Friday, October 29, 2010

One more thing

One of the biggest lessons I learned is that it is very difficult to document farm activities--taking pictures and video--while you're supposed to be working the farm.  Impossible, actually.  Also, to get great pictures (or video), one needs to invest in a decent camera.  One day, when I'm documenting my own farm, I will need to set aside time for such a project, or hire an intern to do it for me.  (Ruth?)

Here are the last photos of the year.  

The cranes.  This was probably the closest I got to them all year.  

Volunteers from the community move soil into the greenhouse:

Oscar is king of the dirt pile:

Making progress on the beds:

Jake places cat grass on a completed bed:

Sexy purple carrots:

The last farm stand, intern solo week:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lessons Learned

We did it!  We harvested, packed, and delivered a successful share this past week.  Many thanks to the worker shares who rocked it out and did the heavy lifting on Wednesday: Alexa, Roni, Peter, Justin, and Bob.  We couldn't have done it without you!

Now that the season has ended, what have I learned?  In some ways, I expected this year to have less of a learning curve than last year.  Last year everything was new, surely this year wouldn't be as much of a surprise, right?  Wrong!  Farming includes so many different tasks that you rarely do the same thing multiple times in a row, so you're always on a learning curve.

For example, doing the Wednesday CSA harvest was new to me, thus there were several plants that I had never even learned to harvest last year, much less pack out for delivery.  This is because some plants get harvested according to a schedule, so if you aren't working during that time, you may never get to experience that particular vegetable.  But I don't have time to go into the specifics of harvesting every last veggie on the farm.  Let's just say that I continued to learn things here.

Driving the tractor was a really new experience.  I was intimidated by it at first, but discovered despite many imposing looking levers and such, it's really a pretty simple machine that just takes a bit of getting used to.  I can't wait to pick out and purchase one of my own.

Cover crop seeding was another new task.  This one seemed easier on the surface, but in reality was a bit more difficult.  Walk/skipping through newly tilled, lumpy soil is more difficult than it looks.  And adjusting the seeder to spit out an appropriate number of seeds can be tricky.  But somehow, I even made a mistake calculating the distance between passes on the field, and ended up putting on twice as much seed as was necessary.  This made for a great thick mass of crop on certain sections of the field, but meant that I used up seed too quickly and didn't have enough to cover the rest of the farm.  Using cover crops to restore fertility to the soil is the foundation of the principles used here at Troy Farm.  This was a huge problem, one which I felt just terrible about.  Certain seeds, particularly legumes (nitrogen-fixers) are quite expensive and not easily replaced.  I'm sure Claire's patience was tested once she figured out what I had done.  But being the educator that she is, she prodded us interns to come up with alternative solutions to our seed problems, such as letting the summer cover crop die in the field to hold soil in place, or mowing and tilling at different times in order to let the previous crop's "trash" provide fertility.

One thing I did learn is that when it is your money and your land, you will be the one who loses sleep at night over what to do about your problems.  This is both comforting and alarming to me.  I can't wait to be the person in charge of my own destiny and business, but I know that it will come with added stress.  This happened another time, when I accidentally cut down the remainder of healthy mint in the herb garden.  I wasn't around for the instruction and came to the wrong conclusion about what should be done with the remaining mint in the garden.  This meant that we lost some of the herb business for wholesaling that week.  Luckily, our wholesale customers didn't drop the rest of their orders and we were able to go back to business as usual in a week or two.  But if I am not as established as a vendor as Troy is, I may not be so lucky in my own operation.

Generally, I was disappointed in myself over how many mistakes I made in my second year.  I don't remember making as many my first year, and I thought they could be prevented.  It just goes to show that every year is different, tasks change, and attention to detail must always be maintained.  If it doesn't sound quite right, check and double check!  You never know when you might take a mistake too far and are unable to fix it.

Of course, the weather provided ample learning opportunities.  The weather between the two years I worked differed immensely.  The first year was not very hot, normal insect populations, late blight developing on the tomatoes, with rains developing over the fall, and temperatures steadily dropping into October.  This year was incredibly rainy up-front, hot and muggy in July and August, with unbearable mosquito populations but not many other insects, threat of late blight (but none happened), and then mild temperatures in the fall.

Of course, this changed what we could work on and when.  For example, if it's raining hard, we cannot till the soil, which means we cannot seed or transplant.  It also makes it difficult to weed when the weeds are still manageable.  This meant that some plants weren't put into the ground on time, and that some weeds got out of control.  But it also really changes the attitude of the farmer.  Working outside this fall was incredibly pleasant.  We were a bit cold in the early morning, but usually the sun came out and we warmed up in no time.  Last year, I remember wanting nothing more than to go home and take a hot shower as soon as possible.  The nice weather makes it easier to get lots of work done, physically and mentally.

