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Yesterday I brought the bulk of the winter seeding to a close with an acre of various crops. I planted some watermelon radishes, turnips, and beets as well as more greens. I made the first attempt of the fall at spinach, which does not germinate in hot weather, and got in some baby kale and chard as well.

As the summer season starts to fade behind us and we move into fall we move into my favorite time of year for both farming and cooking. We still have some of the summer crops which provide staples to salads and sauces. But we are also starting to see more fall crops as well. So any given day you can sort of choose which season you want to be eating in. You can have a tomato salad for lunch and a butternut squash and potato dish for dinner. And we start to see a return of some of those precious things which tend not to thrive in the heat of the summer. Last Thursday we transplanted lettuce from the greenhouse, finally hoping that the cooler weather will allow it to grow successfully. And the fresh radishes and greens that I planted a few weeks ago are finally taking shape. A few of them did not germinate due to some hot dry weather we had right after I planted them, but others are coming up in vigor. And some more that I planted just this past Friday after we finished harvesting are already up above the ground!

It is also a wonderful time of year to be farming because the stress of early spring is also far behind us. Now we can just farm. The weeds are slowing down, the crops are enjoying the cooler weather and we have all had plenty of tomatoes so we don’t worry too much as they begin to see some disease and produce a bit less. We also don’t worry about this because we know there are many other treats to come. We planted our eggplant late this year, which I was worried about at first, but now it seems a blessing. The bugs are less vigorous and it is just starting to get ready as some of the other summer crops like squash, fade away. It will still be a few weeks before those later greens are really ready to harvest but in the meantime we have some kale, collards and sweet potato greens to fill the void. And thus you get a little glimpse into how I go about each week determining what will be in the share and planning to try to make sure the variety is one of abundance each week. Walking around the fields and looking at what is doing well, I am looking forward to a fall of squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, greens and more!

Happy Cooking!

You always here the old jokes about complaining about the weather or talking about the weather because you don’t have anything else to say. But what about when your life, your well being and everything you have is tied to the weather. I don’t like to complain about the weather. I find it annoying because you can’t change it, it is what it is. But I do obsess over it in a different way than most people I know. For the majority of people I imagine looking at the weather is a tool. It helps you determine how to dress and if you need a jacket/umbrella etc that day. It helps you decide if it is a good weekend to go hiking or if it is better spent working on inside projects. There are two things that dictate my every move during the summer. Those are weather and the CSA delivery schedule. Those two things are how I determine what I will do each day. I want to plant seeds in the ground right before it rains, but not right before it rains for days on end, as the seeds could rot. Tuesday may look like a good day but we are harvesting so it will have to be Thursday. These are the kind of things we are constantly trying to work out in order to make sure everything that needs to happen each week actually happens.

Every day, long before the sun comes up and our crew arrives we sit down and make a list of what needs to happen that day. Every day we cross things off the list, but most days as we cross things off, we think of new things to add. And thus we push forward each day in that way. It is this time of year that our bodies start to try to tell us to stop, and yet there are a few more things that we still want to push forward before we can pause for a day. This week some of the latest fall harvest crops will be seeded, Lettuce and a couple other things will be transplanted and more will be planted in the greenhouse. Once these few days of rain pass we will see if we can make those things happen or if the wet fields will demand that we wait a week. Soon seeds will arrive in the mail for some crops we plan to overwinter, plant late so they just get a start, let them die back, but then they make a comeback in the spring and are stronger and earlier than ever!

It all hinges on the weather. Nobody is complaining today as we harvest in some rain, preferable to the brutal heat of last week. Look out in the shares as you may see a little more dirt this week, the hard rains jump up and splash mud on everything.

