On Moving Home, Christmas Garlic and Real Person Life

On Sunday I finished packing my car, stuffed any remaining crevices with raw milk from Freedom Hill Dairy for the last time and garlic cloves from Keith (yep, I even filled my boots with them), had a brief cry with Flavia, hugged Keith, Matt and Kobe goodbye, and moved home.

I realized on Christmas Eve, one day later, that I would not be able to settle down. Also I needed a repair foundation service because the foundation was in a really bad shape.

On Christmas day, I coerced Glenn into helping me oil his rototiller, and with the help of my cousins Greg and Allen, we tilled two 40-foot beds in the lot next to my house. That night after the rest of my family left, I went out with my headlamp, my mom’s soil knife, a yardstick and a boot full of garlic, and planted 200 cloves in the first bed.

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Late night garlic party!

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Yeah, it’s dark. That doesn’t stop us!

It is apparent that Mom Wagner is already concerned about my mental stability.

But with all this garlic sitting around, knowing some if it is in the ground was a huge relief. And the next morning, when everyone in the Wagner house woke up before 5am like a pack of freaks, Jess and Mom decided to join team Farmstead. We suited up, Jess in her second rate running gear and mom in her new muck boots, and went out to the farm where my uncle Butch has been piling pheasant manure for the field. We loaded up buckets and tubs in the back of Glenn’s truck, hauled them back and mom and I worked through the then frozen second bed to plant another 200 cloves and spread manure over both beds. So, 404 cloves in two days. A pretty nice haul for the Wagner women in the midst of the holidays.

The Wagner women working hard.

The Wagner women working hard.

Mom Wags and our trusty sidekick getting our garlic maintenance on.

Mom Wags and our trusty sidekick getting our garlic maintenance on.

Christmas itself was a blast. All my aunts and uncles and cousins come to our house for a day of awesome, and everyone was excited that both Wagner daughters were home and in fighting fit. All of them offered me a couch or a room when I need a break from living at home, to which I am very, very grateful. The family got garlic and veggies and dried herbs, Mom Wagner got Carhartt hats and a Leatherman work knife, and Glenn literally got a mountain of meat from some of my favorite vendor neighbors, like a duck from Ben at Garden of Spices Poultry Farm, skate and tuna steaks from Blue Moon and Amanda and Mike’s incredible meat from Tamarack Hollow in Burlington, Vermont. Farmer Christmas was a huge success.

Christmas braising mix - it warms my heart to hear my family say they like kale.

Christmas braising mix – it warms my heart to hear my family say they like kale.

Meat mountain! And yes, Glenn cut a Keith's Farm-style Christmas tree, so I cleaned it up and gave it a home.

Meat mountain! And yes, Glenn cut a Keith’s Farm-style Christmas tree, so I cleaned it up and gave it a home.

But now there are inches of snow between me and any more progress, and some of my friends are already concerned that I will snap without a task to do. But little do they know, there is always something to be done.

Now that I am confined to a house, I have been 1) forced to unpack (much to my mom’s enjoyment), 2) obligated to set up a bedroom workspace (which used to be reserved for bad fiction writing of the young adult fantasy persuasion, and then just fiction for pseudo-adults, and now farm plans and field maps), 3) coerced into blogging  and listening to the last Pandora quickmix that Matthew left up on my computer before he left (not that I don’t want to blog, just that sleeping forever is so much more appealing in this icy wasteland of Pennsylvania – and the Mountain Goats just came up on this playlist, Matthew so good job), 5) moseying down to the Health Habits, the health food and supplement store where I’ll be putting in some hours to stay busy, and 6) perusing seed catalogs and using some of my sweet, sweet Christmas money to buy seeds.

So, as you can see, there is plenty to do. I just have to get it together and do it. Which can be easier said than done when you are a person who hibernates through the winter months.

But my family is excited, and it’s contagious. Everyone has some anxiety about Glenn and I functioning under the same roof, but on Christmas morning we showed each other that we might survive this. I was out running on the treadmill, he came in and got on his elliptical machine, and we ran side by side for half an hour watching Fiddler on the Roof (which, if you know anything about the musical, is one that Nate Adams refers to as “Daughters Will Kill You: The Movie”). So, you know, that’s something.

It is weird to wake up in my kid bedroom now. I’m having trouble adjusting to being around clean, non-farmer people who believe in taking showers daily and washing their dishes thoroughly. And though I had no idea this would happen so soon, I miss my Tomato Boys. I miss Keith and Flavia. And I’ll never be able to thank them for all they’ve showed me and done for me in the past eight months.

But I have a lot of catching up to do in my home state, and a lot of new adventures to begin. I can’t wait.

Christmas Farmer Liz - Yeah, maybe I wore this for the last week and a half on the farm. But with a Santa sweater like that, wouldn't you?

Christmas Farmer Liz – Yeah, maybe I wore this for the last week and a half on the farm. But with a Santa sweater like that, wouldn’t you? And sure, I look like a hot mess. But so would you if you worked three markets and were an emotional wreck right before the holidays. Womp womp womp.

-Farmer Liz

Winter Is Coming….

It’s December.

That means less than a month left on Keith’s Farm.

