Chicken Adventures and The Start of Harvest

Sorrel picking

And so it begins!

Sure, my first big harvest was a mere pound of baby sorrel for the area farm to table, Curious Goods at the Bake Oven Inn, but standing out in the field with the harvest bin and a pair of snips made me feel the way walking past the track in high school used to. Excited, expectant. Ready for spring.

bagged sorrel

This week has been one of rapid movement. We’ve seeded mesclun and a pile of beets, we’ve planted kale, broccoli raab, cauliflower, cabbages, radishes and spring turnips, and there’s still more waiting in the wings for bed prep. Mom has been clearing out the leaves and weeds from the herbs beds.

komatsuna and raab

Today, after I post this blog, I’ll be in the greenhouse with my mom and aunt thinning, potting up eggplant, peppers and herbs and getting transplants ready to sell at the store. The ladies at Green Heron Tools gave me their lady-friendly tiller for the weekend, so I’ll be prepping my strawberry(!) and onion beds, and perhaps some more greens beds, with that over the next couple days.

The flowers are blooming, the trees are budding and things are finally starting to look green. Yes.

Last week was one of adventures, too. My neighbor at Willow Haven Farm and I expanded his egg enterprise this year, and on Thursday we packed up chicken crates and headed down to Lancaster to get our girls for the season.

chicken2 chicken 1

We came home with 200 birds and sawdust for the nesting boxes. The day before we cleaned out the Chicken Camper, a hotel and spa bird resort with mahogany roosts (an accident, really – we just got a fancy pallet), and when we got home that afternoon we released our ladies into their mobile environment.

chickenbefree

The chickens are afraid to hop out of the crates.

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So Lucia, Willow Haven’s awesome intern for the season, helps them out.

chicken fence move

Poultry Paradise, Hen Heaven, Fowl Fantasy, Chicken Chalet

In the next few weeks I’ll be dedicating a blog post to the price of happy chickens. Between the moveable fence, the weekly cost of soy-free, organic feed and the labor of moving them around every week, the cost of happy, healthy egg-layers might be more than you think. But let me tell you, these are the best eggs I’ve ever had.

The pups are taking very well to farm life. Arya oversees our operations on a daily basis and Chases rolls around like a toddler and sleeps under things.

arya drives

puppies in the leaves Like a boss (above). Children (below)

I keep discovering these beautiful flowers that are coming up in the yard at Little House. In the mornings before I go to the farm I pull out some weeds from the front and back beds and plant lavender, lemon balm, sage, tulips and hyacinths. Operation Hobbit Hole is commencing nicely. Stay tuned for housewarming details.

snowdrops scillia

Also, for inquiring minds, our good friend Farm Kitten has become a bigger (but still somewhat little) terror.

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Prince cat.

I’ve been getting back into the swing of a schedule and am finally starting to balance the farm with the rest of my life. I see the folks I want to see (though never as much as I’d like, as it goes), I’m making time to read and run and, most importantly, write.

I used to write nonstop. Then I wrote a lot for whatever colleges and freelance roles I held at the times. Then I started this blog and ran it as infrequently as a busy outdoors person with touchy wi-fi would. But that’s all starting to shift. I don’t know if it’s my sister’s urging to blog more, or having a house where I can stay up until midnight writing on the couch if I want to, or just the natural progression of my life, but suddenly I’m writing every day. And not just farm-related things, though that is a big part of it.

I’ve been granted this magical opportunity to take an online writing course with my favorite lady author. Francesca Lia Block writes these beautiful stories that transcends genres. As many of my friends will tell you, I’m re-read one particular story line annually or in moments of emotional distress, and when I discovered she was teaching a series of classes, there was no way I could pass it up.

We received our first assignment last week, and it’s sent me back into the world of fiction writing, a place I haven’t visited since college. And it feels so, so wonderful.

So yes, things are great on this end. Now, off to the greenhouse!

garlic

Spring finally arrives, bringing garlic and puppies.

There is something that happens to my brain every time I see the garlic come up.garlic

It’s like holding your breath for five months. And then you wake up one morning, walk down and see the green. And you didn’t even know you were holding that, worrying a little somewhere in your mind that it wasn’t going to come up, and then it just all releases.

