Harvest Day

Harvest Day
Winter crops

Monday, August 1, 2011

It is a source of steady amazement to me how something as awe-inspiring and ever-changing as the act of gardening could ever become routine.  But, routine it is, and not in the way you might think. "Routine' is a word that equates to "boring" for many but the older I get the better I like routine.  A bit of predictability is welcome these days and to be able to draw from past seasons for my planning is also very welcome.  For once, I'm not re-inventing the wheel every day of my life.  Don't get me wrong, nothing is ever the same from one day to the next, but at least I have some of my old lists and ideas jotted down to start with, and I've been growing things in this dirt for long enough to know not to be seduced by pictures in the seed catalogs--I pretty much know what will grow here successfully and what won't.
So here we are absolute midst of the hottest part of summer and all I can think of is cool-season crops!  The seedlings are coming along great  as you can see, Will has made terrific progress with getting ground prepped for planting, and we are sadly bidding farewell to most of the tomato plants for this year. Sweet potato vines are running all over their section of the front garden, the stash of winter squash curing for Fall deliveries is growing weekly while some of the winter squash (notably, the Seminole pumpkin squash) are still making little squashes and sending vines out all over the north end of the property!
As the summer season winds down, we still have hundreds of eggplants ready for harvest each week and almost as many peppers.  The irish potato inventory is still plentiful and we've barely dented the elephant garlic basket.  What a blessing to be looking at enough beautiful produce to see us to the end of this successful and abundant season!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

They're Up! (the zen of seeds part 2)

Here's a follow-up new photo...this is day 4 after putting seeds in soil blocks.  Pretty amazing!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Zen of Seeds

Farming is all about planning.  Of course, many of our plans never are played out--something always seems to happen to derail our well-thought-out plan and well, there you go.  But it is a necessary part of this game, otherwise you're out of business pretty quickly.  Right now I'm in the midst of planning for Fall.

Today I began my Fall planting.  After several days of preparations--mixing soil, gathering tools, looking over my seed inventory--I finally got some seeds into some dirt.  Yay!  

I've discovered this wonderful method of starting seedlings.  Originating in Great Britain, soil blockers are an Earth-friendly approach to this age old process.  A couple of years ago I purchased a soil blocker, which is a device that makes 2 inch cubes of compressed potting soil.  One sows a seed or two into each block and cares for it lovingly for several weeks before setting it into its permanent home in the garden.  No container needed.  No plastic to recycle or (worse yet) send to the landfill.  No transplant shock when the young plant is set out.  What a great system!

Year before last I constructed a seedling rack.  Basically, it is a wooden shelf unit with fluorescent light fixtures attached to the underside of each shelf.  I can start more than 500 plants at a time this way.  The seedlings are always sturdy and strong, and it isn't very much trouble to care for them as they grow.  

But the biggest part of this is the thrill I get when I get those first seeds planted for a new season.  Even though we have a few weeks left to finish our Summer season, it feels good to be starting on Fall.  I never tire of putting seeds into dirt and I'm not over my amazement that a tiny seed, about the size of a large grain of sand, will yield several pounds or more of truly top quality nutrition.  I get all excited when the little seedlings break through the soil surface, I watch eagerly day to day as these minuscule plants develop and grow, I worry about them when I'm away from them.  And I never get tired of it.

As I'm planting my soil blocks, dropping cabbage seeds into the little dimple on top of each block, I am visualizing the Fall garden. Deep blue skies above, soft chilly breeze blowing all about, and long straight rows of beautiful cabbages, some red and some green.  There are cabbages that are very round, some that are flattened balls, and some that have pointy heads.  And then on to the broccoli seeds, the collards, the cauliflower.  In a few short weeks I'll be starting lettuce this way.

The endless cycle of planting, nurturing, and harvesting is one of the constants in my life.  I can measure my months by the crops I'm thinking of.  When I was an active, working artist I used to laugh at myself.  If someone asked me which of my paintings was my favorite, the answer would always be "my most recent work."  And so it is in the garden.  We have the most beautiful eggplants I've ever seen right now and it is a sight to behold when they are  picked each week, but that seems like old business right now.  What I'm REALLY excited about is broccoli...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Monday, Monday

Mondays are unique here at Breaking Away Farm.  First, our tiny local newspaper doesn't publish a Monday issue so our minds aren't cluttered by news and the myriad of local scuttlebutt.  Monday is my day to Take Stock.

