Greens Galore

It may not seem like it, but the temperatures have definitely been getting warmer on average - the greens in the new hoophouse are really taking off. We already had heat, of course, in the greenhouse, so it was the sunny days that really made the difference to the greens there. In any event, we will have tons of greens at market this weekend - arugula, spinach, kale, mustard mix, and lettuce mix, as well as fresh radish bunches!

All these greens require plenty of picking, washing, and packing time, and fortunately we have a couple new crew members to help out with all of it! Here's a picture of the crew harvesting greens in the new hoophouse Thursday morning:

In the bed that is second from left, you can see all the tiny spinach transplants we just put out on Tuesday. They were happy to get in the ground, and given the longer days and warm temperatures, it probably won't be too long before we are picking from them.

I know, I know, it's supposed to snow 3-5 inches on Saturday, but we will be at market with tons of greens, trusting that spring is really just around the corner.

See you at market!

-Ailish

Spring!

It's official: spring is here! Everyone is feeling that, right? 

Just kidding... We still have six inches of snow on the ground, and lots of root vegetables to eat. And managing the new hoophouse and greenhouse for temperature and humidity is a pretty good challenge. On sunny days, they can really heat up, so we've been trying to get the automatic vents hooked up, which will open if a certain temperature is reached. When the vents get opened, however, that usually lets in huge gusts of cold, dry winter air. This not always a bad thing - it can help dry plant leaves so that fungus can't grow, but it can also suck moisture from the leaves and the soil. 

In considering that, we have been watering very heavily, which helps mitigate both the dryness and can also help plants cope with very high or very low temperatures. In fact, if we are going to get an extremely cold night, I try to water everything in the hoophouse (the unheated one) very well, because the extra water seems to help plants cope with the freezing and thawing of their cells on cold nights.

There are some definite signs of spring I should share though. The photo above is some rosemary, flowering for the first time in its life! The plants are going into their fourth year of life, and all of them are covered with flower buds! They are in a hoophouse, protected from the extreme cold, and they seem to be doing very well. It can be difficult in this climate to keep rosemary alive from year to year, so it's really gratifying to see them thrive. 

Also this week, we spent some time in the orchard, pruning out browntail moth nest. Sophie is getting a particularly hard-to-reach one in the photo above. Browntail moth caterpillars make little nests of silk (you can see one if you follow the direction the pruners are pointing in the photo). In the spring, the larvae emerge and do their best to defoliate the tree. They particularly seem to like oak trees and fruit trees. Not only do they harm the trees, the caterpillar grows hairs that contain a substance toxic to humans. It can cause blisters if it touches skin, and respiratory distress if inhaled. If you can cut the nests in the winter, and either drown or burn them, however, you can kill them without spreading the toxic hairs.

Topsham and the towns surrounding us seem to be in the epicenter of an outbreak of browntail moths. Last year was tough, because they are favored by dry conditions. We are trying to get a jump on them this year, at least in the areas on the farm where we will be going frequently. The ones at the tops of the oaks are still making us scratch our heads. If browntail moths have been a problem for you or you want to learn more, please visit http://www.maine.gov/dacf/mfs/forest_health/insects/browntail_moth.htm

I want to end on a positive note, so I will just say this: radishes! That's right, we will have bunches of fresh radishes (grown in the heated greenhouse!) this week for sale at market. Come and get some while they last!

-Ailish

Holiday Hustle

We got a lot of things done this week! On Wednesday morning, we covered the new greenhouse with plastic (see photo below - the new greenhouseis on the right). That effort took the whole crew plus a few helpers for a total of eight people to get the plastic on. Each piece of plastic gets six ropes tied to it (around a tennis ball, to try to avoid tearing the plastic). We then tie something small but heavy - in this case, boots! - to each rope and throw it over the greenhouse so that each rope goes over the whole hoop structure.

Once all six are over, we have one person pulling on each rope, and one person at each end of the greenhouse making sure the plastic doesn't catch on any pipes or bolts. By pulling firmly but gently, we can get a piece of plastic over the hoop structure in just a fewminutes. You can imagine how any amount of wind would make this challenging. We were lucky on Wednesday and it was very still.

