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

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.