farming

Grower's Row: Garlic!

We’re back! And we have GARLIC!

Garlic is something most of us see year-round in the grocery store. It’s one of those crops that we don’t always think of as being “seasonal”, or having a “season”. But follow any farmer’s social media account, and you’ll pretty quickly see that garlic does indeed have a season: and that harvest season is July.

Our garlic’s story begins in October of last year, when we planted it into a layer of plastic mulch. (The plastic mulch helps retain moisture, suppress weeds, and warm the soil in the spring.) The garlic must undergo a cold period in order to form a nice fat bulb -- and so it spends the winter out in the ground, waiting for spring.

 Garlic shoots in March

Garlic shoots in March

 Cultivating the garlic in May

Cultivating the garlic in May

In March, as the soil warms, the garlic sends up little green shoots… and soon, so do lots of weeds. Weeds like grasses, that threaten to spread their dense, deep root systems and steal all of the garlic’s nutrients, and amaranth and lamb’s quarter, whose big wide leaves will take up all the sunlight and shade out the garlic. So we weed. We cultivate the pathways with the tractor, we hoe the sides that the tractor missed, and we weed the holes with our hands. We do this more than once. With careful weeding and watering, the garlic sizes up.

By the time it’s about waist-high, in early June, plants start to send up tall, squiggly poles from the center: the scapes! If left to mature, the arrow-shaped tips of the scapes will swell to create a bundle of mini-bulbs, called “bulbils” -- and will draw on nutrients stored underground, in the cloves, to do so. In order to get fat juicy bulbs, we harvest the scapes in June. This forces the plant, which wants to make viable seed, to go to Plan B (the bulb).

 A forgotten garlic scape swells with bulbils

A forgotten garlic scape swells with bulbils

 The garlic field starting to senesce

The garlic field starting to senesce

 Leon showing clove separation during a field walk

Leon showing clove separation during a field walk

From June to July, the green leaves of the garlic plants start to turn yellow and brown at the tips. This process, called senescence, is one of the first indicators that harvest time is approaching. On a recent field walk, Leon showed us another, more reliable indicator: after pulling a bulb from the ground, he sliced it in half crosswise, revealing the hard neck. As cloves mature, they begin to pull away from the neck, leaving tiny gaps of space. At this point, the garlic is pungent and fat and ready to harvest!

 Garlic harvest!

Garlic harvest!

 Covering garlic with burlap to prevent sunburn

Covering garlic with burlap to prevent sunburn

We harvested our garlic on a hot day in July. The plants were mowed to remove the tops, undercut with the tractor to loosen the bulbs, gathered up by farm crew and workshare members, and laid out on tables to cure in the greenhouse. The curing process, which can take one to two weeks, allows the wrapper layers to dry out. Cured garlic can store for many months, though the flavor will evolve and the cloves will become slightly drier and less juicy over time. (Enjoy them now, while they’re fresh -- and notice the change in flavor over the course of the season.)

From this year’s garlic harvest, we will sort out the largest cloves, which will themselves become the garlic harvest of 2019.

 Garlic curing in the greenhouse

Garlic curing in the greenhouse

Grower's Row: Spring is Springing!

March Grower’s Row: Spring is Springing

By Lauren McDonald

Happy almost spring! Just in case you missed the weather last week, here’s a quick recap:

It was 40. Then it was 80. The next day it was snowing.

Ah, March. It should come as a surprise to precisely no one than you, you wild crazy month, are responsible for this trickery.

Despite having experienced all four seasons in the span of a few days, it is still officially winter (we had to check the calendar to make sure) – but not for long. Increasingly longer days mean that our winter routine is already giving way to the considerations of spring.

 Precision seeder with Brassica greens mix

Precision seeder with Brassica greens mix

 Newly germinated greens in the high tunnel

Newly germinated greens in the high tunnel

Over the winter, our days have been occupied with harvesting greens and washing roots for our bi-weekly Winter CSA, and filling wholesale orders (including deliveries to Vassar College, where our produce appears in the dining halls). Thanks to our Vassar students and volunteers, we’ve also been chipping away at projects like fence clearing, bed prepping, organizing, and cleaning. On particularly inhospitable days, we take cover indoors to update our record keeping, prepare for the arrival of new staff, and prepare ourselves for a change in responsibilities, as many of us transition to new roles.