It’s been a productive and heartening few days. We’re experimenting with a couple of permanent raised beds, which is – and I’m not alone in thinking this, I’ve learned – wildly exciting and horrifying. What if you spend the time setting these up and the angles don’t hold up? But the benefits sounds amazing – higher soil temperatures faster, more efficient uses of soil amendments and compost, and they’re easier to weed.

peas

All this without a tractor? Yes, please.

The potatoes from Maine Potato Lady arrived last week, and the first pea planting is in. It is finally (well, mostly) warm enough at night to have the first round of transplants hardening off outside, and these next couple rainy days should set the stage for some big planting projects. We’re looking at summer squash, mesclun mix, other greens and another tomato planting by week’s end.

Field peas in.

Field peas in.

I hesitate to get too excited about this, but it appears the greenhouse war of 2015 is at an end, or at least a hiatus. There were a couple weeks where a handful of mice were laying waste to my spinach, beets and a sad tray of eggplant, but the last few days and some smart tray coverings have kept them at bay.

chardlings redbor kalelings

Easter came and went, and I was reminded, as I am at every family gathering, how awesome our team is. We have business owners, entrepreneurs, hard workers, innovators in our family. My cousin took us into his garage to show us the forge he built and the work he’s making with railroad spikes.

beer opener

Housewarming – my cousin gives me a bottle opener made from an old railroad spike. Righteous. He makes coat hooks and other crazy things as well.

Right? I mean, sheesh. I don’t know if all families feel this way when they hang out, but I’m really grateful for the energy in ours.

And Little House, Little House. Sometimes I just want to sit there and watch the flowers bloom. Every day another photo is hung or some leaves are raked or the aloe gets repotted, and it starts to become a home.

repotting crocuses

In other news, a major hunt and a pair of boot laces later, Mom and Dad came home with chase, this stuffed animal bear cub baby Rottweiler.

Puppy

I was hesitant at first about this whole thing, but when he laid (read: kinda slid fell, because he still doesn’t have the motor skills to do anything with coordination) down in the middle of the kitchen with his legs splayed out behind him and immediately fell asleep, I knew he was one of us.

underfoot

Talk about underfoot.

puppy monsters

Barely a real thing.

And Arya is in love. These two are currently the same size, so they spend most of their days rolling around and chewing on each other, or chewing on things near each other, or chewing on both ends of the same thing. You get the idea. They already rousted their first groundhog together – though somewhat unintentionally – so hopefully when Chase is a little bigger they’ll start doing some useful farm dog tasks.

puppy and arya

BFFL

couch puppies

In the meantime, about half my life has become something like Milo and Otis in real time.

There are still a few spots open in the CSA, guys! Get it, get it. Read the CSA tabs of this site for more details. For now, I’m trying to build up a couple more beds before the rain.

Crooked Row Extended CSA Deadlines and Guest Food Bloggers!

We know, we know. It still doesn’t feel like spring.

To make up for the snow still lingering in your souls and fields, we’re extending our CSA deadline to April 20th! So if you were on the fence about signing up or had an older deadline on your flyer and felt like you missed out (we got a couple panicked phone calls to this effect), never fear! We have some room left for you.

This year will be one of community. Next week I’m presenting on local food economies and backyard composting and growing advice at an office near the farm, and I’m hoping to get more involved in these sorts of educating opportunities in the future. This Saturday I’ll be at the Mt. Airy Read & Eat for Story Time at 10am, so bring your kids over to plant some seeds and hang out while I read some children’s books about farming and talk about the CSA with interested parents. If your office hosts lunch and learns or your schools want to talk agriculture for a class or two, give me a holler.

We’re also going to be having FARM EVENTS this season! CSA potlucks, meet and greet dinners and showcases for my other grower/baker/maker/artisan friends will be a regular occurrence now that I’ve got a house to host in. A few of these will be at the farm as well, and as these two places are within literally two miles of each other, we have lots of opportunities for overnight stays, farm volunteer days and other activities up here in the Valley. And we can have some of these in Philly, too, if someone is open to hosting. And if you’ve been in the CSA before back when I promised these things and had no place to have them, you are most welcome to come hang out at this year’s whether you joined this season or not. Keep your eyes peeled for my e-mails.