I'm a natural worrier and it is important to me that I prepare for each weekly delivery in a timely fashion and that each delivery be as good as I can make it.  So, I walk the gardens.  I peer under pepper leaves to see if any are ready to pick, I attempt to count ripe eggplants, I try to gauge how many more beans will be harvested before Wednesday, I dig around in the fridges to see what has been harvested for this week and generally just fret all day about the whole thing.  Will has had to learn to leave me alone about this and accept that there is a method to my madness.  Taking Stock is a big job.

On a typical week we prepare around 180 to 200 family-sized portions of vegetables.  A portion might be a single watermelon or it might be 12 ounces of okra.  Over the seasons we've sort of arbitrarily arrived at amounts that just feel like an appropriate amount of each thing.  Of course, the Small Family shares get smaller portions of most things and this adds another element of complexity to this weird weekly dance we do in order to pull together our delivery.

The fretfulness continues into Tuesday when the actual work takes place.  Tuesdays are long and exhausting, we've failed to find a way to make them less so.  As we go about the work of endless bagging, weighing, counting and carrying those portions of vegetables, we long for whatever season it isn't.  As I weigh out 2 pound bags of squash, often 60 or 70 bags at a go, I long for the crisp days of Autumn, washing beautiful greens and stacking the lovely leaves into little mountains of tender goodness.  Of course, when I'm washing greens in the Fall, weighing squash seems so easy and preferable!  I guess that's just human nature for you.

When we finally tumble into bed late on Tuesday night, it is with the comfort of knowing that we've once again assembled a beautiful array of fresh produce and have it ready to present to our members on Wednesday.  I've prepared delivery slips for each member and distributed the week's haul as fairly as I can.  The fretting ends for another week. The garden recovers from our theft of its bounty and begins to ready the next week's offering.  We sleep.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Blog is Born!

Okay, here goes...

I've long wished to share my thoughts, observations, joys and frustrations about our farm and all that happens here, so with the encouragement of my dear husband and partner, Will, along with many of our CSA members, a blog is born!
It is my hope and plan to make this blog a window into the life we lead since so many folks have expressed their curiosity and seem to find it interesting.  I don't want to get bogged down in the minutiae of existence or the streaming inane thoughts I've read in other blogs ("...and so I went to the fridge and finally found the butter behind that leftover piece of meatloaf from last Tuesday...") but rather to use this forum as a point of insight into the day-to-day activities on one small farm.  It is also my intent to provide some illumination of the cultural, social and political issues which impact our food system and have lead to the explosion of interest in local farming and the stampede of consumers running to their local farmer's market looking for Real Food.

Briefly, Will and I operate a 45-member CSA (community supported agriculture) farm in very-rural south Georgia.  We deliver our produce to our membership in Tallahassee, Florida during 3 seasons each year.  Our first season was the Fall of 2007 and we are near the conclusion of our 10th season as I write this.  We have a daughter who is married and lives in Tallahassee, she is the mother of a much beloved 4-year-old boy who will no doubt be mentioned here from time to time.  We (currently) have 3 dogs, 3 cats and approximately 150 chickens.  Our farm is a whopping 2.4 acres and we live in the circa 1903 farmhouse that once presided over all the surrounding land. 

More than likely, my posts will be mostly daily, occasionally weekly and probably whenever I have something to say and the time to put it in writing.  I hope my readership will grow because I think when we, as a society, fled the farms for the more comfortable lifestyles of the city, we lost something essential that has left a hollow spot in many lives.  Our CSA members have expressed to me that the association with our farm, the enjoyment of its bounty and the visits to the farm have enabled them to somewhat regain that missing element.  It is my goal to touch that part of my readers that yearns for the smell of the freshly turned earth, the sight of brilliant golden squash blossoms on a dew-splashed morning and the sound of honeybees, drunk on nectar in a cloud bank of pear blossoms.  It is my wish to awaken the sleeping love of the land and what it gives us; to educate the minds of those deprived of the simplest knowledge of this most basic requirement--food; and to inspire a desire to return, at least in spirit, to the simplicity and beauty of a small farm's rhythm. 

Being a woman "of a certain age," and being a farmer, is a somewhat unique role, though not as unusual as one might think.  I don't have the statistics at hand but among new farmers, women are leading the way.  And I think that is as it should be.  Aside from the physical aspects (which are many!), farming is all about rhythm, nurturing and nuance which are, of course, the very things a woman can bring to it.  I feel so very, very blessed to be living this life and sharing it with Will, a partner in every true sense of the word.  Bringing the beautiful vegetables, fruits, eggs and nuts we produce to our members is the culmination of our hard work and without question the most gratifying thing I've ever done (with the exception of producing the most fabulous daughter ever).  And so, as I begin this new adventure-within-an-adventure, I thank you for joining me and I hope the words I share will add some small meaning to your day and bring you a little piece of the joy I've found.
Signing off...