I’ve been meaning to sit down and write for some time now. But instead I’ve been hanging out with the boys, sleeping 9-11 hours a day, and pretty much shutting myself down for winter. It was a little easier to ignore winter in the city – there is still so much to do and see, and small walks in the cold lead to your destinations. Philly was great this way. But winter in the country was what destroyed me as a kid, and I feel it creeping up to do so again now.

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The cold, foggy winter of Keith’s farm.

But there’s a lot of good things happening to combat these winter blues, too. Things are winding down on the farm – we took down one deer fence last week, and there isn’t much to collect in the way of greens anymore. We have a few tubs of braising mix, two and sometimes three of the hardier kales, waning tubs of mesclun, and collards. We are moving into a phase of just preparing storage crops for transit, which involves dumping them into coolers, loading the truck, and then throwing a small ceramic heater on the truck inside so everything doesn’t freeze. These are vegetables like winter squash, cabbage, carrots, the last of the celeriac and kohlrabi, potatoes and turnips. They live in the root cellar in the meantime. The days on the farm are so much slower and entail a lot less work, so now there is some time when those who are left here are hanging out in the last moments of daylight, and the rush from tomato season almost feels like a dream.

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We store our crops in our root cellar.

Roots crops - what remains of our produce.

Roots crops – what remains of our produce.

Veggie party in the root cellar!

Veggie party in the root cellar!

What remains of our mesclun is living under row cover in one of the high tunnels.

What remains of our mesclun is living under row cover in one of the high tunnels.

Chelsea has been gone for weeks. It is strange living somewhere without any other females – Flavia is around, but only sporadically because she spends a lot of time during the week teaching in the city. But Chelsea sent me an e-mail from Africa the other day, and it was nice to read of her new challenges in adjusting to a managerial office job, and to read that she has finally finished watching The Wire. Jay has been gone for over a week as well, though I’m sure he’ll be around a bit before I move home. Mateo left during Wednesday market last week – for where, I am not sure. And sometime soon Casey will be shoving off as well. So Matthew, Matt, Derek and I are the ones left for seemingly the end of the season. Matt has moved into Jay’s old room, and Derek is about to take over Mateo’s cabin. We are downsizing for winter.

Miss Chelsea has moved on to save Africa.

Miss Chelsea has moved on to save Africa.

Mountain Man Ready moves to a warmer climate - the house.

Mountain Man Ready moves to a warmer climate – the house.

Our surplus of garlic is on the brain, now. With potentially Keith’s biggest garlic harvest still hanging out in the house basement and the root cellar, we have a lot to process and clean. Matthew and the boys make beautiful braids (a skill I lack pretty severely), and we’ve been selling piles of net and burlap bags. We have been selling a lot with an incorporated volume discount since Thanksgiving, but there is still so much to account for. Matt has talked Keith into asking Greenmarket for a Monday market spot as well, and it seems we’ve snagged it. I think I’m going down tomorrow with a downsized tent and a ton of garlic to try at our luck.

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Garlic braids!

Me with my arch enemy, gartlic braids. I'm just not good at making artsy things.

Me with my arch enemy, garlic braids. I’m just not good at making artsy things.

Another exciting point as far as winter on Keith’s farm – Christmas decorations! Matt and Derek made some beautiful herb wreaths for the Saturday market that almost all sold. We have metal frames, and attach bunches rosemary, thyme and garlic combos to create these gorgeous little wreaths. Yesterday I went out shopping in Warwick and came back to Matt’s morning adventure – he went out into the woods, collected a bunch of conifer limbs, and created some giant garlands to sell from spruce, yew, pine and fir trees growing around the property.

Garland!

Garland!

Very cool, right? And now at the end of each truck load we throw on half a dozen of Keith’s famous Christmas trees, wall trees and boughs – charming, Charlie Brown-esque litte numbers that  are sustainable because they are just tops and big limbs from his massive trees. We throw the trees on top of the coolers and lugs, throw on the hand bailer, and head off for our winter markets in the city.

Bailing the first Christmas tree sold of the season.

Bailing the first Christmas tree sold of the season.

Treeeeeeeees.

Treeeeeeeees.

Christmas market!

Christmas market!

I am excited at the thought of going home after a relaxing afternoon in the spa from http://www.haircrazesalons.com/ and getting ready for the next big adventure – and to visit my sister, and see my friends, and just generally unwind and sit back and think about this whole eight month journey. I’ve learned a lot about farming and a lot about myself, but when you’re in the thick of it, it can be hard to sit back and process everything. I am excited, but I am scared and sad and pretty regularly overwhelmed. Last night Matt said that the hardest part of all this is having to think of everything at once – planning a field map and deciding what plants to grow and working out a planting schedule for all of it – and right now, as I lie in bed feeling achy from the cold, it’s all daunting.

But I’ve got a family who is geared up and ready to help. I’ve got an uncle who has been delivering pheasant manure to the farm, a dad who found the perfect tractor (though she’s still nameless), cousins who are curious, supportive and helpful, and a mom who is impatient to come be a mom farmer. I have friends who are excited for me to be back and who already want up on these vegetables, whatever they happen to be. I have co-workers to help me plan and help me out in a hundred little ways – they make me laugh and hug me when the cold is too cold, they tolerate my cartoon movies, they cook for me. We all want to make the most of the time we have left here. And despite the snow and the ice, I am looking forward to December.