 

Last night Kevin and I took a walk around the farm, looking at all the crops and assessing how different things are doing.  This is a daily task, but one that we do together less often.  Every day Kevin walks around and checks on things so we can make decisions about what needs to be done based on the current state of each individual crop.  On our farm this kind of daily attention this time of year is absolutely necessary for the success of the farm.  Growing organically means that we have to be constantly on the lookout for pests.  We have to be doing everything we can to mitigate them.  We have to have a close eye on weeds as they germinate in order to try to deal with them before they become a greater issue.  Our walk was good and I would say that the farm is in overall good shape.  There are harlequin bugs moving in on some of our kale and cabbage. Organically, they are pretty indestructible and they can cause great damage to those crops.  They eat the cell walls of the plant until the whole thing turns black and dies.  One way we deal with this is by planting in successions so that when those pests move in we have the option to harvest what we can and then till it in and try to prevent there from being a greater population.

We are still seeing a lot of cucumbers and squash, though our early planting may take a break in a couple weeks and we will all get some release from eating squash right as tomato season comes into full swing.  We have been patiently waiting the ripening of what looks to be a tremendous tomato harvest. We know you have been waiting as well and it won’t be long before we are all flush with tomatoes and trying out different recipes to use them up.

It is also the height of preservation season.  A great time to put up some of these special treats so that we can enjoy them in the winter months.  Peaches and blueberries freeze really easily if you have the freezer space and like smoothies.  I froze a gallon of blueberries this weekend for wintertime smoothies and made some preserves that will be available for sale at the pick up.  My next project will be to make some cucumber pickles.  We did not have such an overwhelming cucumber harvest last year and I was not on top of my preserving of the ones we had so I have been somewhat in withdraw from cucumber pickles. When it comes to canning pickles are a great place to start as a beginner because the addition of vinegar makes it very hard to mess things up.  If you make pickles in the refrigerator you can play around with things a little more but if you can them do be sure to use a recipe for the brine mixture.  Here is a link to a small batch of dill pickles from Cooking Lite Magazine.

http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/dill-pickle-spears-50400000136540/

If you are looking for good recipes and reasonable size batches I also enjoy this blog: www.foodinjars.com.

Happy Cooking!

Last week was all about the rain that never came.  The weather predictions were calling for a very high chance of rain on Thursday afternoon.  It has been a dry start to the summer and so this prediction sent us into overdrive trying to get as much planted and seeded into the ground as possible in order to get the rain on it just in time.  When we plant seeds directly into the soil we do so with a tool called a push seeder.  It seeds one row at a time and has plates that can be adjusted in order to control how far apart the seeds fall into the soil based on their size.  You can plant pretty much any vegetable with this tool.  However each individual row must be planted at once.  So if you are planting a 1000 foot bed and there will be 3 rows in the bed you end up walking the bed three times.  Each time you switch to a different seed you often change the size of the plate hole and check to make sure the seeds are coming out into the soil properly. My point being, it can take some time. So here I was racing against the clock, trying to seed as much ground as possible before 2pm when the rain was predicted to start falling.  I seeded greens and beets and corn and more.  All in all I probably walked about 25 miles just seeding.  And when I finished, prior to the time of the predicted rain, I felt pretty good.  I took the clothes off the line and waited for the amazing rain.  It never came.  On Saturday Kevin went to work trying to figure out how to get water on all these things.  We started with the sweet potatoes.  They had been planted on Thursday as well.  The race seems to have been in vain.  The roads around the farm are stirring up dust no matter how slow you drive and we are hoping for some rain.  Some of the seeds that I planted have popped up despite their lack of water, others may need to be re-seeded which is something we often have to do for many reasons. In the meantime we will keep watering things and hoping for some rain to dampen all this dust.

Recently I came across a passage by the writer Wendell Berry in which he poses the question of why anyone would want to farm and his answer is:

“Love. They must do it for love.” Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live. If the scale of their farming is small enough, they like to work in the company of their children and with the help of their children. They love the measure of independence that farm life can still provide. I have an idea that a lot of farmers have gone to a lot of trouble merely to be self-employed to live at least a part of their lives without a boss.”

