Still alive, again
Please check out our weekly newsletter for up-to-date news, photos, recipes, and tips. We've decided to put the blog on hold for now, as we feel the newsletter is answering that need even better. Old postings are still available, and archived copies of past newsletters are available on the newsletter page. Thanks!
Yes, we're still alive.
Yes, we're still alive, just BUSY BUSY BUSY BUSY. Also, we finally got it together to make a weekly newsletter, which is taking up our "communication" time... but we didn't get around to making the auto-sign-up on the website work, nor to entering anyone's info beyond the CSA. So, we promise, as always: We're working on it.
In a nutshell, it's been a very, very, very hot and dry summer. Numerous small isolated storms have missed us here at Quincy Farm. We've had less than 1/10 of an inch of moisture in the last 3+ weeks, and the only rain for 2 weeks prior came in a pair of heavy storms in about 45 minutes, which largely runs off the fields. After last year, though, this is a problem we're happy to have. We're spending money hand over fist for irrigation, but generally the crops are doing great. Our little irrigation reel has been a blessing, and we just invested $1,500 in a big sand filter that will allow us to run more trickle irrigation... An investment we hadn't meant to make, but we found the economical disc filter we'd bought last year just wasn't up to the task. I HATE spending money under pressure, and I suspect we went a little overboard on the media filter, since we didn't have time to indulge my usual overly-researched buying routine... but when it hasn't rained in three weeks and you can't run irrigation because of a hardware issue, and you're watching high-value crops droop and wither, ANYTHING is better than nothing. We may never need the full capacity of this new filter, but it means we'll never be taxing it, and it can run longer without needing to be cleaned. In farming, it always pays to have a little more capacity than you need, and it goes double for irrigation.
Our CSA has been going really well, with almost nothing but glowing feedback through our weekly e-survey. It's so rewarding to have that connection and those members, and so satisfying to be able to grow and harvest food that's going to such a great group of folks. I think that in some ways Cara and I are just not suited to the waste part of farmers' markets--even when you have a decent market, you still come home with perfectly beautiful produce that you just dump in the compost... because there's more, perfecter produce to take the next market. With CSA, we only harvest and wash the amount the share wants (plus some small safety margin), and it all gets picked up or donated to the food pantry. It's less an issue of actual finances than just the emotional difference between coming home with an empty truck and a real personal connection vs a half full truck and a box of money. Maybe it's just the altruistic hippy side of us showing through, I don't know. But CSA members: We love you guys.
Otherwise, WWOOFers have come and gone, our weekend markets are doing well (though the midweek markets could use an awful lot more traffic: Malta and Ballston Spa folks: TELL YOUR FRIENDS!). The van had a blow out with no one hurt, but cost an unanticipated thousand dollars in tires. The greenhouse, skinned with last season's poly (that's only meant to last a year) continues to try to self-destruct before we're done with it, and we keep trying to patch it along. Murphy's law is in full effect, as always, but we try to be prepared for him. Our garlic harvest was bountiful, and the barn's fragrant with the smell of curing alliums... We're just finally starting to see eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes, which we're excited to have at market. Things are just generally busy, busy, busy.
If I ever have the time to do so, I'd like to put up a post about all the great folks who've been here to help us this season. It's a new challenge to manage a constantly-revolving crew of inexperienced help, further complicated that we share not just the workload, but our home. It hasn't been without the odd speed bump here or there, but overall has been (and is still) a very positive experience. Cara and I are still killing ourselves with work, but compared to last year it's like being on vacation. We even found time to go mini-golfing a few weeks back! What a life!
Now that we have the newsletter up, the goal is to use the facebook page as a brief This Is What We're Up To Right Now, the newsletter as a weekly update concept, and let the blog be a less frequent (monthly?) and more thoughtful format. Not like this post.
So, yes, we're still here, and sorry to be so silent on most fronts. Getting all of our emails onto the newsletter list is somewhere on the priority list, and hopefully you'll all be receiving them shortly!
Thanks for your support!
