Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Quick update – As you may or may not know, we are in the midst of a three-week vacation in Italy. We arrived on Wednesday and, though we have not suffered much jet lag, Felix has expanded his anti-nap routine into the night. Now, he doesn’t much sleep during the day or at night. Luckily, he has started walking a lot, so we are trying to wear him down by making him walk everywhere.

Walking

Today, we went to two farmers markets! One in Testaccio and another near the Circus Maximus.

Testaccio market

My sense is that farmers selling direct to consumers is relatively new in Rome. Both markets had a new feel to them. At both markets, the signs were clearly new. And the Circus Maximus market had lots of shiny posters advertising farms and products from Lazio (the region Rome is in).

Farmers Market of Rome: Testaccio

Farmers Market: Circo Massimo

Much of the advertising seems tied to regional farm and farm product cooperatives that have seized on the local food movement as a way to promote their members’ products. There’s a related  movement called Kilometer Zero that promotes regional eating and reducing food miles.

What I find most fascinating about the local food movement in Italy is that appears to be copying the American farmers market movement. For instance, consider the use of the phrase ‘farmers market’ written in English to describe the event… I’d say that borrowing the American term for the market is evidence of the newness of the concept in Italy.

Yet, my impression of the American farmers market movement is that it was trying to recreate a regional and seasonal food culture lost to Americans, but still found in other parts of the world. Based on the food I’ve seen in more traditional markets, super markets, fruit and vegetable vendors on quiet cobblestone streets, Italians have probably never stopped eating regionally and seasonally.

Radicchio bianco e ricotta

The newness of the farmers markets here in Italy is the direct-to-consumer-ness of it.

cavolo nero etc

Most interesting of all are the prices. At the supermarket and at the Equiline market (not a direct to consumer market) prices were unimaginably low. Prices for fruits and vegetables seemed, on the whole, a bit lower than they’d be in America. Then you’d realize that prices were for a kilo, not a pound. The bad Euro/Dollar exchange rate notwithstanding, these veggies cost less than half what they’d cost at a market in Seattle.  At the farmers markets we went to today, prices were higher, and I was glad to see it.

I met a few farmers at the markets today and we hope to visit a few farms near Rome this week. I’m so excited I can hardly contain myself… 2000 year-old ruins and priceless art be damned. I want a busman’s holiday.

I’ll update the blog again soon, hopefully with some pictures of an Italian vegetable farm!

Big thanks to The Greenhorns for linking to us in their blog. ‘Twas our blog’s biggest day yet, surpassing the many visits we received as I was live-blogging about our April 1st Flood.

Since we closed up shop for the winter, we’ve been mainly lying low – avoiding the holidays, ordering seeds, playing with Felix, making a planting plan for next year, replacing the bearings in the spader, totally gutting the kitchen on the farm… you know, ordinary stuff.

Wheeee

Gutted Spader

Gutted Kitchen

In the midst of this “relaxation time”, I stumbled upon a tractor for sale down in California that I have been coveting – a Kubota L245H. If you recall, some time ago, we wrote a few posts about what tractors are for – one of which is to kill weeds. Since most farms use pesticides to kill weeds these days, tractors that are made for row crop cultivation haven’t been produced since the early ’80s. As you may know, last year we bought a 1951 Farmall Cub for cultivating, but I’ve been wanting something more modern (i.e. reliable) as our cultivating needs increase.

Enter the Kubota L245H, a 25 horse power tractor produced from the mid-70s to the early-80s made specifically for row crop cultivation.

L245H

During this time period, a bunch of companies made similar tractors. International made  the 274, John Deere made the 900HC, Ford made the 1710. All of these tractors have belly-mount hydraulics and an offset cab, just like the Cub. However, they are significantly bigger, have a 3-point hitch in the back, a diesel engine, and cost a lot more money – it seems rare to find one with low hours for less than $10,000.