No, I don't know how to drive this tractor yet. I'm just sitting on it.

No, I don’t know how to drive this tractor yet. I’m just sitting on it.

Farmer Liz

Sticking through Sandy…and It’s A Girl!

Hold the phone.

I started this post writing about our Sandy exploits, garlic planting and our now so, so frigid evenings, but yesterday there was a game changer.

I now own a tractor.

My parents, who have been nothing but excited and supportive through this entire venture, spent their day yesterday in Lebanon, PA at a Meyerstown tractor auction. The night before Glenn called to ask my spending limit, and Monday afternoon my mother rapid-fire texted me photos of the two tractors they were coming home with – a Case JZ 1100U for Glenn, because he likes machines with wheels that he can take down trees with, and because he wasn’t going to leave the day without a Dad-sized tractor because that is who he is, and an International 274, which is the perfect gal-sized, old-school, cultivating tractor for Wagner Farmstead.

Isn’t she lovely? My mom sent me a flurry of pictures with the title “She’s coming home with us.” Because obviously the farm equipment on Wagner farms would also be female.

Look, I don’t know all that much about machines, not even tractors here, but here’s the specs I got: She’s got all sorts of equipment goodie hookups, a 3 Cylinder Nissan engine, she takes diesel (which, friends, means she could totally be converted to French Fry Oil in the future or some crazy awesome not gas product like that), has shanks for Front Cultivators, PTO (Power Take Off, which means the machine can power more than just itself, like a baler or a log splitter or other implement),  and so, so much more.

Glenn checking out my girl.

She is the definition of a sexy tractor.

These tine deals on the back will prevent soil compaction in my tractor paths. Booyah.

She needs a name, though. Any thoughts?

I cannot articulate how excited I am right at this moment. There’s been this warmth running through my body that I can’t shake. I am finally, for real, doing this.

And now, on to your regularly-scheduled post.

Much like everyone else on the East Coast, Keith’s Farm braced for Sandy last week as well as we could. The boys who had off on Monday went and got some water and, most importantly, dark chocolate bars for me. We filled spackle buckets with water, stockpiled some batteries, hard boiled some eggs.

And then, at the end of the workday Monday, our power went down. What commenced thereafter were three days of chilly nights, food in coolers, and NO WEDNESDAY MARKET. Instead, we became foresters for two days, cutting down trees and clearing away some fallen ones near our front orchard. It felt great to work a bow saw for a few hours. On Tuesday we wandered off to John’s Chainsaws for a  new bar and some chains, and it was crazy to see how many people were in need of his services for downed trees – and what a town looks like without power. Even the grocery stores were closed in those first couple days in this area.

Jay, Chelsea and I sat in the dark one night and made cookie dough. It was an awesome moment during the Keith’s Farm 2012 Blackout.

And it’s not like we got hit like NYC, or even where my parents were in PA where they had no power until Friday, but wherever there are trees and storms, there will be complications. We did a lot of moving around by candle and flashlight, rationed our battery-powered computers, dug out our crank lights and radios and did a bit of homesteading as we hauled more water from the nearby creek. It was fun, but it was stressful and exhausting and cold as well, and we all cheered when the power kicked back on Thursday evening.

All the surrounding areas got power back before us, so we spent a lot of lunch breaks eating Westtown Pizza.

By which I mean, eating pizza and watching Cable TV, huzzah.

By which I really mean, being unwashed and dirty and eating pizza just to be in the warmth with people and TV.

Our biggest blow was our inability to hold a Wednesday market in the city. We harvested a bit on Monday, expecting the worst, but we couldn’t not go into Manhattan because there was no power in most of the area at that point, and Union Square had become an emergency staging area. Greenmarket was stressed out and desperately trying to accommodate the farmers, but it didn’t pan out by Wednesday. Who can blame them? Folks need their fresh veggies, but when the city is flooded with water and people are cold and powerless for days on end, it’s obvious that farmers markets could take a back seat to getting the town fixed.

By Friday Greenmarket had finagled the Satruday farmers some room at Madison Square park, and we packed a light load and prepared for our 24’x10′ spot in some random location – our tent normally being 24’x24′ on a Saturday, if you didn’t know. Clearly, there was some concern.

Derek and I had off on Saturday, so we decided to drive into the city and take stock of this new market and see what had happened in Manhattan while we were farmbound. Other than some serious lines for gas as we drove through New Jersey, we didn’t notice much out of the ordinary. And we were pleasantly surprised at the next-to-no traffic in Manhattan and the prime real estate (and free!) parking we landed a block from the market.

Here is one of those people gas lines they kept showing on the news – as we didn’t have the news this was a crazy sight to us.

Gas line, gas line.

When we arrived at the new space, we were thrilled to see how cool our stand and the area looked. This park puts you right up on the sidewalk, and people noticed. In the brief time we visited the stand, I watched new fans ask Matt when we would be here again, and saw our elated regulars discover our relocated stand and beam with joy that we had come all the way down in this mess to bring them food. It certainly feels good to be appreciated.

The Saturday folks really rose to the challenge of a smaller stand and made a totally adorable display in the limited space.

