Thursday, January 23, 2014

Playing Catch-up!

Hey All, We've been totally remiss about posting and keeping our friends and family up to date. The downside to getting the ball rolling is that, er, the ball KEPT rolling, and we found ourselves more involved with crop plans, joining forces with a girls' camp in Pittsford, and moving our whole farming operation a few miles north to a new location. We'd hoped to do a monster update here, but, uh, well, the weeding rarely waits. For a more current appraisal of what's going on in our lives, you might join us here on our Facebook page: If you are not a Facebook user, we still love to get emails and letters (yes, Yvonne has been known to write back, too). Thanks everyone for the interest and support you've shown over the past 5 years!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fall Update

Hi all! As you know by now, Summer has relinquished her crown, and we are swiftly moving into the post-equinox days of Autumn. Not that we dislike Autumn (it's Yvonne's favorite season), we're just doing our best to keep up with the seasonal changes and their attendant chores. However, we always do our best to value the unique quality of every season, even as we run for more row covers to keep our late-season crops from taking frost damage.

After the relatively cool and rainy summer, tales of early freezes became one of our pressing concerns. One evening in mid September, we realized that we had about six crops to cover. This translates in area to about one third of our half-acre. Although this isn't an enormous amount of land to cover, we live in a spot that's often windy. After our various adventures in Spring trying to cover summer crops with 40 mile an hour winds whipping our Agribon row covers like a skinny sail while we tried to get them to cover our summer crops, we were feeling somewhat depleted of enthusiasm. Remembering that some of our neighbors had volunteered help if we ever needed it, we did take a few moments to leave a short phone message for friends of ours in Wallingford. Although certain that their cheerful offer was a kindly platitude, perhaps my call would be regarded as an incitement to our friends to get together at some future date. Farm work, after all, was still the province of farmers.

Imagine our surprise later while sizing up some row covers for our cucumbers when we heard a friendly voice hail us from the area of our workshop. Two friends were there ready to assist us, and their spouses were on the way to join them.
With a total of six adults on the task, we were able to cover five vegetable crops and one patch of zinnias in record time. Frost protection in place, we adjourned to the kitchen to begin happy hour and make plans for a dinner get-together. We were grateful and impressed. It was one thing to know that we could make sales to friends and neighbors and get their support as customers; it was quite another to know that they'd happily give us their time and effort. Sometimes, difficult situations let you know who's in your corner.

Speaking of difficult situations, we have had all sorts of mixed blessings as we attempted to divine which planting procedures, crops, fertilizers, pest control methods, and weed suppression tricks will yield the best results. Sometimes we find the right answer, but our application comes too late: as when we discovered Spinosad was exactly the right organic pesticide to apply to voracious Colorado potato beetles. Although we were able to control those ravenous little freeloaders, not before they had totally destroyed the greens of our potato plants and stripped our eggplants down to the soil. When Ed brought the plague of orangey insects to heel, they were making for our tomatoes. Lesson learned: Do your research before the clouds gather.

In some instances, it just didn't matter how prepared we were. We were very excited this year about our tomato crop, having carefully selected a mix of heirloom, cold-hardy and visually attractive tomatoes for sale this summer. We were especially excited because although other growers we know had suffered tomato losses from early and late blight, our tomatoes were bearing fruit and ripening into a luscious palette of reds, greens and warm yellow. Anticipating the chance to arrive at the Farmers' Market with yet another colorful, lively crop, Ed noticed that the foliage on the tomato plants was wilting a mere two days before that week's market. Sadly, these were the signs that we'd been dreading: the arrival of late blight, a fungus that spreads easily by wind-borne spores. Even if we picked every tomato right away, we couldn't take any of the fruit to market for fear of spreading the spores to other vendors' produce.

Despite the disappointment of losing a crop, we count ourselves lucky in many ways. We still made our financial goal for our first season without a tomato, cucumber or eggplant crop. We gained a new customer in Blue House Bakery, a local business that bought our honey by the gallon. We participated in three events promoting local produce. Best of all, even on mornings bringing rainy, blustery chills, we were still visited by regular customers offering friendly encouragement. Certainly, some of the best payment for our efforts has been in the currency of community.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Spring/Summer Update

Whew! Does anyone remember May?? We don't. Guess it's time to catch up.

A lot has happened in the last month and half; most of it has been good, but it's been one of those 'feast or famine' deals, and right now, we ain't starvin'. Joined in our concerns for living sustainably, Ed and I became part of a group of fellow Unitarians who all want to reduce our carbon footprint on the environment. Back in Fall of 2008, the bunch of us all obtained the book Low Carbon Diet and then held Friday night meetings to discuss energy saving methods and chart the progress of our efforts. Because we chose to meet in the evenings, our meetings are always followed with a potluck dinner. The honor of hosting fell to us on May 1st. This was something of a hosting challenge, being our largest home gathering to date. Ed's tour of our solar hot water heating system made a favorable impression with the result that two of our friends plan to install a system comparable to ours.