Additionally, I’m excited to announce that this season I’ll have two wonderful humans and dear friends guest blogging with their versatile food knowledge throughout the season.

sarah1

Sarah climbs, hikes, leads, reads, photographs and cooks, amongst other incredible things.

Meagan cares for critters, cooks, revolutionizes the world, salvages cast iron and made Stubbz this excellent kitten harness last summer.

Meagan cares for critters, cooks, revolutionizes the world, salvages cast iron and made Stubbz this excellent kitten harness last summer.

Meagan and Sarah have years of cooking experience between them  as omnivores, vegetarians and vegans, and as they teach us how to better utilize the foods from the field, you’ll have access to their recipes and more on the forthcoming Cooking Tab on this site and in market handouts and CSA newsletters. I’m so jazzed, and so are they!

strider2

Abominable Snow Dog.

In somber news, we had to say goodbye to our best farm partner and pooch love, Strider, Monday morning. Strider was the most loving and personable dog I’ve had the honor to know, and whether he was minding us in the field, taking up all the room in my bed, herding small children in bodies of water, harassing Arya puppy or hiding during thunderstorms, he had, as the best dogs often do, an infinite abundance of charisma, charm and love.

strider

Bed Hog Dog.

I’m so grateful we had him for as long as we did, and I know he’ll be roaming our fields in some fashion in the years to come.

The pups view their kingdom and wait for the snow to melt.

“Everything the light touches.”

Since we are currently tapped out in greenhouse space as we wait for more seedlings to germinate in our bunker, today will be one of research and maintenance. I have a wagon full of birdhouses we’re excited to hang around the property, and then I’m going to try my hand at building some vertical structures for the market stand. After we’ve chilled thoroughly outside, it’s back in to keep reading The Market Gardener by Jean-Martin Fortier, aka The Crooked Row Game-Changer.

market gardener

We’ve got big, big plans.

Building a Community and Sharing Your Passions

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

And it’s not just me who sees and partakes in this beautiful flow of happenings. It’s everywhere, all around, in the people we know who are doing extraordinary things.

Monday morning marked a meeting of Team Awesome Ladies (my term), a group of women who met over the course of years through mutual employment at the local health food store in town or through mutual friends. We try to get together semi regularly to talk business, hold each other accountable for forward movement and bask in the good vibe flow.

Beautiful ladies doing beautiful work.

Beautiful ladies doing beautiful work.

Barbara runs Career Wellness Partners with fantastic spunk. Gina, whom I’ve mentioned before, has her hand in a number of awesome adventures presently, including a soon-to-be published novel and her company Wellness Transformations, which helps folks take control of their lives through spiritual works. Sharon is a veteran Yoga instructor goddess. She was the first person who helped me learn to think differently, and Mom and I have been in love with her practice since I was in middle school. Michelle, who couldn’t swing this meeting, has made runs a successful quantum biofeedback practice.

These ladies are forward-driven movers and shakers, and just being able to share accomplishments and bask in their presences is a blessing. Plus, they have impeccable taste in teas and reading materials.

I also took my first foray into one of my never acted upon but always dreamed of activities: climbing. My friend Stephen and I headed up to the North Summit Climbing Gym Tuesday night, where a pile of magnificently skilled humans instantly put us to shame. But that’s okay. Everyone was approachable, encouraging and helpful, and as I flailed around trying to boulder on the easiest paths, I felt the self-consciousness fall behind me. I was not as strong as I thought I’d be for this endeavor, but I can work on it.

And then it was back to Philly, but for a full day of farm(ish) work.

First I headed into the Northeast, somewhat uncharted territory for me, in search of Envirokure. This Philly start-up is a few years old but quickly picking up steam in the sustainable, organic fertilizer markets. We want to keep it in the city family, right?

envirokure envirokure office

Their products compete with fish emulsion and, for a smaller scale operation like mine, that means root and plant development at the transplant level. I’m interested to try this out, and looking forward to some comparison trials between the two since their nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium levels differ.