Keith’s Farm stand, in miniature.

 

 

 

We will be at Madison Square Park again this Wednesday, which is exciting and a bit nerve-wracking as we aren’t sure what size space we’ll get until we get there. But keep your fingers crossed for us!

Yesterday we spent all day planting garlic. We are quite behind on this as it’s been so wet, but we’re steadily chugging along. We’ve planted somewhere in the vicinity of 40,000-50,000 cloves so far, which is about 2/3 of what need to be in the ground. What I’ve learned from this is how seriously the weather can jeopardize your livelihood – and it’s a lesson I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. I’ll give you all a more in-depth lesson on garlic planting later this week, when I am mourning Chelsea’s upcoming departure.

It’s 1am on Tuesday morning, and I’m hitting the sack once more. We spent part of the day yesterday covering greens in the field and garlic in the barn as the temperature plummeted to 19 degrees in the night – I am anxiously awaiting to see the state of our veggies come daybreak.

TTFN,

Farmer Liz

To Market, To Market

Kohlrabi! The strangest veggie in town.

Another herb display picture? Can’t help it – it’s just too cute.

I have been slacking – again. But here are some beautiful photos of our produce at market to tide you over. I will give you the breakdown on all these delicious eats soon.

Things are trucking along here. Our newest mission is clove popping – breaking about garlic bulbs and sorting the cloves by size for planting stock. I can talk more about that later as well.

I went back to the lovely city of Philly this past weekend, and realized how much I missed it. But it was great to talk to my friends and be excited and have them be excited with me, and it’s helping me push through the challenges of planning Wagner Farmstead.

Tomatillos, onions and shallots – oh my!

The most beautiful radishes in the world!

Hot Portugal peppers, scapes, parsley.

Pumpkins and basil? We are having some seasonal confusion.

Hakurai Turnips- you can eat them raw. And yes, again our kohlrabi.

TTFN, Ta-Ta For Now!

-Farmer Liz

Adventures in the Tri-State

After a riveting, busy and ultimately amazing Saturday market last week, Derek, Matthew, Chelsea and I went gallivanting out into the world Sunday and had an incredible farm adventure.

After running into Fred Merusi, my dear friend Sarah’s father, at a lovely, solo Liz brunch in Milford, Fred insisted I come see his farm stand over in New Jersey. I have been meaning to get there for some time for a number of other reasons – to visit Sarah, to see the highlanders, etc. – so I rallied my farm troops and we set off on our journey into Jersey.

This is how we learned about local farmers and their farm stands. Sure, I have seen the side of the road farm stands from time to time, but here there were three within five miles of each other. And we stopped to talk at each one.

The first stop led us to some giant carving and Cinderella pumpkins, and a fellow named Gene. Gene has another farm in Pennsylvania where he hires the Amish to work for him. His wife died a few years ago, and this property we stopped at had fallen a bit into decline. Gene grew and grows a number of trees and shrubs for landscaping, but with the economic downturn found himself without a clientele. He was selling his giant pumpkins to a farmer who sells in Union Square, and it seems like these odds and ends are how he supports himself these days. I asked him something about his high tunnels and he lamented that Chelsea and I weren’t around when he was doing serious farming, as we clearly know what we are talking about. He was a friendly, funny guy, and he insisted we take some of his tomatoes with him when we left.

We traveled further down the road, past a few attractions and finally came to Fred’s place. It’s a beautiful, spacious property with wood buildings scattered across it. I roused Fred from the Giants game and he came out and gave us a tour of his grounds.

Oh boy, these Highlanders are BIG.

Fred, as you can see, has highlanders. Three of them – his bull, Mahoney, and two pregnant ladies. As our tour progressed, these three followed us around until they paused to take a dip in the pond that Fred dug years ago to the exact dimensions of a hockey rink for his kids.

Mahoney!

One of the mamas.

Swim party.

Fred’s got a sugar shack where he makes maple syrup in the winter, a garden patch for his pumpkins, a double-layer greenhouse and honey bees that a local bee guy cares for. It’s a beautiful place – the kind of place a person dream about having one day.

Fred shows us the grading scale for maple syrup.

Chelsea hanging out in the Sugar Shack.

Derek hanging out in the Sugar Shack.

Matthew hanging out in a tree. Typical.

Cutest greenhouse ever?

Fred shows us his garden space.

Though he can’t spend as much time working on farming as he’d like, he is hoping to soon.

Meanwhile, we soldier on.

This morning my uncle Butch arrived at Wagner Farmstead with a trailer full of pheasant manure that he, Glenn and I unloaded in the afternoon.

I am procrastinating on my field map (and with the blog, can you tell?), but I’ve been reading all sorts of things – Chicken magazines, classifieds for farm equipment and farm stand availabilities at area markets, and even a book called Compact Cabins with floor plans for teeny tiny cabins that one or two people can live in. Big idea scattered wide, because I like thinking about everything at once.

But I’ll start honing down into what’s important and start getting specific plans rolling soon. Promise.

Here are a few scattered farm photos. I’ll try to post more this week.

Fields of squash. These have since all been harvested.

Fields of squash – these have since all been harvested.

