Spring finally arrives, bringing garlic and puppies.

There is something that happens to my brain every time I see the garlic come up.garlic

It’s like holding your breath for five months. And then you wake up one morning, walk down and see the green. And you didn’t even know you were holding that, worrying a little somewhere in your mind that it wasn’t going to come up, and then it just all releases.

It’s been a productive and heartening few days. We’re experimenting with a couple of permanent raised beds, which is – and I’m not alone in thinking this, I’ve learned – wildly exciting and horrifying. What if you spend the time setting these up and the angles don’t hold up? But the benefits sounds amazing – higher soil temperatures faster, more efficient uses of soil amendments and compost, and they’re easier to weed.

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All this without a tractor? Yes, please.

The potatoes from Maine Potato Lady arrived last week, and the first pea planting is in. It is finally (well, mostly) warm enough at night to have the first round of transplants hardening off outside, and these next couple rainy days should set the stage for some big planting projects. We’re looking at summer squash, mesclun mix, other greens and another tomato planting by week’s end.

Field peas in.

Field peas in.

I hesitate to get too excited about this, but it appears the greenhouse war of 2015 is at an end, or at least a hiatus. There were a couple weeks where a handful of mice were laying waste to my spinach, beets and a sad tray of eggplant, but the last few days and some smart tray coverings have kept them at bay.

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Easter came and went, and I was reminded, as I am at every family gathering, how awesome our team is. We have business owners, entrepreneurs, hard workers, innovators in our family. My cousin took us into his garage to show us the forge he built and the work he’s making with railroad spikes.

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Housewarming – my cousin gives me a bottle opener made from an old railroad spike. Righteous. He makes coat hooks and other crazy things as well.

Right? I mean, sheesh. I don’t know if all families feel this way when they hang out, but I’m really grateful for the energy in ours.

And Little House, Little House. Sometimes I just want to sit there and watch the flowers bloom. Every day another photo is hung or some leaves are raked or the aloe gets repotted, and it starts to become a home.

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In other news, a major hunt and a pair of boot laces later, Mom and Dad came home with chase, this stuffed animal bear cub baby Rottweiler.

Puppy

I was hesitant at first about this whole thing, but when he laid (read: kinda slid fell, because he still doesn’t have the motor skills to do anything with coordination) down in the middle of the kitchen with his legs splayed out behind him and immediately fell asleep, I knew he was one of us. So I went to buy some stuff for him, and got him the smack dog food which apparently is the best in the market for puppies, it helps their hair and their digestive tract, it has many benefits and  wanted to give him the best I can.

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Talk about underfoot.

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Barely a real thing.

And Arya is in love. These two are currently the same size, so they spend most of their days rolling around and chewing on each other, or chewing on things near each other, or chewing on both ends of the same thing. You get the idea. They already rousted their first groundhog together – though somewhat unintentionally – so hopefully when Chase is a little bigger they’ll start doing some useful farm dog tasks.

puppy and arya

BFFL

couch puppies

In the meantime, about half my life has become something like Milo and Otis in real time.

There are still a few spots open in the CSA, guys! Get it, get it. Read the CSA tabs of this site for more details. For now, I’m trying to build up a couple more beds before the rain.

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We Pause for Flowers, We Work for Home, We Plan(t) for Spring

Sister Wagner and I ventured out into Philadelphia last weekend to look at an apartment (for her), eat some delicious Blackbird Pizza and hit up the Philadelphia Flower Show.

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Even though it was exceptionally crowded and the second week of the show (read: some of those plants were pretty parched), it was still beautiful. Movie themed exhibits, bright, bright colors, and all the green.

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I adore those little picture windows and mini displays – artisans utilizing plant materials to make these teeny tiny creations really gets me ridiculously jazzed.

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Little, couple-inch tall displays suspended in window boxes. It gives me excited goosebumps just thinking about it. #plantnerd

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Yes yes. Once a year I post a bunch of beautiful flower pictures from somewhere. But you should know by now that that’s how it works.

