Sunday, July 27, 2008

Onions, anyone?

I feel compelled to share the flood hydrograph one last time, and give the follow up to the flood drama of the week. As you can tell from the hydrograph, the waters have receded and we are oh so happy about that! In the throes of the drama, we were slightly confused by the lack of rain on the day that we were supposed to flood (river crest was predicted to be 17 feet - our field starts to flood at about 12 feet). We were scrambling to get all of the onions and garlic out of the field and the sun was shining and it ended up being a quite nice day. Then we heard they lowered the flood prediction to around 10 feet! Well - there's no fear of us flooding at 10 feet, so we eased off on the harvesting, and tried to relax. That's about the time that other farms were reporting flooding in their fields (Healthy City farm, Diggers' Mirth and Pitchfork Farm). Turns out the equipment that takes the above measurements broke at a critical moment for us farmers. You can see that squiggly spot there at the crest. That's where the machines broke. They really have no sense of what the actual crest was, though I know that my friends at Healthy City were coming back from their fields with their clothes wet to their waists - about 4 feet in spots, I think. SO, turns out the Intervale CAN flood in the middle of summer - as if we weren't paranoid about the weather already! I wanted to share pictures of the aftermath of our process, and then we can all move on!

Our onion field Thursday morning
Our onion field Thursday afternoon. I really wish I had gotten pictures of our crew pulling all the onions and shallots out - it was so great to have all the help!
Some of the onion bunches that we made to sell at market.
Some of our helpers pulling our colored carrots out - thanks guys!
I harvested out the artichokes from or swale - the lowest spot on our farm, sure to flood first.

All of our garlic that Spencer and Chloe harvested out Thursday morning - drying nicely in the greenhouse.

Some of our cipollinis (rear) and some of the shallots (front) that were pulled by our crew and taken back to the greenhouses to dry.

The white cipollinis and more shallots.

Spencer contemplating the massive onion harvest.

We started our day around 4:30 am and ended it around 8 pm - to the craziest storm ever. Sort of a fitting end to a day rattled with the fear of massive moisture. The sky was the weirdest orange color...

I "safely" snapped this shot in the torrential downpour while driving home - such a strange sky!

Here we are Saturday after market dealing with all the heaped up onions - trying to spread them out nicely for a good even dry and cure. Here we're working on shallots.

Our friend Emily came down to help us with this stinky and sometimes goopy (decaying onion tops) project - what a trooper! Thanks, Emily!!!

So. Now that we've dealt with the mega harvest, we have started thinking about selling these onions! Did you know it takes about 4 pounds of onions to make French Onion soup?? Well, have we got the onions for you! A recipe to get you excited:

French Onion Soup
Recipe courtesy of Alton Brown

  • 5 sweet onions (like Vidalias) or a combination of sweet and red onions (about 4 pounds)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 10 ounces canned beef consomme
  • 10 ounces chicken broth
  • 10 ounces apple cider (unfiltered is best)
  • Bouquet garni; thyme sprigs, bay leaf and parsley tied together with kitchen string
  • 1 loaf country style bread
  • Kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • Splash of Cognac (optional)
  • 1 cup Fontina or Gruyere cheese, grated
  1. Trim the ends off each onion then halve lengthwise. Remove peel and finely slice into half moon shapes.
  2. Set electric skillet to 300 degrees and add butter. Once butter has melted add a layer of onions and sprinkle with a little salt. Repeat layering onions and salt until all onions are in the skillet. Do not try stirring until onions have sweated down for 15 to 20 minutes. After that, stir occasionally until onions are dark mahogany and reduced to approximately 2 cups. This should take 45 minutes to 1 hour. Do not worry about burning.
  3. Add enough wine to cover the onions and turn heat to high, reducing the wine to a syrup consistency. Add consomme, chicken broth, apple cider and bouquet garni. Reduce heat and simmer 15 to 20 minutes.
  4. Place oven rack in top 1/3 of oven and heat broiler. Cut country bread in rounds large enough to fit mouth of oven safe soup crocks. Place the slices on a baking sheet and place under broiler for 1 minute.
  5. Season soup mixture with salt, pepper and cognac. Remove bouquet garni and ladle soup into crocks leaving one inch to the lip. Place bread round, toasted side down, on top of soup and top with grated cheese. Broil until cheese is bubbly and golden, 1 to 2 minutes.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Bullet Dodgers!