Luke & Cara
Markets, summer, WWOOFers
Well, it feels like summer. Despite a frustrating frost advisory that had Cara and me covering all of our sensitive head lettuce and salad with remay (the veggie version of pulling an extra blanket from the closet), temperatures have finally swung back into the warm zone here at Quincy Farm. While the very dry weeks have had an unfortunate impact on the germination of some of our direct seeded crops, the tranplanted stuff is looking GREAT. Though we're later than we wish on tomatoes and peppers, our little zucchinis and summer squashes are already zucch'ing and squishing! A true sign of summer.
We're also just finishing up our first week of hosting WWOOFers. WWOOF is an organization that pairs workers with host farms; we farmers offer room, board, and the opportunity for some interesting work on a farm in exchange for a half day's work. In the best cases, it's really a win/win situation, and I think Jun and Thodoris would agree it worked out pretty well. With their help we harvested great products for our first market, got on top of some hoeing, and transplanted the bejeezus out of some lettuce, broccoli, peppers, eggplants, and more. I've heard some farmers complain about jealously seeing their WWOOF volunteer workers lounging around in the afternoon while the farmers toil in the fields, but I quite enjoyed seeing these guys relaxing... It made me grateful to have such hard-working help, and hopeful that one day I, too, could sit on the porch and play guitar for the dog. I will admit, though, that I WAS jealous that Junichi took the dog swimming at our neighbor's "beach"... But only a little.
WWOOFers aside, it's amazing to me to watch our over wintered cover crops really come into their own. It's sort of a funny thing, but in some ways it's almost like the income from the veggies enables us to grow cover crops, rather than the cover crops enabling us to successfully grow veggies. I mean, I love a BLT with a juicy flavorful farm tomato, but there's something so deeply satisfying about a crop grown just to strengthen the soil and fields... It's sort of like the BLT--it's great, but there's something inexplicable about the smell of healthy growing tomato PLANTS that you simply can't get elsewhere. Maybe it's just me.
We've also made some rushed headway on a few projects--a great neighbor helped us spread some shale to fill in muddy spots in our farm road, and I gave myself a crash course in oxy acetyl welding to fix the huge hole in our van... That actually went alright, despite a brief scare when I learned an obvious, if uncommon, lesson: if you've previously used 4x4s to shore up your floor, keep it in mind before firing up a gas torch and welding said floor, or you'll have a campfire in your market van! But all's well that ends well, right?
Other than that, things go as planned. It's summer.
Last night Cara and I came inside at 8pm, after I'd gotten up at 5 to start an irrigation pump, put in a couple hours digging a trench for a drain line before breakfast, then generally burned the wick at three ends all day, knowing I had to get up at a luxurious 4am the next morning (to commute 200 miles to work a 12 hour day laying cable in New York City?!). We came in at 8pm, an unusual hour before dark, and Jun asked, "You're coming in early?"
I had to leave the farm today to put in some time at my off-farm job, which entailed an extremely early drive to NYC. We finished early, but since I have to work here tomorrow, too, I figured I'd go to the movies or maybe a museum--a rare treat. As I was trying to decide which to do, I realized that what I MOST wanted was to go to sleep! So I took the subway back to my VW and did just that. Must be summer.
Weebly, the program we use to make our website, recently released an iPhone app for updating blogs. I'm hoping this convenience will make it much easier for me to stay on top of updating our blog (at least the photo end).
So here's some snapshots of life lately:
If we use a beat up lawn mower to move the irrigation reel out to the field, does THAT make it look bigger? There was something embarrassing about using our Murray mower in the field, but once that traveller started doing its thing we forgot all about it. I didn't think our little pump had enough ooomph to push the right pressure all the way up the hill, but we figured we'd try. It JUST BARELY COULD! This is a major victory for Team Quincy! We stuck the old tripod sprinkler in the hay mow for just-in-case.
That's all we've got for now. We're super excited to be back at market in Glens Falls and Schenectady this coming weekend. The cool weather in late April slowed down some crops, but like always, what we DO have will be GREAT.
We also have a scarce couple CSA shares still available for our Ballston Spa distribution. If you haven't sent in your form, hop to it! Last, those of you who've sent us your emails (and, of course, our CSA members), keep an eye out for our first newsletter in an inbox near you soon!
