Sunday, May 17, 2009

Two Successful Markets, Conestoga, Wind & Tomatoes

We are still reeling from two great farmers' markets - our best first two markets ever, despite the deluge of biblical proportions last week and the windy & rainy end of market this week!  Thanks to all of our customers who come out every week (rain or shine) to support us - thank you!  What a productive week we've had - if not a little unnerving with all of the wind!  Every hoop-house owners' nightmare - 50+ mph gusts of wind.  We did our best all week to try and ignore the needling sounds of flapping plastic from the hoop-houses, and all in all, I'd say we succeeded.  The Haygrove also fared fine, though the FEMA-approved flappable side skirts did indeed flap in the wind (loudly), and in the process tore and became tangled.  It will actually not be too hard to repair it, but it is just one more thing for us to deal with in the busiest time of the year.  At any rate, the wind has come and gone, and hopefully we now have been blown into more consistently warmer weather - I write this as we expect another night in the 30s, but the 10-day forecast looks more promising, thankfully.  The plants will simply take off and grow like crazy when the weather regulates.  Looking forward to that!  Other fun developments this week include building the at-farm goose and duck house!  Spencer's vision panned out well - building a conestoga wagon for them.  We've heard horror stories from other farmers with ducks and geese that predators will stop at nothing to get to them - so we decided to build a fortress of sorts, with a nice looking facade.  The hoops are made from electrical conduit, and the shell is made from two layers of chicken wire.  We actually scavenged all materials and purchased nothing to make this
 cool house for the birds!  Plus, we gave them shade with white plastic we already had - and for extra panache, we lashed the plastic to the frame, which makes it look a lot like the Haygrove.  Consistency in all things!  We thought the ramp/door (made from a pallet) might be too steep for them to walk up, but they can make it up just fine.  After only 4 days of teaching them to go up the ramp before nightfall (and much goose and duck chasing!), they seem to have learned when it's time to go into the house, and just about 60 seconds of herding is required to get the gaggling 
mass of fowl up the ramp and bolted into their wagon for the night.  The area that we have them living in is fenced in with a woven electrical poultry fence with a battery powered terminal - training the dogs to that was not fun, but necessary, and they now give the penned in area a WIDE berth every time they pass it!  The geese and ducks LOVE to have access to tons of grass, and seem to be very happy out at the farm.  They're feathering out nicely and this week we'll move them to the garlic patch to start their actual job, which is weeding!  I'm sure we have a lot to learn on that front, but we're giving it a shot,
 anyway.  Speaking of workers on the farm, we have a woman named Chloe that will be working some with us this summer - she volunteered several times at our farm last year, and we're very happy to have her back!  She helped us with transplanting and weeding this week - a HUGE help!  We planted out all the kale, sprouting broccoli, parsley, swiss chard, cardoons and artichokes as well as all the heirloom tomatoes.  It's definitely a milestone in the season to get the tomatoes in - feels good!  Nice to know that the tomatoes are on their way - especially since I only have 5 quarts left from last 
year!  Come on tomatoes!  We decided to devote the Ledgewood hoop-house to the heirlooms this year and all the others (romas and cherries) will go into the Haygrove this week along with the peppers, squashes and eggplants.  We also did not graft the tomatoes this year after all.  We were all ready to do it - grew out the rootstock and everything.  We just revisited our experience last year and decided it wasn't worth it for us to do this year.  The grafted plants last year were indeed robust and huge - but mostly in the realm of foliage, not fruit.  I can sell fruit, not foliage.  Decision made.  Also - the grafting
 process always sets us back at least 10 days, and we decided that the time lost wasn't worth it.  So, we're happy with our decision - our tomatoes are in the ground way earlier than ever before - they're super healthy and getting established.  It will be interesting to see how much sooner we'll get fruit than years prior.  We also received the next round of chickens - this time it was 50 assorted heavy breeds, a favorite delivery to receive because they are so beautiful and varied in their coloring, and always super fun to receive a box of peepers in the mail!  They like their brooder and have been so much heartier than the 
cornish cross guys - out of 25 cornish cross birds we received, we're down to 19 at week 5 - they simply die over the tiniest things.  The heavy breeds are still going strong here at the end of their first week - no losses!  It's always such a stark contrast to those cornish birds, who got moved outside to feather out a bit more and then they'll move out to work at the farm in their chicken tractor for a few more weeks before harvesting them.  The next round of birds will be
 the quail, quickly followed by the next round of building housing for farm creatures; apparently our new pastime!  Luckily, once the buildings are complete - they can be re-used over and over again, and we'll be all set for animal structures for a while.  Such a busy week!  We accomplished most things on our list this week, and look forward to next week's projects, which will see us getting all of the rest of the long-term plants in the ground, the first weeding projects tackled, and getting 
potted plants ready for the biggest plant selling weekend coming up - Memorial day weekend!  Can you believe it?  The Spring continues to breeze by as we try to notice all of the lovely Spring smells in the air, the orioles flitting about the trees, the first mow of the farm fringe, the non-bugginess of early Spring, and the lengthening days giving us light until 7 pm.  Will close today with a picture of the dogs discussing the new electric fence at the farm keeping those geese and ducks just too far away!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Haygrove = 2 weeks earlier!