So. This is a quick post to let everyone know that we're alright! Turns out the prediction was incorrect, and we're holding steady at 8 feet or so, and only looking at about 10 feet, but probably not even that. PLUS! There's dry weather suddenly in the forecast for the whole weekend!

We busted it out yesterday on the farm, and I am more than a little sore today. After reading our blogpost yesterday, we had a mini army that came out of the woodwork yesterday and helped us tremendously! Thanks soooooooooo much to Lorenzo, Chloe, Lindsay, Josh, Rob, and Suki (who provided us with rations for the day - thank you!). We accomplished so much between 5am and 8pm yesterday - we pulled our entire garlic, onion and shallot crop, as well as all the artichokes, some potatoes, and carrots, too. I will post some pictures of that process tonight, but for now, I need to go try and sell some onions to our accounts! See folks at market on Saturday, and thanks again for all your support on an extremely stressful and crazy day! Be well, and think dry!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Preparing for Flooding...

Who would've thought that we'd be preparing for a flood at the end of July - not us, that's for sure! Well, looks like from the hydrograph at the left (the Intervale farmers' bible during rainy times), that it is a fairly definite certainty that we'll be under some amount of water by Friday mid-morning (the graph is about 8 hours ahead of our location on the river). This prediction puts us at least where we were on May 20th, 2006. Year of the flood where our fields were at least 2 feet under water for around 24 hours - and others for much longer. Farmers lost plenty, but had most of the season to recover - planting had barely begun. This time, we're in full swing, and the potential losses are not remotely funny to think about. Yet, that's all we're thinking about, of course. Hence, the late evening blogpost. What do we stand to lose - certainly the first flush of long-awaited tomatoes at least to cracking from the amount of rain (4 more inches today...), and very probably from the mildewing and blight that's sure to come from all of the moisture. The life of the squash blossoms and the baby squashes will be cut short for sure with the inevitable mildew, the peppers could rot, the salad, arugula and lettuce heads will be unsaleable. The haricot vert, which had thousands of blossoms yesterday, will very likely set these first fruits, then be extremely susceptible to rust rot, vastly diminishing the yields. The artichokes are just beginning and could certainly get the black rot that happens with excessive rain. The garlic and the cipollini onions could have a very hard time curing with all the humidity, and therefore not store nearly as well as they should. We are fairly certain the potatoes and the carrots can handle the water - it all depends how long they are submerged....

So, what do we do now - besides sit up in a nervous panic all night - we have constructed a harvest plan for tomorrow to be reckoned with! Pictures like this one of our hoophouse with $3000 worth of lettuce heads in the flood of 2006 remind us that it would be prudent to harvest before the flood - SO. Our plan is to harvest out absolutely everything that is harvestable in preparation for being unable to harvest for the forseeable future. We're pulling the remaining garlic and cipollinis, and trying to dry them in the greenhouse. Then (if it's not underwater yet), we'll harvest out the ready lettuce heads, radicchio, escarole, treviso, radishes, turnips, beets, salad and arugula - if they are underwater, they are lost to us. Next will be the peppers, eggplants, squashes, artichokes and cukes. Lastly, we'll grab the carrots and potatoes that are ready.