From there, I headed to the West, but more Southwest than I’d ever traveled before, to meet with friend and teacher Mechele at the leadership charter academy where she works. The school has been looking into beautifying an adjacent lot, and when I approached her about using it as a learning-ag space, the school jumped at the opportunity. After a brief introduction with the principal, Mechele and I headed out into the brisk morning to measure, sketch, brainstorm and talk logistics.

We’ve got to run some numbers and figure out some of these vertical gardening techniques, but we’re looking at raised beds with space for classes outdoors, living walls and palette projects. Stay tuned to watch this space’s transformation.

What do you see when you look at this space? Do you see blooming green beauty? We do.

What do you see when you look at this space? Do you see blooming green beauty? We do.

Next it was over to Mt. Airy to hang up more tear sheets and drop off more flyers at the Mt. Airy Read & Eat, our newest CSA pick-up location. My tear sheet was totally empty, and the owner later told me that had happened within a couple days. That’s some exciting news. I stopped into the new noodle shop next door for lunch and ended up giving a flyer to a new neighbor ordering takeout who overheard our conversation and was interested. That’s always a cool interaction.

And then it was on to the main event. A couple months back I received an e-mail from the program coordinators of the Explorer Café, a regular speak-and-discuss session at La Salle University. This time around they invited various alumni to come and speak about how they are still living the Lasallian mission in their current lives and vocations.

We are lawyers, farmers, nurses, businessmen, the politically active and vocationally passionate. Thanks to Hannah Datz for the photos!

We are lawyers, farmers, nurses, businessmen, the politically active and vocationally passionate. Thanks to Hannah Datz for the photos!

I wrote about this once before, about a year ago in a post entitled “Why My College Made It Okay For Me To Become A Farmer.” I won’t repeat all those sentiments here, but I can honestly say that I am regularly learning more and more how my life was impacted in a positive way by my college experience.

Microphones make me a little jittery, always have, and I probably could have contributed more than I did at the panel, but what I did say are things that I feel in every fiber of my being. First, that La Salle made me appreciate a passionate community, and that I try to build this around me wherever I go. I want the people I am near to be motivated and excited by what they are doing in the world, and fostering that was echoed through the other panelists loud and clear.

Meg is a nurse in the city and Sam is finishing up law school. They are wonderful people, if you haven't had the chance to know them (yet).

Meg is a nurse in the city and Sam is finishing up law school. They are wonderful people, if you haven’t had the chance to know them (yet).

Second was that La Salle made me brave. Without my experiences at that school, the taking ownership and leading and accountability and responsibility, I wouldn’t have been able take the risks I have taken and learned to roll with change and seek more fulfilling environments and talk to strangers.

The community aspect showed itself when we headed to the Student Union building. Dean of Students grinned, asked me how the farm was, and told me how happy it made him to see me back on campus. I caught up with old friends who are all doing and planning incredible things, clasped hands with some of my favorite professors and met a very cute baby.

It makes me sad that not everyone had such a lasting, meaningful network during their time in higher education. But you can build this sort of community wherever you are, and there’s something really reassuring in that.

These communities believe in me, and I believe in them. When we share this energy with each other, incredible work starts to happen. I found this in a Mural Arts program pamphlet, but it’s true in all life.

art can triumph

Art, food, love, life. What are you bringing to your communities?

We Pause for Flowers, We Work for Home, We Plan(t) for Spring

Sister Wagner and I ventured out into Philadelphia last weekend to look at an apartment (for her), eat some delicious Blackbird Pizza and hit up the Philadelphia Flower Show.

jess flower

Even though it was exceptionally crowded and the second week of the show (read: some of those plants were pretty parched), it was still beautiful. Movie themed exhibits, bright, bright colors, and all the green.

IMG_20150307_115316657 IMG_20150307_113406746_HDR IMG_20150307_114817957_HDR IMG_20150307_112725634 IMG_20150307_113436204

I adore those little picture windows and mini displays – artisans utilizing plant materials to make these teeny tiny creations really gets me ridiculously jazzed.

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Little, couple-inch tall displays suspended in window boxes. It gives me excited goosebumps just thinking about it. #plantnerd

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Yes yes. Once a year I post a bunch of beautiful flower pictures from somewhere. But you should know by now that that’s how it works.

