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

Late Winter

Well. Below you can see a triptych time-sequence of the new hoophouse and greenhouse, from top to bottom: Monday afternoon, Tuesday morning, and Wednesday morning. That was quite a storm! The gothic (pointed gable) structure of these new, large structures, sheds snow fairly effectively. You can see in the bottom image that most of the snow has slid off the roof and piled up at the sides. 

We do, however, have some smaller hoophouses in the back field that cannot support snow loads, and we have had to clean them off during and after storms before. Fortunately, on Monday afternoon, we figured out how to get the plastic off of them while one side (the shady side) was still frozen to the ground. Huzzah! So we saved ourselves many hours of shoveling and brushing off snow.  

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Despite the weather, things are growing in the greenhouse! The herbs that we started propagating a couple of weeks ago have already rooted, for the most part. Once they have put out roots, we can take them out from under the table and let them have a little more light. More light will encourage them to grow new leaves, now that they have roots and can draw nutrients and water from the soil. 

Our first round of spinach of 2017 is just about ready to be transplanted. It will be going in the second bed from the left in the photo below. The third bed from the left you can see is covered in landscaped fabric. We cut the mustard greens that were in that bed several times for market until they were getting a little tired. We then cut the remainder and fed them to the ducks (who were delighted to get greens at this time of year!). After that we covered the bed with landscape fabric and lightly watered it - this is a method of no-till weeding and bed renovation made popular by a Canadian farmer named Jean-Martin Fortier.  

In occultation, what you want to happen is this: the landscape fabric and watering warm and moisten the soil, which encourages the decomposition of the mustard green stems and roots, and which encourages weed seeds to germinate; the mustard greens continue to decay, and the weed seeds germinate, but because there is no light, they die and decay as well; then you can remove the landscape fabric and transplant directly into the bed. No rototilling, no forking, no weeding. Theoretically. We'll let you know how it goes!

See you at market!

-Ailish

Just a Tease

We hope you got to enjoy the balmy weather last week and this week. It does seem to have been just a tease of things to come. Later. Tonight the low is supposed to be 16F, and tomorrow - 4F! So, winter is still here, reminding us not to jump the gun. 

Still, the warm weather was helpful for getting some work done. We are currently designing and building tables to hold seedlings in our new greenhouse. You can see one below, partially filled with trays of onions! It's a bit of a work in progress, but we are ironing out kinks as we go. And we need to go - we seeded all of our onions this week, leeks will be next week, and it just keeps growing from there!

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The table frames are made from aluminum stock, and the tops are lobster trap wire, which is not only coated in plastic (won't rust!), but the alignment of the wires makes it easy to slide trays across the table without catching their corners. 

Here's a shot of the rosemary and marjoram we started last week. They are underneath a potting table to keep them out of direct sunlight. This allows them to give more energy to growing new roots instead of photosynthesis.

This week we will also have some Japanese Pussy Willow stems for sale - a little midwinter treat. The warm weather sped them along to the right stage to harvest, so they are ready now. They make beautiful dried arrangements, or, if you want them to leaf out, you can keep them in water and they will grow.

Stay warm, and see you at market!

-Ailish

Plugging Right Back In

Hi everyone,

I'm back from vacation. I got to enjoy some unseasonably balmy weather out west, and I brought it back with me. You're welcome. I hope everyone has been enjoying the warm days like we have. It got so hot on Wednesday we were down to T-shirts and tank tops in the greenhouse.

Speaking of the greenhouse, it's coming right along. We started seeds in it just this week! There's still irrigation, tables for seedlings, general organization and storage to do, but we will get there. Below you can see Ben and a friend of ours working on setting up the overhead irrigation system. 

As well as starting seeds, we also started some rosemary and marjoram cuttings propagating in soil. We keep the mother plants in a small hoophouse (see below), where they are able to weather the winter fairly well. We do have to use several layers of row cover (the white cloth on the outside of the beds) to add several layers of protection, which translates into up to 10 degrees of additional heat retention. The rosemary is on the right and the marjoram is on the left. The marjoram is going on two years old for most plants, and most of the rosemary is actually three years old! In between the herbs are some onions that may or may not thrive. Some mice discovered them in the early winter... quite a few of them have recovered, but not all.