This is a fairly nervewracking end to an otherwise uplifting day. We awoke to say goodbye to Spencer's mom Nancy and stepdad Garth (who helped us tremendously with harvesting for market and deliveries over the past week while visiting us on their vacation - thank you, sooo much!). We also awoke to a rainy day. Since Nancy and Garth helped us get caught up with some farm chores, we figured we had a much-needed day to have our mid-season summer conference. We always take one day in the middle of the season to have a meeting where we take stock of where we are, where we're headed and if there are changes we would like to make to the current plan, or things that we'd like to add for the fall planting. Basically, it's a chance to take some much-needed overview notes in the heat of the season so that when we're planning in February, we remember some key observations that were made when it mattered. It's always a very nice time for us take a deep breath and pat ourselves on the back a little bit as well as decide what's not going well so that we can make changes for a big finish to the season. As usual, we holed up at Dobra Tea downtown and made our big plans. We were feeling good about how the meeting went, and then we made our way back home in the rain to continue the discussion. Discreetly, Spencer had a chance to check the hydrograph (as we're all wont to do during extended rainy times), and then he broke the news to me. The upbeat meeting ground to a screeching halt, and plans for a major harvest started taking shape. We're forced to leave the agenda items "The Big Picture for Half Pint Farm" and "Plans for the Haygrove" and "Half Pint Farm's place in the Food Revolution" for another day. We simply can't think of the future when our present is at imminent risk. Well, off to bed, then early to rise for what promises to be an extremely long day! Wish us luck! And if you have a few moments, and some Muck boots, come on down to the farm and lend a hand - we'll appreciate any help we can get.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Coming out from the weeds, we think...

It must be true, since I'm feeling a little less demoralized about the farm now that we've got the weeds semi-under control. The weediness issue is one I feel gets dealt with best in retrospect. Specifically, this is exactly the reason we keep a farm journal. It turns out, that every year we have farmed, around Spencer's birthday (July 12th), we find ourselves mired in weeds. Weeds of all kinds (and while it can be interesting to catalog them, I won't because there are just so many, and I did mention that I was feeling less demoralized about them - no reason to bring them back up in startling detail, now is there?!), weeds that get HUGE with the perfect combination of rain, humidity, heat and sun. Of course, we should mention that the use of row-cover or reemay does help to keep the bugs off of certain things (arugula), but it creates a hothouse that the weeds love. As Spencer is fond of saying, "How do we want to kill our (fill in the blank) this time? Melt it with reemay? Leave it unprotected for deer to eat? Let the weeds overtake them?"

At any rate, my point is that this happens EVERY year right around this week or so. We've kept really good records of weed frustrations, and that at least helps us to remember that no matter what we do, they still come, and we still have to fight them. It's a war out here, people. Constant, unending, with various victors, and sometimes that victor is us. You know, farming on floodplain is wonderful for sooooooo many reasons (great soil chief among them), but one detail that gets overlooked (mostly due to short memories) is that if you farm on land that floods annually, you will never win against the weed seed bank. Every year you can weed your heart out, and still get that fall or spring flood, and that will bring in a whole host of new weed seeds to deal with. Every year at least once. SO. We content ourselves with beating back the crabgrass from the perimeters with mowing and hoeing, and that inevitable weeding day that happens every year - the plucking out one by one of huge galansoga weeds from the baby carrot bed (or two or three). Usually we don't succeed with every planting, and end up having to till in a round of carrots out of sheer lack of time and will (always depressing since carrots take 60-75 days until harvest). But, so far, we are winning, and haven't had to till in a bed yet! This, at least, is one measure of success in the battle. We'll take it and hope that the weeds start to taper off as the light starts to not hang around as long each day. I always start feeling ready for fall around now - but then remember we have 3 more months to go! And we go! So many fun veggies are right around the corner! And rest assured - there are plenty of carrots to go around this fall! Finally.

A teaser to get excited:
The hoophouse tomatoes are looking grand - growing like weeds, and thanks to the landscape fabric, have virtually no weeds!
Just for the record, here's one ripening up just today! Feels late for tomatoes (been growing them since April!), but a quick consultation to last year's journal shows that we didn't have them this time last year either! We also harvested ~2 pounds of the first cherry tomatoes yesterday. They're coming!!!

