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Photos!

 Finally! A few quick snapshots to get you filled in.

The Farmhouse

Big barn and pig pasture

Our view of Laraway to the East

Gardens! Greens, Broccoli, Radishes, Flowers, Peppers

Corn and Squash Garden

Bachelor Buttons

Onions, Leeks and Shallots

Cherry Tomatoes just barely getting started!

The door to the chicken coop…

Our view of Mt. Mansfield to the South

The Pond.

Ishmael and Ophelia, with plenty to eat.

 More to come…

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The Older Woman

These few days each June are special. I turned twenty-six on Sunday, and Jacob will be twenty-five tomorrow. We get to celebrate for days on end, and for three days I get to be two years older than Jacob. This morning he is at work and I am plotting surprises for tomorrow. There are souvenirs from Sunday’s party on Lake Champlain throughout the kitchen: half of a mocha-chocolate cake, barbecued chicken in the fridge, a (new to me) antique pitcher full of fresh daisies on the table, and a finally exhausted, gray-bearded dog napping on the cool floor.

Outside the house, a good day on the farm is under way. Here are the 11 am observations for Tuesday, June 19 (thank you NOAA):

The cows are taking a siesta. Avery and I walked out to check on their water, and I spotted them lounging in the shade of the big Maples that line their new pasture, chewing in the breeze.

The pigs are poky, pushy, fat, hungry, thirsty, and scabby. They’re busy pulling weeds for us in the corral outside the barn, cleaning up that patch of woebegone pasture where the cows spent their winter days.

Laundry is drying on the line.

Zucchini and yellow squash are making a miraculous recovery from last week’s onslaught of slugs, and are setting out new leaves and bright orange flowers.

Our first planting of beets is recovering- not miraculously, but recovering, nonetheless- from….we’re not sure what. Poor germination? Soil compaction? Flea beetles? They’ve been babied these past few weeks with lots of watering, fertilizer, and row cover, and they’re finally coming around.

There are 1/8th-inch-long sugar snap peas peeking out!

Our forty meat birds (round, yellow fluff-balls, rather) and nine chicks are eating and drinking and bickering under their heat lamp.

The meadow is soaking up warmth, and smells like sweet clover.

The corn is planted, the potatoes are leggy, and the second round of greens is coming on strong.

It is a good week for birthdays.

Our debut at the Essex Farmer’s Market on Friday was a success! Before the sun got too hot, we picked bushels of spinach and baby greens and made a mess of the kitchen washing, drying, and bagging them. While they cooled in the refrigerator, we played an interesting game of Tetris trying to fit tables, tent, coolers, boxes, baskets, scale and four flats of teenaged tomatoes and peppers into the back of the car. At the greenhouse, we picked carrots, beets, scallions and head lettuce, then rushed to get everything into shade and cold water before it went completely limp. The sky clouded up as we drove into town, and we hustled to unpack and set up our little green tent in Spot Number 22. I was nervous: had we brought enough? Were the kale bunches, the heads of lettuce, and the beet greens going to look like wet towels? Would people think our prices were fair? We filled our one modest table with dark greens, oranges, and reds, and by 7:30 had sold almost everything. In the meantime, we were able to trade for jam, fresh bread, and sweet potato salad, visit with family and friends who’d stopped by to see us, and share a six-inch tall Old Smoky from the local deli and a cone of Coffee Chip ice cream, homemade by the folks across the way.

In animal news, the piglets are here! We picked them up three weeks ago in Cabot. I have never seen such tantrums from animals. Pigs are supposedly very smart, though, and I’m not surprised that they were displeased at being nabbed, carried by their back legs with arms hanging to the ground, and stuffed four deep into a crate built for a medium-sized dog. They screamed and bawled and panted, and we rolled down the windows and turned up the music. All the way home, I wondered how, and why, and when, our conversation about growing vegetables on our own had turned into an attempt to also raise cows, hens, piglets, and the meat birds that are scheduled to arrive any day.

But people are eager for good food. Jacob already has takers, months out, for our pork and chicken. Market-goers on Friday were thrilled by locally-grown carrots on June 1st. So while raising animals is a much more overwhelming endeavor than tomatoes and kale, I keep telling myself that it will be just as valuable to us and to whomever we can feed. “Expensive pets,” Jacob reminds me whenever I threaten to chicken out of eating Ishmael, or our little piggies, when the time comes…

Between dinner shifts last weekend, I squeezed in the most beautiful morning adventure.

Our dear friend Grant was here for a surprise visit, and we woke up Sunday to one of the best spring days yet. At the picnic table over eggs and bacon, we talked about what we might be able to accomplish before I had to leave for work. Prepare a space in the barn for the four piglets that are on their way… plant more greens… install our deer/chicken/dog fence around the garden… or, we could take a walk in the woods and climb up that mountain we’ve been staring at all winter.

