Small Farm Paradise: The 2014 PASA Conference

I’ve had a couple conference experiences – a small business conference and then a journalism conference, full of museum tours, guest speakers, bus trips and a round table chat with Al Neuharth. Then there was the month-long and much beloved PA Governor’s School for the Arts, may it rest in peace and awesomeness forever. In college there were service trips weeks and city events, and a lot of extracurricular nights that replaced the conference experience.

All of these shaped me in some way, and helped me expand my passions at all of these times. I met a bunch of like-minded strangers, and that was always the most exciting part of everything for me – the new friends, the feeling of togetherness united by writing, the world, being a teenager and all that good-vibe stuff.

Last week I headed out to the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture Conference, which was my first conference experience as an (arguable, I know) adult. I had yet to attend a formalized farmer event – Farm Hack in Ithaca was awesome in 2012, but I was still head-over-heels infatuated with farming and didn’t take a lot of practicality and logistics planning into that weekend. Now I was attending two days of small farm workshops with hundreds (thousands?) of other folks from my state and the surrounding area to learn how to streamline my practices, expand my growing opportunities, see what other folks were doing to maintain good yields and soil health, and get super jazzed for this season. I packed a pile of notebooks, some snacks and clean clothes, hopped into Glenn’s Silverado – another awesome caveat to the weekend – and headed out to Penn State.

Look! I got a name tag with the name of the farm - like a legitimate person!

Look! I got a name tag with the name of the farm – like a legitimate person!

Thankfully, I had some seasoned friends in attendance who knew what to expect. Teena Bailey, our area pioneer veggie and small grains farmer, has a lot of experience with this conference and secured us a sweet hotel room at The Penn Stater, the hotel attached to the conference center. Along with our friend Theresa, we visited a couple workshops together, wandered the vendors and picked up growing literature from another available kiosk, attended two mornings of TriYoga and reconvened for lunch and at night to rehash our experiences. Theresa and I kept our eyes peeled for herb workshops and cute, single men (I had a very proactive and supportive fishing team that weekend, providing entertainment and some comic relief after hours of brain overload from the workshops). The ladies had come a day before me for the all-day intensive tracks in grains growing (Teena) and biodynamic farming (Theresa).

But I was here on a mission: to soak up the knowledge of the experience folks around me and hopefully retain some of it to use on my own fields this springs. And judging by the notes I took over the course of the two days, I’d say that was a huge success.

It will take me days to sort through all this info - good thing it's about to snow forever again, right? Now I'll HAVE to do it.

It will take me days to sort through all this info – good thing it’s about to snow forever again, right? Now I’ll HAVE to do it.

I took two commercial herb workshops with Beth Lambert, the CEO of Herbalist & Alchemist. H&A has been a quality herbal company for over 30 years, and we carry a lot of their products at the health food store. Beth discussed adding yourself to the herbal supply chain, the legalities and quality issues herb buyers expect from their producers and, in the advanced class Saturday, some of the specific needs of her company in terms of herbs and quantities. Though I don’t see myself in a position to expand to commercial herbs this year, Beth recommended trialing herbs for some time to be able to provide an estimate yield when in talks for contracts with buyers, and that is what I will be doing in part of my fields this season. And her business partner David Winston teaches herbalism classes, so we’ll see if there’s a world where I can squeeze something like that into my life. I’d love to.

Eric Burkhart, the Program Director of Plant Science at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center in Penn State, offered a workshop called “Good from the Woods,” about foraging and wild crafted products. Beth touched on this in terms of some desirable but difficult to find products – Indian Pipe, etc. – and Eric discussed the specifics of finding, selling and sustainably harvesting ramps and morels from your woodland areas. I have always been vaguely intrigued by consuming and using foraged goods, but I’ve also always been way too terrified to try it because I didn’t want to accidentally poison myself and my family. But if you check out the notes section from this workshop and do a bit of outside research (specifically some photos of these things), you too can feel a little more confident when you dive into the trees to look for seasonal mushrooms and wild leeks. Yum.

Mac Mead of the Pfeiffer Center and Jeff Poppen held a number of workshops on biodynamic farming – and at some point I’ll write an enormous post about these farming methods, because it’s a little much to explain in the midst of other things. I went to two of these – in a poor summation of this practice, biodynamic farming is a “method of organic farming originally developed by Rudolf Steiner that employs what proponents describe as ‘a holistic understanding of agricultural processes'” – thanks, Wikipedia! To expand, these practices focus on microbial soil diversity through some semi-ritualistic compost and manure practices to enhance plant growth, germination rates and stimulate field health. These farmers plant and seed in tandem with lunar and astronomical patterns and, though some of these farmers seem steeped in mysticism, most have come to pick up these practices because they’ve seen major results in their fields. Hard to argue with that, right? There are some composting practices I’d like to explore, but these practices need more study on my end and will be on the back burner until the next off season.