Now, as the days lengthen, we’ve been watching things shift in the high tunnels. The few remaining Asian greens are starting to flower, meaning we get to eat the delicious raab, or flowering stalks. Beds that have been cleared of winter greens have been direct seeded with arugula, mustard mix and radishes – which are germinating beautifully, and will hopefully grow fast enough to be harvestable and cleared out by the time we need to plant tomatoes in early April.

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Yes. That means we are seeding tomatoes THIS WEEK, the very first week of March. About 3 weeks later we’ll pot them into larger cells, and by early April they’ll go into the protected grounds of the tunnels. Some of these tomatoes—as well as a diverse array of other vegetables, herbs, flowers, deer-resistant plants (ones that often have strong oils or textures that deer can’t digest) and plants that are good for pollinators—will be destined for our Plant Sale in early May.

This will be our second year growing high tunnel tomatoes, and we’ve learned a lot from last year. Here are a few changes we’re making to incorporate lessons we learned last season:

  • We’re growing heirloom varieties that are more consistent and better suited to tunnel production
  • We’ve timed our plantings to better balance wholesale markets and CSA needs
  • We’ve adjusted our bed spacing plans and pruning methods to use the systems that worked best last year

If all goes well, we’ll harvest them from July through October. Hard to picture that right now in March!

What’s even harder to believe is that we’re also starting seeds for CSA crops that members won’t actually eat until September (onions), October (leeks), and even next January (celeriac)! Between tunnel and CSA plantings and plant sale crops, we’ll be starting 50,648 seedlings during the first three weeks of March.

In short, spring is most definitely springing… and we, too, are springing to action, ready to meet it. To get in on the fun, sign up for your 2018 CSA share here, and mark your calendar for the PFP Plant Sale May 5 and 12. It’s not too soon to start thinking about your own gardens, or about welcoming the summer bounty that we’re already setting in motion.

Grower's Row: Quiescence (and Kohlrabi)

Here at the farm, it’s the calm before the storm.

Already, the light is longer, and the sun is setting later. Soon, the spring seeding will begin. Soon, we’ll be joined by a bright-eyed and eager group of Vassar students, who will be working on the farm as part of a Community Engaged Learning program. Sooner than we realize, the bell curve of the season will slope steeply uphill, and before we know it we’ll be knee-deep in onion transplants and harvesting hundreds of pounds of cucumbers.

But for now, everything is still cold and quiet. Quiet is nice… but it’s also a little lonely.

The woodchucks and wild turkeys are nowhere to be seen. The songbirds are quietly snuggled into their shelters. Rarely these weeks have we seen runners, dog-walkers, or frolicking students around the preserve. It seems only the geese (and, once every two weeks, our intrepid winter CSA members) are braving this cold snap to venture out and visit us!

And so, in an effort to bring some fresh new (human) energy onto the farm, we recently decided to offer a volunteer day.

Our awesome Education team answered our call, and came out with a bounty of positive energy and enthusiasm (along with a few representatives of Vassar College, Dutchess Outreach, and our new Interim Director, Ray Armiter) for some mid-winter farm work. The tunnels were buzzing! In just a few short hours, this amazing group of 15+ completely cleared out and prepped Tunnel 4, removing roughly 200 lbs organic materials to the compost pile and broadforking all three beds to be ready to receive transplants -- and still had time to clear out nearly half the chickweed in Tunnel 2.

 Before

Before

 After!

After!

For the farm team, it was energizing to have some new (and familiar) faces out working with us -- and everyone who came out to help left with dirty hands and big smiles.