We went out empty-handed in jeans, the gray-bearded dog charging ahead. The forest was familiar up to the first mounded ridge and over the first two stream crossings and the rusted truck morphing into the ground. It was familiar to the foot of the hill, where the earth first begins to swell up in a young stand of hardwoods and where we had turned around on our cross-country skis this winter. Past that, we began our ascent of uncharted territory.

We found ourselves scrambling through long-since fallen and moss-covered boulders, and post-holing into piles of bouncy detritus. Grant and Jacob slung jokes about leadership and safety, mocking the ultra-deliberate style of adventure  which we had happily abandoned today.

“You bring your compass, Jacob?”

“Alright, let’s stop and discuss risk management here.”

They climbed up eagerly and without hesitation, Jacob nearly running in his ecstatic, boyish delight at being out in the woods, Grant as if he were on a rock wall, delicately placing his feet and hands, making it work in sneakers and black denim. I moved clumsily, clinging with sweaty hands to anything solidly adhered to what I perceived as a perilous cliff. Avery panted and clambered straight up, muscles rippling, crazed by the anti-histamine steroids she’s been having every day at breakfast. At one particularly bleak move, I secretly prayed that I would be able to use her as an excuse to turn around, but she took one look and powered upward, arms outstretched, a veritable Yvon Chouniard. So I took her advice and continued, stepping, reaching, and shifting my weight carefully.

By the time we reached the top, and found that it was in fact a false top, it was past time to turn around. A warm breeze ran through the band of hardwoods we’d landed in and we stood to catch our breath and peek through the trees at the surrounding hills.

Our descent took us south through the freshly budding branches, past a modest wall that we had to stop and inspect for the potential for top-roping, and along a drainage that quickly dropped into a narrow, rocky gorge. We tumbled down around it, through “ankle-breaking territory” and finally back to the old logging road. At the second stream-crossing, all four of us stripped down and dipped into the one sunlit pool deep enough to sink our bodies into: the first true taste of summertime, the cold, shocking welcome of the outside world.

On our giddy lumber back to the house, I felt a new excitement about this place. I thought of John Muir and his philosophy about the importance of expanding perspectives. He wrote that, “all that is necessary to make any landscape visible and therefore impressive is to regard it from a new point of view…Then we behold a new heaven and earth and are born again, as if we had gone on a pilgrimage to some far-off holy land and had become new creatures…”

I felt just like that on Sunday morning. I felt born again, rejuvenated by the simple pleasure of this piece of land. Grant and Jacob and I had gone on a sort of pilgrimage, had had a sort of baptism in our proud little river.

I feel differently about this farm now that I know it a bit better. It was good to just enjoy it for a day.

Update!

There are new, wide cobwebs in the barn this morning that remind me of Charlotte’s Web. It’s a beautiful spring day, bright green and rainy, and just damp enough to want a fire in the woodstove.

We were happy to see the rain this weekend! As the clouds crept up and over Mt. Mansfield on Saturday morning, we hurried to build a few small beds in the garden and plant beets and peas. The soil has been dusty and dry, and the spinach we put in a week ago has been patiently awaiting a watering. On Thursday we borrowed the tractor and tilled the three plots we’d prepared in late fall, plus a new, fourth garden that will be a good place for corn and squash. We think it all looks great, and unfortunately so do the chickens… before we plant too much more, we’ll have to set up some fencing.

Our plants in the greenhouse have been transformed by last week’s sunshine. We’ve moved all of the tomatoes, and almost all of the peppers, into bigger pots so their roots will have more space in the weeks before they are planted outside. This weekend Jacob trimmed the onions back so that they’ll grow wider as well as taller. I planted the first round of flowers, which presented some logistical challenges: some require a temperature of fifty-five degrees to germinate while others require eighty-five degrees; the larkspur needs a chill period of thirty-five degrees and darkness for seven days (a requirement met, I found out with relief, by storing our seeds in the refrigerator).

We are pleased to announce that we have our first CSA member! Jacob says that the only thing worse than having no members might be having just one, but I have faith that we’ll find our five. We have a spot in the Essex Farmer’s Market, which begins in just under six weeks. We’re hoping to have spinach, salad greens, lettuce, beets, carrots, kale and chard by then. We’ll also need to create a display, so we’re scavenging for folding tables and some form of shade tent, and designing shelving and signs.