The keynote speakers throughout the weekend were sharp, informative and personable. Tom, of conference sponsor Lady Moon Farms, talked about his dive into farming after “meandering for eight years after college,” – hey, Mom, I only did that for two! He talked about farmers as optimists and how he “always felt a certain privilege to be making my living off the land in the 20th century.” The PASA board member who spoke touched on the joining of PASA and CASA (the ‘C’ being for Chesapeake), to join watersheds, food sources and other resources, and reminded us how grateful we should all be for having the opportunities for small and earth-friendly farms. After a visit to Thailand, she experienced a world of chemical farming with little alternatives.

PASA President Brian Snyder stressed the fact that “separate but equal” will not work for much longer in the world of sustainable and conventional farming. In a world where 24D-ready crops are about to be approved for the market, herbicide drift for up to a mile has been found to decimate tomato and other vegetable crops. The industry has suggested that small farmers need to take out crop insurance in case of such destruction – but why is that okay? But he stressed the need to open the lines of communication between farmers across the spectrum – we need to learn to get along and live together, and to not act with hostility because some farmers follow the “industry guidelines and recommendations.” Manufacturer interests “would rather let nature die than let it lead us to a better tomorrow,” and that cannot be allowed to happen.

Keynote speaker Daphne Miller, MD., made me want to beg her to be my primary physician. She was so cool and such an open, enthusiastic spirit. Miller has written articles and books about all sorts of doctoral things, but Farmacology: What Innovative Family Farming Can Teach Us About Health and Healing is her journey into the health and wellness of farmers and their goods for the world. She founded WholefamilyMD, which is a primary care practice across an entire person’s lifespan. She spent a slew of time working on small farms and believes that sustainable farmers can teach her how to be a better doctor. In her presentation, she discussed the farm as vitamin, immune support, community support and a model for stress management. Microbial activity and diversity in farm kids is off the chart compared to others; urban gardens and farms cut down on crime in parks; in her experience, lack of biodiversity in nature and in our bodies leads to increased allergies, diseases and lack of immunity. Happy animals, happy people, kids playing in the dirt. This is the key to societal health. If you have a moment, you should check her out. She’s got amazing insights.

Vendors lined the halls with lady-friendly tools from Green Heron Tools, a couple of hometown heroes from the area who sell and promote lighter, shorter and more easily-usable tools for us. Folks promoted  milking products, BCS tillers and tools, seeds and fertilizers and agriculture advocacy groups. On Friday night we trekked back downstairs (and, for some, with wine in hand) to watch Symphonies of the Soil or one of the other movies being shown throughout the center.

And then, in the books section of the the PASA shop, I found Keith's book! And then I picked it up and did a little happy dance in the aisles with it.

And then, in the books section of the the PASA shop, I found Keith’s book! And then I picked it up and did a little happy dance in the aisles with it.

And then I got to do something I haven’t done in awhile. I met up with an acquaintance from an extension class and we headed into downtown Penn State to rendezvous with a couple of folks from New Morning Farm.  Young people talking about farms over beers. A new friend offered some scientific explanations for biodynamics and, despite the mental fatigue of information overload, I felt myself getting so very excited for spring.

Thank you, ZBar, for an awesome evening.

Thank you, ZBar, for an awesome evening.

My friend, neighbor and fellow farmer Reuben of Willow Haven Farm popped up every now and again, also excited and mentally exhausted by the end of the conference. My dear friend Stef, previously of Eckerton Hill and now a fledgling cheese maker, attended every cheese and microbial rind class she could get her hands on. Even my friends/bosses/partners from Farm to City were in attendance, checking out workshops concerning GAPs training information and SNAP opportunities at farm markets.

An excellent weekend. An informative couple of days before the snow trapped us in. An exercise in excitement. A stellar conference. Thanks, PASA, for being incredible.

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Monday Farming in Real and Rainy Time

I am cold and wet and tired, and I am running.

The legs of my jeans are soaked through and caked with about an inch of mud. Each one of my muck boots has a crack at the big toe where, with each down step, an ooze of muddy water seeps in. My sweatshirt is filthy, and I can feel dried flecks of mud crack on my cheeks as I scrunch my face up to keep water out of my eyes.

