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

Wild and Crazy Weather

Hot. Cold. Sunny. Snowing. It's run the gamut over the past week and it seems as though this weekend will be no different. On Thursday afternoon it was bright and sunny, but in the morning we had periods of snow (see below)! You can also see that we've had days warm enough that we've begun to rut up our gravel road. Mud season is almost upon us. And yet it might be 1F on Saturday night! 

Inside the greenhouse however, temperatures are more stable, and the seeds we started a couple of weeks ago have germinated and are getting growing! You can also see some lines of green near the back of the greenhouse - there are some young mustard greens, lettuce, and arugula in those beds back there. This is part of the reason we set up the greenhouse as we did. We are planning to harvest those greens in the back by the time we need to put tables over those beds and fill them up with seedlings. Then, in July, after the big seedling push is over, we will be able to take the tables away, and we can grow some hot season crops like lemongrass, ginger, or tomatoes in those beds.

The ducks don't mind the snow or cold weather. We moved them onto some new ground on Wednesday, and they were pretty excited. We were pretty excited that we managed to keep the fence upright. Even though it was warm Wednesday, the ground is still frozen about an inch down, so getting the fence in the ground was a real challenge. There's actually a part of the fence you can't see in the picture below that's being propped up by a kayak. 

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The ducks were extra excited to get some gnarly arugula that we are clearing out to make way for new plants. They are very ready for all the green stuff that comes with spring. And so are we.

Speaking of spring, and new things growing, we will be raising meat ducks again this year - please talk to us at market this weekend if you are interested in reserving a bird or two. Currently we are planning on doing about 50 birds in July. 

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

Plugging Away

Ben has been holding down the fort this week, as I have been getting through and over a massive head cold. One of our employees also got the cold, so we really have been short-handed this week. Ben has been getting some stuff done around the barn - he and Nick have been modifying the wash station so it's easier to use - and he has done all the harvest and washing and packing. Three cheers for Ben!

I haven't been completely idle, though. Our goal was to get our seed order in this week before Ben goes on his vacation next week and I go on my vacation the week after he gets back. We have been cranking away, updating our spreadsheets with this years' dates, how much we want to grow of what, and which varieties we want to grow.

It's time-consuming, and makes my eyes swim a bit, but having these spreadsheets completed and the seed order in will set us up for a much easier season than if we were making these decisions every time we planted something! It also makes it a lot easier for us to delegate seeding tasks, for example, to our employees. Really, these spreadsheets keepthe farm running smoothly.

Ben will be at market tomorrow - stop by and wish him a fun vacation! And I will be at market Saturday.

See you then!

-Ailish

Sun and Snow

This week saw some more snow, but, for us, not an unmanageable or overwhelming amount. We got a little over an inch, and it wasn't too wet or heavy. The ducks, as you can see below, were quite happy to have the fresh snow and bask in the sun today.

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We have had some time this week to do some cleaning up and rearranging in the barn. We are evaluating how we use the space we need for our vegetable washing, packing, and storage, as well as duck egg washing and packing, and supply storage. As different enterprises grow or change seasonally, we often see ways in which we could improve the layout and flow of how we are currently doing things in the barn. 

We also have a chance to just plain old clean up things that got away from us in the fall. You can see Sophie below trying to put away some chains that were out in the yard from a delivery in the fall. (They were a little heavy and unruly. In the end we split the load.) We use chains like this for securing pallets and even the tractor to a big trailer we use, mostly to ferry things between our field in Bowdoinham and the home farm in Topsham. 

This week we are going to have more sweet winter greens, but again, they will go quickly! We will also be having a sale on smoked ham steaks - $1/lb off, making them $9.95/lb. Ham steaks are quick to thaw and quick to cook, and we really like the brine and smokiness of these steaks cut by the butchers at Herring Brothers Meats. Our ham steaks will also be featured in a sandwich tomorrow from the Market Cafe at Midcoast Winter Market tomorrow (Friday, at the Topsham Fairgrounds).

See you at market!

-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

New Year, New Growth

Get your greens while they're thawed! This past week was fairly warm, which is great for the greens - we actually saw some growth over the past few weeks, and there was a good percentage of greens without frost damage, which is always the goal. Yay! We will have spinach, lettuce mix, and a limited amount of baby mustard greens at market this weekend. First come, first serve!

This meal came courtesy of Midcoast Winter Farmers' Market - the greens and potatoes are from us, the rabbit from Lipovsky Gardens, and (not pictured) we had some toast from the Farmer's Daughter and a slice of cake from Paula C's. I must, however, admit that the wine and the cream that the rabbit was cooked in came via Morning Glory, but we find it fun and challenging to make meals from what we get at market.

We are now entering the office phase of farming. That phase doesn't get much attention, but it does make the outdoor phase possible. We are reviewing everything that we did in 2016 and making field, and crop, and greenhouse plans for 2017. Soon we will need to order our seeds and supplies so we can get a start on the upcoming season - we will start seedlings in the greenhouse in late February!

Ben is showing off some nachos made with pulled pork and greens and tomatillo salsa from us, beans from Fairwinds Farm, and organic nacho chips. Tomorrow, January 6, is National Bean Day! We highly recommend that you eat your beans! (Especially with some smoked ham hocks or pulled pork.)

See you at market!

-Ailish