The first weeding and feeding of the year...

This week, on an unsually hot day, we set out to do our first weeding and feeding of the year...on these babies:

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We had already raked most of the mulch off of the garlic, to let the sun warm up the soil, but then Wednesday we hoed it in every direction to get those early thread-stage weeds! That's Shawn and Emma in the background hoeing. In front you see a bucket of fertilizer (composted chicken manure with a good charge of nitrogen) and my seeder which I was using to drill it in. 

We started outdoor market farmers markets this week, on May Day as a matter of fact. Assistant Manager Kate held it down at the Brunswick Farmers Market, and I (Ben) will be there tomorrow. Every Tuesday and Friday from 8-2, on the mall. Here's a little montage from Tuesday:

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Today we harvested for markets, with a couple of new spring things just starting to come in: chives, sorrel, and tarragon! To go with the radishes, mache, and pea shoots we've had the last few weeks...But today was really a day to be a duck. I'll leave off with a pair of pictures that sums up the difference between yesterday evening and this drizzly evening:

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Take care and welcome a little May into your life!

Ben

10 Little Red Pigs...

Howdy folks,

Monday we picked up some new friends that are going to be staying with us for the season:

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That's 10 little red pigs, Tamworth breed, raised by Misty Brook Farm in Albion (MOFGA-certified diversified farm). They fell right in to pigging right after we let them out of the pickup truck. Tamworths are great foragers, and they'll have lots of fresh ground to do it on at our new field down the hill which we cleared a couple of years ago.

 

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This action shot is from the duck drive out pasture. That's Kate saying to those ducks, "Don't even think about stepping on my newly seeded beds!" We marched them clear across the farm, through the woods and across the stream...and this is the last moment when they had to make a sharp turn around the vegetable fields to get to the field edges that they will be grazing for the new few weeks...Then it's on our newly established pollinator hedgerows, to eat grass and fertilize the little shrubs.

We transplanted our 9500 onions into the field this week, only instead of it taking a crew of 3-4 people a day to do it, I (Ben) did it in a day with our new Japanese Paperpot Transplanter tool...Basically, it's a planting system which uses special folded sheets of paper in a honeycomb pattern as the seeding flat, which is loaded up into a little machine which cuts a furrow and stretches the seedlings out into a chain of perfectly-spaced little plants. It takes some finesse (and I have a long way to go to perfecting it), and the seedlings are more costly to grow, but it saves a lot of time in the field... Look up a video of it in action on paperpot.co , it's quite something!

We'll be at market indoors for one more weekend! Then it's outside to the Brunswick Farmers Market (Tuesday and Friday from 8-2), and the BTLT Farmers Market at Crystal Spring Farm (Saturfay from 8:30-12:30). Here's a little pic of Miz America, one of the greens featured in our spicy mix...we hope to see y'all soon!

 

Ben, family and crew

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Breaking our spring intertia...

Hello friends,

This week we did what we refer to as breaking our spring inertia, by prepping some beds in the field and planting some seeds in the ground! Our first plantings are arugula, spicy greens, radishes, turnips, and cilantro/dill! Lots of transplants to go in next week, including onions and shallots. Because we had 3" of rain this week, the only way to get those beds prepped was by hand! Luckily, some of our semi-permanent raised beds were dry enough on top to wheel hoe (left bed is untouched, right is after wheel hoe):

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Last week, I promised some news of piggies! We are picking up a nice litter of organic Tamworths this week, so we'll have pictures in next blog post. Here is pigmaster Nick working on a new mobile shelter (this particular one is for the ducks on summer range, but the piggies have something cool in store for them, too):

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Lastly, we're still picking some nice greens but the learning curve for year-round greenhouse growing and pest management is steep for me. It's such a hospitable environment for say, aphids! We will have a very limited spinach supply this week, because of aphids. Now I've been encouraging a natural predator, the hover fly, one of which can eat 400 aphids. We've been leaving flowering mustards for them, and they love the nectar. And we've been releasing ladybugs, but we have a long way to go! Next year, we are going to grow parasitic wasps...

But nature amazes. Simply by providing habitat and not spraying insecticides, we attract all kinds of good bugs. These crane flies (I think that's what they are) were caught in the act on our arugula:

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Ain't that a pretty sight? The arugula, too.

Have a great weekend and come see us at indoor markets, if you can!

Best,

Ben, family and crew

Garlic, that harbinger of spring...