The following Sunday, Yvonne danced at a benefit in downtown Rutland for breast cancer research. The theme was a Gypsy Tea Party, so Yvonne was able to draw from her Roma style studies and put together a little half-time show for the intermission. The show was well attended, plus our friends from Middlebury Mitch Kramer and Dinah Smith attended. It was great to be involved in a local event, and Yvonne is looking forward to more opportunities of this type.

Did we mention that we wrote sermons? Both Ed and Yvonne delivered sermons on separate Sundays to the congregation of Rutland Unitarian Universalist Church. Did we mention that our Sundays were back to back? May 24th and May 31st? Or that between those two dates (Saturday, May 30) we actually started selling our produce at the Rutland Farmers' Market? This has been our favorite accomplishment by far this spring (No. We don't know if we're going to change the name of this blog). At least one year in preparation, we are now actually selling our produce to fellow citizens of Rutland county. How cool is that?

We started the growing season with lovely butterhead-style lettuces, leafy greens, radishes, and a handful of herbs. At the present, lettuces are waning in the hotter weather, but the onslaught of zucchini and summer squash is just starting. Soon (if we get any sun for more than 48 hours) we expect to have tomatoes, cucumbers and basil in abundance. Also, we'll be harvesting and setting out our garlic to dry.

Although we are very busy, we are grateful for the opportunity to become part of the local agricultural community. We have had the pleasure of selling vegetables to many of our neighbors, colleagues from Rutland Universalist Unitarian Church, and the pleasure of seeing friends from RAFFL, the Rutland Farm and Food Link. Ed has also mentioned that the direct marketing to customers "in person" was the one crucial element missing from his days as a farm hand on his family's farm in Illinois.

So much to share in these (sometimes) sunny days of summer. More as we have time to write it down...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Hoop House is Up!

Hey everyone! Check it out! Ed finished the hoop house! As you may imagine, this represents a major accomplishment for our future farm. With a lot of persistence and ingenuity, we now have the equivalent of an enormous cold frame for hardening off our seedling plants. So far, the placement of the hoop house at the southern end of the shop has proven to be a wise bit of planning; the shop protects the structure from southerly winds, and we get the maximum benefit of summer solar heating.

We have been anticipating spring with tortured longing this year; Even though the daylight hours are waxing, temperatures in our area have steadfastly averaged out around 50 F with night time temperatures dropping down as low as 15. Self-conscious about our Flatlander status, we retained an almost British "stiff upper lip" when discussing the weather with locals. As it turned out, our stoic efforts were returned with unbridled exasperation about the ongoing cold and wind. It seems Vermont natives have had enough, too. Bonding discussion of the presence of blooms, higher temperatures, and wearing fewer than three layers of clothes have ensued. So good to know that we're all in this together.

Few times of the year say "carpe diem!" like early spring, though. Hints of green in the landscape outside mean more vigorous industry at the homestead. Our goal to sell our vegetables at the 2009 Rutland Farmer's Market draws ever closer. Although certain crops benefit from being started in a warm germination shed, there are cool weather vegetables that thrive from direct seeding in the field. This past week saw Ed plowing like a nut to break ground for new planting beds and rows. Both of us were jointly engaged in planting seed for snow peas, mizuna, 4 varieties of carrots, 6 varieties of lettuce, 2 types of broccoli, 3 types of kale, chard, 2 types of arugula and a completely new crop mountain orach (it's so cool: it's magenta!). Then Ed made the encouraging discovery that some plants (mache and lettuce) that he shielded from the snows with row covers survived the winter! Makes us think we might be getting the hang of this; more news from the front soon.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

In Like a Lion...

So what else is new? Plenty! We begin the month of March by celebrating our first produce sale! Just last Tuesday, we were having dinner with friends on the Rutland Natural Foods Co-op board, and one of them mentioned that butternut squash was really expensive in the winter. Almost simultaneously, Ed and I both asked, "How much do you need? We've got plenty." As it turned out, after we weeded out the most attractive and largest squash, we had about 42 lbs of the prolific cucurbits. That Thursday, we drove in to Rutland to deliver the goods and to drop off some pumpkins to donate to the Rutland Open Door Mission as well. Both of us are really jazzed to have opportunities like these to contribute to the local community.