Besides marjoram and rosemary, we also propagate and sell sage, thyme, tarragon, spearmint, and peppermint seedlings. Because the marjoram and rosemary are so protected, it's possible to start propagating them now.

To propagate the herbs, we cut fresh, green stems, strip the leaves off, and slip them into well-watered plugs. It's key that they stay almost damp and out of direct sunlight until the plants recover from being cut and start to put out new roots. Usually that takes about 4 weeks or so. When the newly grown roots have just reached the bottom of the plug, we pop the plugs out and grow them on in 4 inch pots, which we have for sale at market in the late spring and early summer.

Speaking of market, we will see you at market this weekend!

-Ailish

January Thaw

Storage vegetables, as you might guess, are kept in storage, from the time they are harvested (usually October, for us) to the time they are sold and eaten. For us, storage is three separate rooms in the barn; each room is insulated, one room is kept cool and humid (for most veggies, like cabbage, kohlrabi, potatoes, carrots, beets, radishes, etc.), one is kept cool and dry (for garlic, shallots, and onions), and the other is kept warm and dry (for squash and sweet potatoes). 

The goal is to keep the vegetables in a dormant state - different veggies have different requirements to stay dormant, as you can see from above. When we started out, we lumped a lot more things together because of space limitations, and we had a lot more rotting and a lot more vegetables sprout in storage. 

Having the three separate storage rooms this year has really helped maintain the quality of the storage veggies. Even with the better storage, however, we clean and trim the storage veggies weekly before market to make sure that they are fresh and looking their best. For example, when we harvest storage cabbage, we leave the outer leaves on to try to keep the most moisture we can in the cabbage. Then, before market, we peel off the slightly dehydrated outer leaves to reveal the fresh cabbage inside and trim off any excess stem. See below for a before (left) and after (right) example. 

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We continue to make progress on getting the new greenhouse ready for the 2017 growing season. This week's project has been getting the electric wiring and panel set up. Our electrician, Russ Tremblay, did most of the technical work, but we got to help out - we pushed (while Russ' machine pulled), nearly this entire spool of electrical cable (below) down a pipe from the barn to the new greenhouse! It probably would not have been possible to do that if the temperatures had not been in the 40s, so we did luck out with this little January thaw.

We will have some greens at market this weekend, but limited quantities since last weekend was so cold!

See you at market,

-Ailish

Greens and Other Goodies

Hello everyone!

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I was so tired and out of my normal routine last Thursday I completely forgot to write a blog post. I wanted to write about our Thanksgiving feasting. Of course, many of our vegetables were featured, but we also gobbled up some delicious turkey from Apple Creek Farm in Bowdoinham. You can find them at the Brunswick Winter Market at Fort Andross as well. 

Greens, greens, greens! We hope to have a fair amount of greens up until the new year. We are limited by the cold somewhat, as well as the daylength (which means that most plants do not put on any growth between mid-November and mid-February, even if they remain alive). This week we will have sweet and tender kale, chard, spinach, and lettuce mix. 

We are experimenting this year with some fun and funky non-traditional wreaths for all your festive occasions. We will most likely have them only at the Brunswick Winter Market on Saturdays, but you can also find some at Cully's Gullies Christmas Trees just down the road from us if you miss them at the market. Ben will be down with John Cullen at Cully's Gullies selling Christmas trees every weekend in December until Christmas. 

We have made a lot of progress on the new greenhouse this - this is the one that will be heated. The kit got delivered on Monday and it's coming together really well. I'll post some pictures in next week's blog. 

I'll end with a photo from harvest this morning (below). This was after a couple hours of harvesting in the rain, and it felt like a really good sign.

See you at market!

-Ailish

'Tis the Season

Or that's what you would believe if you just listened to all the current ads. But it is almost the holiday season and the cold season, too. We are on the tail end of our storage crop harvests. Only leeks and brussels sprouts remain in the field. We have winter greens, too, that we are just beginning to get into - spinach, baby kale, baby chard. These are all under cover to protect them from the cold (and the deer!). 

