news from the farm

We hope you all made it through Sandy safe and sound.  On the whole, the farm fared okay.  We were lucky to not even loose our power. The wind did a little damage to the roof of our mobile chicken wagon, but the chickens made it through just fine. One of our high tunnels made it through completely intact,

the other did not fare quite as well.  Our fields are saturated with rain water after receiving over 8 inches of rain and some of our crops with more tender leaves were a little beaten up by the strong wind and rain, but overall, I think our crops survived the storm okay.

When we move a tray of plants out of the greenhouse or tunnel and into the field, we give each individual one steady drink of water with the hose. This is called “watering in,” and it’s not so different from showing up with jello mold to say welcome to your new neighborhood. On hot days, Austin says that you can hear the transplants thanking you as you water them into the ground, but today all I hear are the sounds of slurping. Thank you is implied and not so much necessary. But thank you for growing, I would say back, I know that this is stressful for you. Moving is hard.

Heat spiking daily. Summer arrives as a wave: first the potatoes then the basil; beets bulge; small specks of orange dot themselves along the tomato trellises; hands paddle the stream of squash; corn tufts out, little pink beards growing out of its ears; every piece of clothing drenched in sweat.

In the South end of the eighth field, a hot tundra. Squash tendrils reaching out and grasping to pull the vines along the lonesome, cracking ground.

But, across the farm, in the shorter high tunnel, a tropical wetland and a bed of ginger roots raising leafy flags to the sun.

This year we are growing a variety of hot peppers including jalapenos, cayenne, anaheim, fish, lemon and poblanos.  If you are looking for something on the milder side, choose the anaheim, whose heat is barely detectable.  The poblanos are often used in chiles rellenos and have a more mid-range heat.  Lemon peppers have a nice citrus-like flavor.  And, here is a little history behind the fish pepper from Mother Earth News:

“The ‘Fish’ peppers came from Baltimore, where they had been employed by black caterers to make white paprika for the cream sauces then popular with fish and shellfish cookery. In terms of heat, they are like cayenne, but are more mellow when cooked. The white pods were also used in soups where red peppers would have created a muddied appearance. As far as Mr. Pippin could tell, these peppers had been in use since the 19th century, one of those secret heirloom ingredients that never showed up in cookbooks. They were simply part of oral tradition”

Read more:

Last week’s heat was brutal, both for the crops and those of us working out in the fields.  As I’m writing this, we are getting some much needed rain that will hopefully bring some relief for both us and the plants with some rain and a cooler and perhaps less humid day tomorrow.

But, we have managed, so far, to cope with the hot, humid but dry weather we’ve been experiencing.  We are still able to get work done out in the fields, but on those extremely hot days, we work earlier days, take a break in the heat of the afternoon and come back out to work in the evening.  We wear hats and clothing to protect our skin from the sun,  take breaks, drink plenty of water, and pace ourselves.  We try to tackle the more strenuous jobs earlier in the morning when it is cooler and as it gets hotter we perform less active, slower-paced work or jobs we can do in the shade.  And, cold watermelon or ice pops have helped us get through the day a few times.

As far as the crops are concerned, we try to grow seasonally appropriate vegetables.  But, they still need water and even some of them don’t like temperatures too hot.  For example, tomato plants and bean plants will drop their flowers in extreme heat resulting in fewer fruit or beans come harvest time.  And, the heat seems to speed up the growing and ripening process, and so we have to be even more vigilant about keeping on top of the harvests.  We harvest frequently and sometimes harvest tomatoes on the less ripe side or beans and zucchini on the smaller side just to stay on top of them.  We’ve been harvesting our cucumbers, squash and are now just starting to pick okra three times a week in an attempt to avoid balloon-like over-mature cucumbers, giant baseball bat-sized zucchini, and foot-long okra.  We do grow lettuce which is more of a cool-season crop all through the summer, but we have to keep it consistently irrigated and even then we only harvest it for a short period because it turns bitter quickly in this hot weather. Did I mention we irrigate?  We use drip irrigation, and have been running it almost non-stop during these past few weeks to keep everything alive and producing.

So that’s how we’re getting along here at the farm.  I hope you all have been managing to cope with the heat.

We are excited to harvest our first sweet corn of the season.  We still have peppers and eggplant coming along, but we need to plan our harvests strategically–so we’ll have enough time to pick, wash, and pack up everything in time for it all to be ready and waiting for you by 4 pm.  So, since we have a big patch of green beans and sweet corn plus lettuce mix and more and more cherry tomatoes to harvest, we thought we’d hold off harvesting eggplant and peppers this week and give our eggplant a chance to grow a little more and the peppers time to start ripening.