On the market farm front, Ed has immersed himself in two important construction projects. Inspired by farmer and writer Elliot Coleman, Ed has begun construction on a small hoop house/greenhouse for starting young seedlings.

One of our setbacks last year, having moved from Middlebury in late March, was not being able to get seeds started until well after most farming operations have young plants ready for the greenhouse. Although we didn't intend to sell vegetables our first year in Wallingford, it would have been helpful to get as much time learning about growing conditions as we could.

This year, during the snow-laden months of December and January, Ed ordered soil-blockers for creating little dirt cubes for planting seeds. The great news is that the soil-blockers (which look like sophisticated cookie-cutters) come in different sizes. As the plants get bigger, you can insert the tiniest blocks (about the size of a large sugar cube) into larger cubes of soil. This gives the young vegetables more root space without the unnecessary boundary of a peat pot. Then one fine day, we move the stronger plants out to the hoophouse to harden off. Next stop: the field!

The second construction project currently underway is the creation of a small 8' x 8' insulated room for refrigerating fresh veggies.

While this project has less of the conservatorial "charm" of building a greenhouse, its success is crucial to the viability of our venture. One thing I've learned about gardening and small-scale farming is the crops are ready when they're ready. A walk-in refrigeration unit is an important business investment. Luckily for us, Ed has both the know-how and impetus to get these jobs off the "to do" list and into the "done" pile! Meanwhile, I'll be misting dirt cubes and planting seedlings with anticipatory enthusiasm.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bee update

No pictures, but it was (briefly) warm enough today to open up the hives and take a quick look. This was the first day we've hit 50F since October. Executive summary: we're 4 for 4 so far, with ample stores of honey on all hives.

I shoved some fondant into the two swarm hives; they are our weakest, since they were started late last summer. I didn't do anything more than open the tops, confirm there were live bees in each hive, toss in the fondant, and close them back up.

Eleanor's hive had a bit of mold on the inner cover, so I added some spacers to improve the airflow. Airflow through the hive is very important because the bees stay warm by balling up, eating honey, and vibrating. They keep the hive interior 80F in winter, and 92-93F in late winter when they start raising brood again. The moisture from their respiration can build up if there is insufficient airflow, and can actually cause ice to form on the inside of the hive. The technical term for that is 'bad'.

When we get a warmer day we can take a closer look and get an idea of the size of the bee populations in each hive. We're expecting to have to split Louise's hive to prevent them from swarming. But that will wait until at least May. Today was the last warm day for the foreseeable future.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Gaea's Downtime

Perhaps the biggest lesson I've learned from living in Vermont is to embrace winter. It's really easy on the days when snow is drifting quietly and laying a powdery blanket over the landscape. After all, the busy days of harvest are behind us, and though holidays bring a rush of activity, ideally they, too, can be an opportunity to count blessings, appreciate others, and look forward to the nascent year. So, although we're not outside every day weeding and watering, we have this season of contemplation to lay plans for new projects.

I also wrapped up an enlightening internship with the Smokey House Center. During the last weeks of the program, I had an interesting encounter with the local fauna. Outside the Conference Barn, I found a little black-capped chickadee sitting on the ground. The chickadee didn't react when I got near her, so I thought she must have slammed into the patio-sized glass windows in the front of the building and was stunned. I picked her up to see if she was injured. No blood, no obvious injuries. She wrapped her tiny talons around my fingers. Fortunately, Fran, my fellow intern happened to know where the SHC digital camera was. Here's a picture of me sending the Chickadee to be back with her pals...

January is aptly represented by the Roman God Janus, guardian of gates and doorways, since winter brings us both endings and beginnings, comings and goings. With that in mind, 2008 had some farewells (Chuck Berry, Miriam Makeba, Eartha Kitt, Yma Sumac), but saw the beginning of new lives, events and friendships (Isa, Megan, the Safford Family Ski Trip). Of course, I can't leave out our new Commander and Chief!! I think this next Inauguration will be the most historical event I'll witness, unless the gods have something really big in store...

Winter is a great time for drawing up crop rotation diagrams, solidifying a business plan and perusing seed catalogs! We had great success with seeds purchased last year from High Mowing Seeds, a producer of organic vegetable and flower seeds based in Wolcot, Vermont. Paging through the colorful sections of the HMS catalog, it's hard not to long for brighter days and higher temperatures.

Still, winter is the best time for me to pursue intellectual pursuits that I can't give as much focus to when I've got irrigation lines to lay. My Yule present to myself this year will be to buy a book/cd set for learning Finnish. I've waited a long time to continue my language studies. Besides, gotta be ready for those cultural exchange opportunities when they appear. Here's to discussing the Kalevala in the sauna...