Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A Dream Comes into Focus

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

                           --Mary Oliver, "The Summer Day"                     

I mentioned in my last post that I would soon have news. I had anticipated delivering it sooner than this, but there are always glitches in the plans we make, and I have seen quite a few of them in the last month. I'm learning, though, that every time an obstacle appears, as long as I keep my mind set on what I mean to achieve, I can get over it. Maybe I'm not learning that, after all, just remembering.

I have, for some time, been imagining a life more connected to my passion for gardening. As I've laid out and executed the plans for creating the vegetable garden and overhauling the neglected spaces on our land, I've always done so with the vague idea of a business. Last year I read a book that finally gave shape to those nebulous plans. And then I discovered a podcast, Slow Flowers with Debra Prinzing, that began answering so many of the questions that sprang up from my reading and research. As I drive to and from school each day, I've been receiving a valuable education.

The title of the book will make the announcement for me, I suppose. It's called The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower's Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers by Lynn Byczynski. Since last October I've been working night and day to bring the plans for my own cut flower farm to fruition. It's been pretty difficult to manage the demands of my day job and the new farm, so I've been giving up a whole lot of sleep to maintain my standards at school and to get things going here. I'm desperate for the end of the semester so that I can return to a blissful 8 hours of sleep each night. More than anything else, I'm looking forward to handing over bouquets of beautiful flowers I've grown here and seeing the pleasure that they bring to others.

So, why don't I introduce you to the farm? Thanks to a fabulous graphic artist I hired, I have a lot to show you. Just click on the logo to take a little tour.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Change is Coming

Things have gone a little quiet here on the blog lately, but that doesn't mean the farm has been quiet. We've been settling into another stunning spring and making preparations for the growing season ahead. This season will be considerably different than any before it, as I'm headed into a new venture that I've been dreaming about for years. But I'm not quite ready to make the big announcement.

So in the meantime, let me take you around the farm and show you some of the things that make us so happy that this magical place is our home.

And stay tuned for some big news (really big) coming soon.

We've been letting the girls out for a free range when we're
working in the yard. They love it.

That's Miss Virginia, looking me straight in the eye.

Keats may have called fall the season of mists, but spring
seems to be outpacing it.

This morning's mist was especially lovely.

The cherry trees are in full bloom, and the pollinators are
playing a symphony.

I may have to spend a little more time beneath the
flowery canopy.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Egg Watch 2016 - Raising Chickens

Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no 
seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that 
you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.

--Henry David Thoreau                          

I marvel every time a seed germinates. I will never get over that feeling of joyful incredulity when a seed sprouts and begins its journey to a full plant. Although I know that seeds want to germinate, I always worry that I will do something wrong and disrupt the natural order of things. This is why, when sowing new seeds, I keep a ridiculous watch on the soil surface day after day, hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

I find myself in a similar situation with the chickens these days, albeit on a much larger scale. After having studied chicken books assiduously, I know that I'm supposed to start expecting eggs between weeks 18 and 24. Now that the chickens are 19 weeks old, Egg Watch 2016 has begun in earnest. 

Vanessa likes to be the first one out in the morning

In preparation for the blessed event, last week I took down the hardware cloth that has barred the girls from entering the nesting boxes. Then I lined them with a layer of hay to make the spaces a little more inviting. Turfman graciously donated a sleeve of golf balls to the effort, which are supposed to encourage the girls to lay their eggs in the right spot. Virginia inspected my work and seems to be the most interested in the space. The other day, when I opened the nesting box door, I found her peering out at me from the coop's lower roost. She's been hanging out in there longer than the others the last few days, which makes me wonder if she'll be the first. 

The training "egg"

Apparently, there are signs that may signal the time is getting closer. I inspect their wattles and combs each day, anxious for growth and a little more color. Last night I read that I should be looking for a submissive squat when I reach my hand out to them, so they'll be subjected to another bizarre form of inspection in the coming days. I still think we're a couple of weeks out, though.

Virginia is the furthest along (she's on the left)

Virginia's developing wattles and comb

I am prepared to expect wonders from them, but I do have quite a bit of the doubting Thomas in me. "Trust but verify" seems a perfectly reasonable motto. I'm not sure how I will respond when I see the first egg resting somewhere in the coop or run, but I suspect it will be very similar to the moment when I first see the curled neck of a seedling pushing out of the soil. It will be bathed in a heavenly light, and I'll hear some angelic choir singing. It may, in fact, seem like it's golden. Then I'll finally take a deep breath and relax in the reassurance that I haven't somehow screwed up the most natural of things. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

(Very Late) Potato Sowing

On Sunday, after the first frosts had come, after the potato leaves withered in the biting cold, after the stalks surrendered and fell on the dry soil, my mom and I walked up to the vegetable garden to excavate the potato beds.

