a table.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              – Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does (i.e. gas station food).                                                                                                                                                                                                  – Eat slowly and appreciate your food.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 – Cook, and plant a garden.

Mostly plants.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     – Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  – You are what you eat eats too – beware of industrial livestock feed, antibiotics, etc.                                                                                                                                                                                        – Buy a freezer – buy in-season produce from farmers’ markets, and store it.                                                                                                                                                                                                     – Eat like an omnivore – choose a diverse range of foods.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   – Don’t look for a dietary magic bullet – dietary patterns are more than the sum of their foods.

Whether you subscribe to all of these suggestions, just one of them, or simply mull them over, they are good food for thought (hmmm… more food puns), Stay tuned for two, maybe three more reading list posts before I finish my stay at the farm at the end of August. I’m also hoping to get out to take more pictures this week – it’s been so rainy lately that photo opportunities have been few and far between. (It often feels like it’s either raining, about to rain, or just finished raining with rather bedraggled plants. I say this as we have a good chance of rain for our harvest day tomorrow.)

Enjoy the last few weeks of summer!

The BackYard Berry Book, by Stella Otto                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Published 1995, by OttoGraphics

Confession: I’m really quite behind on my reading list. My original goal had been one book per week, and I kept up quite well for the first month and a half. More recently, I’ve divided my free time between beading, working on counted cross-stitch projects, reading, watching WNBA games, workouts, bike rides, and so on, and the result has been that I’ve had less time for each activity. However, I picked up a few new books last week, finished my current book a few minutes ago, and am hoping to get back on track. So, here we go…

I grew up in a house with red raspberry bushes and Concord grapevines, and I’ve spent the last ten years since moving missing them. As anyone in my immediate family can attest, when a garden catalog arrives, I usually have a grand plan of some kind for getting blueberry or raspberry bushes so I can have homegrown berries again. (My family can also attest to the fact that berries don’t last very long when I’m around. That’s a different story.) So, I was excited to find Stella Otto’s The BackYard Berry Book on Theresa’s bookshelf a few weeks ago! I found the book to be very detailed and thorough, focusing on what it defines as “small fruit” – strawberries, brambles, blueberries, lingonberries (WordPress’s spellcheck has apparently never heard of lingonberries…), currants (which I saw and tasted for the first time this weekend at my grandparents’ house), gooseberries, grapes, and kiwifruit. The first several chapters address general topics important for the gardener wishing to grow small fruit – site selection and preparation, soil requirements, plant selection and propagation, the anatomy and development of small fruit plants, pest control, and disease identification. The glossaries of pests and diseases contain several illustrations, and advice for dealing with these problems should they arise. The remainder of the book is divided into chapters dedicated to a specific small fruit (for example, a chapter on blueberries, a chapter on currants and gooseberries, etc.); each chapter discusses the fruit’s specific soil and site requirements, varieties and their uses, fertilizer and water needs, pruning and mulching suggestions, ripeness indicators and expected yields, and information on pests and diseases specific to that crop.

A fun fact from the book (and from my Fall 2012 Applied Plant Science class): botanically, a true berry is a simple fruit, formed from one ovary, with a fleshy pericarp and one or more carpels. Grapes, currants, and blueberries are all true berries, as are tomatoes and cucumbers (just to keep things interesting). Strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are not true berries, but aggregate fruit.

Stay tuned for more from my reading list – I promise to do better! (I also hope to get out this week, weather permitting, for more photos around the farm!)

Each of the past two weeks, after most of Friday’s harvesting is done, a few of us have gone into the fields to cut bouquets of flowers for the CSA pick-up and Saturday’s market in Chestertown. At the moment, we have (as the title of the post suggests) mixed colors of zinnias and snapdragons, and about half of a bed of rudbeckia (also known as Black-eyed Susans – Maryland’s state flower!). We usually bunch flowers in bouquets of a dozen stems, and they are available as one ‘unit’ at the CSA pick-up. (Bouquets are also available at the Chestertown market, while supplies last, at the Saturday market for $5.) I’ve been out and about with my camera again, and I wanted to share a few photos of our beautiful flower beds – I’ve always loved taking close-up pictures of flowers!

Our zinnias right now are the State Fair mix and Benary’s Giant varieties (according to the label stakes in the bed), and are a vibrant mix of pinks, corals, purples, reds, oranges, yellows, and the occasional white or ivory bloom. We transplanted them on one of my first days on the farm in early May. (That day, we also transplanted sunflowers, which shortly thereafter were systematically dug up by some critter or another… Sigh.) I will always have a soft spot for zinnias. In the house where I grew up, my brother and I were each allowed one bed in the garden in which we could grow (or at least attempt to grow) whatever we chose. I grew many kinds of flowers over the years, but there were almost always zinnias of some kind for a cheerful pop of color! Watching the zinnias growing on the farm brings back wonderful memories of that house and its garden.