Luke (& Cara)
Busy busy busy... and it keeps freezing.
What a weird, weird, spring. It's not unseasonable to have frosts in mid-April here. It's normal. We figure May 15th an average last frost date. But it IS unseasonable to not rain for literally weeks on end. The fields are dry as a bone and even the big dairies, who usually aren't into the flats until early summer, have plowed up and prepared ground. This dry weather bought us the opportunity to fill in the bare spots where Irene drowned our clover cover crop down below. We rely on the leguminous clover, which has the unusual ability to capture nitrogen from the air and make it available to the following crop (with some help from a friendly soil bacteria), for natural fertilizer. It also has really aggressive roots, which break up and aerate the subsoil, an important part of bringing this abused field back to health. The hurricane drowned some of the freshly seeded clover, though, leaving bare spots where we needed it most. It was great to have the field dry enough to work those bare spots and reseed the clover. But then it didn't rain. And didn't rain. And didn't rain. As vegetable growers, we're set up to irrigate the veggies when we need to--dry is better than wet!--but we're NOT set up to irrigate random patches out in the middle of a field in late March. So now I don't know if the new clover will even germinate. C'est la vie.
Clover aside, things are going swell. All of our upper fields are bedded up, our mulch is laid for the hot weather crops, and we've started seeding and transplanting. Our first 4 sections down below are almost ready to go--we might get them finished out this afternoon--and while we still haven't figured out the right bed-forming system with the resources at hand, we're getting a lot closer. After a week of coy "chance of rain" from our friends at NOAA we finally gave up and set up the irrigation earlier this week. Then yesterday I went out and drained all the lines and the gun, and hauled the pump back up so it wouldn't freeze as we had another 30 degree night. It takes a pretty hard freeze to break a cast-iron pump, but especially given how this spring is going, I'm not taking any chances. It's a funny routine to get into, though.
Peas and drained irrigation lines this morning. Peas are pretty hardy, but I was still nervous when I woke up this morning and saw a thick layer of frost on the truck. Fortunately these little guys seem fine! The dryness and low temperatures have kept the oat and pea residue from breaking down as quickly as normal, leaving the fields looking like we scattered straw everywhere.
It's always tempting to jump ahead of yourself in the greenhouse when spring is early, but it's a big risk to take--plants don't like to be stuck in their little transplant cells longer than necessary, and if the weather turns cold again (like now!) you're faced with the hard choice of turning them loose to the frost, or holding them inside as they get depressed and unhappy in their confined homes. We're faced with the added challenge of being somewhat new to market growing--we're confident we'll have great crops for the CSA, because we've worked within that framework for a while, but we don't have that much experience aiming for a marketable field crop in early May. So we decided to take the middle path, pulling some plantings a little earlier, but leaving most things as planned. Every time I read about someone's first crop of carrots up in the field I get antsy (our were just sown), but then when I'm out getting all wet draining irrigation lines in anticipation of another freeze, I'm glad our little tomatoes are safe and sound in their trays.
In other news, we had a "History Walk" organized by ASA and lead by our friend Jim from across the river. Dressed in proper 18th century garb, Jim lead a bunch of visitors (including some new CSA members) on a walk around the farm, explaining its significance during the Revolutionary War.
In different other news, we made one of our big purchases for the season: The world's smallest traveling irrigation gun!
This thing will make our irrigation much more efficient, which means we're more likely to get it done on time instead of waiting "just one more day". I had to spend a day in the van to go get it, but even with the diesel factored in we got a great deal. Basically you park that round gizmo at one end of the field, and drag a tricycle with a big sprinkler on it to the other end of the field, unspooling the heavy plastic hose as you go. When the pump turns on, the reel slowly retracts, automatically watering the whole field. We'd planned on buying a larger one than this in 2 years (along with a larger pump and heavier irrigation lines to handle the increased pressure), but we decided to buy this little guy as a stop-gap. It's able to run off our existing pump and lines for now (at least down below--up above we're still using the tripod) which means we can put off the upgrade a little while. Also, we can spread out the costly pump/traveler/lines upgrade over a few years, because a stronger pump could push more water through this little reel with only the addition of a fatter nozzle. The downside of this tiny guy is it takes FOREVER to run, but it's unattended the whole time. We're excited!
