After the Hurricane

Hur­ri­cane Irene didn’t hit us too hard, but she still man­aged to do some damage.

The morn­ing after
Top­pled Corn — I just staked these up and they were good as new.
Tomato Trel­lises
We woke up yes­ter­day morn­ing dread­ing the task of rebuild­ing our tomato trel­lises (I think we’re going to go about sup­port­ing our toma­toes a lit­tle dif­fer­ently next year, but that’s a topic for another blog post). I envi­sioned spend­ing the entire day cut­ting strings, dis­man­tling bro­ken pieces of wood and rip­ping out dead tomato plants. How­ever, per­haps because our trel­lises are so delight­fully wimpy, they all just fell over instead of break­ing, and so did the tomato plants. All we had to do was stand them up and bang in metal U-posts to sup­port the uprights. We were also lucky enough to have TONS of help. My dad was there, my friend Geeta (who’s been help­ing us out a cou­ple days a week) showed up with her boyfriend, Sam, our other ded­i­cated vol­un­teer, Fan, also arrived to help, and my cousin Blake was in town. With so many hands, the tomato trel­lises were raised in no time, and by 10 AM we were look­ing around for things to do!
Blake and Sam bang­ing in some U-posts
An Old-Fashioned Trel­lis Raising
Wait­ing for U-Posts (and eat­ing sun­gold tomatoes)

 

Chicken Processing Day Meets Hurricane Irene

The last two days have been pretty excit­ing. Yes­ter­day we processed our 75 meat chick­ens, which would have been a daunt­ing enough job with­out the threat of Irene bar­ing down on us.

Fri­day, Mom and I har­vested as many toma­toes from the gar­den as we could in antic­i­pa­tion of the storm and sorted them out to store in the garage. We also rushed to stake down and secure the gar­den. Mean­while, Dave set up every­thing nec­es­sary for pro­cess­ing day. Our last pro­cess­ing day went pretty well (see here for details), but it took about 16 hours and there were clearly improve­ments to be made. Also, this time we were pro­cess­ing 75 birds instead of 36. We wanted to make sure that we were com­pletely pre­pared for so many birds and so we made sure that every­thing was in order before we went to sleep Fri­day night. Very thank­fully, our bravest friend Marka Kiley came out of Boston to help us for the week­end. Sat­ur­day, we all woke up extra early and Dave and I went out in the dark to catch the chick­ens. We got off to a good start, started the pro­cess­ing at about 6:30 AM and were done by 1 PM. Thanks to Marka’s help, as well as sev­eral oth­ers, we were able to qual­ity con­trol and pack­age the birds as we went, so the sec­ond half of the day went quickly and we were com­pletely cleaned up by 5. Mother nature helped us clean by pro­vid­ing some drench­ing after­noon rains. It was a long day, but sat­is­fy­ing. Pro­cess­ing chick­ens is never fun, but we did the best job we could. We made sure that the chick­ens went to their deaths with min­i­mum dis­com­fort and that their meat was treated with the respect it deserves. All of Dave’s work plan­ning and prepar­ing really paid off.

Mean­while, Dave’s mom Tammy had four pots of our toma­toes bub­bling on the stove all day and into the night, work­ing hard to can, freeze and oth­er­wise pre­serve as much of our crop as pos­si­ble. Between her hard work, and my mom’s efforts to secure us some big restau­rant sales, it looks like none of our toma­toes are going to go to waste.

This morn­ing we got 4 inches of rain, but luck­ily, the hur­ri­cane was tamer than we had feared it would be and, other than a few blown down tomato trel­lises and (pos­si­bly) the loss of our corn crop, it looks like the gar­den is going to be okay. The chick­ens are safely in the refrig­er­a­tor and freezer (we didn’t even lose power!) and we can relax — and blog.

Our tomato bounty and Mom’s new vespa
Sort­ing cherry tomatoes
Before (tune in tomor­row for After pics)
Artsy Pic: to remem­ber them by in case they were all blown over
CHICKEN PROCESSING PICTURES (you’ve been warned…)
Kill Cones
Scalder
Plucker
Our bravest friend Marka
Lynda, another brave friend
Hur­ri­cane Irene

Hasso Explains Eco-ganic vs. Organic and More!

Hasso Ewing (lead grower at BBFg):

It is hard to believe it’s the mid­dle of August and this is the first time I have con­tributed to
this blog! The gar­den is at it peak, the pigs are joy­fully chomp­ing on a new field of Sudan
grass, chick­ens are fat­ten­ing up, while oth­ers con­tinue to lay faith­fully. The mid­dle of the
sum­mer, the point at which we are draw­ing the most from the earth by grow­ing plants
and animals.