I should mention that I’m also belting “Dancing with Myself” at the top of my lungs as I tear through the wet field. Because you need to know that I am enjoying all of this. Keith would kill me right now, I think to myself, watching my boot sink another couple inches into the path between the rows I am planting. He hated us walking on wet fields, compacting the soil. But sometimes these things just can’t be helped. My windows of opportunity to do field work – especially work that won’t require me to water in transplants with the tank on the back of my truck, are truly limited. It has been so dry, and the seedlings haven’t been too excited to be hanging out and growing in the field. But they are drinking this up.

Yep. That's right.

Yep. That’s right.

It’s been raining since midnight. I’m stoked. For days I have been filling this giant white 275-gallon water tank ¼ of the way up on the back of my truck and driving out to the fields to do work and water. So I look like this giant camel-turtle monster truck riding around the Lehigh Valley. It’s unfortunate and not super-efficient, and I’ve been doing it as sparingly as possible, but we are still well-less and the soil on the slope is well-draining and dries out even quicker from the wind we’ve had. So you work with what’s been dealt.

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It’s a camel? It’s a tortoise? It’s my very confused truck.

This morning I got up and by 6:30am had ordered my much-needed exhaust fan for the greenhouse and several boxes of tomato twine. I seeded in the greenhouse, prepped for some work later and headed off to the field for the day.

The The tomatoes say,

The tomatoes say, “hey.”

These teenage onions are almost ready to rock and roll in the real world.

These teenage onions are almost ready to rock and roll in the real world.

Okay. I have an hour to pack up, drive home, un-mud, unpack, shower, eat and get to my retail job. No problem. I throw my boots in the back (realizing only too late that I’ll now have to get out in my socks to close my gate), strip out of my muddy jeans and toss them back there too (I’ve been wearing shorts underneath my work clothes for just such occasions), and roll out. I switch between rewinding the Billy Idol tape for “Dancing With Myself” a couple more times and the two local pop stations. There is something really fun about being a short, muddy lady driving around in a beat-up Chevy and blasting Taylor Swift’s angry break-up songs or some other party girl specials Something I could never really have appreciated until this moment in my life.

Chelsea, my only female cohort from Keith’s last year, called from Africa while I was down in the dirt. Talking to her while I dumped soil amendments into holes and planted was almost like being back in New York after she arrived on the scene. She loves her job and her dog and her life, and it was incredible to catch up with her. She referred to me as “crazy,” the second former coworker to do so (Derek called me that several times as The Tomato Boys and I planted potatoes with no tractor help Saturday) – soooooo I’m taking it as a compliment. I do feel crazy some of the time, but the satisfaction after hours outside and seeing what I can do alone totally outweighs that scared, flying-without-a-net feeling. Most of the time.

Thankfully, I’ve reconnected with some local friends that have been nothing short of miraculous. They take me to the movies and to grab beers and text me questions like “How long has it been since you’ve seen people?” They offer to help build things and work. I am trying to balance being a sociable adult with work, and last week proved I could do it – if you count twelve hours of sleep last night to catch up as an acceptable trade-off. Oh, and did I mention my awesome boss Ed is letting me sell plants at the store? Also you can find at out stop the finest grass from Artificial Grass Vancouver.

Ready-to-plant greens are here! Come and get 'em.

Ready-to-plant greens are here! Come and get ’em.

“Mony Mony” starts and I hit rewind on the tape. Again. We planted the Carola and Mountain Rose potatoes Saturday, followed by lunch at the ’50s diner down the road. So that’s lettuce, arugula, kales and chards, endive, mesclun patches, sorrel, herbs, beets, sweet corn, flowers, spinach, garlic, set onions and spring turnips in the ground right now. Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of my move to Keith’s Farm last year, and it was nice to lounge about and have a couple root beers in the field with folks who knew me as “the new girl.” I could never go back to the lifestyle of that farm, but I’ll always be grateful for what I learned there in and out of the field.

Okay, wolf down the cold pizza, unload empty trays, take a shower and go. Tonight I’m going to try out SquareSpace.com and make a website. Tomorrow is the dairy and more rainy farming. Can’t wait to see my lady boss and the cows and can’t wait to roll around in the mud again. And then off to the Extension organic vegetable class trip to Liberty Gardens in Coopersburg. Rinse and repeat.

If you had told me then where I would be now…well, I might have believed you. But only just.