In fact, it was so much fun that we’ve decided to do it again: every Tuesday. We’ll be here, holding open volunteer hours, every Tuesday from 10am-12pm. If you’re interested in joining us, please email me at crew(at)farmproject(dot)org to let us know you’re coming -- or just show up.

 Don't you want to have this much fun?

Don't you want to have this much fun?

Or, if “down time” is more your speed, consider getting cozy in your kitchen with one of these recipe suggestions! All this cold weather is a great time to do some roasting, boiling and baking, and to experiment with foods like celeriac, kohlrabi, and rutabaga. Tune in next week for another round-up of recipes to accompany the February 3 CSA distribution.

However you choose to spend the rest of your winter, we hope you find ways to appreciate these darker, colder days (after all, what would the first tomato of the season be without it?) and joy in the little things -- like the harsh honking sound of a flock of geese, flying overhead, or a feather of frost, or the snap of a bright bite of watermelon radish, or a warm bowl of curried carrot soup. 

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Grower's Row: End of the Year Recap

By Lauren Kaplan

Winter has touched all parts of the farm, it seems. As of last week, the last carrots of the year are finally (!) out of the ground. The winter-kill oats and peas have been, well, winter-killed into a dense matted blanket that will protect the soil underneath until the spring, while the rye cover crop remains an impossibly lush green carpet. The greenhouse has transitioned to a winter wash station, the tunnels have transitioned from tomatoes to hardy winter greens, and the fields are frozen. 

 German and newest team member Zoe encounter a frozen block of soil while harvesting the last of our carrots in December

German and newest team member Zoe encounter a frozen block of soil while harvesting the last of our carrots in December

With the year winding to a close, we've been reflecting on the arc of the season, from the challenges we encountered and the losses we suffered to the overall beauty and bounty of the season. 

The weather this year took us for a ride. On June 1 we were pelted by marble-sized hail, which destroyed our first harvest of zucchini and strawberries and many of our newly-planted pyo peppers, cherry tomatoes and sunflowers. A prolonged wet spring gave way to a wet early summer: perfect conditions for disease, from which a number of crops (our peppers in particular) suffered significantly. And there was significant pest pressure in our early potatoes, and in our cucurbits: first cucumbers and then winter squash. 

But there were high points too!

After weeks of measley pepper harvests and a few weeks where we thought the plants were finished, our pepper plants picked up with the drier, sunnier weather of early autumn; they surged with new growth and new fruit! Amazingly, we found ourselves harvesting poblanos until nearly November. Our carrots, thanks to years of refining a system of direct seeding, rolling (to ensure good seed-to-soil contact), flaming and hand weeding, have been fantastic this year. Red beets and sweet potatoes did very well, the kohlrabi were colossal, and the raspberries and blueberries are always highlights of the season. 

We trialed some new crops, including Sugarcube cantaloupe, rainbow carrots, purple top turnips, sweet corn and speckled chicories. The high tunnels that pumped out some 18,500 lbs of tomatoes over the warmer months, are now providing shelter for a thriving crop of kale, cut greens, and mixed Asian greens such as bok choi, yukina savoy, tatsoi and napa cabbage. 

Overall, we grew over 195,000 lbs of food this season -- and donated nearly 26,000 pounds of food to Poughkeepsie area food banks, schools and soup kitchens. Thanks to our heated high tunnels, we're still growing, and donating. 

And vegetables aren't the only things we grew this season. We grew some wonderful relationships with our fantastic crop of interns this year, and think of Fiona, Liz, and Sarantia (and all the things we learned from them, and with them) often. And we have cultivated some new relationships that have allowed us to provide some of our produce to the Poughkeepsie City School District and to Vassar College students in their brand new dining facility. 

As we take this last week of the year to go home to our various corners of the country and be with our families, I at least am spending some time reflecting on how grateful I am to be a part of the Poughkeepsie Farm Project family. This has been my best year of farming yet, and so much of that has to do with the wonderful people that make up this team, and with you amazing CSA members who go out of your way to bake for us, to smile while you're working, to ooh- and aah- over the produce we've grown, to volunteer over the winter for no other reason than that you like working in the soil, and to thank us: your voices of appreciation are what keeps so many of us going, doing the work that we do. 