This piece of land we have come to farm has been very pro­duc­tive. Partly
because it abuts a wet meadow and because it’s aspect is south­east. It hadn’t been
farmed for more than 20 years and even then it was likely just ani­mals, not veg­eta­bles.
It’s deep and organic in nature, lots of decom­pos­ing plant mate­r­ial, as opposed to
min­eral (rocky or sandy) soils. It holds water like a sponge , con­se­quently we haven’t
had to rely on irri­ga­tion, thus far.

Our prox­im­ity to the wet­land brings in insects, drag­on­flies and but­ter­flies. Our
tomato trel­lis may not have been strong enough to han­dle the weight of the many large
fruits, but the trel­lis did sup­port the land­ing site for many fledg­ling barn swal­low clutches
out on their first flight. Blue­birds, too, used the wooden posts to hunt for early spring
bugs.

The elec­tric fence that sur­rounds both the veg­etable patches, the pigs and the meat
chick­ens pro­tects our charges from ani­mals that would also like a local source of fresh
organ­i­cally grown food. Dave did his home­work on the best fence plan for our site. Our
fences aren’t high (2 ½’) but they were baited with peanut but­ter. Appar­ently, most
ani­mals like peanut but­ter and will go for the PB before they jump in for the ani­mals or
vege. But when they lick the PB on the foil, hang­ing over the elec­tric fence, they get a
shock­ing response! Hap­pens once, they don’t come near again and what’s more, they
tell their fam­ily and friends. So, we have been lucky, again… thus far.

We have exper­i­mented with walk­way man­age­ment to lessen weed pres­sure and
increase soil fer­til­ity. Some rows are card­board from the bike shop (nice big pieces) with
old hay from Con­cord DWP projects on top. We planted white clover in oth­ers and then
mowed when weeds were top­ping the clover. That gives clover the advan­tage and it
takes over. We brought in com­post for seed­ing and trans­plant­ing in the rows from a local
farm and amend­ments (rock dust, myc­or­rhizal organ­isms and sea­weed mixes) from
away. We decided to use some plas­tic as mulch in the rows, as much as I hated to. The
area clos­est to the wet­land would have been weed hell if it were not for black plas­tic
mulch. That’s under the toma­toes, egg­plants, pep­pers and squash. They love the extra
heat and mois­ture reten­tion plas­tic offers. We also use row cover, which is spun plas­tic.
That pro­tects our plants from pests with­out using pesticides.

We are grow­ing our plants and ani­mals organ­i­cally and, if we choose, could get
organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pretty quickly, I imag­ine. Gen­er­ally, you have to tran­si­tion over a
period of 3 years to organic because the land has to be cleansed. But since this land
hasn’t been farmed for so long we could prove it’s clean enough.

Organic, nat­ural, and eco-ganic would describe our farm. Organic, because we
don’t use any chem­i­cally (man-made) fer­til­iz­ers, her­bi­cides or pes­ti­cides and we fol­low
national organic stan­dards, but are not ‘cer­ti­fied organic’.

There is ‘cer­ti­fied nat­ural’ being used now in the US. It has been around for a
while in other coun­tries but now some Amer­i­can farm­ers are using nat­ural cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in
response to organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. Organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion poli­cies are very dif­fi­cult for the

small farm to adhere to. They are lengthy, expen­sive and the record keep­ing
require­ments are over the top. Nat­ural cer­ti­fi­ca­tion has a $75 annual fee, has far less
unnec­es­sary report­ing and uses peer review to over­see stan­dards. This review process
is a nice aspect because it is bring­ing local farm­ers together.

Then there is eco-ganic. Eco-ganic is defined by Potomac Veg­etable Farm as a
process by which a farm main­tains rich organic soils, full of ben­e­fi­cial microbes, to
pro­vide the crops with suf­fi­cient nutri­ents and a healthy envi­ron­ment. The farm can’t use
any syn­thetic fer­til­iz­ers or pes­ti­cides, they rotate crops, grow many dif­fer­ent kinds of
crops, and use timely and appro­pri­ate prac­tices to try to min­i­mize insect and dis­ease
dam­age. The idea is to man­age the soil and cul­ti­vate the crops in ways that will allow
the land to con­tinue to be pro­duc­tive now and into the future. I actu­ally like this label the
best. It’s about the mind blow­ing inter­ac­tion of so many parts (soils, insects and ani­mals,
water, sun) com­ing together and under­tak­ing a amaz­ing cycle of growth, death,
decom­po­si­tion and regrowth and, we as par­tic­i­pants, help per­pet­u­ate that cycle into the
future.