But suddenly, there one was. It was down in California. It had low hours (1400). It only cost $6500. I had to have it. Buying something sight-unseen is always scary. But the tractor yard that was selling it was very helpful, running a bunch of tests on it at my behest. Convinced it wasn’t in any worse condition than you’d expect for a 30 year-old tractor, we sent them the money and they shipped us the tractor. And then… it arrived.

If you are ever in a situation where someone is shipping you something really large and heavy, like, say, a tractor, and you don’t have a loading dock or ramps to use to unload it, I recommend requesting your large and heavy load be shipped on a trailer with a tilt deck. Our new tractor, however, was not. There it was, 36″ off the ground on the flat-bed of the trailer with no way to get it down.

We stood around scratching our heads for a while. I called a few neighbors to see whether they had ramps, or a loading dock, or a hill an 18-wheeler could back up to. But to no avail. Then, the driver suggested we build a ramp out of a pile of fill on the adjacent property. With the big tractor, I pushed and pulled and scooped the fill to make a ramp. It took a few tries, but finally, the big truck was able to back up to it and I drove the new tractor off. Phew.

The Ramp

Backing up

Aaaand...

Down the ramp

This was a lot more stressful than the pictures make it out to be…

Coming soon, a blog post about cultivation and cultivators.

As promised, here is the thrilling second part to my as-of-yet-undetermined-number-of-parts series on small farm equipment: The Jang Seeder.

Seeding in the early spring

On our farm, we make vegetables in two ways; we either start them in the greenhouse and, when they are big enough, transplant them…

Transplanting Broccoli

…or we direct seed them.

Direct seeding, at its core, is how plants propagate themselves. Seeds carried by wind, animal, or gravity end up on or in the ground, whereupon they germinate, put down roots, and grow. When Siri and I had a garden, we direct seeded vegetables by hand – scoring a line in the soil, dropping seeds in every little bit, and then covering them with dirt. This method works fine for small spaces, but as the length and number of rows you want to seed increases, using a mechanical seeder is much more efficient.

There are a variety of mechanical seeders available. For the smaller scale, push seeders such as the well known Earthway seeder and the Planet Jr are inexpensive small-farm staples. We have an Earthway and a European Push Seeder for using in our greenhouses (and as backups in case something happens to our big seeder). Push seeders are great, and many farms larger than us use them exclusively. The advantages of push seeders are that they are inexpensive ($100 for an Earthway, $400 for a push version of our Jang seeder), don’t need any additional equipment to operate, and can be used by anyone. It has also been our experience that, because the operator has such a great view of the seeder and the seeds as they are dropped into the furrow, push seeders work better in imperfect soil. The person doing the seeding can respond to issues – blockages, clods, etc – immediately.

As you start using tractors for tillage and cultivation, and as the acreage you want to direct seed increases, using tractor mounted seeders becomes more efficient. Larger tillers (see my previous post) can create a very fine and level seedbed, and with three or more seeders ganged together, you can put a lot of seeds in the ground in pretty short order. For small farms like ours, the Planet Jr. seeder, mounted on a tractor, has been the gold standard since it was invented some 60 years ago. The problem with the Planet Jr is that it’s imprecise. The seeder works by brushing seeds through varying sized holes. The operator determines the seeding rate by choosing larger or smaller holes holes. We found that seeds go in too thickly or too sparsely and rarely just right.

So, given the opportunity this past spring to start afresh, we decided to try an untested (for us or anyone we knew) but decidedly more modern seeder. There are many very expensive, fancy vacuum seeders that big farms have used for decades. These seeders can cost upwards of $5000 per row. They use vacuum technology to separate seeds and drop them, one at a time, at predetermined intervals. Seeds are spaced very precisely, such that farmers on large farms can precisely plan how many seeds they’ll need, and how many plants they’ll get per acre. The Jang seeder, which can be calibrated nearly as accurately as the vacuum seeders, costs about $1100 per row for the 3-point hitch mounted version we chose.