That's it for now. We do still have a few CSA shares available for our Ballston Spa distribution if you haven't joined yet! Don't be late!!!
Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall?
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.
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:
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!
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.
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'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.
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.
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!
Things are getting busier here at Quincy Farm, which is a little disconcerting because they never really slowed down as far as I would have liked... But we're really excited for this summer nonetheless. Here's hoping we survive it!
Maybe the most important piece of news is that we're finally able to offer CSA shares in Ballston Spa! Click here to learn more, or click below to download the sign-up form!
Community Supported Agriculture has always been a really important part of our vision for Quincy Farm, and it means a lot to us to be opening this farm to our community. Years ago when Cara first signed us up for a CSA as shareholders, I was a little worried. What were we going to do with all this stuff, I wondered. What even IS some of it?! And sure, I thought, I want to know my neighbors, but I'm also busy and I have friends already. Fast forward several years, and I was singing a whole different tune. Surprise, super fresh food that's grown with careful thought to the plants' health and their role in nature TASTES AMAZING! Healthy plants = delicious food, and our CSA farmer was able to get them to us even fresher than from the markets. And those weird varieties of greens I used to make fun of? I learned to love them, and I actually found it LESS stressful to prepare dinner because I didn't have to figure out what to eat: It was right there, chosen by the farmer to be the freshest, bestest available. And last, SURPRISE: Those other CSA members, who lived in our community, who were also passionate about incredible food and farms and community, well, we had a heck of a lot in common.
Years passed and our lives changed so we were on the other side of the CSA equation, working for CSA farms and being the providers instead of the consumers. Lo and behold, we found that all those wonderful benefits have their match on the farm side: With the CSA members on our side, we were able to focus on growing really amazing, high-quality food and were able to get it to people at its very peak of freshness. However worn down we felt mid-summer, there was the highlight of CSA distribution to get a boost from our excited CSA members... and as much as our shareholders want and need to connect to the ground and to their farm, we as farmers need the chance to sink some social roots and be a part of the broader community we live in and support. It's an amazing, wonderful win-win situation. So we're really, really excited to have a wonderful distribution point, a great community, and a beautiful piece of ground that we can all share in.
In other news, all of our spring seeds are showing up! Bright yellow sunshine melons, crisp fresh french breakfast radishes, those perfect salad pingpong tomatoes... We really love good food, so we fill the field with the varieties we know are the juiciest, snappiest varieties out there... but we also can't help from trying some new stuff, too. This year we're trying a new kind of yellow cherry tomato, an updated version of the Brandywine slicer (my personal favorite, but an inconsistent performer), a new strain of broccoli, a "rainbow" kale, and a bunch of other stuff! We try to not gamble on too much acreage, because we refuse to sell something we're not impressed with ourselves... but sometimes you just hit gold with a new variety, and it trying new things is part of the thrill.
All these seeds coming in keeps us in a spring-like state of mind, which is great... but it makes it a little more stressful when things go wrong. My ongoing battle to keep everything running took a step backwards the other day when two studs under the van snapped off. They snapped while I was trying to replace the shocks, which I was replacing because one of them had actually rusted through, leaving a messy puddle in the barn for me to clean up. Now that the stud's broken, we have to remove two big parts of the suspension and replace them, too... but of course their bolts are rusted solid where they bolt to an even larger, more expensive part. All this was after replacing a bunch of power steering lines that had ruptured. Fortunately, we have Baby, our wonderful 86 F250 to rely on while the van's down... at least we did until this afternoon, when it developed an intermittent electrical issue that caused the truck to absolutely die with no signs of life. Of course, this happened while I was running errands off the farm and Cara is out-of-state visiting relatives! A couple hours of embarrassed wrenching in a Hannaford parking lot jiggled whatever the intermittent item is into compliance, thankfully, and I got home, off-schedule but without a tow. But I have only the vaguest hunch what the issue is (fusible link in the ignition switch circuit?) and no time or plan to fix it until it misbehaves again... Makes me nervous about driving that truck to an equipment auction in south Jersey next weekend, though!