Speaking of putting things under cover - it is time for the ducks to go to their winter home. Several factors have led to a new arrangement this year: we now have a lot more ducks, and they would not fit in the old duck winter house; they need electricity, for lighting, to keep up egg production through the darker days of winter; they need water frequently, especially as it gets near freezing; and we are building a new greenhouse. That means we are able to use the old greenhouse structure as a duck house this winter (see below).

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You can see that we harvested all the ginger and lemongrass that was left and removed the remaining tables and landscape fabric. We left the chickweed, however, since ducks tend to really love it. The little wooden structures are their "nesting boxes" - ducks like to lay on the ground, but they can be trained to lay in the boxes, which makes egg collection much easier.

As I mentioned before, Brussels sprouts and leeks are the only storage veggies we still have in the field, and we anticipate selling quite a bit of each over the next month. Roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon and goat cheese, potato leek soup....mmmm. Sometimes you can sneak a new dish or two to a holiday meal, and sometimes you just have to make it yourself. We have really been impressed with the pork so far, so I am looking forward to trying roasted sprouts with bacon.

Since Thanksgiving is next week, I just want to state the market schedule:
Friday 11/18 - Midcoast Winter Farmers' Market at the Topsham Fairgrounds, 11-4
Saturday 11/19 - Brunswick Winter Market at Fort Andross, 9-12:30
Tuesday 11/22 - Brunswick Farmers' Market on the Mall in Brunswick, 8-2
Wednesday 11/23 - Midcoast Winter Farmers' Market at the Topsham Fairgrounds, 9-1
            (This is special pre-Thanksgiving market so we can all enjoy the holiday better. It's great for last minute veggie needs! And Pine Tree Poultry has their turkey pick up here.)

There will be NO Midcoast Winter Farmers' Market the Friday after Thanksgiving, and we will not attend the Brunswick Winter Market on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. 

See you at market!

-Ailish

This week marks the first week of the Brunswick Winter Market at Fort Andross/Cabot Mill on Maine St. in Brunswick. We will be there Saturday from 9-12:30. From now until April, we will be at the Midcoast Winter Market in Topsham on Fridays (11-4) and Brunswick on Saturdays.

We will still be out at Brunswick Farmers' Market on the Mall in Brunswick on TUESDAYS until Thanksgiving! 

It has been confusing for us in years previous, as well, so we appreciate everyone's patience as we make the transition from summer to winter markets. Each market is run by a different organization or group of people, so they don't all sync up. But won't it be nice to be inside on Fridays and Saturdays? We are ready.

I think I might have mentioned that we put plastic on a humongous hoophouse last week? Yes, well, we filled it up already. Above you can see the crew planting some spinach, which was so happy to get in the ground. We also planted lettuce and overwintering onions (ready in June-July). Ben direct-seeded a bunch of greens like arugula and mustard. 

It was pretty exciting to get all that planting done, even though the short day-lengths between now and February mean that most of it won't do much growing between now and February. In February, though, we will have greens coming out of our ears! Below you can see the hoophouse all filled up.

The 2016 pork is in, as I believe I mentioned last week as well. Several folks caught and have been buying racks of ribs. We would love to hear how those came out, as we haven't had a chance to try them yet ourselves! 

We have tried the bacon, the country ribs, and several kinds of the sausage. We took the pigs to Herring Brothers Meats up in Guilford this year for slaughter and butchering, and we are really happy with the results! The hot sausage and chorizo have a definite kick, the breakfast sausage is mild and rich, and they cut their bacon thin, so it gets crispy quite quickly! Ben and I also tried the country ribs for dinner on Tuesday, braised in pork broth, and those turned out delectable.

Instead of continuing to tease, I shall now link back to a favorite recipe of ours from last year, for cider-brined pork roast. Brining is absolutely worth the extra effort - the meat gets meltingly tender. You can, however, feel free to substitute fresh cider for the hard stuff. It will make the dish a bit sweeter, but it is just as delicious. 

Yum!

See you at market!

-Ailish