Waving fields of green. Kohlrabi, Kale, Cabbage, Broccoli, etc.

One side farm adventure – last week during a pick day our Bantam, who Derek and Matt have jointly named DiAngelo Barksdale (because he is wiley and often being beat up by the bigger rooster), flew the coop! He flew straight up through an opening in the roof of the chicken enclosure. He hung around on the roof and then jumped to the ground to contemplate his freedom briefly before Matt caught him and tossed him back inside. Otherwise, he would have been Kobe dinner.

-Farmer Liz

The Wagner Women and Their Vegetables

On Saturday, Donna Wagner and I took our first real step into farming; we went out to the Farmstead in the awful weather and measured our field. Now we can start planning our plantings based on bed and row size. In theory, of course. We still need a tractor, and we still need to figure out tractor wheel size and slope direction and a thousand other things. But the field is measured, folks, and it looks something like this:

Every art teacher (and everyone on the farm, and, really, anyone with an ounce of artistic ability who has ever known me) cringes when I try to draw. But here it is – the world’s ugliest, messiest field map. Don’t worry. I’m going to clean it up.

Donna has been insistent through and through that we be a ladies only farm, and I am becoming more and more on board with that by the day. More on that, and this incredible woman who is my mother, later this week.

In our excitement, we then proceeded to cook everything we’ve grown. We took some leftover clams from our last family bonanza and used mom’s green peppers, Keith’s garlic and some local onions for clams casino.

Tasty, tasty clams.

Then I roasted some entrepreneur tomatillos and made some badass salsa verde with some Hot Portugal peppers. Mom also made her own fresh salsa with all the ingredients from her garden. It’s scrumptious.

Salsa Verde! It tastes awesome.

Momma Wags's delicious garden salsa.

And then, finally, after weeks of preparation and no delivery on my part, we made pesto. Keith’s garlic and basil, pine nuts from my favorite Syrian bakery in Allentown. It is delicious.

Pesto Party. Throw some olive oil on top and freeze it for later.

Coupled with Jess’s CSA subscription from afar and my grandma’s typical  veg-heavy diet from her garden and ours, the Wagner women have been digging on their local, sustainable veggies pretty hard this year.

Sunday morning we headed over to the Emmaus Farmer’s Market. I wanted to check out the market and talk to some vendors, including folks at the Seed Exchange, who offer are offering a 20-hour a week apprenticeship in 2013 that would sync up nicely with next year’s plans. I spoke with an intern and the director there for a couple minutes – the intern, Marguarite, had been a WOOFer previously, and for her the two-acre production at the Seed Exchange was a huge step up. She said she’s learned a lot about tractors as well. I’m still on the fence here, but it was still really nice just to talk with some other farmers about flea beetles and cipollini onions and things of that sort.

We bought some Bison meat, nitrate-free bacon and artisan bread from various vendors, and I picked up some eggs from BAD Farm in Kempton, a husband and wife dairy operation close to Wagner Farmstead that will supply me with all the raw milk I could ever want once I’m living far away from Freedom Hill in New York. They have some 300 Rhode Island Reds for eggs and were really forthcoming and open to visitors, so I hope I can pick their brains about chickens in the near future.

Back at the farm, I finally finished reading through Richard Wiswall’s Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook and am skimming through a copy of Storey’s I by Gail Damerow. I plan to buy copies of all these for myself in the future, once I’m up and running and will need to refer to these books and their specifics more frequently. But this initial exposure if helping me figure out what I want and need to do in a more general sense. My next big task is to research tractors. Glenn keeps talking about checking some out, but we need to know what will work best for us before we go plunging into a crazy purchase like that.

So yes, today was a food post, but yesterday I went and bought the cheapest camera at Best Buy so I can get back to taking delicious and delightful photos of the farm, our evolving stand and our great-looking produce. Going to head out now and take some kale shots for a post later this week.

Fall is in the air up here. And for the first time that I can remember, I am totally stoked about it.

-Farmer Liz

The Fall of Tomato Kingdom – The Greens Uprising

Well, it came to Pennsylvania, and then it came to New York, and then it came to Orange County, and then it came to Keith’s Farm; late blight. We found some last week while we were harvesting, and now we are in full on tomato harvesting. We must pick as much as we can and Keith has resolved himself to spraying copper on a couple different areas to keep some of the plants going for as long as we can. But our main goal for the past few days has been to harvest everything salvageable and let them finish ripening in our root cellar and cooler.

But late blight was not the beginning of our tomato problems. We began our season with blossom end rot in our heirlooms because someone planted a tomato stake right through the drip tape, so when folks irrigated that field the water gushed out into nothing and some of the tomatoes were never watered. This is how I learned the importance of checking drip lines EVERY TIME you irrigate. Holes and leaks form all the time – from wear and tear, from small critters with sharp little rodent teeth, from tractors and loosely-tied ends. And tomatoes succumb easily to a number of diseases (ours have a few) and need a lot of maintenance for a successful crop.

But when you get tomatoes, it’s totally worth it – in addition to a half dozen variety of regular red tomatoes and four cherries, we had a solid planting of Cherokee Purple, Paul Robeson, Pink and Yellow Brandywine and Amish Paste heirlooms that New York’s tomato connoisseurs gobbled up each market. Keith also sells a low-acid yellow tomato called a Taxi that sort of stinks flavor-wise, but people looking for low-acid tomatoes adore, and we were regularly the only stand picking green tomatoes to sell at market, which were overall very well received.

