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

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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

Pest Control and the Fungus Among Us

The weeks are starting to get busier, and our enemies are drawing near.

Today is a venture into the wars we lead against the rodents, bugs and other pests that lay waste to our good veggies. And know that, not two years ago, I was carrying bugs out of my classrooms at school to let them free outside. But this is a whole different situation, and our crops and my paycheck on the front lines.

Flea Beetles.

 

Flea Beetle damage. Drats!

Within three weeks of my arrival this season, flea beetles had laid waste to our first mesclun planting. They riddle brassicas leaves, like our kale, mizuna, tatsoi and arugula, with these little holes. It doesn’t affect the taste or sanitation of the plants – we are still taking coolers of mesclun to market – but the greens look shot full of holes, and regrowth is pretty slow/nonexistent. Our second planting is under rowcover and hopefully will survive another onslaught.

CPBs – the worst!

CPBs, or the neat-looking but deadly Colorado Potato Beetle, are already tromping through our tomatoes, but have thankfully not hurt our potato crop…yet. I remember being a kid and pulling these critters out of our swimming pool, but at the larval stage they can seriously destroy leaf growth and way more as an adult. I still apologize to each bug as I squish it between two rocks, but at a point, when there are so many that we are sweeping them off the plants, I will have overcome my tree hugger mentality.

Cucmber Beetles.

Cucumber beetles have not arrived yet, but we are anxiously awaiting their arrival and have covered our summer squash in row cover. These guys  not only cause physical plant damage to plants and stems, but also carry a wilting disease that wipes out plants beds. Then, as if that’s not bad enough, their larvae tunnel into the ground and eat plant roots. You can’t catch a break with these guys.

Matt sprayed the eggplant with PyGanic mixed with fish emulsion to wipe out all the different bugs that want up on our black beauties. PyGanic is an organic pest control,so it won’t kill big things like possum, but it wipes out all the bugs and knocks the plant back considerably in the process, so you supplement with the fish emulsion. The possum facts is relative and I would invite anyone interested to research on their contribution to this ecology.

Deer. Rabbits. Chipmunks. Groundhogs. Yeah, I think they’re cute and lovely and all those things, but now that they are eating everything from my hardening off trays and out in the herb beds, and in the lettuces, they’re nothing but a hassle. We’ve mounted ten foot deer fencing and the deer still climb under. I just pieced together some netting for one of our hardening off tables –we’ll see if it works. And last week the guys set a crazy trap for a groundhog that was wasting our mesclun – and we got him.

Keith and Matt survey their conquest.

As does Jay, with more excitement.

Another discouraging note – the damp, wet weather up here is hurting us considerably, and has taken shape as a minor plague through one of our garlic fields. We are getting white rot on our bulbs in the center of one of our fields, and though this is apparently something that lives in the soil, the murky conditions of southern New York right now are helping it spread. We’ve lost maybe a hundred plants so far, which is not much in comparison to how much we’ve grown but is still distressing in terms of profit margins.

There are certainly more pests, methods of protection and other wars to wage on the farm, but this is where we are right now. So keep your eyes out and your ears to the ground, and together we’ll defend the farm.

-Farmer Liz

Entrepreneurs and that Awful Green Stuff

Once again we are trapped by a week of rain.

It softens the dirt and so we have trouble getting in the beds to plant, rock pick, weed, or really virtually anything else. We’ve been making up all sorts of jobs – we’ve seeded so much in the greenhouse that we’ve run out of rooms on the heat mats, I spent three hours yesterday cleaning and sweeping out Keith’s tractor shed, and we’ve weeded in the herb beds (which have sod pathways that we can walk through) for hours every day. I miss the sun. We used the Cut My Plastic to help build our greenhouse windows.

We did get a little planting in this week. Our eggplant and summer squash are in the ground – just waiting for some love as we hoop them and cover them with row cover to prevent bug and deer damage. Our high tunnels are full of peppers and newly-transplanted rosemary, which demand astronomical amounts of water. Matt and I staked for a celeariac planting, but the thunderstorm has rain checked our plants. Another girl came to interview Tuesday – she had previously been in California for a few months with some forest and desert conversation projects, and she seemed like she could be a pretty solid fit.