Thank you! We look forward to continuing to grow for and with you in 2018. 

Grower’s Row: As Summer Ends

By Patrick Lang

There is no better place to be than the farm for tracking the changing of the seasons. It seems that, in the blink of an eye, tender zucchini and sweet cantaloupe are replaced by potatoes and dark green kale, and we enjoy our first glimpse of winter squash being harvested and stowed away for the fall and early winter. Since farm labor is entirely impacted by the seasons, we also have been saying goodbye to amazing PFP farm interns, as well as a special longer-term crew member who is moving on to other exciting projects.

Veg Report
Crops are generally in very good condition after abundant summer rainfall: blueberries and green beans offered particularly large and tasty harvests this summer. Fall brassica crops (broccoli, kale, cabbages, radishes, rutabaga) are looking splendid following the surprisingly cool nights we’ve enjoyed throughout the summer. As always, however, there are winners and there are losers. Cherry tomatoes and peppers growing in the field this summer have not experienced the ideal amount of hot and dry weather that allows them to stay healthy and produce excellent fruit. If you notice haggard-looking cherry tomato plants in the pick-your-own section, know that cool and wet weather has precipitated the spread of fungal diseases. Peppers have been hit hard this season, first by hail when they were very young, and then by multiple heavy rains, all of which has made them more susceptible to bacterial diseases. While we are still able to harvest peppers, fruit ripened rather late this season, and we do not expect the plants to last long into September (despite this, of course, the crew continues to smile brightly while happily harvesting what they can!).

Internships and Training at PFP
We are sad to say goodbye to cherished summer interns, Fiona and Liz. It has been a joy to train and work with these engaged and energetic humans, and also to learn from them. We also say a temporary good bye to Merle, who fortunately plans on returning next season. We will miss you!

German, who is a full-season apprentice this year, has recently begun training in mechanical cultivation, which he will be taking over fully next year. This task, which involves weeding beds with tractor implements, requires much focus and careful coordination, since a slip of the steering wheel can translate to 10 kale or broccoli plants being uprooted in an instant. PFP has four cultivation implements that are used regularly, and they help us accomplish the same goal – a weed-free vegetable/fruit bed – in a variety of ways. Some bury weeds, some uproot them completely, and some cultivate the furrows. After brief training last fall, I managed cultivation this season; I am happy to have the opportunity to transfer that knowledge to another individual learning to farm here at PFP.

September on the Farm
I hope that I’ve helped to explain why patience is needed this season in the pepper and cherry tomato area. Remember how wonderful many other crops have been, due to the same cool, wet weather! The winter squash, potato, onion, and garlic harvests are now complete, and the farmers are excited to chill out a little more and sweat a little less. We are also excited to begin harvesting fall greens and roots! Parsnips, rutabaga, and celeriac continue to size up, and the first tender arugula and spinach leaves have our mouths watering. Enjoy the bounty!

Meet Back Paddock Farm!

by Dan Salisbury, Ed Intern

The majestic Hudson Valley sprawls roughly 7000 miles throughout New York; drive through any of the towns or cities from Albany to Yorktown and you’re bound to cross paths with one of the many bountiful farms, orchards, or vineyards sprawled throughout the state. Here in the Hudson Valley, we’ve been quite fortunate to receive access to incredible produce and meats. While this is partly due to increased consumer interest (you!) in sourcing locally and having a greater connection with local farmers, a large reason why we have such quality product is due to the hard work and pride that these farmers put into their craft. For smaller farmers, the work and labor can often be extremely difficult and the days quite long, but the finished result is often extraordinary.

Enter Pat Knapp and Allison Toepp of Back Paddock Farm. Now located in Ghent, NY, they have been raising cows since April of last year – more specifically, a herd of 100% grass-fed Red Devons. These cows have a storied history; the first Devons to come to America date all the way back to the 17th century. These purebred and docile bovines have thick skin, are efficient eaters, and their coat color can range from a deep ruby color to light red. In short, they are excellent cattle; a quality animal - raised responsibly and with care – ultimately creates a better product from the farm to your fork.