That's the news from Quincy Farm. I really promise to update our blog more often, because I know all of you are interested in how things are going. Even though spring is sneaking up quickly, things are looking pretty good in the field--the lack of snow actually means the ground has frozen harder than in a snowy winter, which is good for killing off the bad bugs... and obviously the lack of snow means the river ought to behave itself, and the fields themselves will have a lot less work to do to get warm and dry enough to plant. It makes us a little nervous to not have had winter--what if it snows in July?!--but for now we'll take it with a positive spin and believe it's just the good beginning of a really great season!
Luke & Cara
Hibernating woodchucks' heartbeats
This weekend’s market in Ballston Spa will mark the end of our first season’s marketing, as our supplies of delicious baby beets, sweet potatoes, turnips, cabbages, and more are running thin.
I heard recently on the radio that a groundhog’s heart beats only 4 times PER MINUTE during hibernation, and that his body temperature drops from 98*F down into the thirties!
While those groundhogs snooze away the pleasingly slow days of winter, Cara and I have, in our more normal human fashion, crossed the dark and snowy solstice. Now our days get longer, spring gets closer, and the lingering fatigue of summer blossoms into the growing itch of spring-fever. Yes, the solstice was over a month ago, but due to off-farm employment and lack of luscious photo material, I’ve been kind of a lousy blogger. I promise that when winter ends, I will be more diligent.
Except that, this year, winter hasn’t really come—instead of the feet upon feet of snow we had last year, we’ve had temperatures that are swinging up into the forties and higher almost weekly. True, in between we’ve been down into (and below) the single digits, but somehow it still is feeling like The Winter That Wasn’t. I still haven’t used the nice used snowblower we bought, haven’t gone skating on the pond that hasn’t really frozen, and haven’t gone sledding on the hills that aren’t snowy. I wonder if the groundhogs have noticed, or if they’re still snoozing in their burrows below the frost line, indifferent and oblivious… But I should watch my tongue—while reading back over these few blog entries of the last year, I couldn’t help laughing at a sentence I wrote back in May, as record spring flooding soaked our flats: “At least we don’t have hurricanes,” I said. Ha!
Anyway, here we are, surviving, thriving, and getting excited about the coming season. We’ve been attending conferences, trying to catch up on the social connections we neglected all summer, and generally getting our bearings. We’re nearly done with our seed order for this season, which for us seems to be the number one trigger for spring fever. It’s exciting, yes, but also kind of terrifying—we’re upping our production by a pretty optimistic margin, yet we’re still financially committed to not taking a draw out of the farm profits to support ourselves. This means we need to somehow work off-farm enough to pay the mortgage, health and car insurances, food, and miscellaneous expenses of normal life, AND increase production acreage and marketing. It seems insane, honestly, given how perilously close to total calamity we pushed ourselves last year, but it also seems like the only viable path if we’re to expand the farm enough to support ourselves, and hopefully a family, before we lose whatever lingering sparks of youthfully wreckless determination we still lay claim to. But with the help and support of the most kick-butt customers in the capital region, and our soon-to-be-faithful CSA, we can all make this work!
On that note, we’re excited to be sending out CSA enrollment forms any day now, even though the Ballston Spa distribution location isn’t quite 100% confirmed. This is a big step towards realizing the farm we’ve always envisioned having, and while it’s a little bit daunting, I think we both feel that having a CSA base will be one of the most rewarding elements of having this farm. We always envisioned Quincy Farm as a healthy balance between markets and CSA, and now we’re able to make that a reality!
So, to all of you who have expressed interest in joining the CSA, and to all of you who have supported Cara and me with your encouragement, feedback and grocery money at market all season: THANK YOU. A bunch of kale and an encouraging word may seem so trivial, but it’s your steady dedication and support that is helping us breathe life into this viable, sustainable, family farm, and into the common values we all hold. Thanks for keeping us in mind when your stomach rumbles and demands fresh, delicious food; thanks for coming out to support us at market in the cold rain and the searing heat and icy winter mornings; and thanks to those of you who believe in Quincy Farm and are ready to sign on to the CSA and enjoy a season of staggering deliciousness! 2012, here we come!!!