Farmer Nate

The green algae of death.

The squash that Nate and I seeded over the weekend has germinated. It’s fun to go into the greenhouse and see them looking all happy and alive.  Especially as opposed to my recent ventures into the greenhouse, which have left me frustrated at myself. When watering, there are a whole number of factors one must take into consideration – the weather and temperature outside, the cell size of each tray of plants, etc. So I’ve been in charge of the greenhouse for a couple weeks now, and I’m still trying to figure all this out. This weekend was hot and dry, so I watered the plants a bunch. But I have been surface watering them a bunch instead of giving them a long drink a couple times, which is bad in prolonged overcast weather because this crusty algea-like green stuff forms over the tops of the dirt. It doesn’t kill the plant or anything, but it slows root development because the soil doesn’t aeroate so well. So I have been more than a couple hours sitting in the greenhouse during rain and before work officially started scraping the tops of trays to pull off this green stuff. No one is mad – it’s an inevitability in this weather – but I am trying to rectify it.

But that has truly been my only low-ish point here. On the flipside, I have been getting better at remembering nuances of this job and helping with directions for some of the newer folks. As we finished seeding in the greenhouse yesterday, Casey remarked that it seems I have a knack for this, and that adrenaline rush carried me through the rest of the day. I know there’s still plenty of time for me to show my greenness, but I’m trying really hard to stay ahead of the curve.

This includes trying out some farming extracurricular lessons. Matt is here for his third year and has learned the ropes of being an entrepreneur. He takes some of the garden space Keith creates for the workers and grows a couple things Keith doesn’t sell at market. Keith gets 25% of the profits and workers can only tend to those crops during off time, but it’s a chance to see how other things grow and grow some extra food for ourselves, so I got on board quick. Broccoli raab (inspired by our Philly trip) is coming up strong, as are the Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. The delphiniums have a longer germination, but the nasturtiums just sprouted and the sunflowers look great. Tomatillos are up and husk cherries are in the works. And last night Matt wandered out in the damp fog and direct seeded some dill into one of the unused beds. Annnnd watermelons! It all means more work, but I’m just excited to learn.

Broccoli Raab!

Sunflowers 🙂

And now, to work!

-Farmer Liz

Garlic, Peas, and Weekend Farming

In the words of a Hold Steady song, it’s 3am and I’m wide awake.

I have never seen as many stars in the sky as I do right at this moment. Where I grew up you can see them pretty well, and where we vacationed in the summer in central PA you could see them even better, but this is a whole different world. It’s not just a smattering of lights in the sky – it’s a full on blanket. Takes my breath away.

I finally spent my first Saturday on the farm, and as I suspected, I couldn’t help but work a little bit. There’s just so much to be done! And Nate came up for the weekend, so it was really nice to have him around and to have him help out so enthusiastically. He cleaned seeding trays, helped me totally reorganize the greenhouse and seed some butternut squash. Pretty good work for a journalist. Throw in some barbecuing – everything from portabella burgers to salmon to kielbasa – some guitar and little whiskey, and the handful of us that stayed here for the weekend had a pretty great time. Matthew returned from Boston with his dog, Mya, who is beautiful and sweet. And last night we discovered a bird nest right under our porch.

We call her Myooooo because that’s the sound she makes. How cute.

Babies.

The green house project was a monster task, but I feel like I have a better understanding of what we’re growing and what different seedlings look like now. I tried to stick all our brassicas – our bok choy, kales and arugula together, as well as our other mesclun elements of the same size. I did a similar move with the plants we are hardening off outside, and then kept the cilantro and basil together despite the size differences, because they sort of take different water levels. I may be fooling myself, or I may be starting to get the hang of this. Regardless, the greenhouse looks pretty cool at present.

Here’s the greenhouse before we tackled it.

So much kale!

Basil in three stages.