Of course, each of these big houses has two pieces of plastic. The reason for that is that we will install a blower that will inflate the area between the two pieces, which creates an insulating envelope of air that helps prevent heat loss in the greenhouse.

After putting on the plastic, we use wiggle wire to fasten the plastic to the ends and sides of the greenhouse. Wiggle wire is a great and sometimes frustrating invention - the wire is crimped into a squared off zigzag, which snaps snugly into metal channel that can be screwed onto whatever surface necessary. We actually thought the fastening and finishing would take until sometime Thursday afternoon but we managed to get it done Wednesday!

After that we even had time to get some harvesting done for the weekend markets. We will be at both the Midcoast Winter Farmers' Market Friday 12/23 from 11-4 and the Brunswick Winter Market 12/24 from 9-12:30. Happy Holidays if we don't see you!

Cheers,
Ailish

Winter Whites and Grays

We don't have the blues yet, but the going is getting tougher. Freezing temperatures and snow make it a lot harder to work outside. Fortunately we have enough stuff to do inside and enough warm(ish) sunny(ish) weather to keep chipping away at outside projects.

We are still harvesting leeks, greens, and Brussels sprouts, and restocking and washing veggies for our weekly markets gives us a lot to do in the barn (which is heated to about 40F. We are also getting row covers on the plants that are in high tunnels. Even though they are already protected, the row covers add a few degrees of frost protection that can be critical in getting them through the winter (see below).

 

Still, we have had enough good weather to make progress on the new greenhouse even with snow on the ground (see below). We hope to receive the plastic for the end walls this week and hopefully get this thing covered by the end of next week! That would be amazing.

See you at market!

-Ailish

Odds and Ends and Hoophouse Plastic!

Firstly, the Midcoast Winter Market starts tomorrow!

We have decided this year that we will stop going to the Brunswick Farmers' Market on FRIDAYS once the Midcoast Winter Market starts - so we will NOT be in Brunswick at all tomorrow. We will still, however, go to the Brunswick Farmers' Market on TUESDAYS up until Thanksgiving. This Saturday is the last Crystal Spring Farmers' Market! The weather is supposed to be all right, so we look forward to seeing you there.

And now that announcements are done...

The plastic is on! On Wednesday morning, we had the crew and several friends pitch in to help us pull two 200-foot-long pieces of plastic of plastic over the new hoophouse that you have seen in pictures I've posted earlier in the fall. Below you can see a before and after.

The before shot is taken from the south and the after from the north. It's a very long hoophouse, so it was hard to get a good shot. Fortunately, cell phones are so advanced these days that I managed to get a panorama shot from the north at the end of the day Wednesday (below). We had nine people total to help get the plastic on, and we got both sheets on within an hour. Then came the time-consuming stuff - tacking the plastic down  on the ends and sides (what Ben is doing at lower left), installing hardware so that we can roll up the sides of the hoophouse for ventilation (what the three tiny figures are doing in the top image) and clean out weeds (yes, already!) and evening out soil (bottom left).

The hoophouse still needs additional hardware (vents, doors, fans, etc.) to be completely finished, but it is finished enough that we will be able to transplant spinach, lettuce, and onions into it tomorrow! Hurrah!

This has been a good week for big projects. Over the weekend, two of the crew came in on Sunday, and the three of us processed a whole bunch of pork from the 2015 pigs - we used the oft-forgotten bits like lard, bones, hocks, and trotters - and made terrine, rillettes, rendered leaf lard, and bone broth. The 2016 pork will be in the freezer and ready for sale next week, so we were trying to clear out some room.

Also, you can make some really delicious things with the odds and ends. Rillettes and terrine are both excellent for spreading on toast with a bit of mustard or pickles, leaf lard will make some excellent pie crust or biscuits, and ham bone broth is the traditional base of the Japanese Ramen dish. Unfortunately, we are not able to sell these kinds of meat products at this time, but we will have odds and ends from the 2016 pigs for sale for you all to experiment with at home. It is definitely worth the effort!

See you at market!

-Ailish