Rodale homages in the Barnes and Noble.

Rodale homages in the Barnes and Noble.

I moved back to the Lehigh Valley in 2013 to start the farm. The previous year, I operated at a farm and market where it seemed almost everybody was food-savvy and juicing and asking us how close we were for the drive we were making. It’s been wonderful to see that happening here – we have so many new folks signed up for the CSA this year, and nearly a dozen of them are from right where I grew up. They’ve heard about the farm through my part-time job or friends, neighbors or other local businesses, and they want to give this whole farm share idea a try.

That feels really, really good. I’m so excited to be a part of their venture. I want people to feel good and knowledgeable about the food they are putting into their bodies and to be excited about the community we are all building together.

Meanwhile, the snow is finally starting to melt. We’re trucking along in the greenhouse, but I’m really looking forward to dry socks and warm feet. But the snow has been beautiful (if nothing else), and the puppy has enjoyed frolicking in it.

Dad surveys the fields and wishes for less snow.

Dad surveys the fields and wishes for less snow.

Arya, meanwhile, wants to live in the Arctic tundra and dig for smelly things forever.

Arya, meanwhile, wants to live in the Arctic tundra and dig for smelly things forever.

More seeding over the next couple days. Then we’ll have to refill that solar bunker, get to the Philadelphia L&I office to have the scale licensed, buy a handful of remaining supplies and some other needed farm tasks. But most of the paperwork stuff is done, and that is always an incredible relief.

This year we’ll be delivering shares to St. Luke University’s Health Network in Quakertown to over a dozen staff members there. I’m excited to expand our CSA network, and I love that offices and businesses are starting to offer these sorts of initiatives to their staff. Soon I’ll be speaking at an office closer to the farm as part of a “learn and lunch” about the benefits of buying local foods and how they can get more involved in these processes. I’m a little nervous – it’s been awhile since I’ve had to make a PowerPoint for anything – but I’m excited to promote on behalf of food producers in the Lehigh Valley.

There’s still time to sign up for the CSA! If you want a food adventure (and another reason to see me from time to time), I highly recommend it.

Also, if you have some old Venetian blinds, you can bring those my way. Found some neat tips to reuse materials for tray markers.

And after my wandering winter life, I’m finally living in my house. I don’t know when the brain transition from “living alone is a little spooky,” to “Oh my God, living alone is amazing – you mean I can dance around in the middle of the night AND burn sandalwood incense in the living room AND play Vampire Weekend on repeat?” happened, but I’m stoked it did. I’ve been slowly putting the tools and paint away in the basement and moving in furniture. Sure, I still need to hang blinds in the living room. Sure, my water isn’t potable. But I’m getting there.

my bedroom

Over the last couple of years the humming of the Universe started up again. It drove me mad as a kid – this feeling that I was just on the cusp of something incredible, but repeatedly unable to figure out what the something was. It felt exciting, but more so frustrating and a little lonely. But as my dear friend and yoga teacher Sharon told me last year, “Stay true to yourself and your tribe will find you,” and that started happening at a wild pace as soon as I started doing what I should have been doing the whole time. And not just with the agriculture – the whole demeanor of my life has shifted, and the people who have appeared in it (or reappeared, which is another beautiful happening), are some of the most industrious, brilliant and affirmative presences I’ve had the privilege to meet.

And so we wait. For the snow to melt, for the sun to come, for the plants to grow, for the new and exciting humans ahead.

baby thyme

So Long For Now!

It’s exciting when your friends shoot you messages about anything. But when it’s about your business, there’s a little extra serotonin rush. Like this one:

flyer

That’s normal, right?

If you don’t live in Pennsylvania, you may not be aware of the SNOW that happened again this week. But rest assured (and cross your fingers), it won’t be here for long.

First is has to melt. Then it has to dry out. Then, then we’ll be able to put in the spring cover crop, and various other outsdoorsy tasks that will need to happen sooner than later. In the meantime, our seedlings flourish in the greenhouse and I wrap up my part-time Philly life.

onions

I’d love to stay, but my onion babies need me! Hash tag oniongram Aka Shameless Instagram Handle Plug

Part of me always wanted to work in a bookstore, I think. Isn’t that what all English majors dream of as a side gig (you know, in addition to all the award-winning novels and the literary criticism upon request)? Though I was in the clothing end of the things, walking through all those books every morning on the way to the stockroom never got boring, and throughout the last couple weeks you could find me sitting in the aisles on break and after work, paging through everything and determining how to spend my last paycheck.

books

I am most pleased with the results.