My sister and mother are out in California right now, so Glenn Wagner has been left to his own devices for a few days. Thankfully, that means he has full credence to roam around and by stuff, which I caught him doing yesterday morning when I called and he was at the store buying me a seed broadcaster. It’s this backpack sort of thing that you strap on and walk around with as it sprays seeds. I shipped a 48 pound bag of oats to our house the other day for the Wagner Farmstead, so either he or I will be doing that sometime soon.

On Friday when Nate arrived we drove Matt to a bus station in Warwick, which took us through Pine Island. Warwick, for those of you with any familiarity with New Jersey, looks a bit like Collingswood. Pine Island is this stretch of land where farmers have full access to the coveted black dirt that we grow our best onions in. As far as the eye can see, there are farms and trailers for workers out in this deep black soil.

The rest of this week was just as eye-opening and challenging as the preceding weeks The rain at the start put us back on planting, but we had plenty else to keep us busy. Casey arrived on the scene and has jumped right into the work. He’s worked on a number of farms before, one very close to Kutztown, so we have plenty of Pennsylvania news to talk about. Chelsea, the saving grace of girl number two, has arrived, and we are both relieved to have each other.

Some of the crew and a visitor eating another amazing Matthew meal.

In the words of many, nom nom nom.

Here’s Mateo dancing.

At the start of the week we buried ourselves in the milk room and the lower barn to sort about a dozen giant boxes of garlic strings. When it comes time to harvest the thousands upon thousands of garlic from out in the fields, we knot them on ropes of varying lengths and hang them everywhere – all through the barn and anywhere else we can fit them. The different rope lengths help space the garlic for drying, but are taking quite a while to sort through.

I got to put some of the skills I learned from my previous job at the Support Center for Child Advocates to good use on Tuesday and Wednesday when Keith asked me to help orchestrate a mail merge for a mass mailing to some of his loyal customers. He likes to send one of Flavia’s postcards to about 450 people announcing our return to the market, but struggles with the process on the computer. Thankfully, I did like four or five of them while I was an assistant, so it was easy as pie. The guys were stoked to have a different, non-farm sort of task on hand and couldn’t understand why I was so unenthused about hanging out inside putting return addresses on postcards. I’m still too close to my previous office life to appreciate this sort of stuff as a diversified task. Give me some mud to roll around in, I say.

As for the garlic in the fields, well, it looks great. After days of hand weeding and wheel hoeing (which I totally love to do), we have saved our crop from the devastation of quack grass, Canadian thistles and dandelions. And as I was helping Matthew drop the walls of the high tunnels last night, which involves lifting and turning these big metal poles, I realized how much stronger I’ve become in a matter of days. Count me impressed, farm life. And appreciative.

But my number one favorite farm job by farm has been to trellis the peas. Matt and I started this last week, but we were derailed by the weather for a bit. On Thursday and Friday Matt, Casey and I knuckled down finally finished our four rows of trellising, and it looks awesome. After a day of having the netting in place, the peas had already started to climb. Keith said they’ll climb taller than I stand, and I am not sure why I am so excited to watch, but I am. Even on Friday afternoon, when I was sunburned and covered in itchy and covered in fiberglass from the poles we forced into the ground and strung with netting, I was excited.

My favorite accomplishment to date – trellising the peas.

Look at them climb!

We are getting ever closer to market – the first one we attend as a farm is next Saturday. Though he’ll probably just be taking the experienced guys for the start, I’m still looking forward to the day I get to try my hand down in Union Square.

-Farmer Liz

Steam rising off the pond in the morning. It’s like the rest of the world doesn’t exist out here.

Thou Shallot Not Kill

Another weekend has come and gone, and I’m reeling from information overload, lack of sleep, straight happiness and greens, greens, greens.

Friday was a day of weeding – hook and crooks, stirrup hoes and wheel hoes were out in full force as we traveled around the beds disturbing the soil around each plant and pulling out the bigger, nasty weeds. The onions and garlic down in the black dirt were an easy fix, and then we moved to the peas, lettuces and mesclun. On further inspection Matt and Jay realized that flea beetles have already begun to munch away at our dainty little Lacinato Dinosaur Kales and Arugalas over in the mesclun beds – and so the war against our insect enemies begins.

