Baby arrowhead cabbages in the greenhouse.
One of the advantages of NOT doing year-round markets (and the year-round growing that goes with them) is that the end of one season, and the beginning of the next, are much more crisp, defined events. Like the first ambitious shoots of garlic poking up through the straw, these baby cabbages get us excited for the big breath of life that says SPRING.
You can believe what you will about global warming, but global everything-is-going-to-heck is an inarguable fact. We didn't have our first frost til late October--then it snowed 5 inches--then it basically didn't snow all winter, until March, when it snowed another 5 inches... and now two weeks later it's EIGHTY? I'm not complaining--we're blessed with a great spring-fed pond to irrigate with and strong silt loam soils that don't mind a little warm, dry weather. Like every other farmer I've talked to, though, I can't help but feel a little unsettled... what does this MEAN?
Regardless of what it means: We'll take it! This time last year we were still buried under snow, and we hadn't even gotten the materials together to build our greenhouse, nevermind have it full of plants... now we've got our upper field plowed, the garlic's up and looking happy, the greenhouse is filling up with hopeful little sprouts, and things feel good. Amazingly, even the flats down by the river seem nearly dry enough to work--though we'll do some investigation with a shovel before we actually take equipment down there. Those soils have a lot of potential, but handled wet I think they also have a lot of potential to really be unpleasant.
A section of our upper field, with a plowed down cover crop of oats and peas. The oats and peas help strengthen and protect the soil over the winter, and soon they'll be broken down by the soil life and help to fertilize our spring crops.
All this springtime has really lit a fire under our butts to get the projects done... not that we have any more time to do it. We're gathering CSA members for the best CSA in the capital region (share still available!) and tackling projects and maintenance with abandon. One of the projects has been to patch the hole in the back of the van--this is usually covered with metal and carpet, so the veggies are nice and safe, but I'd like a more permanent solution, so I'm trying to patch it properly. All part of the fun of starting a farm:
I'm pretty sure Ford didn't build it this way. Darn salt.
Along with the winter salt, some enterprising rodents around here have been active over the winter. As we unpack things from their winter resting places, we're sometimes greeted with unpleasant reminders that we're not the only tenants of this ground. And just like in your kitchen, they don't just eat a piece of bread and be done with it, they chew the corner of every slice in the bag. This is a good hundred feet of layflat irrigation hose that's junk now. It's enough to drive a man mad.
We've also finally gotten our act together enough to register the farm with WWOOF, an international organization that coordinates volunteer workers on organic farms. Volunteers come live and work with us, and in exchange for a half day of work each day, they get room, board, fresh air, fulfilling work, and the opportunity to learn something about how we run our farm. We're already getting inquiries and are excited by the prospect of having both some help, and also some unusual company around. Some of our first contact through WWOOF are three Taiwanese girls who plan to come in July. Can't wait!
...since we're hoping to make our farm as welcoming to volunteers as possible, we also figured we ought to get some boats. After all, a volunteer or WWOOFer has to do SOMETHING with all that time he or she isn't working! So along with my never-ending list of farm needs, I've been searching craigslist for a kayak and a canoe. Today I drove Chucho down to Ulster County and picked up both at once, for a pretty good price! Even though we're already bewilderingly behind on our to-do lists, Cara and Tucker and I made some time to go out on the river before dusk today. The river's half full of water from the fields drying out, but it's a very gentle, slow full. It was a really nice moment to reflect on how lucky we are to live such a great life, in such a beautiful place with this strong farm to care for. Sure, we work like dogs, but we like our life, too... and now there's BOATS!
It's a little weird that it's mid-March and we're out in a canoe, but this was every bit as wonderful as it looks.
I just typed this whole blog post, and our website host somehow hiccuped and lost it. It's a common theme in starting a farm--you do your best to get something done, maybe even finish it, then something outside your control happens and you basically redo the whole endeavor. Hopefully you're more efficient the second time around, learn a few things, and get better results. In the end, you either give up in frustration, or achieve a nicely-running and efficient farm! So here we go again:
First and most important: CSA SHARES ARE STILL AVAILABLE
! Spring is here and CSA's are filling up, but Quincy Farm still has a few openings and we'd love to have you as part of the farm! Click the Where to Find Our Veggies tab at left for more information. If you've already signed up--Thanks!!!! If you know a neighbor, friend, or relative in Ballston Spa who wants to enjoy super high quality veggies while supporting a great small farm, hound them into joining!
Now, onto the bloggy part:
They say March is in like a lion... must be a snow lion. After nothing more than a very occasional dusting of snow all winter, we woke up March 1st to nearly 6" of dense, wet snow blanketing everything. At least we got to use that snowblower I bought on Craigslist last fall.
Tucker, the dog, LOVES snow. He'll sit out in the yard watching life go by until he's covered in blanket of snow, like a little snowman. We were less thrilled. Snow in March isn't unseasonable, but I was already in a SPRING! state of mind.