Though folks are sort of over tomatoes now with our rapid descent into fall, tomato season was still something to behold. I am relieved that it is winding down – some harvest days were extended full hours because there were so many tomatoes to pick – but seeing a truck filled to the brim with such vibrant colors is really a sight to behold.

But our silver lining is our greens. Our kale, mustard greens, broccoli, cabbage and other fall treats look pretty amazing right now. Our chard is spotty from Cercospora leaf spot, which apparently travels on quick weed (which we have in abundance on this farm), but we’ve cut off the diseased leaves and the chard we took to market went over well. We are still struggling to hussle our Mizuna at the stand – which is insane to me, because I could eat Mizuna bunches all day – our Asian greens kick butt, and this one is long and stringy with a mild mustard flavor when you sauté it.

But what are you going to do? As people experiment more with their fall greens, they’ll come around on Mizuna, I’m sure. We also took giant Tatsoi heads to market, which look totally cool. Being down a camera has been a huge drag for the blog, but I’m going to invest in one this weekend so you readers can see the amazing produce we are growing right now. Our fields of kale and broccoli are incredibly to see. And they are fortified behind the Great Wall of Keith’s Farm, so they should be relatively safe from pests.

Our winter squash is also looking incredible. We have huge butternut and acorn ripening in the field, our Delicata looks scrumptious and our Jack-Be-Little pumpkins and cooking pumpkins already make it feel like Halloween up in 09. We took some to market yesterday and some came back, but once it gets a little colder it will allegedly fly off the shelves.

As far as market, Wednesdays have been clipping along nicely. Yesterday it rained heavily twice and the threat of rain made for a slow morning, but after the sun came up business picked up considerably. Not our best day, but still fairly decent. Apparently now that it’s after Labor Day business will fly through the roof because folks have officially returned to the city for work. It’s cool to think of being even busier than we have been, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.

On the personal business end of things, our tomatillos and husk cherries are giving us only small returns at each market, but it’s still fun to have something of our own to take. And the fields of black dirt where Keith started set onions in the spring have given way to two bands of broccoli raab that our coming on nicely. We’ll make good money off those if the field doesn’t flood and if deer don’t eat them – people at market have been clamoring for it since we ran out.

I was too tired for a few weeks to be excited about Wagner Farmstead, but after a day of Wagner picnicking because Jess was home from California this past weekend, I’m totally amped again. We talked to my family about farming all day, and Melissa’s boyfriend Anthony has offered a lot of advice and potential aid that has me feeling excited that we could actually pull this off. I’m going home this weekend to measure my starter field so I can officially start working on a crop plan and field map for the spring. I’m staying on here at Keith’s until the last market before Christmas, and then I’ll be ready and eager to start setting things up for my farm ahead. I can’t wait.

Like I said, I don’t really have any pictures to include of the farm at the moment, but my good friends Lauren and Kevin invited me up to their apartment at Yale a couple weekends back, and I brought them some seconds from market that they turned into a real feast. So here is a before and after shot of that.

A beautiful spread for a beautiful couple.

Fork-crushed blue potatoes, shirazi salad, salmon and a medley of deliciousness. Lauren is an amazing cook.

Lavender cake!

Also, Flavia and Keith had us over for dinner before Parker left to return to Bard for school, and Flavia bought us each a handcrafted hat from a novelty shop in town. Keith adores these hats and always has one on at work, and it was really sweet and thoughtful farm gift for us. I love mine so much that I went to the store and bought one for Jess (who, fashionista that she is, was less receptive). But here’s a few goofy picture of us in our hats Flavia sent around.

Clearly, we are all business.

With the lady of the house!

What were we talking about? No one can remember, but it sure looked serious.

And now, duty calls. But stay tuned. I’ve vowed to start writing more again with my renewed confidence and energy. And the forthcoming photos will be well worth it.

-Farmer Liz

 

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Garlic Harvest Comes Early!

Garlic. Season. Has. Arrived.

Last week was the dirtiest week of farming to date. Starting Monday morning, we got up and, for hours, pulled garlic.

Pulling garlic goes something like this. Fill the truck up with lugs and drive out to the field. Start on a band with a pile of lugs to your name. Start to pull garlic. Do not break any stalks – if you do, you must use a garden fork to dig up the lost bulb so it doesn’t get left in the field to spring up next season. And garlic doesn’t want to leave the ground. You need to bend down (or really squat down if you don’t want to destroy your back) and yank the plant out with both hands.

Clearing out the fields.

This truck has been filled with garlic more times than we can count now.

You pull about seven to twelve at a time, and then brush off the dirt, pull of the weeds, and pile them vertically into a lug. The leaves of the plant need to shade the bulbs to prevent sun damage. You can also pull up a dozen, lay them on the ground, and then pull up another dozen and lay their leaves on top of the previous bulbs in a wind row.

This is a wind row. Pretty, yes?