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“As we get older every day feels longer, and although I know I’ll struggle I will do my best to never get tired.” – Jeff Rosenstock, Bomb the Music Industry

Hey, What Happened to April?

Somewhere along the way April came and went. But we’ve go so much done that it’s almost okay that it feels like a whole month has just vanished.

The family has been converging to work on a bunch of different projects up at the property almost daily (Glenn has his real person sized Tonka Toy set to prep his ground for the future retirement home), but yesterday we all rallied farm-side for some afternoon work. Mom weeded the garlic, Glenn dug a trench for 24 blueberrry bushes, and I planted mesclun, sorrel, flowers, fretted over the transplants and watered.

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Oh, and Strider watched. He is getting better at walking on the baths and not through the seeded and transplanted areas. He was very excited about the blueberries, clearly.

It’s been amazing to watch things grow – even more so than at Keith’s since these are all my plant babies. We have a bunch of greens in the ground, carrots and beets and peas seeded, and the garlic is already coming up. But it’s nerve wracking as well. I don’t want these guys to get too cold or eaten by the wiley groundhogs up there. There’s a lot of factors at play I don’t have any or very little control over, and it has been challenging to just deal with that.

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I’m super stoked about these blueberry plants. They are already so beautiful. We planted them inside the fence – Glenn dug a trench with his New Holland, mom collected bags of pine needles to lay in the bottom of the trench and mulch around the top, and I bought some Espoma soil acidifyer to help amend the PH levels since blueberries prefer crazy acidic soil.

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My dear former roommate Olivia became the first non-Wagner to come do some work at the farm. It was also to show someone around and get excited. She planted broccoli raab and mesclun and lettuces, and as of yesterday they were all chugging along nicely. It was so great to have someone from college and Philly and everything before come up and see what’s happening here and be excited. Plus, she’s just the best.

And there it is again! Ruby streaks mustard, please grow big and don't get eaten.

And there it is again! Ruby streaks mustard, please grow big and don’t get eaten.

My friend Lauren as here a few weeks ago also on a rare trip home from New Haven, and she helped me seed in the greenhouse and then we went for a run.I realized how awesome it was to have girlfriends around, and I miss them terribly. Lauren and I have signed up for a run together for Back on My Feet in July, and I hope I’m together enough by then to make this all work.

Mom has been doing tons of whatever needs to be done. Hands down the best co-worker I could have asked for.  She brings my car so Strider can come up (he’s hurt himself somehow so he can’t jump up into my truck right now), leaves to check on the greenhouse when she needs a break, and does everything from seeding to weeding garlic. She’s just the best.

Grandma Wagner even came up to plant peas and give me some grandma advice.

Grandma Wagner even came up to plant peas and give me some grandma advice.

A couple weeks back I went north to pick up some food-grade, 275-gallon water storage takes in lieu of us not having electricity for a well yet, and since I was halfway to Keith’s farm packed his blueberries and headed up for a visit.He’s got a room full of set onions and potatoes, and enjoying having his new manager. He’s trying celery this year and incorporating broccoli raab into his rotation (go us!), and was excited to hear about my projects. He was looking forward to the arrival of his interns – who started work Monday. Derek and Matt and are back and have already created the New Boyhouse in the trailer.

I spent the night in New York with Jay at Peace and Carrots, the farm he is starting with his friend and former Keith’s Farm intern Laura. They’re using some of Laura’s family’s land for a CSA, and they’ve already been written up in Chester’d Dirt Magazine. At the time I visited, Jay was living in a camper while they built a shed/house to live in, and he was tending the greenhouse was Lara was away. They have a woodstove in there for heat and some happy looking plugs. We drank coffee and stayed up for hours talking about what we were nervous and excited about, and bounced ideas and planting notes off each other. It’s hard to explain how amazing it is to know someone pretty much in the same boat – I feel like I’m texting him a few times a week now with questions and to compare progress.

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Matthew has his own projects in the works while he’s working at home in Massachusetts as well. He sent me some pictures of the cold frame he built to grow some vegetables. He is doing a small CSA of his own, and hopefully that bum gets down here to visit soon (because visitnig means free labor – you have all been warned).

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The deer fence is up and functioning at 8,000 volts produced by a solar powered energizer. Mom and I put the whole thing up ourselves, and Glenn tweaked our end post so it wouldn’t short out. The fence is around about half the field – most of what I’ll be using to start. The alliums are off on their own because they don’t really get eaten. And after a bit more tweaking, hopefully today, I’ll have the end pushed out to incorporate a tractor path and I won’t have to do anything else but remember to shut it off before I shock myself (again) when I’m in there working.