Day in and day out farming will drive you crazy; it will break your heart and repair it again over and over.  You can spend a week planting tomatoes that don’t end up producing a good crop, or go out and weed a section of carrots only to discover that a groundhog came and ate it all in the night. Then there are times when you go to check a bed of carrots to find large fat and long roots below the surface, when a few rows of sweet potato digging leads to a few thousand pounds.  Some days you just glide through your work, and most of the time you can look back and see what you accomplished.

I don’t know how many of you know the timeline of this season but I am going to share a bit of it with you.  This winter after a few years of leasing land we purchased our farm here in Pittsville.  We still had a CSA in Vermont which ran through April (we begin seeding things in our greenhouse in February). So as soon as possible Kevin and I took down our greenhouse, loaded it on a trailer and Kevin headed to Maryland leaving me to keep up with the winter CSA and wait for the ground to thaw so I could clean up the fields while he got to work taking a house and farm that had been sitting doing nothing and turning it into something again, bringing it back to life.  And in the first week of April I made the final CSA delivery and then with an incredible amount of help from friends and family we moved the rest of the farm in a weekend.

 

We started right up and by mid April there were pigs, chickens and vegetables in the fields and with much anxiety we had some produce ready by the first of June.  We have spent this season learning and growing a lot.  The new and warmer climate of Maryland has offered up challenges and advantages.  Mid-summer pest pressure was higher than we have ever seen, we also had a melon crop like never before (there is only one variety of watermelon that will ripen in the short New England summer).  And now the long fall has led to all kinds of greens and lettuces’ continuing to grow and really thrive as the air has turned chillier and the bugs have slowed down.  In many ways I feel as if I have been here forever and yet it has been less than 10 months.

It has been a whirlwind season and as we come to the end of the summer season we are excited to take lessons we have learned and look towards making the farm better and better with each year.  This coming season the buildings will be built and the equipment is already here before we need to use it.  We could not have gotten to the point we are without all of our amazing members, those from the past three years up north as well as all of you who have joined us in our first season of growing.  We hope to continue to be your farmers for years to come. We feel so lucky to be able to do what we love and grow your food for you.

Last Friday, with the knowledge that our sweet potato supply was dwindling, we went out and dug up 5 more rows.  The first step in this is to pull the actual vines out of the ground that grow above.  We use black plastic mulch to heat up the soil as sweet potatoes like the heat and we lay a line of drip irrigation in each row as well in order to water them when they need it throughout the season.  So after pulling the plants you go through and pull the plastic out of the ground and the irrigation lines.  Then we come through with a potato digger.  I think I have described this before, but it is pulled behind the tractor and has a shovel and a metal conveyor belt kind of thing which is slatted so that the potatoes stay on it and the dirt falls down.  Then when the sweet potatoes fall off the back of it they land on top of the soil.  Then we come through with boxes and pick them up off the ground and fill the boxes up.  Once all the boxes have been properly filled we drive a big trailer along side of them and pick them all up and stack them on the trailer, then drive them to the walk in coolers and put them into storage.  Well as we began to dig these beds we felt they were giving us a pretty good yield.  Large sweet potatoes (you will see this week at the pick up, some of them are monstrous) made for a heavy yield and pulling them out of the field was not an easy task.  Each box when filled weighed about 55 lbs. We filled about 130 boxes (at least, Kevin lost count at some point in the unloading process).  But at that rate alone we harvested at least 7,150 pounds of sweet potatoes, not to mention there is a whole field of them left to get still.
We also had our first two frosts this week.  We went around preparing for the frosts, especially winterizing things we built this summer that had never needed any protection, like our irrigation well, which now has an insulated building around it. We harvested the last of the peppers which had ground back a little since we last harvested them and you will see a few peppers in your share this week. Tomato plants, which had stopped producing finally, went black and several of the cut flowers did as well (though some live on past several frosts).  Frost is not just about killing summer plants though.  The frost also sweetens many things.  When the plants get cold they start to store up more sugar in order to survive.  This means that kale looses some of its bitterness and becomes sweeter and carrots also begin to store up sugar as well.  So there are advantages to the cold weather that we will see in the flavor of some of the crops. So happy eating this week!