 A short while ago, I had the chance to speak with Pat, who graciously explained a little about their operation.

PFP - How did you get started with the farm? Can you tell me a little about the Hudson Valley Farm Business Incubator?
Pat - I was working with Allie at Sprout Creek Farm in Poughkeepsie. We worked well together, and realized we wanted to start a business. We drew up a plan and applied [to the Hudson Valley Business Incubator] and were accepted. They provided us with just the space; we shared some land, equipment, and resources with a couple of other farms.

We were able to get our feet wet. It allowed us to get people to know what we were doing in a way where this reputable organization was backing us and supporting us. We did some fundraising with some close friends and family who wanted to invest in our future, we bought a herd, and then we just started doing it!

You have grass-fed Red Devons at your farm along with log-grown mushrooms – and you want to mimic nature’s perennial process. Can you explain how you aim to do this?
We implement a management-intensive rotational grazing system. Cattle, and livestock in general, get a bad rap and a lot of blame for a lot of environmental problems, perhaps rightfully so. More often than not, it’s not the animals intrinsically that are responsible for environmental destruction, but more the management. [Famed conservationist] Allen Savory has really promoted this style of regenerative agriculture where cattle can serve this extremely unique purpose of creating a positive impact that we would [otherwise] not be able to do without cattle or another large mobile herbivore. We rotationally graze to benefit the land in the same way bison and wild herbivores would, and we’re always focused on not just creating a diverse ecosystem (and a robust one), but we’re really focused on building soil organic matter; this is the only way that we can be taking carbon out of the air and put it back into the soil. It’s our own little form of environmental activism.

As we develop our land base, one thing that we want to be doing is responsibly tending to the forested areas of the farm. Again, we want to create a real carbon sink in the forest, where we’re not letting the plants and trees fall and decay – we want to be intensively managing our woodlot so that they can be a productive part of the farm ecosystem as well. Eventually, we’d like to be thinning out some of these forests and creating a silvo-pasture – essentially a man-made savannah where the entire area will be in shade. [BPF] will be thinning out trees and putting down grass seed; by turning that into a twice-productive perennial system, the animals will be able to graze underneath, keeping the forage plants vegetative. The hardwood trees that we’re tending to will be harvested for shitake mushrooms production, and then we hope to turn some of the hayfields into fruit and nut production.

What are some of the challenges that you face?
Most cattle out there really can’t finish well on [a 100% grass diet]. The industry has kind of moved toward a system based on corn and grain (and fuel), and we’ve got a long road backwards, almost, to be able to get animals back to a point where we can consistently create tender, high-quality meats on grass alone. We’re part of a breed improvement program, [with mentors and colleagues Mike Scannell and Joan Harris of Harrier Field farm , among others] where we’re really trying to build up the breed forward with an eye towards a quality end product. As we’re working with butchers and chefs, they can give us a higher level of feedback, which is important.

We measure our cattle; there’s a system of linear measurement and ratios that cattlemen before us found tends to correlate to quality and tenderness, as well as creating a more efficient animal that can produce more pounds of high quality meat per acre of grass. [When BPF first began] I was coming with the idea to [raise the herd] from a strict Allen Savory perspective. Mike Scannell challenged that by saying it wasn’t enough, and that it was only half of it. The other half of [raising the cattle] is the breed improvement side of things, where if you’re not improving cattle, you’re degrading – in the same way that if you’re not improving soil quality and the health of an ecosystem it can degrade as well. We’re trying to make the most of this land, and [we] have to try and maximize the amount of quality meat that we’re able to produce per acre. Part of that is improving your fields, but part of that is improving your cattle. The combination of [the ideas and methods of] Allen Savory plus my friend Mike Scannell really just kind of took us places.