Here's a fun new addition to our repertoire! Romanesco cauliflower. It's just so darn cool-looking, we had to try it. And for all you fellow nerds out there - the florets spiral in the Fibonacci sequence, so that makes it even cooler! This, too, takes forever to grow, and we were happy to see the first nubs emerging. Soon!

Here was our last project yesterday afternoon - pole bean trellising! You can kind of see the Hortonova net we use for the trellis in this picture. I'll get more detailed pictures as they climb. We are trying tons of different types of heirloom dry beans this year.

The haricot vert have flowers! Looks like next week!

Always amazed by the cardoon/artichoke family, I felt compelled to take this awesome depiction of how different the two plants look side-by-side, eventhough they are very close relatives. The cardoon is the tall massive plants up top, and the artichokes are the deeply serrated leaves below. More on cardoons when it's time to eat them - fall. Artichokes, however, are just around the corner!

Just for fun - wanted to share today's big project - the liberation of our Haygrove pieces from the weeds, and piling up of them in an orderly and hopeful fashion in a non-weedy place. Doesn't look very intimidating from this angle, does it?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Perfect Farm Day

Sometimes days turn out just right, and this one was just one of those days! Every Monday we sit at our picnic table at the farm, and fill out the calendar of tasks for the week while having breakfast. This week, there was a call for rain on Wednesday, and we thought that would be our day to transplant our next round of fall crops; a cloudy and rainy day being a perfect day for transplanting. Then, once we finally arrived here at Wednesday, after 2 very hot and sweltering days, they changed the forecast to dry morning, rainy afternoon. As we re-evaluated our plan for the day, we decided that we'd do things like pruning & clipping tomatoes in the morning & weeding the holes in our beds with landscape fabric (great dry-weather activities), and transplanting in the afternoon when the rain comes. We set about clipping tomatoes, and then switched over to weeding the holes, which we completed just in time for lunch.

We decided to consolidate tasks and eat in the van as we went back to the greenhouses to collect our seedlings for transplanting. We did just that, and arrived back at the farm just in time for the clouds to roll in and start sprinkling on us. We laid out the seedlings, and filled the holes (which Spencer burned with the torch yesterday in preparation for this very activity) with some organic fertilizer, and then set out planting just as the rain began to fall in earnest. This is fortuitous since the soil was quite dry and we hadn't quite laid out the drip irrigation lines in this section just yet. The plants were at the perfect stage of growth for transplanting - not remotely rootbound in the seedling trays, we had enough for the space, and we got the cool weather, and rain all at once! Not to mention, the seedlings were going into the ground the very day that we had planned when we created our farm maps back in February!

On days like this, we feel like really good farmers, and like we're in total control - a feeling not enjoyed by us every single day that we are farming, but it is notable, and appreciated when it happens.
This day marks the time when we are truly in the full swing of things - everything is in the ground, the rotations are rolling right along, the weeds are being managed well enough, and the tomatoes are just around the corner! It's a good week to feel good about farming, since we're planning on taking a little R&R this weekend after Saturday market to do some camping (in honor of Spencer's birthday) and not worry about not being on the farm for once. Time to let it ride - at least for a day or two!
Enjoy these pictures of our progress!
First, a visit from a tiny toad on our order sheet yesterday morning...
Cherry tomatoes coming right along!
Cipollini Onions growing like weeds!
Our new favorite baby eggplant! It's called "Bambino" and each one is the size of a large gumball. The plants are about a foot high - perfect Half Pint Farm veggie!
Been waiting for these superstars - well, wait no more! These are Tasty Jade cucumbers - absolutely the most delicious Japanese cucumber we know of.
A view of the landscape fabric field today - artichokes and broccoli plants looking gorgeous...
Baby artichoke - first of hundreds!
And finally, the ever-popular micro-basil ready this week!