Got around to putting in the Jerusalem artichoke! I purchased 45 of these somewhat gnarly-looking tubers, some whole, some cut up, from a small seed house—”chokes” aren’t an everywhere find, although I’m told they actually grew here in the backyard of the farmhouse in decades past. This should be an interesting new crop, a kind of potato substitute with a “nutty taste”. They’re perennial, so they went in a semi-permanent spot in the herb garden, there to multiply!
At work transplanting really tiny basil in the still-to-be-shaped-up herb patch, Andrea is doing her very first day of tiny farm gardening. It all worked out very well! After nearly a month of working with Conall, the all-new organic grower, almost every day, and having several other people out for a few part-time hours, it’s a different season for me compared to the previous four. Not less work (we’re planting way more than ever before), but the energy is different. Before, largely working alone, it was more of an against the odds thing as I faced the fairly massive task of each season’s start-up. I liked that solo mission adrenaline and challenge. Now, it’s more of a people puzzle, as this season’s small crew assembles. By the time it comes to more substantial harvests in three or four weeks, I’ll be totally reliant on teamwork to get it all done. No going back: it’s like, Tiny Farm II: People in the Field. :)
Finally, the new wheel hoe arrived today from the Valley Oak Tool Company in California! This simple and amazing garden tool is so little known in these parts, I had to order it from another country… I hadn’t used one before, but I had a very clear idea of how it should work, and it didn’t disappoint. You walk it along, pushing with minimal force, and the blade slices through the soil, beheading all weeds in its path. With ease. A slight arm adjustment translates into precise depth control, and the double-edged 8″ blade works on a back-pull as well. Even fist-sized rocks (a constant feature in this field) don’t phase it, they simply slip through the hoop. It’s at least 3-4 times faster than hand hoeing, and it matches the Horse walking rototiller for path clearing, minus the noise and gas. Amazing! (In the numerous shipping documents, I liked the note to Customs from the toolmaker, an organic veggie farmer himself: “Please let this package be delivered ASAP. There is a farmer awaiting his new tool.”)
As the season picks up, I’ve been thinking a lot about…how short it is. Around here, we only have four months between last and first average frost dates, which means five months of fresh local veggies (six on the outside). This bothers me. Is eating locally-grown just a seasonal, novelty act…then it’s back to the supermarket for the rest of the year? I have all kinds of daydreams and plans for extending the season, most of them somewhat expensive and involved, like a large root cellar for a year-round supply. One of the things I have been doing, and decided today to make more…formal this year, is recommending customers to other local growers who offer things I don’t. For example, two spaces down at the market is a family farm, mother, father, daughter growing several acres of potatoes (in the pic, at last Saturday’s market they had stored spuds for eating and growing). It’s not a big operation, but they do offer 50lb bags in fall, a quantity I can’t provide at this point. I figure, anything that makes it easier for people to eat what they want, like truly local food, is…good! No tiny farm grows alone!!
After a rain, it’s easy to see exactly how much work is ahead in the organic field! The dark wet soil and the flat light of a cloudy day make every detail stand out: weeds exploding, dense rows that’ll need thinning (thanks to the generous Earthway seeder), rocks to get in the way of hoes and tiller both. But it’s usually better than it looks. Here, the Horse tiller can be walked up each path in about a minute. Thinning the beets (first two beds on the right) is actually a harvest of excellent beet greens. The rocks, well, the bigger ones just have to be picked. The worst is in-row weeding, for stuff right in with the crops. This has to be done mostly by hand, but if you get the worst spots, the veggies soon grow to where they can more or less fend for themselves, shading out new weed growth. Or the crop is soon finished (like spinach, on the left) and the whole bed can be tilled up. With a little thoughtfully directed labor, it all works out! (We got 15mm (3/5″) of rain… Not bad.)
There still wasn’t much to take to the farmers’ market today, mesclun and radishes both weren’t ready, so it was baby spinach, the last harvest of early lettuce, and this surprise crop, volunteer green onions sprouted from a few dozen of last year’s cooking onions that had been overlooked in the field. I made a last minute decision to harvest them at 6:30 am, just as we were about to leave. I pulled them up—no time to dig—and filled a bushel bin in just a few minutes. At the market, I explained how they were grown and that they’re stronger tasting than regular bunching onions grown from seed. They were snapped up in no time. One of the great things about taking fresh veggies that you’ve grown yourself to market is that you’re not forced to conform to standardized tastes and sizes and appearances. So long as quality and freshness are consistent, unusual offerings provide a cool extra bit of variety and freedom all around!
Just on the other side of the greenhouse and the spring planting action, there’s the Farm Stand. A work in progress. It’s been a frame without a roof for some time now, extra lumber lying around gets in the way of mowing the grass, a bit of a picture of neglect, enhanced by rampant dandelions. There’s lots of work to do in the next couple of weeks to have it ready by the time the first field crops start coming in.