Rodale homages in the Barnes and Noble.

Rodale homages in the Barnes and Noble.

I moved back to the Lehigh Valley in 2013 to start the farm. The previous year, I operated at a farm and market where it seemed almost everybody was food-savvy and juicing and asking us how close we were for the drive we were making. It’s been wonderful to see that happening here – we have so many new folks signed up for the CSA this year, and nearly a dozen of them are from right where I grew up. They’ve heard about the farm through my part-time job or friends, neighbors or other local businesses, and they want to give this whole farm share idea a try.

That feels really, really good. I’m so excited to be a part of their venture. I want people to feel good and knowledgeable about the food they are putting into their bodies and to be excited about the community we are all building together.

Meanwhile, the snow is finally starting to melt. We’re trucking along in the greenhouse, but I’m really looking forward to dry socks and warm feet. But the snow has been beautiful (if nothing else), and the puppy has enjoyed frolicking in it.

Dad surveys the fields and wishes for less snow.

Dad surveys the fields and wishes for less snow.

Arya, meanwhile, wants to live in the Arctic tundra and dig for smelly things forever.

Arya, meanwhile, wants to live in the Arctic tundra and dig for smelly things forever.

More seeding over the next couple days. Then we’ll have to refill that solar bunker, get to the Philadelphia L&I office to have the scale licensed, buy a handful of remaining supplies and some other needed farm tasks. But most of the paperwork stuff is done, and that is always an incredible relief.

This year we’ll be delivering shares to St. Luke University’s Health Network in Quakertown to over a dozen staff members there. I’m excited to expand our CSA network, and I love that offices and businesses are starting to offer these sorts of initiatives to their staff. Soon I’ll be speaking at an office closer to the farm as part of a “learn and lunch” about the benefits of buying local foods and how they can get more involved in these processes. I’m a little nervous – it’s been awhile since I’ve had to make a PowerPoint for anything – but I’m excited to promote on behalf of food producers in the Lehigh Valley.

There’s still time to sign up for the CSA! If you want a food adventure (and another reason to see me from time to time), I highly recommend it.

Also, if you have some old Venetian blinds, you can bring those my way. Found some neat tips to reuse materials for tray markers.

And after my wandering winter life, I’m finally living in my house. I don’t know when the brain transition from “living alone is a little spooky,” to “Oh my God, living alone is amazing – you mean I can dance around in the middle of the night AND burn sandalwood incense in the living room AND play Vampire Weekend on repeat?” happened, but I’m stoked it did. I’ve been slowly putting the tools and paint away in the basement and moving in furniture from Reclinercize. Sure, I still need to hang blinds in the living room. Sure, my water isn’t potable. But I’m getting there.

my bedroom

Over the last couple of years the humming of the Universe started up again. It drove me mad as a kid – this feeling that I was just on the cusp of something incredible, but repeatedly unable to figure out what the something was. It felt exciting, but more so frustrating and a little lonely. But as my dear friend and yoga teacher Sharon told me last year, “Stay true to yourself and your tribe will find you,” and that started happening at a wild pace as soon as I started doing what I should have been doing the whole time. And not just with the agriculture – the whole demeanor of my life has shifted, and the people who have appeared in it (or reappeared, which is another beautiful happening), are some of the most industrious, brilliant and affirmative presences I’ve had the privilege to meet.

And so we wait. For the snow to melt, for the sun to come, for the plants to grow, for the new and exciting humans ahead.

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So Long For Now!

It’s exciting when your friends shoot you messages about anything. But when it’s about your business, there’s a little extra serotonin rush. Like this one:

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That’s normal, right?

If you don’t live in Pennsylvania, you may not be aware of the SNOW that happened again this week. But rest assured (and cross your fingers), it won’t be here for long.

First is has to melt. Then it has to dry out. Then, then we’ll be able to put in the spring cover crop, and various other outsdoorsy tasks that will need to happen sooner than later. In the meantime, our seedlings flourish in the greenhouse and I wrap up my part-time Philly life.