I’m starting with The Alchemist. A couple of my dear friends just finished this one with some delightful results, so I’m gonna give it another spin as a more self-aware human.

The bookstore has been great. The staff is hilarious and sweet and buoyant, and I’m sad to leave them (but little do they know that I don’t leave, I just linger on and appear at all hours with kale). I’ll be back on the regular by the end of May, Philly.

In the last few months – or, really, maybe the last year – I’ve had a lot of really great conversations with some really amazing people about life and purpose and happiness. It’s taken me a long time to get to this point in my head, and I’m sure it will take me a lot longer to stop falling off the path, but I realize that I have the capacity in this life to do everything I want to do. Some of it will take a lot more work and more learned skills and more time than others, but all of the dreams I’ve had since I was a teenager – wanting to travel the country and the world and learning a language and writing beautiful things and meeting incredible people – it’s all there. It’s just been waiting for me to wake up and take some action. And I’m finally getting to it.

I have this notebook that is particularly important to me for a number of reasons – one being the gifter of the notebook and the other being the parallel dates that have popped up in it over the last eight years. I’ve started to write a list on the back cover – a list of My Things. The things that I want to do in this life. Some of them are not going to change the world, and some I could conquer within the week, but they are all things that I have wanted to do for some time and have put off for one reason or another.

That ends here. 2013 taught me the value of time and of life. 2014 taught me to be brave. And in 2015 it’s all going to come together. Starting with Crooked Row and ending with Liz. Thanks for tagging along.

upenn bookstore

Or both.

Seeds, snow and…snow.

Seed party!

Seed party!

Sure, it’s snowing. But it’s March 1st and that means, theoretically, that this snow will be gone soon. And when that happens these little tykes will be grown and ready to get in the ground.

onions

See? In the greenhouse it’s already starting!

But it is pretty cold, as you know, so I’m doing what I can inside in the meantime. This includes:

-Farming paperwork
Legal documents, insurance forms, market applications, crop rotation planning and farming estimates
-Recruiting!
Folks keep asking about the CSA, from Mt. Airy in Philly to Schnecksville. That, my friends, is a good feeling.
-Joining Stuff!
Last year I joined the board for farmland preservation in my country, which has afforded me some neat new knowledge and a chance to work toward local green spaces for future generations, which is pretty exciting. This year I’m also trying to be a little more active as a member of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture.

lehigh county farmland preservation

Annnnnnd I joined the National Young Farmers Coalition, which aims to push for legislation and create a community for – you guessed it! – young farmers. And with the growing community of us in this area, I think we’re in for an exciting year together.

national young farmers coalition

-Doing a bunch of things I won’t be able to do in a couple months
This includes reading all the books, taking some day naps, wandering Philly before and after the part-time gig, running as much as possible (Broad Street Run, here I come!), finally watching the fourth season of Game of Thrones, brewing a saison with Steve and getting Little House in order so next week I can actually, properly move in once my job in Philly ends. It’s been a really enjoyable winter. I caught up with a lot of excellent people I didn’t see much of in the last year, and I’m hoping to keep my act together enough during the season to keep this going. I’m putting a start and end time of my days this year – a lot of seasoned farmers recommend doing this, and I think a life outside the field will keep me from getting burned out by August, which has been a reoccurring problem.
-Working on the blog
As you can see, I’m calling this the comeback.

Did I mention day naps? Love, Liz and Arya

Did I mention day naps?
Love, Liz and Arya

Once the snow melts, cover crops will go in and all the spaces in the greenhouse will be tapped to capacity with green. You are most welcome to come visit and get warm.

Look at her. Jess Wagner, professional plow boss.

Look at her. Jess Wagner, professional plow boss.

In the meantime, the Wagner sisters master the plow and I go finish reading my latest fantasy novel. Stay warm!