We survived Year 1! (sort of)
I don't know if it's premature or tardy to say we've reached the end of Year 1... it's not REALLY the end of the calendar year, yet... but we're also a month past the point where we'd planned on being done. Yesterday was our last "regular season" market, though--a fantastic turnout from our great customers in Glens Falls--and we're still alive, so we're declaring victory!
Even though it wasn't part of the plan, we're also going to be attending winter markets in Ballston Spa (first Saturdays in the CCE building on High St) and Glens Falls (every Saturday from 9-12 at Christ United Church on Bay St). We don't have the fancy infrastructure some other growers have (yet!) but we're fighting the good fight against Old Man Winter as best we can, with multiple layers of remay on low tunnels, and of course we have delicious sweet potatoes, winter squash, beets, onions, leeks, etc. We ended up losing an awful lot of our carrots to the funk after the rains in September, which is too bad, as they're super sweet and have proven quite popular. A lot of other stuff just never recovered from the shock of all that rain and never really matured... Nonetheless, we're looking forward to the opportunity to continue to be a part of those markets through the winter.
Also--and this is big news--we're excited to be organizing a CSA in Ballston Spa for 2012! The details ought to be worked out any day now, but shoot us an email if you want to be kept in the loop.
Despite some really close calls, we ended up missing frosts here on the farm until the Snowpocalypse came in late October. Actually, it was just a few inches of really wet snow, but it made a mess of things as it built up on the trees and wires. Prior to that, we were still harvesting delicious eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers right up to Halowe'en. After the frost, we were blessed with a pretty serious Indian Summer in early November, letting a beautiful crop of fall broccoli size up under row cover. We're still harvesting spinach, swiss chard, radishes and broccoli... So we're lucky, and grateful.
Theoretically things should have slowed down for Cara and me by now, but somehow they haven't. Whatever slack the waning growing season offered has been snapped up by the pressure to milk the off-farm income streams for whatever they're worth. We'd love to squirrel away enough money over the winter to allow one of us to not work off the farm next year. It gets kind of taxing to be doing a 3 1/2 hour drive down to NYC to earn that cash, though. Our fantastic friends in the city have been offering me a place to sleep when I'm down for multiple days, which has made it possible for me to work 3 or 4 days a week down there... which is great... but tears me away from the life (and the wife, dog, and home) that this is all about. As fall slips into winter and I feel so little relief from the insanity that was this season, I'm sometimes afraid that I won't find time to recharge before next season hits... but I'm sure it will happen. When we planned this endeavor we knew it was going to tax us for all we were worth to make it through these first few seasons... and Mother Nature didn't make it easy on us (or anyone else!) this season. Having said all that, despite the inherent challenges of Year 1 and the unique ones of 2011, we not just met our financial goals, we exceeded them. Yes, it's more a credit to our incredible conservatism (pessimism?) writing the business plan than a reflection of our prowess as farmer businessmen, but it's not too shabby for a start-up business. And it gives on hope about the feasibility of the rest of the plan.
Even though this year's not done and we haven't even begun to do all of our winter maintenance, next year is already here: we're crunching numbers and searching for the things that will improve the weak links here at Quincy Farm. We have lots of ideas of how to improve our efficiency, from little inventions to expensive implements. We also need to update our irrigation scheme and figure out what we need and what we can afford if we're going to expand our acreage next season. And, of course, we need to make a crop plan, figure out how much seed we need and when and where, and make that happen... and figure out what additional inputs we need, and from where... and maybe expand the greenhouse... and get proper running water to the hydrant in the barn... and about a zillion other little infrastructure crises... and Cara said something about unpacking?
Looking back on Year 1, I really don't know how we pulled it off... and I honestly don't think I have the fortitude to push myself *quite* that hard even one more season... but there are fleeting moments, here and there, when we pause and take notice of each other and our life, and it seems like maybe, just maybe, this was a good idea. Maybe.
Quincy Farm is a family-scale vegetable farm run by Luke Deikis and Cara Fraver in Easton, NY. We use organic methods to grow the most delicious veggies ever for the well-being of our family, our community, and the flora and fauna that make it all possible.