I also learned the value of 'many hands make light work.' Not that I didn't know, but having 3 extra interns this year made the work easier and meant you could switch between tasks readily if you were growing tired of one.  I was impressed more than once with our ability to do what seemed like a lot of work in a relatively short span of time.  We planted something like 5,000 tomatoes, 3,000 peppers, and 2,000 eggplant in less than 3 hours one day.  Amazing!  On the flip side, when we were down 4 workers last week during the CSA packout, we could all tell that we were going to have to hustle if we were going to get it done on time.

One last thing I learned had less to do with the farm and more to do with my personal life.  I worked 16-24 hours every week on the farm, and another 30 hours at my other job.  This was very stressful and difficult at times, especially when I was scheduled at the farm in the morning and then at my other job at night.  I learned that I don't really do well in this situation, and that my body has a hard time adjusting to waking up early if I am staying up late.

The biggest lesson I think I learned though is, no matter how much you think you know about farming, there's always more to learn.  I'm just going to keep my mind open to as many new experiences and as much new information as I can.  There's always next season!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Intern Solo Week

Well, the season is just about over!  Hard to believe.  This week, Jake and Claire gave us the reins.  The remaining interns (myself, Megan B., Laura, Jenna, Stephani, and Maria) did field tour on Monday and decided on the contents of the last share of the season (not that it was difficult... we basically took what was left!)

We ended up with a pretty nice share:  choice of squash or pie pumpkin, a head of garlic, choice of beets or carrots, choice of mustard greens, kale, or chard, 2 leeks, a bag of Brussels sprouts, a head or two of broccoli, a bunch of radishes, and a choice of herb.  The bag of Brussels sprouts is our biggest yet: 1.75 pounds!  And the bags of beets and carrots are equally impressive: 2.25 pounds!  Though I discovered from Claire yesterday that this may have been a bit TOO generous.  It leaves us very little carrots or beets for the farm stand or for our own winter use.

On Monday, we harvested and bunched leeks, harvested some broccoli, dug up the last remaining carrots and washed them, bunched all the greens, and harvested the rest of the Brussels sprouts.  On Wednesday, I harvested the remaining broccoli while the rest of the crew worked on radishes or bagging the beets, carrots, and Brussels sprouts.  Once the radishes were harvested, some of the crew came back to wash and bunch them, while the rest did the herb harvest.  I harvested a few heads of lettuce, bok choi, kohlrabi, and scallions to sell at the farm stand.  We worked hard, as we were missing 4 crew members, two of which were Claire and Jake, who count for 2 each.  It was a bit stressful, but we did it! We finished packing up everything into the cooler by 11:15, which is not bad.

Today we do the CSA delivery.  There are a bunch of us on hand, so I'm hoping that it will go pretty smoothly.  All we have left is Friday workday, where we will be doing some farm clean-up as well as breaking heads of garlic into cloves for planting next Monday.  Then the season will truly be over!  It's hard to believe so much has passed since the beginning of the season, or that we were blessed with such amazing weather our last week on the farm.  I distinctly remember the Intern Solo Week last year, and we had a cold rain throughout the entire delivery.  It was not pleasant!  This year will be much more enjoyable.

I will try to post remaining pictures soon, as well as my remaining observations about the season as a whole.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Last Official Delivery

Well, it's hard to believe, but this is the last official CSA delivery of the year.  This summer went by so quickly!  And with temperatures in the eighties, it sure doesn't seem like fall.  But the leaves are on the ground and the forecast is going to cool off a bit.  I just hope it holds out through next Thursday!  That is the 'bonus' delivery that the interns are going to deliver by themselves.  In other years, it has snowed or rained, but this year, I have hopes that it's not going to be that bad.  We'll see.

Yesterday, our field tour was short and sweet.  It's really satisfying going from section to section and seeing the few crops available for delivery, pronouncing the other sections finished and marking it for cover cropping, mowing, tilling, or other treatments before the winter.  In section 1, all that's left are leeks. We have enough to harvest them for both deliveries.  Section 2 is completely finished.   The buckwheat that was cover cropping the area over the late summer has been mowed down to decompose, to prepare for the garlic planting which will take place two Mondays from yesterday, barring weather difficulties.

Section 3 is in cover crop, Section 4 has just been planted with clover.  We are doing an experiment on that section, by using different methods to till it into the soil (tiller vs. wheel hoe), as well as putting a nurse crop of oats on some parts.

Section 5 is well cover cropped.  Section 6 still has several lingering brassicas which we will harvest this week or next: broccoli, kale of various types, chard, brussels sprouts, and cabbages which most likely won't size up in time for us to deliver.