We’re trying to do things in the most straight-forward way we know how. It’s a very kind of raw and pure way to do what we’re doing; we aren’t working with huge machines and government-subsidized] grains. It’s unique in the way that we’re looking to nature rather than mechanization for inspiration in efficiency. [BPF meat] is not just something that’s easy to eat, but is something that people can morally get behind to promote their ideal of animal welfare and create a positive environmental impact through their eating choices. We really make an effort to do things that cater to all kinds of ideals.

***PFP features Back Paddock Farms’ wonderful retail cuts at every CSA pickup offered at the farm. You don’t need to be a member of the CSA in order to buy, and there’s a wide variety of cuts to choose from!

Grower's Row: Contemplating Summer and Shares

Editor's Note: This post was originally scheduled for late June publication, and I apologize for the delay!

by Elizabeth Doyle

What a difference a day makes. This aphorism sums up my swift-moving first month as an intern at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project. These warm June nights and regular, welcome rains are inciting the plants to fill out markedly more each day at a rate that continues to astound.

The winter squash (and most other cucurbits, a family that includes melons, cukes, and zucchini) that we planted in early June had to be covered with Reemay, the white fabric that you see stretched over hoops in many of the fields, to protect the young plants from a booming population of cucumber beetles. Any day now, the flower buds developing on the plants will bloom, requiring us to uncover the beds to welcome in pollinators.

Accordingly, how quickly the offerings in the distribution tent have expanded (as I'm sure you all have noticed)! The first week featured an array of greens and a few petite Hakurei turnips and radishes. Now with the ushering in of zucchini and cucumbers (two crops that demand harvesting three days a week in this time of rapid growth), as well as cabbages, it seems the tent can hardly contain the bounty. Another thing worth mentioning here is my amazement and gratitude at the abundance of eager help in the fields from members, without whom the harvesting days would be a true challenge. With all these extra hands, the amount we are able to clear out of the fields before noon is truly remarkable. These hours are also a fantastic opportunity to connect with community members in conversation. As a newcomer to the Hudson Valley, I am pleased to get acquainted with this crew of farm-invested New Yorkers and hear all about places to see and hike in the area.

Speaking of members, one thing that I love about this method of CSA distribution (I come from a land where boxes are the norm, which does not require members to go directly to the farm nor allow the ability to choose which vegetables go home with you) is the opportunity for conversation and the exchange of ideas. I've often overheard members eagerly sharing recipes for things like beet greens, kohlrabi, and escarole in the tent. If you are at all like me, it is easy to get into cooking ruts and run out of creative steam when eating the same foods for many weeks, hence the boon of this face-to-face exchange, stimulating our interest and allowing us to branch out in the ways we can enjoy preparing these delicious yields.

You may have noticed the abundance of radishes in many varieties in the tent. A well-kept secret about this crunchy little root is that it is positively divine in cooked form! My favorite way to eat these gems is braised in chicken or vegetable stock, a pat of butter, chopped shallots, and a little honey, with fresh parsley for good measure tossed on at the end. This recipe can be found in Jack Bishop's book Vegetables Every Day, a invaluable resource I discovered in my own CSA rut many years ago, but you can find this and another delectable radish idea for free here: http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/lifestyle/rocflavors/recipes/2014/05/07/braised-roasted-radishes/8829169/

As a wise permaculturist friend of mine famously says, "Point of view is a limit, community a remedy." (Bruce Bacon, Garden Farme) These are fine words to live by, and to serve as a reminder that it never hurts to reach out and inquire around us. If you see something unfamiliar in the tent and have questions about how to eat it, please feel welcomed to ask the farm staff or pose your curiosity to your fellow members!

Grower's Row: Welcome to Summer (almost!)

Grower’s Row: Welcome to Summer (almost!)
By Lauren McDonald

We’re excited (and maybe a bit overwhelmed!) to be back in the full swing of summer on the farm. It’s hard to believe we’re harvesting again; we only had about a month break between the last chard in Tunnel 2 and the first harvest for May Share. Despite the crazy weather swings over the last few weeks, from frosts to 95 degree days, everything is looking beautiful and bountiful, especially the arugula, kale, mustard mix, Tokyo Bekana heads, and radishes.