Earlier in the year, I had ordered seed potatoes from Seed Savers. Apparently I had ordered too many, for no matter how closely I laid the tubers in the ground, I still could not fit half of the total order into two 8'x4' beds. In an attempt to preserve the remaining tubers, I placed them in the refrigerator. There they sat for months until I realized that it was probably too late to make a second sowing. In my defense, the summer was so ridiculously hot and dry that I thought it would be a waste to plant the remaining seed potatoes. Of course, keeping them in the refrigerator simply produced the same effect with the opposite approach.

In mid-September, it seemed at least worth a try to grow more potatoes with what remained. I really had nothing to lose, so I planted the rest and waited. Less robust plants grew, and then they got hit by an unexpected frost. I assumed the effort had been wasted.

This weekend, my mom, armed with my border fork, was too curious and had to investigate. So she sunk the tines deep into the soil and brought up a few wonderful fingerling potatoes. I sat on the gravel path and rescued the little gems from the soil. Again and again she sank the teeth of the border fork into the earth and delivered more unexpected potatoes. She began to chuckle every time I said, "Oooh!" and grabbed at the harvest.

The potatoes were mostly small, but they fed us for two nights. Maybe I waited too long for the second sowing. Maybe I'll get them in a little sooner next year. But sinking my teeth into those last creamy, tasty bites of the summer garden was a pleasure I may remember until the next batch of tubers finds a spot in the garden on the hill.

The photo isn't great, but the potatoes were

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Putting the Garden to Bed

Late this afternoon, as the sun sat just above the horizon and cast a golden glow over the farm, Turfman and I took part in what has become an annual ritual. The temperature is expected to drop overnight and bring frost with it. We have wrapped the sugar snap and shelling peas in a frost protection blanket, anchoring it against the blustery winds. The radish, lettuce, cabbage, and kale seedlings are nestled under old sheets. But everything else that has, perhaps, overstayed its weather welcome, remains exposed to the elements and will likely blacken and wither in response. In the coming days, I will make my way around the garden and begin adding the damaged plants to the compost pile.

It's always a little sad to gather one last harvest before winter sets in. I hate leaving behind so many vegetables that are so full of potential but appeared on the scene far too late to reach it. I'll still be able to grow plenty of things underneath the protection of poly tunnels, and next year's summer growing season will (hopefully) be better than this year's disappointing results after too many days of brutal, withering heat.

But it was still hard to close the gate behind me today.

The last haul of summer 2016

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Raising Chickens

This is just one of those brief weekday posts to send all of you a little bit of cheer.

I have been falling in love with my hens, and so has a certain little dog in the house. Zoey cannot allow me to go up to the coop without her. She stands with her head resting on the top of the coop ramp and greets the girls as they descend. The chickens run to see her when we visit during the day, and at night, Zoey always needs to be with me as I tuck back them into the coop.

We're both besotted.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Fall Vegetable Garden

I got a late start on the fall vegetable garden this year. I blame the chickens for that. Of course, I was the one who decided to get chickens before I had even begun building a coop or run, so maybe it's unfair to blame the girls. Maybe the blame should rest completely on me.

No matter who is at fault, the late start meant that I had to cut back on my plans. Starting a fall vegetable garden is not as easy as one might think, especially when I have to completely remove the summer vegetable garden in order to focus on the fall. In the end, I planted some lettuce and spinach, then followed two weeks later with another sowing. Of those two sowings, I have a grand total of two lettuce plants and two spinach plants. Only one of my Chinese Slow Bolt cabbage seeds germinated, as well. I'm not sure why I'm having such trouble. It's either that the seeds are bad or the soil is. Even though the drip irrigation is working fine, I think the complete lack of rain for two months now has really caused some problems.

It's not all bad news up there, though. I also started my two favorite types of radishes--lovely and mild French Breakfast and the wonderfully spicy Watermelon, and they're coming along nicely. I also planted sugar snaps and regular shelling peas, and those are growing really well. And now loads of Dwarf Blue Curly Kale seedlings are peeking out of the soil.

The peas are now scrambling up their
trellis supports

Some elements of the summer vegetables are still in place, largely because they have been producing heavy yields in the cooler weather. I can't keep up with Asian eggplants, and the peppers of all varieties are going crazy. But they likely won't last much longer unless I start protecting them. We woke up to 31 degrees on Friday morning, and the first kiss of deadly frost has damaged parts of the plants.

These eggplants like the cooler weather

Some leaves are browning and curling

The upper portions of the pepper plants have suffered, too

I'll likely try the lettuce and spinach again in another bed to see if I can get a better germination rate in different soil, but even if they don't produce, we'll still have a good showing from everything else.