California-style farming...or is it?

Hello folks,

All the talk among the farmers on the Maine listserves this week has been about drought and whether we should get used to a more Mediterranean, or California-style farming...the last 2 summer have been dry and so far we haven't had more than 1/2" of rain, all spring! Irrigation is the name of the game, and I'm starting to believe that Maine is now like much of the rest of the country, where the motto is, "If you can't irrigate it, don't plant it." We used to be able to rely on spring rains to establish crops, and many things grew without irrigation...we're adjusting!


Here Kate, Abram and Emma are putting down woven ground covers, which have drip irrigation buried under them and holes burned out for peppers and tomatoes. Maximum moisture conservation, and weed suppression! Here's a pic of some we put down in our bigger tomatoes:


Of course, we're making it rain where we can! And these healthy seedlings which we're bringing to market are ready to go. New things and fresh rounds of tomato plants every week. 

Husk Cherries are going in the ground tomorrow while I'm at market, and lots of seeding! Always something going on around the farm.



Get your garden in!

Howdy friends,

Well I believe the story of the week is that you wanna down to farmers market and get you some of these Super Jumbo tomato plants:


Not only are they nice and stout now, they've got room to grow in the Extra-Deep 4" pot. We upgraded this year to these pots for tomatoes, and it's made all the difference. These plants will hit the ground running!

Here's a look at some of our tomatoes, which we just started clipping to the trellis twine today:


It's dry out there, so do us a favor and pray for rain whenever it's convenient for you! We don't care what days it comes on, as long as it rolls in eventually...just can't get used to these dry springs, and summers...the talk on the farmer listserves is all about Maine-Mediterranean farming, or California dry farming. It's a new paradigm for lots of us here in Maine, who are used to getting rain in the spring.

Enjoy the holiday weekend, and don't forget we're bringing a veritable garden center to the Brunswick Farmers Markets, Friday 8-2 downtown and Saturday 8:30-12:30 at Crystal Spring Farm!



The Rolling Thunder Review...

Tomatoes, we're Rolling in! This was our crew, just a few hours ago...rolling the 2 tomato tunnels into position over a no-till (tarped) field section. We'll be planting Monday!


We've been planting all we can, including this rhubarb:


I thought it was a pretty impressive worm, I featured it alongside a 6" plant tag.

It's Spring Fever around the Whatley Farm, with never a dull moment as we try to fit in tractor work where it's dry enough to do it, planting where we can, weeding where we must, and eating perennials which never disappoint...Chives, Sorrel, Tarragon, Thyme, Mint, Dandelion, and...Stinging Nettles! This week we will have some at market, so don't miss it!

Meanwhile, we've been tending to the garlic, and I tell you it's looking good so far:


We weed it, we feed it, and it if it knows that it only has until June 22nd to grow. The day after the summer solstice, I imagine garlic wakes up and says, "Huh, that sunrise was a little later than yesterday...I better start storing my energy in this bulb in case this keeps up." It's a race to the solstice! So far our pace is good.

-Ben, family and farm crew

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:


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:


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:


Take care and welcome a little May into your life!


10 Little Red Pigs...

Howdy folks,

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


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.



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 , 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


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):


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):


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:


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

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


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 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:


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:


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!


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:


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:


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:


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):


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) 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.



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!