Hello farm friends,

This spring has been off to a nice slow start, which is we like it...no dry weeks with temps pushing 80 in March, or anything like that. It's been good drying weather for the fields, and our garlic has had nice steady sprouting conditions. We decided today was the day to introduce it to full sun, and so we raked the straw mulch off the bed tops. 12000 row feet of garlic in a 1/2 acre, which equates to about 16-17k little baby plants like this one:

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Ain't he precious?

We're also picking some nice greens from our greenhouses, including arugula (first week back on the menu in months!), spicy greens, radishes, baby kale, raab, and spinach. Here was our new crew member Emma picking kale raab out there this morning:

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Spring is always so busy, there's too much to tell! In the coming weeks, look for updates on new piggies, among other things. We'll be at winter markets until the end of the month, so come and see us there every Friday 11-4 at the Topsham Fairground, and Saturdays 9-12:30 at the Cabot Mill/Fort Andross in Brunswick.

Happy spring!

Ben

Greening up "inside" (and a little bit outside)

Friends, I can tell you that our plants inside the high tunnels and greenhouse think it's really spring! Lots of good green stuff coming up which has been gracing our plate this week:

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That's a spinach and pea shoot salad, with some mizuna flowers on top! At market, we'll have parsley and radishes as well, and a new crop (for us) which we call Kale Raab:

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Kale Raab looks and tastes like baby broccoli, and man ain't it good to have it this time of the year! 

The earth is waking up earlier every day, and your farmers are too. But we're still finding a little time to make music. If you can, come by tomorrow to the Midcoast Winter Farmers Market to get some greens and other foods, and enjoy some tunes by Ben and Kandy:

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It'll be warm and fun inside at the Topsham Fairgrounds, even if it's raining out there! Friday 11-4. 

Ben and the Whatley Farm Fam

This season has sprouted!

Hello friends and family of Whatley Farm,

A bit more snow fell today, but it's been melting bit by bit as we march forward starting plants in our greenhouse, seeding greens in the unheated tunnels, and harvesting spinach and kale...Here's a sure sign that it's spring inside the unheated high tunnel we call "Big Baby" (it's 192' long):

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The mizuna which overwintered has flowered, and not only are they tasty (we sent some flowers to the Brunswick Inn for their Tuesday dinner), but they are starting to buzz with hover flies (a beneficial insect that eats the pesty aphids)...so we leave most of the flowers as habitat. We've also started seeding alyssum and dill in the greenhouses for beneficial habitat.

A mizuna flower is a nice touch at breakfast, too...add some of our roasted red peppers, spinach, shallot, sausage and duck eggs...and there's a real farmers' breakfast! Sometimes. Sometimes we just eat granola and blueberries. Coffee always.

We got a lot done in the greenhouse this week. Here's Nick pitching in wiring a small electric heater for a tented bench (which along with our germination chamber has reduced our March propane usage so far by almost 100%). And assistant manager Kate planting up ginger and turmeric for pre-sprouting:

It's been a good week! Hope to see some of you at market this weekend. Some of you family members I'll be seeing in Texas next week, for my last hurrah before spring sets in (in earnest). Kate and my parents will keep it together here on the farm and at market.

Best,

Ben

Nor'easter again!

Howdy y'all,

As I write this the snow has finally stopped falling here at Whatley Farm, and it blew all over the place and stuck to the walls it was so "pasty." By my reckoning, somewhere around 15-18"...not too shabby! It is wet and heavy stuff, and we've got a lot more plowing to do, but it's tough when the ground is soft like it is right now. Either way, we're gonna get dug out and make it to markets this weekend. Before the storm, I picked lots of great spinach and kale! 

We made pizza last night during the storm, with spinach, roasted red peppers (available frozen at market), roasted cherry tomatoes, basil pesto (from our frozen home supply) and some very tasty blue cheese from Spring Day Creamery...due to technical difficulties I'm not able to upload that picture right now, but trust me when I say that pizza with local, organic ingredients can't be beat. We're making nachos tonight with our Hot Heirloom Salsa, peppers, spinach, and venison. Comment and tell us what you're cooking up this storm.

I'll leave you with a picture of our spinach in the tunnel, with my footprints in the bit of mud on the concrete...It reminded me of something I thought I had read a long time ago in Masanobu Fukuoka's One-Straw Revolution..."The best fertilizers are the footprints of the farmer," or something like that. A quick search attributed that quote to Confucius, Aristotle, and various others. So while I don't plan to get to the bottom of who said it first, I believe they are wise words, and with that I'm going to go put on my boots and move some more snow! 

Best,

Ben

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Your Ticket to Tomato Soup!