Do this for a hundred lugs. Then for sixty more. And then repeat for hours , and then days, and then weeks. By the third day your wrists, legs and back may get sore. Suddenly sleeping eight hours isn’t quite enough. You skin and clothes smell like body odor laced with garlic. You walk into the morning meetings knowing that there will be five items on the list, and two are pulling and hanging garlic.

Hanging garlic is second part of this process. We drive all this garlic down to the tractor shed or the implement shed or the lower barn. Then we take the piles of garlic strings we sorted earlier this season and start to bunch the plants. Other folks stand on   (or are just taller than me) and hang piles of garlic throughout the sheds. Places where tractors and farm equipment used to sit are now floor to ceiling with hanging garlic bunches. It’s like a jungle when you walk inside.

Matthew is a garlic zombie.

It’s a garlic jungle in here. Where is the sun?

Keith grows Rocambole garlic, a hardneck garlic known throughout the city (or at least New York) for its quality. Keith has his own method of sizes the bulbs, which range from $2 a bulb to $1.25 a bulb based on size. Colossal, Super Jumbo, Jumbo and the rest. We pulled a ton of Colossal out of the field, and everyone is pretty stoked about it.

All we do is pull garlic.

Garlic champs.

Garlic is fun and challenging and sweaty and smelly, but it’s totally satisfying. Suddenly I can pick up lugs and weight I could never lift before. Thursday was by far the filthiest day to date – garlic picking and hanging, water wheel transplanting with days old, rancid fish emulsion, Florida Weaving tomatoes (which stains your hands a thick, troll-green color), and then some Deer Stopper, which is rosemary and rotten eggs, essentially. Gross. But still, in a bizarre way, awesome.

Florida Weaving turns you into a troll!

Even your arm hairs turn green.

But the payoff is totally worth it – at market on Saturday Matt, Matthew and I made bank, and Keith was quite pleased. So many people emerged thrilled to see our garlic – one man even called his wife from the stand in his elation. It’s such a cool thing to witness.

There will be lots more to tell soon – even after two days off, it’s still exhausting to think about. But next up is some updates on Wagner Farmstead, stories of squash and potatoes, and more about our farm.

-Farmer Liz

Scapes, Market and Colorado Potato Beetles

After a weekend at market and a Monday of food poisoning? Stomach virus? Lymes?- well, an expensive day at a medical center with no answers, it has been trying to get back here. But we’re surviving and thriving over here at Keith’s Farm.

Today we spent the end of the day brushing Colorado Potato Beetles off our beautiful, beautiful potatoes. We planted these spuds my first week here, and even though we were about to commit bug genocide, I had such a rush walking up and down those bands that I helped plant. The T-22 must have done its magic – the potato tops are huge. The potatoes are starting to show off these gorgeous pink and white flowers, which means it’s almost time to dig them. Pictures to come.

Our collection of CPBs, aka Colorado Potato Beetles.

They’re getting closer!

The swarm has arrived.

The past week and a half has been scape season to the max. What’s a scape? Maybe a hundred people asked that at market last week. When you plant garlic, as with other alliums like onion, as it starts to bulb underground it also starts to flower above ground. Scapes are the tops of garlic that, if left alone, would turn into these crazy flowers that you’ll see later in the season. But in order to get a bigger bulb of garlic, we pick the scapes off the garlic plants. There are too many to sell at market, but we do sell a decent amount – $1 bunches, $3 bunches and $5 a pound on chef special You can cook a scape like you would scallions or garlic, really- unlike green garlic, which is young and hasn’t bulbed and only has a mild garlic flavor, scapes taste like garlic. And they look pretty, too. The downside? All the garlic juice runs into our hands and makes our skin look pretty rough. And if you have cuts, man oh man, does it sting.

Scapes!

The elusive Casey in the garlic.

Ready in the garlic.

Market was an adventure this weekend. With drop-ins from the Adams gentlemen, Alice Waters and a Chopped Chef, as well as the regulars, the excited newcomers and the restaurateurs we’ve started to become acquainted with, it’s like having a whole new world besides the farm and even besides regular life. Market life is something else entirely – and that’s before even bringing up other vendors.

Check out our scapes for sale.

Luke is a sweetheart who sells flowers next door, Elliot makes mad money working at the orchard stand up the way and gives us discount strawberries, the chicken ladies across the aisle took pity on my living in Boyhouse and gave me an enormous half a chicken for next to nothing, Michael and Tyrone are constantly dropping us pieces of their crazy delicious and expensive cheeses, Mario from Eckerton Hill swapped some garlic for carrots and may be my new off-season friend while I’m home and he’s living in Lobachsville, and Nicole from one of the maple stands delivered us a bag off maple cotton candy on her way out. It’s a whole bubbling community, and they all seemed to have known each other for years and they are all relatively friendly and excited to be at market. There’s an energy there that reminds me of what I used to love about Wednesday nights on the newspaper, game days at La Salle and fundraisers at Child Advocates – I love to run events, and market is like an all-day event where I play an active role.

Free carrots from Mario, cheap strawberries from Elliot, and delicious muffins a la Matthew.

Roses from Luke and, did I mention these muffins from Matthew? Rosemary with raspberry sauce and feta cheese. Happy Birthday, Matt.