After recovering from two successful (if slightly soggy!) plant sales, we’ve been madly planting the last few weeks to get the longer season summer crops, like peppers, eggplant, and winter squash, in the ground. With the start of the full CSA just around the corner, we’ll be working longer days and are excited to welcome our three interns for the season- Sarantia, Liz, and Fiona. We’re also looking forward to having Workshare members back in the fields to help with harvest and weeding projects and appreciate those of you who have jumped in early!

With the start of distributions we’ll also begin our weekly Food Share donations. Our goal is to donate 20% of our produce to organizations and families who do not have access to fresh, healthy food. Our list of partner organizations is up to 15 this season!

We will work with returning partners:

  • Dutchess Outreach
  • Grace Smith House
  • Bread of Life
  • Salvation Army
  • Hudson River Housing
  • River Haven Youth Shelter
  • Children’s Home of Poughkeepsie
  • Victory Bus Project
  • Poughkeespie City School District

New this year will be:

  • Pleasant Valley Ecumenical Food Pantry
  • Beulah Baptist Church
  • Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Poughkeepsie
  • Community Family Development
  • Long Table Harvest (a gleaning organization in Dutchess and Columbia Counties)

We’re grateful for financial support from United Way and Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley, and we are very appreciative of Workshare members who deliver produce and the partner organizations who work to incorporate the fresh produce into their pantries and meals.

Many institutions want to use more fresh produce but struggle with the added cost and prep time. Last year we started the Green Machines program to allow PFP members to do their Workshare hours at the Lunchbox or Hudson River Housing. Members help prepare greens, often blanching and freezing them for later use, or assist with other kitchen activities. This is a great option if you have challenges with sun, heat, or kneeling in the field, so check for an announcement from German: we’ll post these shifts on Sigunup.com in the next few weeks. It’s an exciting time to be on the farm just on the cusp of summer, and we’re looking forward to sharing the bounty with you and the wider community!

Grower's Row: Snow, Seeds, and Sale (Plant Sale, that is)

Whoa, March. We might be tempted to "pretend it didn't happen," due to the cancellations, unexpected snow removal needs, and general inconvenience precipitating from the big winter storm, but I think it's helpful to be reminded that we're never in complete control. Arriving at PFP the day after the major snowfall, I fell down at least 5 times during a walk that normally takes 2 minutes; it was surprising and hard, and was accompanied by lots of audible (if only to me) laughter. The great news from the farm following this return of winter is that everything has held up wonderfully, and we are still lucky to have some greens in the tunnels, as well as thousands of healthy seedlings growing for CSA, plant sale, and meditation garden.

That's right! It's the busy and exciting season around here when the greenhouse is buzzing with seeding and re-potting activity and becoming utterly packed with plants. Our greenhouse manager, Merle, is beginning her third season at PFP, and continues to develop and implement systems that maximize available space and plant health, which means healthier transplants and even more plant sale awesomeness in May.

Some of the improvements you're likely not aware of include:

  • Potting mix that is now supplied from Vermont Compost (very high quality potting mix ensures good water retention and plenty of available nutrients for seedlings)
  • A reconstructed end wall of our greenhouse that helps retain heat (a new, wider door also makes seeding considerably more efficient)
  • Germination chambers that we constructed last April/May (a substantial increase in germination space, and a more ideal environment, compared to the old fridges we used in previous years)

With these tools available, the farm crew has been sowing seeds and giving careful attention to seedlings, especially the flowers and herbs for the plant sale that are challenging to start from seed, compared to field crops. We plan to offer some new herbs at this year's plant sale, including lemon mint, summer savory, and lovage, which is one of Merle's personal favorites: a perennial, it has an aromatic smell and taste that is quite reminiscent of celery. The leaves, seeds, and root are all useable and have medicinal qualities.

