Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bring on the light

Happy solstice! Always a good feeling to know we're on the "right" side when the days are turning longer. As with most farmer types I know, we generally acknowledge this to be mid-winter even though ofiicially it has only just begun. In about six weeks, we'll be back full force seeding in the prop house and getting ground ready to plant as it dries out enough to work.

Time to kick back now and rest if you can. I'm working on chores around the farm right now. Flood damage repair and lots of clean up and organizing. One project always leads to another. Feels good. I guess getting more organized will be one of my resolutions. Regardless it gives me something to do right now during the down time. Too much time sett'n round taint no good.

Thinking about farm plans and cruising seed catalogs. Always looking for something new and fun to grow. We'll be placing orders soon. This is a good time to reserve your potato seed and strawberry slips. We have a pretty good reserve of seed on hand. Probably don't need to order too much. That's a good thing for sure. First order will be for tomatoes. I promise I'll cut back my selection every year but I never seem to be able to. I know my favorites though. We do sell plant starts in the spring so I have a nice selection for that but there's really about 12 varieties that work for me. I do want to grow more romas this year as I have been using them to make my own tomato paste. It's the most wonderful stuff I've ever tasted. Tomatoes are my totem vegetable. I like to wait til late Feb and into early March to start mine. You get a happier, better timed plant. We normally can't put toms out until the end of May and having a big ol leggy plant by then is not really what you're looking for. I do know of one farm in Skagit that plants toms the day after Christmas. They normally have ripe toms on the vine in May! Very impressive and very high input operation. I prefer to grow within the natural season. It just makes more sense to me. I only eat them when the're in season except for the ones I put up. There is no going back to crappy store bought toms after you've had the best.

Sometimes I do sow salad greens at christmas if I have the space. You can wait and sow later and still wind up with the same harvest date. We shoot for March 1st but normally it's not till mid March before our first cut.

Still have some bulbs to get in the ground. Daffodils, garlic and shallots. It's getting later than optimal but probably OK. This is the first time I've done daffs so I'm not really sure.

Happy Holidays to all,

Farmer John

Thursday, December 16, 2010


What's a farmer do in the winter? Well, these days we're dealing with flood damage. Not as one would expect from the torrential rains we have recently experienced but rather from a faulty plumbing installation on a bathtub. Extensive damage upstairs and down but we have a handle on it. Call it a forced remodel. At this point the plumber is denying any responsibility, we'll see if he comes around. From the sounds of it, I doubt it. Other islanders have been awesome. Thank you's to Joe Goodrich of Rainbow Carpet and Upholstery care for the Gratis inspection, assesment and reccomendations and to John and Katie Curlett of Northstar Drywall for their generous offer to put us back together. This is perfect example of islanders helping islanders. This is not really what I was hoping to be dealing with right now and certainly not in my financial best interest. The joy's of home ownership.

What we should be doing, besides resting, is putting together next years plan. I have most of it in my head but need to transfer some solid plans to paper. I'll be the first one to admit I'm not always the best at this. It's an important step even though plans often change mid stream due to uncontrollable situations. Having a map to start from is always a good thing. I've been thinking alot about varieties, "what are we going to grow?" We'll add some things that did well and drop a few that didn't work out so good. In particular, I'm thinking about our shoulder seasons, especially fall/winter. This is the time of year to think. I think about everything that will make us better. I'm not afraid to implement change or try new techniques as long as they have been well thought out. There's always more than one way to skin a cat and getting stuck in your ways can set you back in the long run.

Despite our flooding set back, I'm still excited for next year. Basically the plan is simple; Grow more food!