The fence is up and working!

The fence is up and working!

The greenhouse is well. The onions had a couple haircuts – a Keith trick to make stockier stems – the squash and zucchini is almost ready to be planted, and I’ve set up some plants to go out into the world as potted plants for sale. Going to try that tomorrow at the store, so we’ll see if folks are interested in gardening with kale and broccoli raab and arugula. I put together the Earthway Seeder and have used it for carrots, radishes, beets and spinach. The peas are starting to germinate, so I guess I’m doing it right!

Earthway Seeder! It rules.

Earthway Seeder! It rules.

Peas!

Peas!

People are signing up for the CSA! I am so honored and excited and ready to bring you all delicious vegetables. If you’re looking for more info about that, I have some side and top links on this blog that link to the information and CSA agreement.

In other news, I’m moonlight (sunrising?) at a dairy farm, and have been for about a month now. I totally love it.I am now quick enough to dodge a swift cow kick, I have a whole new understanding of how the milking process works, and my boss and her family are really sweet and lovely folks. It’s a dairy right near my house that has over 100 cows – somewhere between 80 and 90 that need to be milked twice a day. The farm sells its milk to Land O’ Lakes, and they are a couple generation dairy farm. It has been fun to learn and work like this so early in the morning, and they’ve been great with everything from offering insight into the new farmer/old farmer mind sets and offering advice on everything from farmer’s markets to Lancaster Farmer articles to read to where to get the most affordable soil amendments.

Feeding heifers. They are so hungry!

Feeding heifers. They are so hungry!

And did I mention the calves and cows are super cute?

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The other day Mom, Strider and I sat up where her house is going up and watched the sun set. It was incredible. And now that things are coming together, none of us can wait to be full-time farmers.

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Onion Babies!

Working in the dirt.

Working in the dirt. You know, sort of.

The season has officially begun!

Yesterday after some bribing and coercing (just kidding) I wrangled my mom and aunt out for some farm work. We set up on a future greenhouse bench in the back garage at the house and spent the better part of the morning and afternoon seeding onions.

We mixed the Pro-Mix Organik potting mix with a pit of Gard-N-Tone organic soil amendments for an added kick.

We mixed the Promix Organik potting medium with Garden-tone soil amendments for an added boost.

And what better to do on a rainy Wednesday in February? Armed with Keith’s new book, a radio and a Frankie Valli CD, we drilled holes in the bottoms and some of the lids of piles of old salad containers Mom’s been collecting for a year or so, covering the excess clear patches with black tape. We then filled the containers with potting mix from the wheelbarrow, moistened the soil with a spray bottle of water, made little furrows in the containers (about 1/4 in deep, one in apart), and dropped in something like 20-35 seeds in each furrow depending on length.

What a ham.

What a ham.

Here are all the onions we'll (hopefully) be offering!

Here are all the onions we’ll (hopefully) be offering!

We then labeled the sides of the container with the seed’s variety, company, organic status (some of the Fedco and Johnny’s seeds aren’t certified organic), and date seeded. I set them up in our newly-erected heating mat (more on that later), dragged out a hose and misted the flats. This may sound simple enough, but all told we ladies were chugging away for a few hours (with lunch breaks, of course),  and seeded something like 5,000 onions! I’ve got a bit more to do today now that I’ve made some space and know that the heating coils won’t burn down the greenhouse (there was some concern, if only from my insane brain, that that might happen, which led to many visits to the mats throughout the day and night).

Seed those onions!

Seed those onions!

We also seeded a few cells of basil and lemongrass for fun. The lemongrass seed smells great, and I’m going to start some basil and other herbs soon to sell in Jiffy Pots over at Health Habits, where I’m working part-time (or to any of you who want some!).

My little babies. all waiting to be tucked in to bed.

My little babies. all waiting to be tucked in to bed.

Last night I brought out some leftover greenhouse plastic and tucked the little onions in for bed. Covering them at nights keeps some of the heat from escaping. But when you lift up the containers the bottoms are warm, which is just what we wanted! Thank you, ladies.

"Goodnight, onions," she said in her best Christopher Walken voice.

“Goodnight, onions,” she said in her best Christopher Walken voice.

And thank you, Keith. His book is intricately outlined and details propagation, transplanting and harvest for most of what I’m growing. And I hear his voice with that light New Zealand  accent as I’m reading, which is awesome and hilarious.