So happy to write tonight after the most productive past two weeks!  We have been so busy laying biodegradable plastic for the onions and potatoes, successfully getting those crops in last week, then transplanting all the rounds into the Haygrove - ensuring weeks of amazing produce, then potting up tons and tons of plants for our sales to Gardener's Supply Company's retail store as well as our customers at market.  We even found some time to harvest dandelions for that all-important Spring ritual of making dandelion wine.  It's time, folks!  There are dandelions galore - and I'd say this Saturday or Sunday are the last days of this bloom if you'd like to make it - recipe at the end of this post.  All of this and last week's efforts culminated in this morning's harvest of nearly 80# of various greens to bring to the first Downtown Burlington Farmers' Market!  After quick reflection on last year's market inventory sheets - we didn't have greens until the Memorial Day market last year - putting us squarely 2 weeks ahead of last year.  This is due to several factors - the amazing weather we've had this Spring, our organizational and planning skills, and finally - the Haygrove - doing exactly what we hoped it would do!  We are pushing the early season a full 2 weeks earlier than we have ever before!  We will even be getting our tomatoes in this week - which is nearly a month earlier than last year (I must confess that last year we got our tomatoes in way later than we would've liked to last year - due to many factors; fava beans were left in the tomato spot too late, grafting the tomatoes automatically makes us 10+ days behind...)!  Needless to say, we're feeling good and realizing those 12+ hour days that means it's Spring.  We're feeling frantic, though, with all that needs to be done - we're moving the gigantic geese and ducks out to the farm this week, moving the broilers outside, and receiving the next round of rare breed heavy chickens on Monday or Tuesday; what's that they say about a rolling stone gathering no moss?  If that's true, then we are certainly some shiny and clean stones working up a storm at Half Pint Farm!  Life is good - there is a terrific green smell in the air, the grass needs mowing, the soil is perfectly moist, the crops are in on time, the weeds are being held back for the moment, and the animals are happy.  Hopefully it doesn't rain at market tomorrow, but even that would be OK, too.  Some pictures of our progress, and the dandelion wine recipe, as promised.

Using the new mulch layer to lay the biodegradable mulch at our field.  Using this machine saved us 3 days - we normally lay it by hand!

A 3 hour job to lay 19 beds.

Planting potatoes into the mulch - we also had our friend Chris Wagner help us on this day - we was a huge help on both the potatoes and onions - thanks, Chris!!!

The onion tunnel - looking so good!  Nothing we hate more than weeding onions - this mulch has been a life-saver in that department!

Making the delivery to Gardener's Supply Company!  We did 3 wagon loads just like this one - and that's only a little less than half the total!  Nice early season revenue...

Geese & ducks looking good!  We can't wait to get these guys out to the field this week!

We've been training them to grass and weeds from the farm - hoping they'll take to it naturally!

Spencer plucking dandelion heads!  A lot of recipes say to remove all the green around the petals - we never have and never will.  This is an unnecessary step, not to mention time consuming.  The amount of dandelions in these bags totaled 5 pounds - just so you can get a sense of volume. 

Dandelion Wine
  • 2 Gallons, or about 3 pounds of dandelion heads
  • 3 pounds of raisins
  • 10 pounds of sugar
  • 6 tsp. of acid blend (citric, tartaric & malic)
  • 1 tsp. of grape tannins
  • 2 tsp. of yeast nutrient
  • 1 pkt. champagne yeast
  • 5 gallons of spring water (or well water)
  1. Combine all above ingredients in a 6 gallon pail.  Specific gravity of 1.11 - 1.13.  Cover with a plastic bag.  Let bubble and ferment happily for 10 days at room temperature.  Every couple of days in those 10 days, stir the mixture.
  2. After the 10 days, rack the liquid off of the solids into a 5 gallon glass carboy.  Cork the carboy with an air lock stopper.  Let it do it's thing in a dark corner of your house for 6 to 9 months.  
  3. Every 2-3 months during those six months, rack the liquid off the sediment.  Put back into carboy and wait.  
  4. If you start it in May, it's ready to bottle in December.  It's a great taste of Spring in the dead of winter.  Enjoy!!!
  5. All of the ingredients can be found at your local homebrew store - in our neck of the woods, we go to the one in Winooski.  Have fun!!!