Farm Manager Employment Opportunity

Qualifications Sought:
Groundworks Farm is seeking an experienced, motivated, and highly skilled manager to join our farm team.  The successful applicant will meet the following criteria:

-Have a minimum of 2 seasons paid experience growing diversified organic vegetables on a   production scale,
-have a positive attitude,
-have demonstrated leadership ability and people management skills with references,
-have excellent customer service skills,
-be comfortable driving tractors, trucks, and trailers,
-be interested in butchering,
-have a passion for good food and local agriculture, and
-be able to lift 60lbs.

Description of Work:
We are looking for a positive and creative person with ideas and experience to help manage and develop our growing CSA Farm.   This is a fast-growing business and there is lots of room for professional growth for the right person.

Day to day responsibilities will be dictated partly by the applicant’s skill set and interest, but will definitely include: developing vegetable harvest plans, leading field and greenhouse crews of 1-12 people, driving a pickup truck with trailer, operating a 100 hp tractor, operating a cultivating tractor, participating in a rotation of animal chores, and helping with chicken processing and animal cut-ups in our butcher shop.

Compensation:
-Competitive salary based on experience
-Generous health insurance stipend
-1 month paid vacation
-1 Whole Farm Share per employee

To Apply:  Send cover letter, resume, and three references to info@groundworksfarm.com.

Groundworks Farm
8284 Gumboro Rd
Pittsville MD 21850
443-523-8552
info@groundworksfarm.com

We are just beginning to dive into the fall harvest season.  Walking around the farm we can see roots in the ground beginning to fill out.  We have begun with the sweet potatoes, going down row by row and pulling up their vines before going through with the digger to get them out of the ground.  The digger, which runs on the back of the tractor, has a large shovel that goes down into the ground and then a conveyer belt that is open so dirt can fall through it.  The sweet potatoes go up the belt, the dirt falls away and then the potato lands on top of the soil.  Then we come through with boxes and fill them up with everything that came to the surface.  These go in a greenhouse to cure and then into their storage room for the winter.  One of my favorite things to do on the farm is to harvest root vegetables in the fall.  Kevin and I have spent many a cool fall day on our knees, armed with produce boxes and scissors, making our way row by row through beets or carrots or turnips (and others).  You grab the crop by its tops, snip it cleaning and let it drop in the box.  Ideally, you get to do this in the fall, when you are just a little cold and you can look around at the leaves changing colors and just be super happy to have a job where you can work outside like this.  Sometimes, you do this when the plants you are harvesting are still slightly frosted and you try to figure out if you can hold a beet with your down gloves and other times you do it in the brutal heat.  Either way I love the fall harvest.  It is not like harvesting in the summer when we simply go out and get what is needed that week.  In the fall you take on a whole field of carrots and get them harvested, put in storage and you look at what you have done and you see a winter full of food for the whole CSA.  Over the next month we will be hauling in harvests by the ton.  Each day or week, depending on the abundance, we take on an entire crop till the field is bare.  We are looking at a large beet and carrot harvest.  There are also a lot of turnips.  I tried out some more varieties of radishes that also store well and this week you will be seeing watermelon radishes in the share.  These are heirloom radishes related to a daikon.  They have a bright pink inside which is where they get their name from.  They are milder than other radishes and can be used in salad, cooked in stir fry or roasted.  They are also very good pickled and can be mashed with potatoes like a turnip.  There is a recipe below for just putting them in a salad with avocado and lettuce.  I hope you enjoy the beginnings of the fall harvest as much as we like harvesting it for you.

 

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