Instead of using a vacuum to singulate seeds, the Jang seeder uses a nifty combination of brushes and a roller with precisely spaced divots sized for the type of seeds you are using.

If you look closely at the picture below, you’ll see a black roller with divots in the middle of the clear plastic hopper. Each divot is sized (more or less) precisely for each particular type or family of seeds.

Looking down the hopper from above

When the hopper is filled with seeds, the seeds fill the divots in the roller. The roller passes by a brush, ensuring that only one seed remains in each divot, before it drops the seeds, one by one, into a furrow created by the seeder. An interchangeable gear and chain system, similar to one found on a bike, can vary the rate the seed roller turns. In this way, the seeder can space seeds as closely as 1/2 inch and as far apart as 9 inches.

Attached to a makeshift 3-point hitch on the Cub

Using a precision seeder has changed the way we farm. In years past, we’d invariably have spaced our turnips, beets, carrots, etc too close together (the advantage of spacing seeds closely was that the number of bunches we’d get per bed would be higher, even though the time to maturity and speed of harvest was slower). Harvesting would involve searching through a sea of leaves for appropriately sized roots to bunch. The smaller, unharvested neighbors would be left for days or weeks to be given time to grow. Harvesting took a long time.

Now, all our roots are spaced exactly 1/2 inch or 1 inch apart. They mature mostly all at once, and harvesting is very fast. The issue we were dealing with changed from, Will we have time to harvest all the radishes we can sell? to, Can we sell all the radishes we have harvested?

Clean-harvesting a bed of radishes

This altered the way we think about seeding, harvesting, farm labor, what size farm we should be… with this new seeder we found that we were able to harvest much, much faster. We brought more food to the market, so we sold more food. We also turned beds over faster. This year, we put nearly every bed we used directly into a cover crop when we were done. But if we had wanted to plant a second crop, there were more opportunities to do so.

The seeder does have a few drawbacks…. the biggest issue we had this past season is with beets. The seeder does a great job of picking up one seed at a time, so long as the seeds are uniform in size. The problem with beets? Their size varies a lot, their shape is not uniform, and each beet seed is actually a bunch of seeds clumped together. So seeds ended up getting jammed in the divots and seeds went in too thickly or much to sparsely. We did a few things to semi-solve this problem. First off, we bought a special roller that was extra deep, to keep the seeds from getting jammed in the divot. Second, we raised the brush a little and removed the curved, felt-covered seed guide. This stopped the seeds from getting jammed in the roller. The problem this created, unfortunately, is that it resulted in seeds going in too thick, since the deeper roller often had two seeds in it and there was no system to knock the second seed out of the divot. I think we’ll try spacing our beets even wider next year to see whether that effectively counteracts the spacing problem.

Another drawback of the seeder is that you have to buy a lot of seed rollers. We have a three row unit, which means that for each type of seed we use, we need three rollers of that type – and the rollers cost between $20 and $40 each. We bought rollers for turnips, radishes, two sizes of lettuce (we only use the larger size), three different sized rollers for beets (sigh), spinach, and carrots. I think we ended up spending an additional $300 on rollers. Also, as I mentioned above, some rollers work better than others. The rollers for turnips, radishes, and carrots are phenomenal. You could set your ruler by the seedlings. Rollers for other things, irregularly shaped seeds specifically, aren’t so precise. We also ended up using some rollers for seeds they weren’t intended for, because we hand’t bought, for instance, the parsnip specific roller.

One last note on salad mix. For things we like to plant super thickly, like salad mix and arugula, we ended up using a roller that picks up many seeds at a time because the seeder can only space seeds as close as 1/2 an inch. This worked really well. We used the larger lettuce specific roller (a divot shaped like a plus) for all direct seeded arugula, lettuce, mustards, etc. We found that this system spaced the plants more widely than we had been accustomed to, but adequately close for harvesting baby-sized greens. We noticed that the greens grew faster, due to the slightly wider spacing, and seemed healthier, also due to the wider spacing.