Keep well,

Farmer John

Monday, December 6, 2010

Another New Acre

I was fortunate to take advantage of the relatively dry conditions we've been experiencing and was able to break ground on another acre of land. This is at our Stonebridge site where we already have one acre in production. This site has very nice sandy loam compared to most of the other sites we farm which tend to be more on the clay side. I plowed the new layout with a mold board plow and will let it set for the winter and partially decompose the inverted sod. I'll come back when conditions allow and knock it down and level it out with a rotovator, then chisel it and re-till as neccessary to fully incorporate and decompose the sod. This proccess takes awhile. This particular site is being prepped for our fall and overwintering crops next year. We'll begin planting it out in late July through September. It should just be ready by then. We'll probably get a round of summer cover crop in first, something like buckwheat. While the time goes by we'll be getting ready to build a fence to enclose the area from deer. Unfortutnately we can't grow anything without deer fencing. It's an expensive proposistion. Fortunate for us, the land owner buys the material in exchange for us putting up the fence. It's a workable solution. The owner gets a capital improvement and we get a fence. We'll also pull a soil sample and see what kind of ammendment might be neccessary. My assumption is we'll be adding lime and of course our "Perfect Blend" natural fertilizer.

Speaking of soil tests, I'll be pulling samples from all of our fields to see where we're at. I have a pretty good feeling we're on the right track just by the way the crops have been looking but as plants grow they use nutrients and we want to keep up on our fertility management We'll most likley continue with our current program but it's important to know as much as you can about your soils and trends. We definately have some improvements to make. One of those being the making and addition of more compost. It's forefront on my agenda and I'm hoping to do a better job. We need some equipment to do this. As usual money is tight and it' a challenge to purchase all of the equipment we need. That's one thing about farming, it is an equipment intensive operation. I wish I had about $20,000 to spend on equipment. Some folks would scoff at this notion and say you could do it by hand. True, if we had enough people who had the know how and gumption to get it done. But the reality is that farming is labor intensive. Labor is expensive and anything you can do to mechanize your operation makes for a more efficient operation. Personally for me, effienciency = sustainability. I can't do everything by hand and would work myself to death or burn out trying to do so and then where would we be. Certainly not sustainable. God am I'm sick of that word! Nothing is sustainable if it's not financially viable and is overly laborious for the people running it. Don't get me wrong. What we do can be sustainable in a manner. It's just an over-used word that's thoughtlesly used.

Time to roll,

Take care,

Farmer John

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wrappin er up

The weekend prior to Thanksgiving gave us an unusually cold spell that really put a damper on the end of our season. We recorded a low temprature of 9 degrees and had wind gusts as high as 50 mph. Not the most favorable conditions for surving if you're a broccoli plant. All of our beautiful salad greens perished as well as all of our remaining rootcrops. Fall sown fava beans... gone. Beautiful rainbow chard... toast. Interestingly many things did survive. Crops that were still quite small made it through OK. Chervil, cilantro, parsley, spinach, lettuce all made it with minimal damage. Most of the kale came through OK. some varieties proved to be more hardy than others. The most hardy being White Russian and Dwarf Siberian. The least hardy being Fizz, Lacinato and Red Russian. The're alive but will take some time to recover. Over-winter sprouting broccoli came through without a blemish and most of the cabbage looks OK.

So although it's a bummer, you have to remind yourself that these kind of things can and do happen. We had had a very mild fall and we mostly capitalized on that. It's a learning experience. The only thing I would have done over is simply to have harvested more before the storm hit. Oh well, Easier said than done. At this point it's "there's always next year"

We will be harvesting some kale today and we have a few hundred pounds of french fingerling potatoes in storage. Not too bad but there's always the feeling in the back of your mind that you could have done better. And that's exactly what I think about this time of year. What can we do next year to make it better? When your doing this you have to recognize and live up to your short comings and weakness. Not always the easiest thing to do but an exorcise well worth the time. We all like to think that just because we did it, it's great. So not true, unless you're a tunnel visioned narccisist. There's always room for improvement.

The only thing with this is to not beat yourself up so bad that you go into a state of depression. Which is hard anyway when you go from having a busy harvest/work schedule to being cooped up inside for a few days watching all of you hard work die in the wind. It's good to remind yourself of all of the things you done that did work. Look back on your success and all that you have to be thankful for (which is alot). Healthy, happy, in love and surronded by general awesomeness. It's all good baby.

Keep well friends,

Farmer John