Coming up soon: tomatillos, okra, and garlic.  The tomatillos are starting to fill in their papery husks and the okra plants are just starting to flower.  The okra, which are the seed pods of the plant, will follow shortly after.  We finished harvesting our garlic last week, and it is all curing, or hanging to dry, right now.  In a week or two, we will start taking it down, cutting off the stalks, and cleaning it up to give out at pick-ups.

And, perhaps by the end of this month, we hope to have some melons ready for harvest.  We are growing the Jenny Lind melon, a sweet green-fleshed variety, a variety of cantelope, and the same variety of watermelon as last year, Quetzali, a sweet, round, pinkish-red fleshed melon. There are lots of nice mlons sizing up in the field but they still need a little more time to ripen.  Below is a photo taken about three weeks ago of Sarah, Adrianne, and Colleen mulching between the rows of melons.  We mulch first with a layer of cardboard and then a layer of straw mostly to keep the weeds down, but also to give the melon a nice bed to rest on while it is growing.  This keeps the fruit from resting directly on the soil which could cause it to rot.  We can hardly wait until they are ripe.

by Zoë Abram

Our harvest days go like this: First, we harvest greens, ideally when the leaves are still wet with dew – these hot days, that includes salad mix and chard. Later, we move into digging roots, picking fruits and other crops that won’t wilt. And then come the longer tasks. Green beans have unseated the peas recently as our longest harvest task. We leave beans for last also because it’s best to harvest when their leaves are dry — disease spreads quickly on wet leaves as we rifle through the plants. Soon tomatoes will join beans as a mid-day task, as they are also susceptible to transfer of disease this way.

So usually around 11 AM, we hunker down in the rows of green beans for the long haul, moving fingers fast through the narrow maxibel french beans or the purple royal burgundy beans. (Did you know? Purple beans are still “green” beans … the name green beans is given to all beans picked in their pod, to differentiate from dry beans.) As our fingers become more practiced in feeling for beans, we find space for our minds and conversations to wander.

Growing beans is a good learning experience – an exercise in precision and patience. Before we direct seed the beans, we carefully mark straight rows with chains behind the rototiller. We use a single row cultivator to weed between rows as the beans grow.  As I practiced navigating it through the rows, in just the right spots at just the right depth, I learned to appreciate those straight lines. I’m learning that you re-trace over and over the mistakes you make early in the season. When you accidentally draw a curve at the end of a row with the seeder, you must then steer the cultivator over that same irregular path.

Beetles love beans too. Bean leaf beetles can chew the leaves until they look like lace. This season, our first planting was eaten pretty badly by the bean leaf beetle, but they have recovered and are producing well. As summer comes, so do the Mexican bean beetles, a relative of the ladybug that can be devastating to bean plants when they are young. We see the spiky, yellow larvae of the Mexican bean beetle feasting on the underside of the leaves of our older bean plants, and also on the flowers and pods. We are using row cover, which is a porous, cloth-like protective covering for plants on our newest planting. So far, no noticeable damage to the young plants!

We predict a bumper bean harvest this season, with several more varieties on the way. Eat yours raw as a snack, simply steamed, or roasted in a hot oven with olive oil and salt. Add some to your potato or pasta salads. Or, here is a pickling recipe for “dilly beans,” my favorite summer treat. Keep them in your fridge for a quick and easy pickle, or process them in a hot water canning bath for 10 minutes and you can preserve summer for months!

Pickled Green Beans (aka Dilly Beans)
from Food in Jars, adapted from So Easy to Preserve

2 pounds green beans, trimmed to fit your jars
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 teaspoons dill seed or some fresh dill
4 cloves garlic
2 1/2 cups white vinegar (5%)
2 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup pickling salt (use a bit more if you’ve only got kosher)

Wash and trim your beans so that they fit in your jar. If you have particularly long beans, your best bet is to cut them in half, although by doing so, you do lose the visual appeal of having all the beans standing at attending.

Combine vinegar, water and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. While it’s heating up, pack your beans into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace (distance between the tops of the beans and the rim of the jar). To each jar, add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 clove of garlic and 1 teaspoon dill seeds.
Pour the boiling brine over the beans, making sure to leave that 1/2 inch headspace. Use a plastic knife to remove air bubbles from jar by running it around the interior of the jar.

You’ve probably already met most of us at the pick-ups or farmers’ market, but in case you haven’t, here is a photo of the people who are working hard to grow and provide you with great produce this season.

From left to right are Zoe Abram, Colleen Hotchkiss, Sarah Cohen, Adrianne Witkowski, and Theresa Mycek.  Zoe and Adrianne are our full-season apprentices and Sarah and Colleen are our short season apprentices.  It has been a pleasure to get to know everyone and work together so far this season.