Adequately thick salad greens

One of the coolest aspects of the Jang seeder is how it has introduced us to other farmers around the country. We seem to be one of the few farms out there that have one, and certainly one of the only farms out there blogging about them. So we’ve been contacted by a bunch of farmers out there who want to know more about the seeder. I think the information sharing this has facilitated is amazing. When we started farming, it felt a little bit like we were alone in the woods, trying to reinvent a million wheels all at once. Information felt hard to come by and frequently outdated or not specific to our operation. We love getting the opportunity to teach and learn and share with everyone out there trying to reinvent their own wheels… hopefully, together, we can make all our lives just a little easier, more efficient, and more profitable.

 

One of the funnest parts about moving our farm to our new property is that we got the opportunity to rethink everything about how we had been farming. Should we change the length of our beds?  Should we squeeze more rows per bed? Fewer? How should we best manage nutrients and fertility? What tools will we use to make our system work best?

I really love thinking about systems and the equipment that makes them most efficient, so this year was especially fun for me. Many people are drawn to the idea of small-scale agriculture because it relies much more on human-power and less on internal combustion horse-power. Our experience, however, has been shaped by a gradual recognition that in order to make our business financially sustainable, we  have to farm more acres than can be worked solely by human power. We are constantly thinking about what the best size is for our farm. We want to be big enough to support our family plus the families of our workers, but small enough that what we do each day can still be called farming and not managing. Right now, we think that 10-12 acres might be the right size (though… ask me in two years, and I’ll probably have a different opinion).

Looking South

So, with the idea that we’d be farming in the 8-12 acre range for the foreseeable future, this past winter and spring we set about acquiring the right equipment for our farm. We invested in four categories of equipment – things that till the soil, things that kill weeds, things that put seeds in the ground, and things that power the other three categories i.e tractors. Earlier this year, we wrote two posts about what tractors are for. For this post, I’m going to focus on the first category – things that till soil. Next post, I’m going to write about our fantastic new Jang seeders.

As you may know, vegetables prefer a coddled existence. They don’t like neighbors living too close, they don’t like slugs or bugs, they like their soil just so, not too dry, not too wet, not too compacted, not too fluffy. As farmers and gardeners, we help our veggies thrive by creating the right environment for them.

Coddled Kale

On our farm, after a field has been created by plowing, it takes us three or more passes with the tractor to get a bed ready to be planted. First, we use a reciprocating spader or a mini-chisel plow for deep tillage. These tools loosen the soil 8″-12″ deep or more – aerating it, improving drainage, killing covercrops and weeds. Next we use a rototiller, tilling as shallowly as possible to pulverize the top layer of soil into a fine medium. Lastly, we make a pass with the Farmall Cub to create walk-paths and mark our rows for planting (though this winter, I’m working on a modification to the tiller that will, hopefully, eliminate the need for the last pass with the Cub).

The Cub and just marked beds

As far as our choice of implements for making beds, we are very happy with these three tools.

For the Pacific Northwest, the spader is surely the best tool out there for working soil in our wet springs. It’s positive attributes are that it doesn’t require a lot of horsepower or traction, it works better than anything else we know of at turning and aerating wet soil, and it doesn’t harm the soil structure by pulverizing or inverting it. The  three drawbacks of spaders, that we’ve found, are that their operating speed is very slow (1 mph or less), they are delicate, finicky tools that can be difficult to fix when they break, and they are really really expensive (like $10k or more new).

This spring, while I was perusing Craig’s List for farm equipment, I found one for sale and hung my head. “Siri,” I said reluctantly, “looks like we have to buy a spader now too.” It was relatively inexpensive for a spader ($3000) and tilled a 60″ width… exactly what we would have been looking for, had we been in the market for a spader. So we bought it.