Howdy friends,

It was a beautiful week on the farm! Lots of sun, and this delicious bit of gold made with our Tomato Puree:

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Just a couple of different tomato soups we had in the last week, with blends of our Red and Gold Tomato Purees ($5.95 at market). The puree is really "Purity of (Tomato) Essence," with only enough lemon juice added to bring the pH down for canning...no added salt, and a perfect consistency for soup!

I want to introduce you to Kate, who came to us last year, and stayed on all winter helping me get ready for the season! Kate will be our assistant manager this season, in charge of greenhouse management, harvest, wash station, crew leading, and Tuesday market downtown. Here she moving some pallets of materials around the other day:

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I'll leave you with is a fresh image of our completed (today) greenhouse interior wall, with a new passage in between warm and cool zones. We are ready to get seeding the end of next week.

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Have a great week, everybody!

Ben

Greenhouse projects continue, and Duck Eggs are back!

Hello my friends,

First off, we know spring is coming because the ducks have started laying well again, and the spinach is growing! We will have plenty at market this weekend, and soon you will start seeing them in stores again, such as Morning Glory in Brunswick, Royal River in Freeport, and the Portland Food Co-op. Here's a wonderful frittata that Laura made for lunch one day this week, with roasted peppers, kale, parsnips and kohlrabi/carrot slaw on the side:

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We are getting ready for a great season in the greenhouse, with many farm-built upgrades! We are permanently walling off a portion to be a heated zone, with this simple wall which will have a roll-up door:

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Nice work on a sunny day! Then we are building a Germination Chamber, which is basically a sweat box for newly seeded trays. The chamber we are building will hold 60 trays, which will germinate much faster and more uniformly in the box than out in the greenhouse. Basically, you have a thermostatically controlled heating element in a pan of water, which fills the chamber with 75-degree mist...Here's part 1 completed:

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It's a 24" x 48" x 80" rack, which we will made more shelves in using metal conduit...then we bolted rigid foam insulation to the frame of the rack...spray foamed the seams. Next we'll install the equipment and wire it, then put a set of rigid foam "french doors" on the front...then we put in the corner, plug it in, and hope it works! We got some ideas for the project from Farm Hack, an open-source forum for farmers who need "farm-tolerance" (i.e. cheap) solutions to expensive equipment.

Plenty of spinach and kale at market this week, as well as root veggies, onions, shallots, garlic, duck eggs, pork, roasted red peppers, and salsas! Try the Tomato Puree--it's just like drinking fresh tomato juice!

Best,

Ben and the gang

Kale is back, Salsa is in, and Lots of Projects are Happening!

Hello folks,

It's been a while since you heard from Whatley Farm in this newsletter...lots has been happening, so let me try to bring you up to speed! I (Ben) was off to Germany with my girlfriend Anna Blank visiting her family for a few weeks, and we returned engaged to be married this Thanksgiving. We're excited to be planning our wedding now, in addition to planning the farming season! Here is a pic of us standing in front of the Karlsruhe Castle:

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Right now fresh out the ground we are picking some sweet kale, and spinach. Come to Friday market for your best shot at getting some of this stuff now, which is in limited supply until spring comes:

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We also recently launched a line of canned goods, which are a collaboration between our farm and Brunswick's community cannery Turtle Rock Farm...owner/chef Jenn Legnini made Heirloom Tomato Salsa (in medium or hot) and Salsa Verde (a solid medium with our tomatillos and serranos), using all organic produce from our farm. She also made us 2 tomato purees, one in red and one in gold (using yellow and orange tomatoes)...these are very fresh-tasting strained tomato juices, which can be enjoyed fresh (for breakfast or Bloody Marys), easily made into soup, or cooked down into a sauce. Here is a pic of the salsa line-up alongside a pack of our Frozen Roasted Peppers, which we fire-roasted, cooled and vacuum-sealed at her commercial kitchen:

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And of course we still have onions, shallots, 2 kinds of garlic, rutabaga, kohlrabi, and parsnips from cold storage, as well as lots of tasty pork, and (DUCK EGGS ARE BACK)...as well as carrots in a rainbow of colors from our friends at Harvest Tide Organics. Come by market and find yourself something to eat :)

We always have some projects going, and here is a pic of a couple of them we knocked off this week. One is a pair of seedling carts which will ride in the truck to farmers market with us and display seedlings, the other is an ergonomic potting soil mixing platform which Kate built:

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That may be all the news fit to print for now, but I'll try to send out more regular updates now that things have settled down after my big trip and engagement.

Best,

Ben Whatley, the whole family and crew of friends