All three of us (Gal­lagher, Dave and myself) have been com­mit­ted to main­tain­ing
the health­i­est envi­ron­ment for our prod­ucts, whether they be plant or ani­mal. We want to
eat respon­si­bly grown food, food that is high in nutri­ents and free of dam­ag­ing
chem­i­cals. Black Brook Farm Grow­ers may not have the organic stamp of approval from
big busi­ness, but we are bring­ing to mar­ket prod­ucts that are as good or bet­ter for our
cus­tomers than what they buy from most other cur­rently avail­able food sources.

Now, in the full belly of August, we change much of our focus from plant­ing to
har­vest­ing and stor­ing. Growth has peaked and days shorten. We will har­vest the food
from our plants and ani­mals and return to the earth that which we don’t use., help­ing to
replen­ish what we have taken.

And, if time allows (I am on vaca­tion today), I will write again about our adven­ture
into farm­ing on a small scale bio­di­verse farm in New England

The Second Field and Natural Roots Farm

The sec­ond field is look­ing GREAT! If you look closely you can see the pole beans climb­ing right up the corn stalks, and the squash is doing a great job of keep­ing weeds down. We’ve done very lit­tle to this field since plant­ing it, the idea was to keep it low main­te­nance so we could focus on our more finicky veg­eta­bles in the first field, and I’m happy to say so far it looks like the plan is working. 

Beans crawl­ing up corn stalks
Sun­flow­ers in the foreground
Win­ter squash keep­ing down the weeds. We planted pump­kins, del­i­cata squash, acorn squash and but­ter­nut squash.
We went to the NOFA (North­east­ern Organic Farm­ing Asso­ci­a­tion) Con­fer­ence last week­end at UMass Amherst. It was really fun and inspir­ing. I went to some work­shops on grow­ing mush­rooms and farm finan­cial man­age­ment (thrilling), Dave learned about ani­mal pow­ered log­ging and forestry and build­ing root cel­lars and we all got to visit a cou­ple of larger organic farms.
Our favorite was Nat­ural Roots Farm in Con­way, MA. They are totally horse-powered, which is great for envi­ron­men­tal (grass as fuel) and aes­thetic rea­sons (no trac­tor smells and sounds). We were also impressed by their inten­sive weed con­trol pro­gram. It was by far the most weed-free farm we’ve seen so far.
Look how clean!

Cooking at the Farmer’s Market

Here are some pics of us at the Carlisle Farmer’s Mar­ket a cou­ple weeks ago that my sis­ter Kate took of us. Gal­lagher cooked up break­fast bur­ri­tos to order on a Cole­man stove with kale, squash, egg, cheese, and salsa. They were a hit!

…oh yeah, and we had some veg­gies too.

Cooking Kale and Swiss Chard

I’ve been get­ting a lot of ques­tions lately on how to cook kale and swiss chard. I’m just going to give a few quick sug­ges­tions for some super sim­ple ways to cook these veg­eta­bles. These tips can also be used for any kind of leafy sautéing green, such as spinach or beet greens.

To prep kale or swiss chard for cook­ing, first you want to remove the tough stems (this isn’t nec­es­sary for smaller, ten­derer leafy greens such as spinach, or baby beet greens). Fold the leaf in half so that the rib is exposed and then cut it away with your knife or gen­tly rip the leaves off the stem and rib. The stems are also deli­cious (par­tic­u­larly swiss chard and beet green stems) but I rec­om­mend that you chop them up sep­a­rately into small pieces and steam or sauté them for a lit­tle while before adding the leaves. After the steam is removed, then chop the leaves into bite sized strips.

Win­ter­bor Kale (curly leaf, tougher)
Red Russ­ian Kale (flat leaf, more tender)

The eas­i­est way to pre­pare kale is either by sautéing or steam­ing it. There are many dif­fer­ent types of kale, rang­ing from very ten­der White and Red Russ­ian Kale (my favorite type of kale and the kind we have been grow­ing and sell­ing all sum­mer) to the tougher Win­ter­bor Kale (which we’ll have this Fall). With ten­der vari­eties a short sauté or steam will prob­a­bly be suf­fi­cient to cook it through, but with tougher vari­eties you may want to sauté it for a lit­tle while to incor­po­rate some fla­vors and then add some water and cover to steam until ten­der enough to eat.

Easy Sautéing Recipe for Kale

Ingre­di­ents:
kale
olive oil
gar­lic
salt and pep­per
onion*
red pep­per flakes*
cumin*
lemon juice*

*optional

1. Wash kale well and prep for cook­ing by remov­ing stems
2. Chop the leaves up
3. In a large pan sauté minced gar­lic with a Tbsp of olive oil until gar­lic is wilted (add some chopped up stems and/or onions if desired)
4. Add kale leaves and sea­son with salt and pep­per (Also good: crushed red pep­per flakes and/or cumin)
5. Cook, stir­ring, until leaves are wilted and ten­der enough to eat
6. If cook­ing a tougher, curly leafed kale, add a lit­tle bit of liq­uid (water, vine­gar and wine to name a few) and cover to steam until ten­der enough to eat.
7. Sea­son to taste (maybe add a lit­tle squeeze of lemon juice) and enjoy!