The snow came just as we were in the midst of cleaning our and reorganizing the "chicken shed": This little outbuilding wasn't originally built to hold chickens, of course. The story is that at some point the previous farmer, Gordie, was working at the fair when someone failed to come pick up their competition chickens. Gordie brought them home and retrofitted one of the small sheds on the farm to house them. Even though it's obviously been many years since any chickens lived there, the nest boxes and tiny chicken entry door remain, so we call the thing the Chicken Shed. We store irrigation parts, rowcover spikes, tiny metal hoops for low tunnels, seeders, sprayers, trellising supplies, and a million other things in there. We moved in in a bit of a hurry, though, so it's all willy nilly and hard to deal with. Since the building's so small (and so full) it's pretty much impossible to organize it without dumping its contents onto the grass outside. Which is what we did. And then it started snowing! Some of that stuff is snow-proof, but lots isn't, so we had to rush and find homes for as much of it as possible. It made a snowy mess in the barn, but it was better than risking ruin to our seeders, spreader, and other finicky tools.
Cara, over-exposed, with some of the less snow-proof items safely stashes in the main barn.
Cara's almost done rebuilding the inside of the Chicken Shed now, which should make life a little easier next year. It's just in time, because we've got about a thousand little projects to do in the barn, too!
In the meantime, my war with Chucho (the van) has continued. I think this is THE most trying mechanical SNAFU I've dealt with, which is saying a fair bit, I think. In a nutshell, after *finally* getting the left side of the van buttoned up, I started to redo the right (they have to be balanced for safety) only to find the main spring BROKEN IN TWO. So now I had to buy a new set of springs, wait for them to arrive, and then redo the left side as well as finish the right! That wasn't the bad part, though: The big stubborn bolt that had given me grief on the left was outdone by his neighbor on the right. I mean, REALLY outdone. Like full sized sledge hammers, multiple tanks of propane in the torch, huge clouds of nasty fumes from rust-penetrating sprays hitting cherry red metal, 6' solid steel breaker bars, TEN foot black pipe cheater for more leverage, broken sockets, and on and on. For DAYS. At one point I had the weight of our entire 5 ton van resting on the tip of this stubborn bolt as I simultaneously hammered it and abused it with an impact driver, to no avail. I was very seriously considering welding the shock onto the broken control arm and walking away from the issue forever, when I had one last thought: I can't put more up pressure on the bolt than the weight of the van, or I just end up lifitng the van... but what if I chained a jack to the axle so the van can't escape? It sounded plausible, but my 6 ton bottle jack's relief valve opened before the bolt moved. I figured I'd give it one last Hail Mary and drove to Albany for a 20 ton hydraulic ram.
This ram is rated for 20 tons--that's 40,000 pounds! What the heck do they imagine I'll be lifting that weighs 40,000 POUNDS?! The chain made some *very* scary noises, but it worked!
It worked! So now I've got it back together. I've spent many hundreds of dollars and nearly a week of labor to repair the complications of a problem that hadn't even made it onto the To Do list yet!
Having the van together means that we can move forward on some acquisitions, though. Number one, at least in terms of proximity, was picking up some greenhouse benches that a neighboring farm was selling. They grow bedding plants for retail sales and had upgraded to fancy galvanized units, which made their home-made wooden tables available to us! At 14 feet long, they were a little awkward in the van, but since I still haven't found the right trailer for us, we made it work.
Cara, radiant as always, unloading our new greenhouse benches back at the farm. We have some work to do before we move them to the greenhouse, but this will hopefully be more efficient (and mouse proof) than keeping the flats on the floor.
We have a little over a week before we plan to turn on the heat (read: money) in the greenhouse, so we need to move quickly to spruce up these benches. I want to divide each 4'x14' bench in half, then somehow fashion a "moving aisle" system so that we can make the most efficient use of our tiny greenhouse. It requires the bench tops to roll from side to side, so there's only one aisle in the whole house. When you need to access a table, you push apart the benches like moses with the Red Sea, and they just roll out of your way. Like many things, it's easy to understand how to do it... it's just hard to figure out how to do it WELL, with limited time and financial resources to boot. But I'm excited for the challenge.
I'm glad the van's back in order, as it's also auction season, and we're looking for a couple of needle-in-a-haystack bits of field equipment. The to-do list is stretching off the bottom of its oversized page, and I find myself sliding back into that familiar triage mindset, calculating which projects will do the most good with the least resources expended. We're setting the alarm clock earlier and earlier, working later and later trying to cross off at least some of the list. Soon spring will actually be here, the rejuvenating breath of life that is tiny plants in the greenhouse, and the warming and awakening of the fields and soils... but also the responsibility of caring for all those tender little things. It's terrifying and stressful, but also thrilling and invigorating. And we're incredibly lucky and excited to be sharing this season with the fantastic members of our community who have signed up to be a part of our CSA. This is going to be a really, really, REALLY kick ass season!