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I’d love to stay, but my onion babies need me! Hash tag oniongram Aka Shameless Instagram Handle Plug

Part of me always wanted to work in a bookstore, I think. Isn’t that what all English majors dream of as a side gig (you know, in addition to all the award-winning novels and the literary criticism upon request)? Though I was in the clothing end of the things, walking through all those books every morning on the way to the stockroom never got boring, and throughout the last couple weeks you could find me sitting in the aisles on break and after work, paging through everything and determining how to spend my last paycheck.

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I am most pleased with the results.

I’m starting with The Alchemist. A couple of my dear friends just finished this one with some delightful results, so I’m gonna give it another spin as a more self-aware human.

The bookstore has been great. The staff is hilarious and sweet and buoyant, and I’m sad to leave them (but little do they know that I don’t leave, I just linger on and appear at all hours with kale). I’ll be back on the regular by the end of May, Philly.

In the last few months – or, really, maybe the last year – I’ve had a lot of really great conversations with some really amazing people about life and purpose and happiness. It’s taken me a long time to get to this point in my head, and I’m sure it will take me a lot longer to stop falling off the path, but I realize that I have the capacity in this life to do everything I want to do. Some of it will take a lot more work and more learned skills and more time than others, but all of the dreams I’ve had since I was a teenager – wanting to travel the country and the world and learning a language and writing beautiful things and meeting incredible people – it’s all there. It’s just been waiting for me to wake up and take some action. And I’m finally getting to it.

I have this notebook that is particularly important to me for a number of reasons – one being the gifter of the notebook and the other being the parallel dates that have popped up in it over the last eight years. I’ve started to write a list on the back cover – a list of My Things. The things that I want to do in this life. Some of them are not going to change the world, and some I could conquer within the week, but they are all things that I have wanted to do for some time and have put off for one reason or another.

That ends here. 2013 taught me the value of time and of life. 2014 taught me to be brave. And in 2015 it’s all going to come together. Starting with Crooked Row and ending with Liz. Thanks for tagging along.

upenn bookstore

Or both.

We like to pretend it’s spring here.

Spring has been here for six days already – not that you can tell from all this terrible, cold, dreary weather.

It’s certainly holding up some fairly important tasks – prepping the fields, direct seeding some peas and other crops, etc. It’s just too wet. But soon enough we’ll be rocking and rolling. As my dairy boss regularly reminds me, there’s no point in being upset about the weather.

In the meantime, there are plenty of other tasks to attend to. You’ve seen the new marketing – things like that are perfect on bleak days.

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I’ve been field planning, attending pre-season market meetings, cleaning, packing, unpacking and watching the babies grow.

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The day the first onions germinated – a few weeks ago now – I stood in the greenhouse and did a seriously happy dance.

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Red Russian Kale Babies!

My friends and family are networking me with restaurants and food hubs looking for local food. I’m working on picking up another Philly market – on a weekday! A little cold weather can’t cramp my style too much.

seeded trays

The greenhouse is toasty enough to feel like the appropriate season for growing. Special Thanks to Teena from Red Cat Farm for the adopted rhubarb and parsley babies. Huzzah!

Nom nom nom. Spinach.

Nom nom nom. Spinach.

 They’re growing a lot slower than they have been. But, hey – they’re growing. And thankfully, I have a spectacular team that likes to proactively seek out tasks at the farm – like seed dozens of trays for hours at a shot.

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Mom Wags and Aunt Susie, killin’ it in the greenhouse.

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Welcome to the jungle.

susie and strider

Susie placates our needy sidekick.

Strider

Exhausted from a day of greenhouse guarding. Those plants sure do need a lot of protecting.

I’ve had some time to catch up with friends before falling off the grid in another month or so. Steve and I bottled our beer and man, is it delicious. Things like “Belgian tripel” didn’t mean anything to me a couple months ago – I knew I liked IPAs and that was that. But that seems to be changing. On Tuesday we picked up the ingredients for a coffee porter and saw the new Muppet movie. Before 6pm! Success!