Our garlic bed will prove to be a daunting challenge throughout the year Some of the soil wasn’t turned as much as it could have been because of an onslaught of rain last fall that prevented too much tractor use, so there are patches of one of our garlic fields that is almost literally more weeds than garlic. We have already dedidcated hours to this fight as a team, and apparently Matt and Mateo had done the whole thing twice before the rest of us arrive. We arm ourselves with wheel hoes and dandelion weeders and hike on out past the compost piles for hours of weed thrashing. Canadian thistle and dandelions run rampant, and there roots are long and thick and a real pain to pull out from the bottom. Quack grass runs rampant between the rows – there are parts I can’t even push a wheel hoe through right now because the grass is so thick. But the garlic is our cash crop, and our babies need some TLC.

And if you’re still wondering what a wheel hoe is, hang on a little longer – we’ll take a tool tour later this week.

Friday afternoon presented itself with a tragic project- replanting shallots that didn’t make it through the first part of the week. I volunteered for this unsavory task before I realized the extent of the damage. I walked out to the bed behind the tunnel to find a massacre. Dozens of holes in the plastic where the shallot had literally been fried in the sun – after 48 hours, there was no sign of the little green shoot we had planted. This was a huge problem in the first band we had planted, apparently because we didn’t widen the holes in the plastic enough. We punctured the plastic with a trowel in four rows down the length of the black plastic, but if the plastic had some give around the hole edges and could move with the wind, it covered the shallot throughout the day and promptly toasted it.

I spent the afternoon sadly replacing our hundreds of fallen little guys, widening holes in plastic and putting rocks everywhere to prevent this mess from happening again. Though the task was sad, redundant as of Tuesday and a little frustrating, I think we all learned what not to do when planting this way.

We used stirrup hoes to work this bed of lettuces. Pretty, right?

The future bane of our existence – garlic fields. But look how nicely weeded this part is!

Throughout the day I scurried off to the greenhouse to water and check on our plants – on sunny warm days I could be over there every hour. Keith showed me how to pull out a plug from a random tray and test the soil to tell who needs more water when. The little cells need it more often because there’s no space for water. The tomatoes need to be watered heavily once a day in the morning, but the Mediterranean herbs prefer less water. Before I water the tomatoes, I take a broomstick handle and run it across the tops of the plants for a few minutes – this is called mechanical stimulation, and it simulates the feel the plant has in the wind outside. This makes for squatter plants instead of the leggy tomatoes that get a lot of length but not width. Pretty cool, right? This is what I’m learning. And I haven’t killed anything yet, which is also a good sign.

I left the guys this weekend and traveled down to my parents’ house for family times. My little sister is moving to California next week so we had a going away/graduation/Mother’s Day extravaganza. Nate bought my mother and me flowers and stole the show, as he does. My cousins all talked to me about the blog and asked me all sorts of questions about farming and living with smelly guys and commented on how happy I look. One of them gave me a stack of farm supply magazines and my dad and I almost convinced each other to drive up and look at an Allis G tractor an hour away. I am already excited to visit Jess out West when I’m unemployed in November. And I took stock of our own tool shed, and while it’s pretty empty comparatively, we are on the right track.

The Wagner Tool Shed.

We got tools! But need more. If you have some you don’t want holler at me.

Glenn Wagner manipulated our drainpipes into this band of four connected rain barrels with a spigot, because his mechanically-minded brain loves projects. It’s really cool.

I also got to tell some of my guy friends from home about my new adventure, which was fun and exciting and is totally off the wall from where they thought I would be. But they want to come visit, and that makes my day. And it didn’t hurt that throughout the weekend the farmers were sending me photos of their banjo-playing, town-wandering exploits and asking when I was coming back.

I’m eating a sweet potato for breakfast while Matt prices out heat mats and Jay ignores his wake up call for another few minutes. Matthew is home in Massachusetts for a few days and the house already feels emptier.

It feels good to be home.

-Farmer Liz