Our dear friend Anthony supplied us with drum caps for our passive solar heat!

Our dear friend Anthony supplied us with drum caps for our passive solar heat!

Yesterday was also a big day for mail! My friend and farmer compadre Anthony ordered some cap samples for me for our water barrels, which I’ve covered with black trashbags and which we hope we can use as passive bottom heating for our trays as the water in them heats up. Caps are trickier to find than the barrels themselves, and it was great to have such a helpful resource to procure them.

Two other recent purchases arrived – one was a riveting book about manure, that I feel will be helpful but know I’ll already have a really difficult time reading.

This looks like a college desk - this is why I DIDN'T go to grad school, ahhhh.

This looks like a college desk – this is why I DIDN’T go to grad school, ahhhh.

The other arrival was more fun – A walk-behind Earthway Seeder. These guys are perfect for direct seeding all sorts of produce, from beans and peas to turnips and radishes. You change the metal plates to the size of seed and – well, I haven’t even assembled it yet. So we’ll talk more about this awesome gadget when I gear up to use it.

Isn't mail great? Earthway Seeder arrived!

Isn’t mail great? Earthway Seeder arrived!

Now, to take a closer look at that heating system:

So when Matt was still here we spent a fair amount of time researching the best way to create a heating area for germinating seeds. Keith had a number of heat mats that the user would plug in and set at a certain temperature, and it was a good system because of it’s simplicity for the user and it’s ability for temperature control, but it’s an expensive one and now something I can use right now. So we searched around and Matt found some Gro-Quick soil warming cables and I found some online instructions from a farm that has been using them successfully.

Our heating bed!

Our heating bed!

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These are the warming cables sticking out at the end. Despite some questionable customer reviews, they are warm to the touch, and I could feel the heat in the sand and in the bottom of the seedling containers. We’ll see how they do!

We built a wooden frame, braced the bottom with some old board fencing from the Papa Wagner scrap collection and some cinder blocks, and then attached hardware cloth and 1/4  sheet of insulation on the bottom. We ran over to a supply store for buckets of sand and then dumped 1/2 of sand over the insulation. We then took one set of the cables and laid them back and forth in the sand in an S-shape sort of pattern, and then covered the cables .

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Two of these cables were the cost of one heating mat (which only holds three trays). We are stretched them over a space a bit further than suggested, but the sand seems to be helping in the transfer of heat. Of course, lots of people use all sorts of methods to start seeds. My aunt is going to give us some windows to set up some little warming spots in our old garden to see how that works.

And Teena Bailey, local farmer and grain grower extraordinaire of Red Cat Farm,  uses these incredible cinder block bunkers packed with manure and bedding and covered with compost, to heat her seedlings. Teena opened her farm to me yesterday morning and showed me her area where she cleans and stores her cold produce and eggs, and her big and beautiful greenhouse that can fit a truck inside and where she has her enormous and impressive bunkers. It was great to speak with her – she’s a local legend and just the spunkiest lady farmer I’ve ever met – and it’s exciting to know that folks like these are so close at hand.

All in all, this has been a great week. Still looking for equipment (and am thus far empty-handed), and applying to markets. I re-applied through The Food Trust with a more extensive and articulate application, and I’m making strides toward finishing the momentous Greenmarket application (which is daunting but has really made me organize my field planning, which has been great). Must finish seeding onions and starting some more herbs.

And I’m thinking about a small Philly and local experimental CSA, as I may have mentioned before. I’ve already had some folks express interest, but if you’re up for an adventure in vegetables, drop me a line at liz.m.wagner@gmail.com. I’ll have more specific details and plans in the next week or so to share.

A Farm Flyer For Your Thoughts

This is the flyer I’ve been handing out to folks with my garlic around the area. Take a look and let me know what you think! I’m thinking of doing a small CSA as well, if anyone in my world in the Lehigh Valley/Philly area is interested. Prices and planning coming up.

This list is pending, of course. Seeds are on the way so I’ll have a more concrete list soon – and like the flyer says, I’m still taking requests!

Wagner Farmstead Flyer

To give you a brief idea of what’s going on – I’m making friends with local farmers, I’m reaching out to area stores, co-ops and restaurants (but no definite takers yet), and Matt has been toiling in the cold PA winter building the greenhouse. Perhaps today or tomorrow I’ll post a step-by-step process of our adventures and mishaps.

And now, back out to the cold – today we’re painting and putting up more plastic!

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