Spader

We learned about the spader’s drawbacks the hard way this summer. After relying on the spader to do preliminary field prep on most of our acreage this summer, I noticed that one of the many bearings on the machine was severely worn. It still worked, but I worried that continued use could result in catastrophic damage. I managed to repair the bearing, but it was a big project that ended up taking a few weeks to complete.

Luckily, while on a trip to Oregon to buy our Farmall Cub this past winter, the farmer we bought the Cub from happened to have a rusty, old Fergusson Field Cultivator (or mini-chisel plow) sitting in his yard. I knew about this implement, because its virtues were extolled in a great book called The Organic Farmers Business Handbook. I asked the farmer how much he wanted for the chisel plow and, $300 later, we had unknowingly

bought ourselves a fantastic insurance policy.

Mini-Chisel

As it turned out, from August until the end of the year, we used the mini-chisel in place of the spader for all of our deep-tillage bed prep work. It also doubled as a great way to incorporate old vegetables back into the bed once we were done harvesting them.

The greatest virtues of mini-chisel plows are that they are really inexpensive ($1000 new, $300 used), they loosen soil deeper than the spader, they are very sturdy, and the faster you go the better they work. It would take us 3-4 hours to spade an acre, but only an hour to chisel it.

The chisel plow does have a few drawbacks. They require more horsepower than the spader and good traction, so they won’t work well in our wet springs. They also leave furrows, requiring us to till more deeply on our tillage pass to get a smooth, even surface. In one part of our field, the chisel left the field so cloddy, that we ended up having to make two passes with the tiller. It also can get clogged with debris if it’s working ground that has a lot of weeds or vegetable matter still residing in it. Nevertheless, for the time saved and the way it works our ground so deeply, I’d heartily recommend the mini-chisel to anyone farming on this scale.

Chisel plow in action

The second pass we make when forming beds is with the rototiller. Despite its bad reputation, for a vegetable farm like ours, a tiller is a very important tool. The reason the tiller is so important is the same reason it’s so reviled; the tiller pulverizes the soil. For the microbial, organic health of the soil, this is terrible. Tiny particles mean lots of surface area, which means (initially) lots of oxygen burning up organic matter. It also means lack of soil structure, which means compaction, poor drainage, lack of oxygen, lack of beneficial microbes… the list goes on.

Tiller tilling

However, for the vegetables that get planted into just-tilled soil, life is good. Life or death of just-planted vegetable seeds can be determined by fractions of an inch. Too deep and the just-germinated seed won’t reach the surface to begin photosynthesis. Too shallow and the seed may not germinate, or might germinate but not be able to get to the moisture below the surface. Tilling the surface of the soil enables us to calibrate our seeders accurately, ensuring consistent germination of the many rows of vegetables we direct seed.

Seeding into freshly tilled beds

Tilling also makes killing weeds easier for us. Clumpy, cloddy soil is really hard to work with a hoe or with tractor cultivators. In order for us to coddle our vegetables, to create a weed-free environment for them without chemicals, we either hoe or use knives mounted to a tractor to uproot or slice weeds at the surface of the soil. Clods make this cultivation impossible. The tiller makes the soil a uniform medium through which our hoes and knives can flow without obstruction.

Knives kill weeds between the rows

This past winter, knowing that we were moving our farm to a new location, we were faced with what seemed like a tidal wave of necessary and expensive purchases. The most important may have been the rototiller. Tillers are fairly inexpensive. We were looking for one that tilled 60″  wide, and these seemed to cost between $2-4000 new. I found, also on Craig’s List, an unused tiller that tilled (allegedly) a 58″ swath and bought it. It has served us very well, even though it’s lighter duty than we want and actually only tills 54″.

The reason the tillage width is important is because, following behind the tractor, it doesn’t un-compact the soil compacted by the tractor’s rear tires. Our beds are 60″ wide: 48″ of bed-top and 12″ of wheel path. The area the tiller misses shouldn’t matter, so long as we align our wheel path exactly over the untilled/compacted strip. This, however, is more easily said than done. Frequently this year, we observed rows of vegetables that weren’t as happy as their neighbors. When we dug beneath them we found their roots growing in compacted soil.