From the bookkeeping desk… we recently acquired our Tax ID number and are ready to start a bank account for the farm. This is great- it will allow us to separate farm money from our own, and force us to keep finances organized and keep track of all expenses, from potting soil and grain to seeds and farmer’s market fees. This is perhaps the most intimidating part of the whole project for me- paperwork, finances, rules and regulations – and luckily we have some great resources to guide us, including family (some of whom practice law and find excellent tidbits for us such as Anne Higby’s “Legal Structure of the Farm Business,”  which is basically a step-by-step for the beginner), the VT Agency of Agriculture and NOFA. Next up is to find the insurance we’ll need for the farmer’s market…

Jacob will start his new schedule at High Mowing next week, squeezing forty hours into four days, and will have a three-day weekend to work here. I’ll also be reducing my work load to three nights at the Bee’s Knees, and plan to spend my days in the garden. Hope it rains just enough but not too much!

P.S. I know I need to post pictures. They’re coming.

 

 

 

 

 

Digging In

I’ve been feeling nervous lately. Our list-making has turned into check-writing and seed-planting. Our garlic has pushed up through the mulch and is looking around. After a week of summer and then nights in the single digits, we’ve been shuffling our fragile plant starts between greenhouse and back living room. We have two months until our first market. It appears as though this thing is happening.

I’m nervous because although we’ve been here for four months, it’s just now settling in that we’ll see seasons change here; we’ll put seeds in the ground and care for them through fruition here; we’ve got a commitment to this little piece of earth that is just becoming tangible. This is one of my internal dilemmas: I long to settle in, and I long for a little piece of earth to take care of; simultaneously, I long for change and adventure- all my life I’ve been too easily bored. And so it’s the work that’s scary but also the being here, the chores morning and night, the staying here.

My best friend came to visit last weekend. She showed up late Friday night, her long brown hair dyed red at the tips. She came into the house laughing, which is what she does for my soul. Out of her shoulder bag emerged a pound of fresh coffee, music, a new cookbook, and then a pineapple, which cracked her up. “I bought this at Trader Joe’s!” – the absurdity of which cracked her up again. April is my reminder of real life. She can worship farm fresh eggs as well as the next guy, then waltz into my living room with her spandex and boots and her spiky Chiquita pineapple.

April lives in Portland, Maine. I told her that if I had a city life right now hers would be it: funky apartment littered with art projects, a job at a corner bakery with butcher blocks and massive windows, bars and dance parties and friends with dogs who chase kids on the beach. When she came here, she told me that the city isn’t right for her right now, that if she had a country life mine would be it. She told me over coffee, eggs and toast, and a glass of champagne, “I know you know how much you have…how lucky you are…but Katie, I would do this in a second if I had someone to do it with.”

It is sometimes lonely here. I sometimes feel that I should be in a city, or at least a town, with people my age. I sometimes fear that I’m too young to be out here in the quiet with the barn and the record player and the gray-bearded dog. I sometimes regret turning down an opportunity to go backpacking in Montana for three weeks this summer.

This spring is about digging in. It is for doing the things that I have talked about and dreamed about. It is for understanding the choice I’ve made to move my life here and grow food from the ground. It is not forever; we are borrowing and exploring. This season is about knowing what I have and taking care of it.

Germination

Decision-making is not my strength. I will spend twenty minutes in the aisle of a grocery store staring at butter, because I am not only imagining the perfect chocolate chip cookie but weighing out price, organic or conventional, salted or unsalted… and can that wholesome cow on the label confirm that I am making the correct choice?

And so, our spring projects have stretched on, week after week, while Jacob patiently waits for me to make up my mind: What are we going to call this whole project, anyway? How should we market our products? Which varieties of seeds should we order? When should we plant our onions? How many piglets should we buy? Should our logo be oriented vertically or horizontally? How much should we charge for our CSA shares?

These discussions are constantly evolving. They require energy: After eight pm, I am typically unable to focus on the High Mowing Seeds catalogue to decide between the bolt resistant- Renegade spinach versus the downy mildew resistant- Corvair spinach. They call on experience: We’ll need to calculate the number of feet of row cover we need based on the row feet of our most vulnerable crops. They take time: we made a final decision about our farm name probably half a dozen times, each of which I sat with overnight and then discarded.

Today is March 8. We have applied to the Westford and Essex Farmer’s Markets. Jacob has organized a four-page seed order. We have located piglets that will be ready to bring home the third week of April. We have sent our paperwork to the Vermont Secretary of State for the farm to become a Limited Liability Company. We have started 3,000 onion seeds – 1200 Walla Walla sweet onions, 1200 Cortland and 600 Red Wing – in the germinator, and they are now spiking their way up through the soil. We have prepared beds in the greenhouse to start spinach, carrots and beets to be ready by June 1. We can be reached at humblerainfarm@gmail.com.