We got a new crew member this weekend as well. Hesther is joining us from Brooklyn! She’s a spunky recent grad and she seems to be learning quickly. She’s keeping Chelsea company over in the trailer. Everyone’s pretty excited to have her on board.

Today Matt and I spread some compost in two more garden spaces for our cauliflower and other fun plant projects. Last week we weeded what dill we could find from last month’s direct seeding, planted tomatillos and planted and netted some of the broccoli rabe. There’s still some in the greenhouse – as well as watermelon, chervil and a ton of flowers – but we are talking about seeding more. Business men, us farmers.

Broccoli Rabe! Miss you, Philly.

Tomatillos!

Rediscovered Dill!

In other news, Mya our girl farmdog is changing color with the sun, our dogs as a team are constantly catching and sort of eating woodchucks, and I have at least five callouses on my hands. I am starting to write a very, very basic list of what I’d like to grow next year. As I am constantly telling the world, I am here, I am excited, and I couldn’t be happier.

-Farmer Liz

Mint, Peas and Tomatoes Three Ways

For the first time in weeks, we are living in an extended forecast of sun.

Six days of rainless existence (allegedly, of course), lay stretched out before us. But with all the planting we desperately need to do, it still feels like a race against the clock.

Thankfully, as we waited for the soil to dry out, we had time to tackle some other projects. Seeding in the greenhouse, some major thinning, and some high tunnel work.

Keith likes to hedge his bets when he farms, and he plants the same crops in different places and in different ways across the property. Our Tomatoes are a clear example of this. We have some gorgeous, huge tomatoes in the tunnel that are already bearing giant green fruits. In a previous post I explained how we string the tomatoes in the high tunnels. As they grow, we add clips to the string to keep them climbing, and we prune the suckers off each plant, which are extra limbs that grow from the V of other branches. They waste the plant’s energy and counter our tomato yield, and we will continue to walk through and prune suckers out of the tunnel tomatoes for weeks.

See how tall they are getting? We clip them every few inches so the tomatoes will grow to the ceiling of the high tunnel

Tunnel Tomatoes!

Look at the fruits of our labor!

We have tomatoes in two other spots, and a fourth planting outside the greenhouse on the hardening off structures. The second set of tomatoes is out next to our giant garlic field. We have ten rows, two hundred feet long, of over half a dozen varieties of tomatoes, from cherries to Romas, which are good for sauce, to our Cherokee Purple heirlooms. We laid these in black plastic, and they are fed through our drip irrigation. But you don’t just plant tomatoes in the field and leave them be – over the past two weeks some of the guys staked every third tomato plant, which involved using steak pounders in ways that hurt my wrists after one go. From here, we take boxes of tomato twine that we strap through our belt loops and walk out through each row to Florida Weave. We start a couple inches off the ground at the base of the plant and run the trine from stake to stake, wrapping the string at each stake and knotting it every third. We do this all the way down the band, and then come back up the other side of the plants, blocking them into a little corridor that keeps them growing straight. We will pass back through and add a level of Florida Weave as the plants grow.

Ten bands of tomato plants. Oh la la.

We are doing this in a field over by our house as well, though only a couple rows of tomatoes are in black plastic. The rest are in compost and horse manure, and were planted last and won’t be ready for several months. But here we also help them along with Florida Weave, and though they are currently some of the smallest tomato plants I’ve ever seen in a field, they’ll come right along.

Our tiny third planting tomatoes.

Happy in their horse manure, our third planting tomatoes get ready to grow.

Farms in other nearby states are getting late blight on their potatoes and tomatoes, and we are all not talking about it, but terrified of it getting to our plants. If that happens, our tunnel tomatoes have the best chance of survival. But it looks bad no matter how you slice it, really. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

The potatoes, meanwhile, though crawling with Colorado Potato Beetles, are looking magnificent. It was really cool to walk through work that I did my first week here and see how amazing it looks. For instance, on one of my first days here we divided our mint into new beds, and though we sort of beveled the area, the mint has grown fantastically. Our chocolate mint is out of control, our KC mint is finally coming along, and our orange mint may actually exist now. Go us.

Our elusive, but apparently thriving, orange mint.

They’re ain’t no party like a KC mint party.

Chocolate Mint, our delicious peppermint.

And remember those peas I was posting pictures of? The snow peas are flowering and almost as tall as I am now, and we’ve been harvesting our sugar snaps for over a week. They look great, and they taste pretty wonderful too, especially when you snap one right off the vine. Mmmmm. Unfortunately, some of the poles we used during our pea trellis apparently were too flexible, and the weight of wet peas has bowed them in on their aisles. Now we have rows of peas but no paths to walk through to harvest – but I’m sure this is something we’ll fix up tomorrow.

Our peas are too heavy!

We’ve also spent some time this week mulching and weeding our orchard trees and hired a Skilled Fencing company to put up more 8-foot deer fence. These pesky deer. I’ve also spent some time finally sitting down and reading some farm related books and working on some basic outlines of what I would want to grow and sell and how much this may potentially all cost. Once again, I wish I was more savvy at math.

Anywho, it’s late. I should be sleeping, but the farm world (if you couldn’t tell), has really done a number on my sleep cycle. But knowing the sun will be out tomorrow makes all the difference.

-Farmer Liz