Cue the AC/DC – We’re Back!

You see that down there?

HooooRAYYY!

HOOOORAYYY!

That’s some baby garlic coming up in the field. Yeah, I’m excited. And for those of you who’ve had the Keith Stewart Rocambole, I’m sure you are, too.

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Hello, Starshine. We are so glad you could join us.

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Copyright Sarah Merusi

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Friend Sarah’s crazy fish lens captures the the mom/daughter planting excitement

The spinach is up. So is the kale, lettuce, beets, salad greens, assorted herbs and a plethora of other baby veg. The peppers are almost all up at this point, and every day my mom walks into the greenhouse and speaks softly and sweetly to the eggplants and tomatoes, coaxing them with promises of fun and parties if they hurry up and germinate (which I think Pennywise the Clown did too, right?)

tomato box

Tomato Kingdom

tomato country

And we seeded like 35 types of tomatoes, by the way.

In the field, the sorrel is chugging along, the perennial herbs are making their small and sturdy resurgence and the peas, radishes, beets and spinach I sowed last week should be up soon. Sometimes I find myself standing on the edge of the field wanting to seed and sun dance for them like the sisters in My Neighbor Totoro…but our field is just too close to the road. Too many people slow down to look at what weird things we are doing in the field on a day-to-day without drawing extra attention to ourselves.

And the garlic is up. THE GARLIC IS UP. Did I mention that? You can’t see this but I have paused in my writing to hug myself in excitement.

Two weeks back I took myself on a last grand adventure for the season. I headed out to Pittsburgh – one of my favorite drives and one of my favorite cities – to visit some dear friends, see Neutral Milk Hotel be great and spend hours in the Phipps Conservatory, a huge beautiful greenhouse building full of the most beautiful and exotic plants I’ve ever seen. It was a great way to kickoff a farm bound season in the beautiful LV.

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It’s a banana tree! In the middle of Pittsburgh!

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Oh look, a room full of airplants!

Not that there aren’t things to do in the beautiful Lehigh Valley. My friend Steve and I are slowly working our way through those delightful cases of our  Belgian tripel – and it was really satisfying to take a couple down to Philly and have the boys be surprised at how great it tasted (I am an okay baker, but the Keith boys know I am renowned for big ideas and bad delivery when it comes to cooking – see the twig debacles of 2012). The other day we transferred our maple coffee porter into glass for a couple weeks and added some bacon infused vodka – soooo we’ll see how that goes. But I’m excited nonetheless. I spent part of yesterday reading about herb-infused beers, and I can’t wait to give those a whirl this summer.

And this past weekend I had the pleasure of a lovely dinner with My Grandmother’s Table, a friend’s catering and dining experience company out of Allentown. A bag of sorrel for the dinner got me two seats at her small-party table at Ruby’s Floral Factory in Bethlehem for a night of food and fun that owner Dina Valentini Wanamaker modeled after her childhood Easter Table. I had a blast, made some new friends and she turned my bag of baby sorrel into a fantastic salad with Bulgarian Feta, watercress and garlic vinaigrette.

sorrel

The first field greens of the season. Makes my heart sing.

Add another five courses of pork marsala, chicken roulade with sage and mozz, and homemade raviolis, and you can imagine the evening we had. We’re working on a vegetarian festival meal for September, so stay tuned. We’re talking apps, herb-infused drinks and some amazing vegetable entrees, so get stoked.

sorrel and feta salad

Sorrel and feta salad. Yummm.

It’s been a season with a lot of potential already. It makes me nervous, but I can’t help but feel lucky and excited, too. My cousin got a small cafe in Coopersburg to give me a call about buying vegetables this season. The sous chef at Curious Goods at the Bake Oven Inn reached out a couple days ago on Facebook. My boys have their folks at the Alehouse interested in some after-market vegetables. Tonight The Support Center for Child Advocates is auctioning off a CSA half share for an amazing cause at its Annual Benefit. The guys at Philly Foodworks and I haven’t met in person yet, but we talk frequently and are thrilled to be working together this year.

And for the biggest announcement – The Food Trust has given me a Wednesday Market in the La Salle-ish neighborhood in Philly. I’ll be over at the intersection of Mt. Pleasant and Chew on the Germantown/Mt. Airy border! I can’t wait. After a year of playing the scrappy huckster, I feel almost shell-shocked that folks have reached out to me to learn more and get involved in procuring some vegetables. Coupled with the Farm to City East Falls market, I am looking forward to a full and busy season in the city.

Which, of course, means wayyyy more vegetables need to be up and growing than last year. It’s a little overwhelming to think about, especially with all the weather delays this season, but my dairy boss reminds me regularly that everyone is in the same boat and that you can’t control these things. Which makes me feel better most of the time, aha.

field field work

It can be scary to go out there and seed three or four times as much of a crop than I did last year, but I know it’s well worth it. Folks were so happy with what we had to offer last year, and with a little more experience hopefully there will be more of all the favorites. This is still a big experiment year – I am trying lots of different varieties of each vegetable to discern what works best in my soil and this area – but I hope all this research and studying pays off. People see my hauling this backpack of magazines and books around and ask me if I’m still a student – and while I know what they mean and assert that I’m not, I really am.

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In other Farmstead news, my folks are more than halfway moved up to the new home. Glenn has dreams of an orchard like the one on his childhood farm, so we ordered a pile of fruit trees from our Willow Haven Farm neighbors and got them in the ground last week. I spent a couple minutes making a cute and readable map for my parents to keep track of these guys, since they technically aren’t part of Crooked Row Farm (until I start stealing fruit in a few years, maybe).

Farmstead Tree Map

Right now they look much less exciting than the photo image

Right now they look much less exciting than the photo image

We’re doing a lot of mulching and they are doing a lot of painting and sanding and cleaning to get the current house in order to sell. Hope these new buyers enjoy all the secret tomatoes that are sure to pop up all around the landscaping by summer.

Glenn is also trying out a new toy – a Bobcat, which is really a glorified golf cart with shocks that drives faster. Matthew came up to seed tomatoes and make me some herb shelves the other day, and we spent a fair bit of time whipping around on this puppy. Old man Strider dog also enjoys a good ride in it.

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So excited he made some market shelves!

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Matthew is excited.

And so our journey continues. I just spent the morning seeding a bunch of herbs, and now I’m off to help landscape for the house sale. Here are some plant babies in almost-real time:

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Mizuna! Non nom nom.

Cotelydons

Itty bitties.

Baby RR

Red Russian Kallllleee!

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Mesclun – coming to a salad bowl near you.

All the best!

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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