In retrospect, I wish we had done a few things differently in regards to the tiller. I wish we had either purchased a heavier duty tiller that tilled 60″ (or even 66″) to ensure that the wheelpath was tilled, or bought a tiller that only tilled 48″ so that the tiller only tilled between the wheels of the tractor, letting the compaction left by the tractor tires be the walk path (which is what ends up happening anyway, when the Cub makes the final pass to seed or mark rows). As I alluded to earlier, this winter I plan on modifying the flap on the back of our tiller so that the final product it creates is a raised bed 48″ wide with rows marked by the tiller. I hope to have some pictures of that project to post by early January.

Stay tuned, for the next exciting installment of the Local Roots Small Farm Equipment Review: Part II – Our Awesome New Seeder.

Nearly Winter

While searching for driving directions the other day, I noticed that The Google updated their satellite photo of the farm. Whereas, before all it showed was a grassy rectangle…

now it shows our fields, laid out in fairly straight rows, in its August bounty.

If you look closely, you can see the shadows of people harvesting carrots.

Today, if you looked down on our farm from the heavens, you’d see a few areas that still have rows of vegetables. But mainly, you’d see grassy fields again. This time, though, the grasses are (mostly) cover crops.

And the (much longer) shadows are of people harvesting storage vegetables. For the first time ever, we have a place to store storage crops. So for the first time ever, we are harvesting and storing carrots, beets, parsnips, etc instead of leaving them in the ground and hoping they aren’t killed by cold weather or flooded.

With a forecast for temperatures into the 20s tonight and tomorrow night, roots in storage or not, our season looks to rapidly winding down. All our tender greens, many “hearty” greens, and our tolerance for cold fingers are going to take a hit this weekend.

We are harvesting today for this Sunday’s Broadway farmers market, and that will most likely be our last market of 2011… thus beginning what’s probably the most fun part about farming: planning for next year.

What worked? What didn’t work? What should we have planted more of? What should we have planted less of? What new equipment will make our lives easier? What new practices will streamline our process? In what ways do we want to the farm to grow? In what areas do we want to scale back? What all begins with back of the envelope figuring, will end, next season, with a different looking aerial photo of the farm. More land under cultivation? Straighter rows? Newer, better varieties? Fewer weeds? We shall see…

 

“It is the time of the autumn equinox, and the harvest is winding down. The fields are nearly empty, because the crops have been plucked and stored for the coming winter. ” -Patti Wigington

Nelson carrot mountain

Nelson carrot mountain

Fall is definitely here, but thankfully we’ve got rain gear. It’s been a wildly busy season for the behind the scenes team at Local Roots- A rotating cast of characters have come through to work their hearts and bodies out on the farm. We shared meals cooked on the fire, endless hours harvesting vegetables for the CSA, two Farmers Markets and more than a dozen restaurants, and a few collective minutes swimming in the Snoqualmie on one hot summer day. We all traveled down to Olympia at the beginning of the month to square dance and mingle at the Washington Young Farmers Mixer where there was constant apple cider being pressed by young farmers from all over Washington state, and tons of farm-fresh potluck dishes. It felt great to take part in a community event created by and for young farmers- the whole movement feels to be gaining so much momentum and energy from young people who want to serve their country food. We feel lucky to have been a part of such an important year for Siri and Jason- the beginning of so many new and exciting endeavors and unprecedented success. We are so grateful to have learned such an important trade from young farmers who are truly passionate about their work. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to spend this season out at the farm, and here are the photos to prove it!

