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

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

Flying Colors

Spring is quickly flowing into summer. We have been busier than we can think about; our to-do lists are multiple pages long. Fortunately, we have a new employee starting next week, and we have some likely prospects for more help in the near future as well.

In the meantime, we and the crew are doing the best we can to stay on top of everything and bring you fresh, tasty produce every week. This week, aside from harvesting and transplanting, we have spent a lot of time pruning and trellising tomatoes. The reason we do it is to channel the plants' energy into producing more fruit faster. How we do it is: we cut off "suckers," which are the stems that grow in the little crotch about every non-fruiting branch, and leave only the main stem, which we call a leader. 

Each of those suckers can grow into a main stem, which is a lot of extra leaf matter drawing energy away from the fruit on the leader. When we prune the suckers off, we force the plant to direct its energy into the leader and into the fruits already growing on it. And yes! We have fruit already! Here are some golf-ball sized heirlooms (that will grow to be bigger than baseballs):

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Edible flowers are starting up again this week. We are easing in with violets and pansies, and we will soon have marigolds, calendula, bachelor's buttons, and more! Sprinkle them on salads, decorate cakes and cupcakes, even infuse some vodka (I am trying out some violet-infused vodka right now!). 

See you at market!

-Ailish

Cranking Away

First of all, apologies to you loyal blog followers! I paused the automatic newsletter (I use Mailchimp) to change a setting, and forgot to unpause it last Thursday! So with hope you'll get this week's and last week's blog today!

We are cranking away on sunny day tasks like weeding and preparing beds for planting and trying to find a little bit of moisture where we can for rainy day ones like transplanting. Thursday turned out to be a good day for transplanting for two reasons - one: it was cloudy in the afternoon, and two: Ben figured out how to attach a pump to a water tote so we can drive behind the transplanting and water those poor plants in! You can see in the picture (from Monday) below that the soil is pretty dry on the surface. Fortunately, between the watering-in and the soil moisture a few inches down, the onions should be fine. 

Some of you who have been to the market in the last week may have noticed that we have sneaked a few new spring veggies into our market offerings: asparagus and green garlic! The asparagus started in a trickle and seems to be picking up a bit now, but still come earlier if you want to be sure to get some. The green garlic are young garlic plants, and you can use the white/light green stems just like leeks or scallions. They are a great interim form of garlic, between all our winter garlic that has sprouted and before the garlic scapes arrive in June.

It is also seedling season! We have an assortment of common vegetables, herbs, and some edible flowers. Starting this week we will be bringing the tomatoes in full force. Next week, eggplant, peppers, and the squash family will follow! Happy gardening!

See you at market!

-Ailish

May Showers bring Seedlings and Greens

We didn't really get our "April showers" - but we are catching up this week with May showers! This has been a great week for transplanting - it has not been too hot or sunny, so the plants don't wilt while they wait to go in the ground, and they have gotten rained on pretty much every night, so they get plenty to drink after they are in the ground. 

We have all of our high tunnel tomatoes planted - 850 of them! (We are going to also plant about 100 paste tomato plants outside, unprotected, once the nights are consistently 50F or above). We had to commandeer the market truck for field use in order to transport all of the tomato seedlings back to the field (bottom right photo). We filled up the two 'Rolling Thunders' (the higher tunnels to the right in the top photo) and the middle beds of the three farther caterpillar tunnels (to the left in the top photo).

And in other news, the DUCKLINGS ARE HERE! Yes, 175 fuzzy, adorable baby ducks are now cheeping away in their makeshift sauna in what is the (adult) ducks' winter house. They need an air temperature of about 90 F to survive when they are so small. They arrived on Wednesday, from Metzer Farms in California, just one or two days old! Laura picked them up at the post office first thing Wednesday morning. We are increasing the laying flock with 150 new Golden 300 ducks, and we are also trying out meat birds, with 25 Pekins. We will keep you posted on that! This glamour shot is of a little Pekin. The Pekins are yellow and the Golden 300s are brown, so it is easy to tell them apart!