Other Sim­ple Kale and Swiss Chard Recipes:
Baked Kale Chips
Sautéed Swiss Chard with Parme­san cheese
Swiss Chard with Gar­banzo Beans and Tomatoes

Kale and swiss chard are two of my favorite veg­eta­bles, they are deli­cious, nutri­tious and easy to cook.

If you have any tips or favorite kale recipes please share them in the com­ment section.

First CSA Pick-Up and Some Summertime Thoughts

It’s August! 

These last cou­ple of weeks have been so fun! Watch­ing the plants we’ve been labor­ing over since early Spring finally begin to ripen into beau­ti­ful red toma­toes, yel­low pep­pers and pur­ple egg­plants, or curl up into lit­tle cab­bage heads, or lengthen into zuc­chi­nis, has been incred­i­bly satisfying. 

Our first CSA pick-up is tomor­row. Yes­ter­day we cleaned up our work area to cre­ate a nice space for our mem­bers to come get their shares and today we will begin to col­lect veg­eta­bles. And we have much to offer!
The farm share this week will have:

      Mixed let­tuce greens
      Egg­plant (large share only)
      Red and White Russ­ian Kale
      Cherry toma­toes
      Baby sum­mer squash
      Fresh basil
      Super red cab­bage

Inside a sun­burst patty pan squash plant
Sun­gold cherry tomatoes 
Our basil patch

With August has also arrived a host of new con­sid­er­a­tions and prob­lems to solve. These last cou­ple of weeks I have started seed­ing the fall crops: stor­age cab­bages, hearty win­ter­bor kale, onions, lots of beets, asian greens and let­tuces. Despite our irri­ga­tion sys­tem, we were hav­ing a hard time get­ting enough water on our seeds in the field, so I seeded a lot of our new crops in flats. Soon we’ll have a bunch of trans­plant­ing to do. 


Our let­tuces have been bolt­ing quickly in the heat, and some of the heads have become so bit­ter I’ve had a hard time even get­ting the chick­ens to eat them! It’s mad­den­ing to see crops get wasted in the field due to poor plan­ning and tim­ing. Next year, I have vowed to been more dili­gent about plant­ing suc­ces­sion crops con­sis­tently, and in smaller batches. I’m pretty sure a lot of my Feb­ru­ary and March 2012 will be spent design­ing spreadsheets. 

Our per­sonal lists of equip­ment we want for next sea­son grow steadily longer, and a seeder is def­i­nitely at the top of mine. There’s a lot to be said for doing things by hand, expe­ri­ences like kneel­ing among the beds plac­ing beet seeds one by one in rows has forced me to really under­stand and appre­ci­ate every part of the grow­ing process. I can, for exam­ple, imme­di­ately iden­tify a beet seed vs a kale seed vs a let­tuce seed (frus­trat­ingly tiny!). At the same time, if small scale organic gar­den­ers had any time to write songs, I’m pretty sure most of them would be odes to well designed tools. 

We also are think­ing about con­struct­ing a hoop house this fall, to help us extend our sea­son and give us more space to start seedlings. This deci­sion in turn begets new deci­sions: How should we build it? Where should we build it? How big should it be? Where to get the money? We’ve been con­sid­er­ing dif­fer­ent grant and fund-raising options but each comes with it’s own set of prob­lems (and paperwork). 

Our egg pro­duc­tion has slowly been dwin­dling, as many of our layer hens grow too old to pro­duce con­sis­tently. Tomor­row morn­ing we are plan­ning on culling our flock, aka killing the hens that are no longer pro­duc­ing enough to jus­tify feed­ing them. Instead, they will feed us now (every­thing feeds some­thing around here). As our old flock decreases, how­ever, our thoughts turn to next year. Lay­ing hens can take between 4 to 6 months to start pro­duc­ing eggs, and we want to make sure that we have lots of eggs for the begin­ning of next sea­son in order to sup­ply the increas­ing demand. We need to fig­ure out how many we should get, and where we are going to raise them and keep them over the win­ter. The hoop house would also be a good place to keep chick­ens after it gets to cold out­side to house them in tractors. 

So as our hands do Summer’s work, thin­ning, seed­ing, weed­ing and har­vest­ing, our minds are two or three or five months in the future, build­ing hoop houses and design­ing suc­ces­sion plant­ing spreadsheets.

Pop­ping a warm just-picked sun­gold cherry tomato into my mouth, how­ever, there’s no deny­ing it’s def­i­nitely August. And we’re doing our best to enjoy every minute of it.

Black Brook Farm Grow­ers lunch