Our snapdragons, at the opposite end of the farm from the zinnias, are a mix of whites, yellows, lavenders, pinks, corals, and deep reds (which to me look like they’re made of velvet). My personal favorites are the ones shown in the photo to the right – they are pink and coral and orange, all on the same flower! Stunning as a single stem, the snapdragons are even more beautiful in bunches.

Two weeks ago, when I last was part of the flower-cutting group, we joked with a workshare member that each of us had a different way of making bouquets – some of us mixed the different flower varieties, some preferred to stick to single varieties, some carefully color-coordinated each bunch, some of us decided that a bouquet of zinnias had to have at least one of every possible color, and so on. No matter how they’re bunched, though, they are all beautiful, summery, and cheerful, and guaranteed to brighten your day – and any room in your house!

The official first day of summer was June 21st, a little over a week ago, but on the farm we can tell that summer is on its way without a calendar – and not just by the heat we’ve had this past week! In the last week or two, several of our summer crops have begun to bear fruit, even if it isn’t entirely ripe yet. We transplanted the first generations of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini and summer squash, and melons in early-to-mid May, in my first few weeks on the farm, and it has been amazing to watch them grow! Here are a few photos from the past week!

Our cherry tomatoes will ripen before the reds and the heirlooms, and the earliest of them are coming along nicely. This is one of our Sun Gold cherry tomatoes – last week, we had just enough (maybe 5 or 6) for each of us to try one. Sun Golds are one of my favorite tomatoes! All of our tomato plants are just loaded with green tomatoes, and growing very quickly – we trellised the first generation of tomato plants for the third time last Monday. Looking forward to tomatoes as we get further into July!

This is an ‘Islander’ sweet bell pepper. (Actually, this is THE ‘Islander’ pepper – it’s the only one that has turned purple so far…) I think these are fascinating – they start out lime green, as you can see in the photo, then turn purple, then finally mature to red!

Early last week, we were weeding in and around the cucumbers and melons, and I discovered these – teeny tiny watermelon! The largest one I found might have been three inches in diameter, and the smallest maybe an inch round. Besides being awfully cute, they’re the promise of delicious watermelon yet to come!

One last picture – ‘Flying Saucer’ summer squash. Last week marked the beginning of our large squash harvests, three times a week. We harvested 40 pounds on Monday, nearly 30 pounds on Wednesday, and about 44 pounds on Friday. Harvesting zucchini and summer squash is one of my favorite things to do. (I probably drive Theresa a bit crazy – “Can I harvest the squash today?”) Besides the ‘Flying Saucer’ pattypan variety, we have green and yellow zucchini. yellow summer squash, and the very striking ‘Zephyr’ variety, which is half yellow and half pale green. The squash are the one ‘sign of summer’ crop that we have ready for markets and CSA pick-ups, so be sure to try some this week if you haven’t already!

A few days ago, one of the apprentices asked the group what crop signifies the beginning of summer to them. We had a variety of answers – tomatoes, summer squash, and more. Personally, the first red raspberries in mid-June mean summer is here – in my first house, we had raspberry bushes, and around my birthday (and the end of school – always important for kids) we would start to see the first ripe berries ready for picking. My family has moved since then, but we make a point of going to a local pick-your-own farm every summer to pick raspberries (my dad and I picked more than 10 pounds of the biggest raspberries I’ve ever seen this weekend). What crops say “summer” to you?

Early in my second week at the farm, I discovered a 5-page list on the kitchen bulletin board entitled “Lending Library,” and found out that these were books that Theresa has in her collection that apprentices are permitted to borrow – books on farming, food systems, agricultural practices, collections of essays, cookbooks, etc. I quickly pulled out my journal and made a list of all of the books I wanted to read over the next several months, which turned out to be at least half of the list. As a recent college graduate, I’ve done plenty of reading in the last four years, but have only had the opportunity to read two or three books for fun – just leisure reading, no tests involved. Having time for leisure reading has been wonderful, and I’ve been keeping fairly well to my goal of reading one book each week. I’m hoping to share the books I read here on the blog – giving enough information that anyone interested can find the book themselves, notes on the content and/or format of the book, and a few interesting notes or facts that I learned from reading it. My first book-related post is about…

Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening, by Louise Riotte, was published by Storey Publishing first in 1975 and again in an updated edition in 1998. The book provides a wealth of information and tips about companion planting (as the title suggests) – how different vegetable, fruit, herb, ornamental, and wild plants interact and how they can be combined in the garden with positive effects on crop yields and plant health. For example, the chapter that addresses vegetables states sweet peppers grow well with okra, because the taller okra plants serve as a windbreak for the more delicate pepper plants. In addition to making recommendations regarding favorable crop pairings, Riotte discusses pairings of plants that do not do well in close proximity and may negatively affect each other. For example, tomatoes and all members of the cabbage family repel each other, and tomatoes should not be planted with potatoes or fennel. The book also contains a chapter discussing specific plants that help control pests, a glossary of poisonous plants (did you know that both the flowers and the leaves of lily-of-the-valley, and daffodil bulbs, are very poisonous?), and several garden plans that take advantage of symbiotic relationships between crops. I read the book cover-to-cover, but it might be a bit more digestible if used as a reference book to look for suggestions regarding specific plants that are chosen for a garden.

And now, a few pieces of information I learned from the book! Several of the tips I wrote down relate to specific pests or crops we have here on the farm – I was specifically looking for suggestions to combat cucumber beetles and Colorado potato beetles, as we have discussed both here and spent many hours picking the potato beetle eggs, larvae, and adults off our plants.

– “Eggplants growing among green beans will be protected from the Colorado potato beetle. The beetles like eggplant even more than potatoes, but they find the beans repellent.”                                 – “Dead nettle, flax, and horseradish repel potato bugs.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   – “Sow two or three radish seeds in cucumber hills to protect against cucumber beetles. Do not pull the radishes, but let them grow as long as they will, even blossoming and going to seed. Cucumber beetles may also be trapped by filling shallow containers about three-fourths full of water into which some cooking oil has been poured.”                                                                                   – “Tansy repels striped cucumber beetles.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        – “Fruit and nut trees almost always do better if at least two of each kind are planted.”                                                                                                                                                                                    – “Have at least two different varieties – any two – in a blueberry planting.” (Yum – blueberries!)                                                                                                                                                                      – For rabbits: Onions are repellent to rabbits. An old garden hose cut in lengths of a few feet each and arranged to look like snakes will frighten away rabbits. A thin line of dried blood sprinkled around the garden often acts as a repellent. Wood ashes, ground limestone, or cayenne pepper shaken on plants when they are wet with dew also deter rabbits.

I’ll pass on one more tip on the topic of pest repellent, from one of our CSA members (if I knew who, I’d cite them – if it’s you, let me know!) – to keep deer away, hang bars (or half-bars) of Irish Spring soap around your garden. It has to be Irish Spring soap – the smell is very strong, and the deer don’t like it. At my mother’s house, we’ve had deer munching on our flowers for years. I told her about the Irish Spring soap, and so far, our astilbes are still intact!




A beautiful rainbow of lettuce, with sentimental value!

A beautiful rainbow of lettuce, with sentimental value!

Hello, friends of the Colchester Farm CSA! My name is Cara Wagner, and I’m one of the full-season apprentices on the farm this year. I am often out and about taking pictures, and Theresa has asked me to share some of them with you. (I am also devouring the apprentice lending library – stay tuned for posts about what I’ve been reading!) For my first post, I’m thinking back to my first days at the farm in early May, and I confess that this week I’m having a proud ‘Plant-Mom’ moment. On my second full day at the farm (May 10th), Janaki taught me how to use the Earthway seeder to direct-seed a bed of loose-leaf lettuce, five rows, each a different variety. (That day, I also seeded two beds of beans, which have not been quite so successful. Let’s just focus on the lettuce for now.) Last week, I was part of a group that hand-weeded the lettuce, and last Friday, we harvested it for the first time. It was also the bed that I helped harvest today for the Tuesday CSA pick-up and the Kent Island market on Thursday.

It has been an extremely valuable experience for me to have been a part of all aspects of a crop’s production. (Disclaimer: I was by no means the only person who worked with the lettuce, and over the course of the next several months I will see many other crops through the process from seeding to harvesting. This lettuce bed is simply the first crop with which I feel I’ve come full-circle.) This experience is not common in the existing food system, which seems to forge an ever-widening disconnect between producers and consumers. When you enter a supermarket to shop for groceries, you know very little about the full life cycle of the produce – where it came from, who grew it, how they grew it, etc. I admit that, even as someone interested in food systems, I wouldn’t have been able to identify most of our crop plants before I arrived, or how to harvest them, and so on. Actively taking part in the entire process of growing a crop that myself and my fellow apprentices will take to market is, for me, a very empowering process and a means of restoring a personal connection to the food I eat. This is one of the primary reasons I chose to apprentice on a small farm.

I wish you all a wonderful week, and look forward to seeing you at the CSA pick-ups and farmers’ markets. And if you happen to be in the mood for some mixed lettuce this week, remember – it’s lettuce sent with love!