Section 7 was just mowed down, as it contained tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers, which died in the frost we had last week.  Section 8 is part cover crop, part popcorn, which we promptly harvested to deliver to the CSA this week.

And Spillover has several crops which will be delivered if ready:  mustard greens (including arugula and mizuna), kohlrabi, radishes, spinach, lettuce mix, lettuce heads, and a little bok choi to sell at the farm stand.  There are also little patches of scallions and carrots still out there, at the bottom of section 8, I believe.  But overall you can count the crops still in the field: only 16 by my count!  Of course, we still have winter squashes, sweet potatoes, garlic, shallots, and beets to deliver in storage.

Today, we harvested herbs and kale for wholesale (like always), carrots, lettuce mix and mustard greens, spinach, and popcorn.  We shucked the popcorn and tied 3 ears together for a festive fall display.  CSA members can hang the popcorn in their homes for decoration while it continues to dry.  In a month or two, the ears can be shelled and there will be popcorn to eat!

Our last job today was stringing ristras.  What are those?  They are strings of very small, hot red peppers that are also used as decoration.  Once they dry, they can be crushed and used as you would red pepper flakes, to spice things up a bit.  Another great reminder of how the CSA share can be used throughout the year.

Let's hope the good weather holds out!  Only 10 more days to go!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fall harvest photos

Fall on the farm means new cool weather crops, digging up storage crops, and mowing down fields that are no longer in use.

Here, Richard and Laura harvest mustard greens:
Justin and Bob help out:
Megan harvests bok choi while Jenna does the heavy lifting:
Laura and Roni cut down rows of gorgeous bok choi:
Richard and Roni clear sweet potato vines:
Jenna and Bob dig up sweet potatoes:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Vandals! and Richard visits

In the last 2 weeks, Troy has been vandalized 3 times.  The first time, the shed door was taken off its hinges, and several items were stolen: a digital camera, a toolbox with general tools, and another toolbox, with tools for the beehives.  The last item was particularly disturbing, as those items are very important to Troy, but not of much use to anyone else, unless they are doing some beekeeping.

Next, someone smashed a glass water bottle to pieces directly on the picnic bench where we eat lunch.  Unfortunately, the glass shattered into tiny bits which scattered.  Hopefully, we successfully removed them all.

Then, last week, someone "borrowed" our cart to haul pumpkins out of the field.  We have lots of pumpkins, but it seems that someone thinks that just because the field is unguarded that it's OK to help themselves to whatever they want.

On a better note, we had a kick-ass share this week.  My longtime friend Richard Cordova, who was visiting from Chicago, helped us bring in the harvest on Wednesday.  We bunched fresh mustard greens, arugula, and mizuna, harvested bok choi, selected herbs, and dug up sweet potatoes for curing.  The greens and bok choi in particular were some of the best Troy has grown.  Very tasty straight out of the field!  Photos coming soon.

Here are some selected fall photos from the past few weeks.
Pumpkins, acorn squash, and butternut, harvested and ready for delivery:
Popcorn, ready to be harvested:
Claire and Jake working the farmstand:
Sierra monitoring the CSA member pickup:
Fall broccoli, nearly harvestable:
Red and green mizuna in the sunlight:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Picking apples and hauling rocks

Last Monday, it definitely felt like the beginning of fall on the farm.  The mornings were dark and chilly, and the lack of interns made some parts of the day feel empty.  But fall weather brings new and different activities.  Some of these may be a little drudgery, but just the switch from weeding is welcome.

Some of these activities are sheer pleasure, like picking apples.  Mendota Mental Health Institute has a small orchard, and Troy has been charged with upkeep, most of which is done by community gardeners.  In years when there is a bumper crop, Troy gets to reap the benefits.  So we went over with ladders and buckets and picked a couple hundred pounds of apples.  It was warm and breezy and it was fun to climb high in the trees.  Most of the apples were perfect, with really very few worm holes.  Last year was not a bumper crop, so this was a new activity for me.

We finished our harvest quota for Monday pretty early, so we spent a large part of the afternoon hauling rocks from a pile in the parking lot to the floor of the greenhouse.  The rocks will hold pipes in place under the soil.  The pipes carry warm air from the ceiling down to the ground.  Once we got a layer of rocks in, we sifted soil from another big pile onto the rocks to create the first layer of soil.  Next goes a layer of compost, and finally another layer of soil mixed with compost.  This is a very long, slow process.  It takes 2 people 2 hours to get one layer in one section down.  At 3 layers per section and something like 22 sections, it's going to take a while.  So Claire has designated Saturday, October 2nd, from 9-3, as a volunteer day to try to make some headway with this project.

The other sign that summer is over is the tomatoes.  We harvested the last of them--green and red--for the share this week.  The trellis will be coming down shortly.