Tomatoes are another focus in the greenhouse this time of year, and we are excited to expand our selection of heirloom tomatoes, both for the plant sale and grown in our high tunnels for CSA. Here are some of the varieties we're anxious to see and try:

  • Bull's Heart: a productive Russian heirloom producing sweet, flavorful pink fruits
  • Green Berkeley Tie-Dye: featuring green/red/amber stripes, a tangy, tasty, small- to medium-size tomato
  • Dr. Wyche's Yellow: large fruits, and supposedly some of the tastiest gold tomatoes available
  • Black Cherry: beautiful red-to-black coloration and a rich flavor
  • Copia: I grew this heirloom in my garden last season, and loved the sweet, juicy fruits that are streaked with red and gold inside and out

To hear and see a bit more about our spring adventures at the farm, check us out on Facebook and Instagram, where we’ll continue to share photos, videos, and updates from the greenhouse and beyond. And, of course, join us on May 6 and 13 for the 2017 Plant Sale and Open Farm Day! It’s a wonderful chance to see each other again and to celebrate the beginning of the growing season.

Grower’s Row: Successions, Seasonality, and Winter Produce Patterns

Grower’s Row: Successions, Seasonality, and Winter Produce Patterns
Patrick Lang

 The second harvest of one of our spinach beds

The second harvest of one of our spinach beds

The farm crew is still happily harvesting, maintaining, and planting (again!) in the now iconic high tunnels that have allowed us to enjoy the growing season all winter long. We saw plenty of kale and mustard greens in December, and salad mix and spinach in January, followed by chard and Asian greens in February. The proportion of storage crops (roots, winter squash) to greens has also varied throughout the winter.

Considering this, have you wondered how and why various items make it to distribution at given times? It is in fact a little less obvious in the winter than during the regular growing season.

First of all, since this is the first time anything has been grown in the new structures at PFP, some of the details amounted to an experiment this winter. Part of the plan for a well-rounded supply of winter greens is multiple successions so that tender mustard and salad greens (for example) can be harvested all winter. This is done by planting multiple beds at different times; thus the plants mature at different times. This fall, very warm and sunny weather caused most of the mustard greens to mature around the same time, however, gently indicating that in the future the successions should be planted with even greater delays (this fast growth is why such a large amount of mustards was distributed early this winter!). Multiple successions of salad mix were also planted, but due again to the effect of a very warm fall, the distribution of baby lettuces hasn't been completely consistent.

Along with the concept of multiple successions,  seasonality is essential in determining what can be harvested at what point in the winter. During the growing season, seasonality determines whether we get arugula (spring/fall), tomatoes (late summer), carrots (early summer/fall), or zucchini (summer), to name a few examples. When growing in winter high tunnels, the effect of seasonality is more about how fast the various greens will grow, and this is all about sunlight. For instance, we expect greens (like arugula) planted in November to hardly grow during the first few months, because the sunlight intensity is so low. By February, though, the sun appears ever higher in the sky, and we don't need to be in a greenhouse to feel its increased strength; at this point, plants resume growing fairly vigorously. The difference between December and February growth rates is enormous.

 Baby lettuces begin regrowing almost immediately in February

Baby lettuces begin regrowing almost immediately in February

 Flowering stalk of tatsoi

Flowering stalk of tatsoi

Certain crops are responding strongly to this change: baby lettuces harvested much earlier in the winter have recently begun rapidly regrowing. Additionally, some of the mustards and Asian greens have begun to send flowering stalks high above the surrounding leaf canopy: we've harvested these flowering brassica stalks as raab. Thus, winter shareholders and thrilled farmers enjoyed tender tatsoi leaves in December, and more recently, tatsoi raab - a very different point in the life cycle of this plant.

During the past week, we've been caring for another new sight as spring approaches: new seedlings! Early spring successions of baby greens have been planted, as we start also thinking about ramping up seedling production for the new growing season as well as for the plant sale and open farm day. Spring, it seems, is here!

 Harvesting komatsuna raab

Harvesting komatsuna raab

 Baby kale planted in early February

Baby kale planted in early February