The Apprentices
Leah, Brady, Rita, Marisa, Cara and David

text and photos by Marisa

The Apprentice uniform: Carhartts and black boots

Tatsoi peeking out from under row cover

Siri teaches how to cut springtime salad mix in the greenhouse

Tiny Tom Thumb baby butter lettuces get a bath

Jason, tractor and a very baby Felix

turnips and radishes piled high at the Broadway Farmers Market

prospective green butter lettuces waiting to be planted

Siri and Jason thinking about building a pepper and melon greenhouse

Felix takes a nap in the greenhouse

Rita rides the little engine that could

Bright Lights chard in its prime

Harvest vehicles waiting to be filled with vegetables

Leah, Jason and Scott carrying potatoes

Siri gets her caffeine fix

Farm dog Buster working hard in the grass

Rita with radicchio

Collin carrying carrots

Cara carrying beets

Cameron picks some turnips

Summer lettuce bounty

A sweet sprouting broccoli

Morning fog and sun in the turnips

Zinnias!

Marisa in a kale cloud

Tomato harvest aftermath

A foggy valley morning

A fine summer evening

Harvest moon

Tractor, farmer, tractor, farmer's brother

Haying time

Large lettuces are a Local Roots speciality

David and beets

Kale and Cara

Felix is finally on the move

Cara and Rita harvest arugula

Fresh sheet at the Farm Stand

Slowly ripening heirloom tomatoes

Our blue truck is full of kale and there's more on the way

A summer sunset through our tomato greenhouse

Full crew at the Queen Anne Farmers Market

Fall garlic bounty

Fall spread: shallots, romanesco and Savoy cabbage at the Queen Anne market

Leah and Brady take a break from washing and boxing parsnips

The Pickering's pigs down the road get some local roots for lunch

Harvesting Fall cherry tomatoes in the greenhouse

A shallot bounty

Harvesting whole basil plants for our CSA members

Brady and Leah lifting the last of the cherry tomatoes from the greenhouse into the truck

Getting ready for a fall farm bonfire

Getting ready for a fall farm bonfire

Long Time

It has been a very long time since we made a blog post. Our intention when we started this blog was to post something every week. From late-Fall through late-Spring, we are able to stick to that schedule pretty well. Sitting here now, looking through the morning fog at fields of vegetables and cover crops, I’m amazed that we mustered the energy this summer for the few posts we did write.

This has been one hell of a year for Siri and I. Mostly, this has been a year filled with phenomenal good fortune combined with an ungodly amount of work. Thrown into that mix have been a handful of tragedies and misfortunes. These deaths and illnesses somehow felt both more poignant and less poignant than they otherwise might have, due to the compressed time and mental space we’ve had to process them.

Now that we are entering a slower season, we can finally stop and reflect on what we’ve accomplished this year. Until now, all of our attention has been on Felix and making sure the most important tasks were accomplished. So focused on our daily and weekly work, that the day we finalized the purchase of this farm, we didn’t stop and celebrate. We didn’t do anything. In fact, we just went back to work and didn’t even remember to tell anyone that we had completed the purchase.

And now, it’s fall. Time to finally slow down and think. I’m not trying to be self-congratulatory, but as I sit here writing, I’m amazed by the list of things we did this year. On top of raising Felix, a full-time job itself, we navigated the very tenuous purchase of our new farm, securing our low interest Beginning Farmer loans between government shut downs and threatened budget cuts aimed at our loan program. Luckily, we knew the loan process would be long, and began leasing the property in January. Once we had a signed purchase and sale agreement, we got busy moving our whole farm to this new property. Somehow we made the transition almost seamlessly. In so doing….

We built 5 greenhouses

We tried to baby-proof the fixer-upper farmhouse

We survived a big flood

We bought a couple of tractors

We grew eight acres of vegetables

We harvested a lot of food

We grew our CSA by 20 families

We had our best farmers market season ever

We grew almost 14 acres of cover crops

We took a lot of pictures of Felix

We have never worked so hard in our lives. Still, we often took shortcuts or let some projects go unfinished, or unstarted. Yet despite the fact that we haven’t had a real day off since March, I’m looking forward to next year. I know we can do a better job, and I’m oddly excited to get started. On the list for next year includes planting an orchard, fixing up the farmhouse, getting better at killing weeds, plowing 5 more acres, growing more cover crops, growing new and interesting varieties of vegetables, and, of course, spending more time playing with Felix.