This week's featured recipe is a Nettle Frittata. Ben made it for us for lunch Thursday. Yum! 

We will have pork, duck eggs, herbs, spinach, lettuce, nettles, seedlings and MORE at market this week! Wow, it must be spring! And those markets are - the Brunswick Farmers' Market on the Mall in Brunswick (Tuesday and) Friday 8-2 and Crystal Spring Farmers' Market, Crystal Spring Farm on Pleasant Hill Rd, Saturday, 8:30-12:30!

See you at market!

-Ailish

Working like Busy Worker Bees

What a good week for working outside!

The sun was hot and the weeds wilted promptly. We have pretty much divided our time equally between greenhouse and various weeding, composting and mulching tasks. We had to set up a second mini tunnel inside our unheated hoophouse up front to make room for potting up tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings.

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We are also making good progress on the weeding and mulching - we are hoping to finish up mulching the raspberries tomorrow! You can see Ben and the crew working on that project below.

The raspberries will have to wait until after transplanting, however. It's supposed to rain tomorrow afternoon, which makes tomorrow morning the perfect time to transplant. We harden off seedlings in the unheated hoophouse by exposing them to more wind and cold, but they can still get transplant shock when they go out in the field. Usually, this would be because they did not get enough water after transplanting, the wind in the field was too strong, or the soil or air temperatures were too cold.

We are back to recipes this week after a little hiatus! That busy-ness does sneak up on you... This week it is Spinach and Meatball Soup, with notes about vegetarian and gluten-free options!

Starting this week we will have some herbs! Yay! Tarragon and oregano this week, and with hope that selection will continue to grow as the weather warms.

We are still having our great Pork Box Sale! Check it out!

See you at market,

-Ailish

First sunburn of spring

Is anyone else sunburned yet? We are.

We seem to be entering a nice stretch of warm, sunny weather - it will dry out the fields so we can get in and start preparing them and planting in them. It is also great weather to pull out the first crop of spring weeds and let them dehydrate in the sunlight. We have been able to get plastic laced onto two of our three-season high tunnels so far, and we have two left to do. These seasonal high tunnels are the destinations for all the tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings currently crowding up the greenhouse - all those tall pots in the distance in the photo are one nightshade or other. We need to make room for four times that many pots starting next week!

We also use our two year-round high tunnels for tomatoes in the summer. Those are a particular high tunnel set up that rolls on a pipe track, so we can move it to different sections of field and get many uses out of it. Right now, one of those is covering all of our winter spinach, and the other is covering some early onions and spring spinach and lettuce (see below).

We are having a great PORK SALE starting this week. We have done this before - it is a $250 box of pork cuts for $200! In fact, we will give you 20% any assortment of $250 or more. And if you want to customize the cuts - contact us at whatleyfarm@gmail.com!

See you at market!

-Ailish

Weather or Not

My grandmother likes to say, Well, we'll have weather whether or not, won't we? She's right, of course, and this was a good week to prove it!

First, the cold and even a bit of snow - we were worried about our garlic, because it is about four inches high already! Fortunately, there seems to have been only minor frost damage. 

Also, by Tuesday morning, we had filled all available table space in the greenhouse with seedlings, and we still had more tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant to pot up. We had to make a sacrifice. We decided to give up on some of the early greens in the unheated high tunnel next to the greenhouse. We covered them with landscape fabric and laid pallets down on top of that. Then we moved all of our onions and some of this weeks transplants (spinach and lettuce) on the pallets, and covered them with what is known as a "low tunnel". That is basically a small hoop structure (about three feet high) covered with plastic. Then we ran an extension cord to a space heater inside the low tunnel, and, presto! A mini greenhouse inside a high tunnel!

We will again have a SUPER SPINACH SALE this weekend at the Topsham and Brunswick markets! For those of you who are cooking for several people or who, like us, just like to eat a lot of spinach, we will be selling some one-pound bulk bags of spinach for $12/pound!

See you at market!

-Ailish