And with a pile of organic hops ready to be planted from The Thyme Garden, it looks like we’ll have a fun and thrilling saga ahead of us with that project.

Happy times, hoppy times

Happy times, hoppy times.

My dear friend Sarah can up from Philly for some Lehigh Valley adventures. Armed with a camera and her charming attitude, we drank, we frolicked, we watched Dirty Dancing: Havanah Nights. Sarah is one of the coolest and most collected humans I know, and I’m so grateful and happy to have her in my world.

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Sarah photographs the seedlings – can’t wait to see the pictures.

No, I didn't strategically place this thyme in such a way that you could see the sweet pedicures we went and got. Oh, wait.

No, I didn’t strategically place this thyme in such a way that you could see the sweet pedicures we went and got. Oh, wait.

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We meander through the field on one of the warmer days.

Sarah lounges in a tree at the dairy with her sleepy new friend, Memphis.

Sarah and Memphis the dog lounge while I finish up my dairy chores.

I even had a brief chance to catch up with Stef out in Fleetwood as she preps her spaces for a season of cheese-making. She is setting up shop in a space with amazing potential, and she’s a workin’ girl who has her game plan in place. Listening to her map out where her pasteurizer and her other equipment will be and her plans for this season and in the long-term future is thrilling.

Stef visualizes her cheese room space with Angie from Oley Valley Mushrooms.

Stef visualizes her cheese room space with Angie from Oley Valley Mushrooms.

Beautiful Stef on a swing at the amazing property she'll be making her cheese at.

Beautiful Stef on a swing at the amazing property she’ll be making her cheese at.

I’m about to embark on my last adventure before I’m settled in for the season – my darlingface Elizabeth Adler, freshman year roommate and concert adventurer, got us tickets for Neutral Milk Hotel‘s tour. And I do love me some adventures to Pittsburgh. Hopefully I can catch  up with some other lovelies in the neck of the woods as well.

And even though the weather has been questionable, the plants are ready. I was wandering around the edge of the field the other day, trying to figure out how and where to push back the woods, and I found my thyme, sage and sorrel. It was all mulched naturally with fall leaf cover and survived the winter with next to no help on my end. What an awesome discovery. It’s little catches like this that make all this learning and trial and error so much more exciting.

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Good morning, starshine. The sorrel says hello!

Thyme! How I missed you.

Thyme! How I’ve missed you.

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We’re ready.

I still get to see my cows fairly often, and the lovely folks at the dairy – though I know that time is winding down until the fall. And a couple weeks back I had another round of farm-sitting – hand-milking the cow, drinking milk for every meal, minding the chickens, making cheese with my dear friend Lauren annnnnd checking in on the baby Jacob Sheep!

Lambs are new to me. Thankfully, only one needed real assistance – the lamb Rivel was having trouble nursing so the farmer’s in-laws and I began a bottle-feeding routine. If you know me, you know I like itty bitties, so hanging out with the lamb (and making sure he got fed every three to four hours, and taking it with me on my day-to-day adventures).

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The thing about Jacob Sheep? They are awesome looking. This is Rivel at half a day old.

lamb lap

Lamb lap!

And it didn’t hurt that Strider liked him, too.

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After an initial ear-cleaning, Strider decided he wanted to keep him.

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Strider: “What a strange dog.”

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I can tell that we are gonna be friends.

Willow Haven Farm‘s market will have an adorable addition this year with their tame little Rivel – come out and meet him if you have the chance!

If you haven’t signed up for the CSA but are thinking about it, please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. I’ve gotten some calls from folks who don’t know me personally – I understand the skepticism of sending a check out into the void if you don’t know the person you are sending it to – and I’m happy to meet up, talk about the farm or give you a tour at any point. Just drop me a line or give me a call.

Sun Dances, Beet Seedlings and Maybe a Market in Germantown(!?),

Liz

Farmer Liz out.

Farmer Liz out.

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