Buying the farm

So many big changes have happened in our lives over the last month that I am somewhat at a loss for what to say. In the last month, I lost two very dear grandparents who both had a strong influence on the path that let me to become a farmer.  My dad’s mother, Alice, and my mom’s father, John, shared a love of food, gardening, strenuous work, and self-reliance and I feel very lucky to have had both of them in my life into my adult years.  There is much more that I want to say about each of them, but I also need to share some other important news.

In the midst of all this sadness, we also took the momentous step of finalizing the purchase of our new farm. On August 15th we went to the closing agent’s office in Duvall to sign papers and make it official. We started this purchase process way back in December of last year, when we made the first offer on this 40 acre farm. By early January we had agreed on a sale price, and had arranged to rent the property month-to-month while we went through the long process of securing financing. There were lots of twists and turns along the road to buying the farm, and in the end it took more than eight months to get it all done. Although we were pretty sure that we would meet all the requirements necessary to receive the two different government loans we applied for, no deal is final until it’s final, and the uncertainty of our position has been a source of mild anxiety (sometimes severe) throughout this growing season.

Now that it’s all done, we’ve hardly had a moment to celebrate. We’re still in the midst of the busy harvest and market season, and now that we have a mortgage to pay (!) it’s time to sell a lot of vegetables!

 

Here’s what’s happening on the farm in the month of July:

Seeding and transplanting tons of fall crops – kale, cauliflower, carrots, beets, radicchio, parsley, cilantro, broccoli, cabbage, and more and more.

Killing weeds as much as possible with hoes and tractors.

Harvesting heaps of vegetables and taking them to the people!

Overseeing some carrot seeding

Transplanting fall brassicas

Planting three acres of buckwheat. We sowed it with a broadcast spreader and then dragged a big log around to incorporate the seed

 

Felix checking out our potatoes

Killing weeds

Bounteous radishes

Harvesting lettuce in the rain

Salad greens in the farm truck

Brady washing turnips

Collin harvesting green garlic

Full tables at the Broadway market

That’s all for now. Hope we can catch up with you again before August!

Well hello out there. I have a brief moment before the computer screen this morning while baby Felix takes one of his notoriously short naps.

Now that the sun has finally appeared, you should not expect to hear from us as often as you did this winter and damp spring. We are very very busy, but getting lots of work accomplished. By the middle of June, we are in full harvest and market mode, picking vegetables four days a week for our various markets, CSA, and restaurant accounts.

Our stand at the Broadway farmers market, late May.

When we’re not busy harvesting, we still have tons of vegetable to seed in the ground and  transplant from the greenhouse to the field, and we’re still not done with our weekly chore of seeding trays of lettuce, broccoli, chard, and our big fall radicchio crop. Last week we seeded 90 flats, mostly of fall kale, cauliflower and cabbage. In about three weeks we’ll be ready to transplant them – more than 5000 plants worth just of cabbage family, plus another 4800 lettuce, fennel, and escarole seedlings. Or perhaps I should say that they will be ready to be planted – whether we will be ready to do the planting is another story.

Greenhouse full of seedlings.

June and July are always a crazy time on the farm. The days are long, which is a blessing and a curse. We have so much to do that we’re glad for the extra day length, but when the sun stays out until 9 PM it’s hard to quit working and make dinner before 11!  Besides all the planting and harvesting, there’s always weeding, trellising tomatoes, mowing the ever-growing grass, moving irrigation equipment and row cover (keeps the bugs off the crops).

So for now, we’ll be doing less blogging, more farming. If you want to see us in person, stop by the farmers market. Here’s our market schedule for this season.

Enjoy the sun!