Happy National CSA Sign-Up Day!

What better day to start blogging for the 2015 season than one that promotes our small, local farm and CSA programs?

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We still have some shares available for the 2015 season! Check out the CSA Tabs on the site for more info. Not in Philly or the Lehigh Valley areas we deliver to? Check out the area’s Buy Fresh Buy Local page for other great CSA farm listings! Our current drop-off locations are:

In the Lehigh Valley: Health Habits in Schnecksville, Wagner’s Auto Body in Orefield, personal home deliveries and other locations that would generate enough share-holders to warrant a spot. So rally your friends!

In Philly: Mt. Airy Read & Eat (Wednesdays), La Salle University (Wednesdays), The Support Center for Child Advocates (Wednesdays), The East Falls Farmers’ Market (Saturdays), South Philly (location pending – Wednesdays or Saturdays, TBA).

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We’re also spectacularly excited to announce our collaboration with St. Luke’s Hospital Quakertown Campus this season! St. Luke’s started to provide its staff with local farm CSA options a couple years ago, and the program has flourished. We’re looking forward to meeting the wonderful folks at the Quakertown campus and sharing some green bounty.

One of last year's half shares, for primavera love

One of last year’s half shares, for primavera love

Welcome back, friends. Sorry to have been away so long. I can’t say it was all farm-related work keeping me from WordPress, or all vacation, but the point is I’m here to share the watershed season with you in 2015, happy green pictures and all!

Okay, not quite green...yet. But we're getting there!

Look familiar? Filling our passive solar bunker, Round II!

seeds in bunker

Okay, not quite green…yet. These onions and greens need a couple more days. But soon. Reallllllly soon.

We have an irrigation system (only three years in the making!). We have proper soil amendments. We have a CSA that we believe will be doubling in production size this year and two growing markets in the city. We’re getting organized for the bigger side projects (here’s looking at you, tea blends), and getting more in the greenhouse earlier.

Snow? What snow? Spring is almost here, folks. Keep your chin up.

easton table

Our table with teas and herbs at Monday night’s Buy Fresh Buy Local Greater Lehigh Valley farm to table event in Easton. Awesome farmers, awesome promotion, awesome night.

I’m off to build some more grow boxes in the greenhouses. We’ve got a lot of greens and herbs to start! Catch up with you again soon.

Chisel Plows, Seedlings and Getting a Move On

Papa Bear Glenn gets his tractor on.

Papa Bear Glenn gets his tractor on.

Saturday found my father and I seated in his Case IH , with him operating the chisel plow while I tucked myself up on the side of the cab to navigate, trying not to get launched out the back window pushes out but doesn’t lock (don’t tell the folks at my upcoming tractor safety course). Together, we plowed the south-facing slope of my hill.

Back by popular demand - more Strider pictures! He is wondering how the mechanics of a chisel plow work.

Back by popular demand – more Strider pictures! He is wondering how the mechanics of a chisel plow work.

The chisel plow is attached to the back of the tractor with a three-point hitch. It’s actually amazing we got this done Saturday, because we started the morning missing the top link to this hitch. Thankfully, after a handful of phone calls to various tractor supply stores around the county, we found one a couple miles from the farm.

The plow is lowered into the ground and digs up the soil a couple feet down, which in this case was a cover crop of medium red clover.

Glenn and I rode together up in his tractor. He drove and I navigated.

Glenn and I rode together up in his tractor. He drove and I navigated.

My mom and I measured out tractor paths before we started to plow, so there are several sections where we left clover growing to act as a natural erosion barrier and tractor path for both sized tractors and to limit soil compaction. Unlike some chisels,  ours is wide enough that two of the teeth run behind the tractor wheels, preventing compaction and wheel paths.

We let the ground set for a week, giving the organic matter time to break down, and then we’ll go through with the disc to chop of the ground further and smooth and even the areas into workable seed beds. We were missing the hydraulics in the disc, so we’ll be watching the mail and waiting for that to arrive before we can move on. This is just one way to prepare ground. Folks use rototillers or a number of other tractor equipment to similar results, but we decided this would be the most effective with the least amount of negative impact on the ground. Plus, Glenn had a bunch of fun dragging that sucker around the property.

And at the end of the day, we had a plowed field.

And at the end of the day, we had a plowed field.

Beautiful, no?

Last night I drafted my CSA agreement. It’ll be out for the public later today after some experience CSA-purchasers give it a once over. I’m going to be at an Ambler market, and it looks like we’ll be starting in Mid-May. And I have seedlings in the greenhouse that make me smile whenever I walk in.

Who's excited for broccoli raab?!

Who’s excited for broccoli raab?!

Good morning, little onions!

Good morning, little onions!

Yesterday I built a propagation box for tomatoes and peppers. It’s similar to the heating beds, but in a smaller space and with soil instead of sand. The orange cable is buried in the soil and will keep the ground warm. I’ll seed tomatoes and peppers directly into that box, and as the seedlings grow I will transplant them into individual cells.

Painstakingly setting up the soil heating cables in the tomato and pepper propagation box. The wires can't touch or cross or they short out (or so I've heard).

Painstakingly setting up the soil heating cables in the tomato and pepper propagation box. The wires can’t touch or cross or they short out (or so I’ve heard).

Okay, tomatoes. Let's do this.

Okay, tomatoes. Let’s do this.

I also had the opportunity to hang out with some area farmers Sunday night, which was awesome and welcoming and delicious. My friends Mario and Steph, who I met at the Greenmarket last summer, invited me to Eckerton Hill, Tim Stark’s incredible farm over in Berks County, for a farm dinner with their co-workers and Tim. One seafood soup, mesclun mix, roasted carrots and escarole later, my stomach was full and my energy rekindled. Tim and I talked about growing up in this area (his employees are transplants and find our PA-Dutch heavy world quite amusing), and everyone was curious about  my endeavors and encouraging. It was a blast. They have a winter CSA, an upcoming summer CSA, a market stand in Union Square and numerous restaurant relationships that carry the farm.

Their small greenhouse on the property where we had dinner is full of thousands of seedlings, kohlrabi, lettuce heads and amazing greens. It was invigorating to see. And Mario used to be a chef in Manhattan, so his food (and recipes, some of which are on the farm’s website), are incredible.

I am about to head off to my new part-time dairy gig – more on that in an upcoming post. I’m hoping this will help me diversify my skills and will help me learn how to work with bigger animals, which is something I’ve never done before. But we’re rocking and rolling up here in the Lehigh Valley and can’t wait to start working this ground.

The beautiful and peppery ruby streaks mustard. Get ready.

The beautiful and peppery ruby streaks mustard. Get ready.

-Farmer Liz

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.