Winter Conferences

Justin and I had a great time at the Vermont Veg and Berry Growers’ Conference and Annual Meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.  We were asked to share the design and building process for our Packhouse and Walk-In Cooler.  We represented the smallest farm presenting but it seemed like the information was helpful, especially for other small or beginning farms.  It was so much fun to see where our farm might be in 10-20 years as more experienced farmers shared their information.  We had a wonderful time reconnecting with friends from Maine and met many new people.  Getting together with other farmers is so crucial, not just because there is a lot of ingenuity to share but also because it is valuable to be in a room of people with common concerns and common excitements.  I’ve come back from the meeting so jazzed about the coming season!

For anyone interested in seeing our presentation, which includes design, construction and cost info for a small walk-in and prep area, here’s our powerpoint:

Flywheel Presentation Final

(you will need Microsoft PowerPoint to view)

1 month later…

Well.  It has been a while…?  In the last month, Flywheel Farm has been spinning very fast indeed.  Rather than make a laundry list of all the ups and downs, I’ll bring us right to today:  It’s raining, which is about the loveliest thing that can happen on a Sunday, I think.  We work on Sunday but we work slowly.  I walked the fields with my pen and paper to note what produce will be available this week for our wholesale buyers.  I picked samples of radishes and cabbages and washed them and gave them a little photo shoot in the prep area.  Justin and I picked the squashes and the cucumbers for the day.  Then we packed everything into the beautiful cooler that is now finished.

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A full cooler is a happy cooler! This is two days after we finished it enough to turn it on. Still had shelving and sealing to work on.

Getting the cooler to the point where we could turn it on was no small task!

We sold arugula to Maggie at White Rock for her BLT pizza.  Then we ordered the pizza and discovered she did some awesome advertising for us on the box! And yes, the pizza was delicious.

We had another litter of bunnies and faced new challenges with this batch.  One litter got very sick with a stomach illness and we lost two and had to dispatch one ourselves.  It was very hard to see them suffer.  Because they had not yet weaned we changed the diet of their mother, Goose, to include much more roughage (organic hay) in hopes that she would pass the fiber on through her milk to her young.  The rest of her litter is still alive but they will be far smaller than Ra-Ra’s litter of 8.  This event made me even more committed to getting the rabbits off of pellets completely.  One of the reasons for their illness may be the finely ground nature of their pellets.  It is difficult to assess how much hay to give them as a substitute but I have some confidence in working it out.  Dealing with this illness also reminded me of how close I am getting to the harvest date for the first litter and how I need to start preparing now.  It is and it should be a difficult thing to kill another animal.  I want my hands to be as sure and unambivalent as my mind in this task.  I feel good about the quality of life that these rabbits lead, especially the fryers that are out on pasture.  I will feel much better if I can improve their food and when I’ve successfully killed and processed them humanely.

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Me working on the second rabbit tractor. This one will house our breeding does and our buck.

On the harvesting front, we’ve moved into summer veggies with a vengeance.  The cucumbers are coming on fast, along with the summer squash and zucchini.  The melons are softball sized and the tomatoes are large, green and glistening.

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These are long days.  There are missed weedings, missed harvestings, missed blog-updatings…lots of things get left as the wheel keeps turning.  There are also favorite things:  a well-pruned tomato house, 6 hours of non-stop picking for large orders, the moment after QuickBooks is updated, washing beautiful greens, watching the back feet of baby rabbits kick in the air as they nurse, morning.

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Thank Goodness for the Rain!

It’s almost as if I can hear the fields breathing a sigh of relief…  When the sun comes out again, it will be madness out there! The crops, the weeds–everything will take off.  Right now we get a little respite from weeding.  Just enough time to catch our breath.

We have finally added chickens to our little farm.  Last night we picked them up from farmer friends of ours.  They spent the night in the back of my truck and were excited to get out of it in the morning.  They’ve laid some eggs, which Justin has ‘reserved’ for the farmstand, even though I’m dying to eat one!  The hens are big and gorgeous ladies.  The eggs will not be certified organic but we will feed them primarily on veggies, bugs and organic layer pellets.  It’s lots of fun to have more animals on the farm, especially ones that are so completely different than the rabbits.  I have to be careful that I don’t let these entertaining creatures distract me too much from growing vegetables!

003One of the exciting developments in the past two weeks is the appearance of flowers on our tomatoes.  We had such a terrible tomato crop last year that the health and beautiful of our current plants seems miraculous.  Everything growing on the plastic mulch is doing so well, partially because of the increase heat under there but also because we’ve been able to irrigate them regularly.  The greens in the field have had to rely on their root systems to get to moisture under the hot dust.  Last week we finished planting the melons and the long-season brassicas (storage cabbage and broccoli).  When I think of all the tender roots we put into hot soil I’m even more thankful for this rain!

Tomorrow we open our farmstand at noon!  We’ll have salad mix and mustard greens, fresh eggs, radish, and plant starts for all you procrastinating gardeners.  If you’ve planted your garden and found you just need a couple more zucchinis or maybe a hollyhock next to your front door, we’ve got you covered.  We have limited supply of plants and we’re only offering them tomorrow and Saturday, so don’t miss out!  For the adventurous, we even have some popcorn plants!

Last year's hollyhocks at the farm.  We have a small number of hollyhock plants available for sale!

Last year’s hollyhocks at the farm. We have a small number of hollyhock plants available for sale!

 

 

A Sense of Glad Awakening

Maybe summer isn’t quite here yet but it feels awfully close.  All week cars pulling pontoon boats and campers passed the farm.  The sun is shining (though not, technically, at the moment) and the temperatures have been in the upper 70s.  It’s a great time to be outside.

Our big news from last week is that we are now Certified Organic through Vermont Organic Farmers, LLC (VOF).  We received word the day after I wrote that we should be hearing “soon”.   We’re incredibly excited!

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My “selfie” with our lovely sign from VOF

We are selling Certified Organic ramp leaves at Hunger Mountain Coop in Montpelier; these are the first products of 2014 for us!  Ramps, also known as Wild Leeks, are a tasty, fresh allium for the spring.  We harvest only the leaves because we want to enjoy the ramp population on our farm for years to come.  In Quebec, ramps have been over-harvested, so much so that it is now illegal to gather them for commercial purposes and even the personal forager cannot harvest more than 50 plants per outing.  We’ve worked with Hunger Mountain to educate people about ramps, which in our forested, wet region are a common spring product at farmers’ markets and stores.  There’s many differing opinions about ramps; some people don’t believe we’re in any danger of over-harvesting while some believe that to sell any form of ramps feeds an unsustainable appetite among consumers.  We see a customer desire for this delicious food and would like to shape that desire by drawing attention to harvesting methods.  Maybe someone reads about “no-dig” ramps at the coop and then has it in their head to ask some questions the next time they see whole ramp bulbs for sale.  This is our hope.  We love to eat ramps in omelets or just lightly stir-fried with rice.  I can always tell when Justin has been around the ramps because he likes to eat them raw.  They are pungent!

For more information on harvesting ramps, check out this interview with Russ Cohen, environmentalist and wild edibles educator.

Justin and I have been busy with what seems like a million on-going projects.  The greenhouse is full: every week I write this and yet every week we add more flats of vegetables to it.

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This is what Justin sees through his glasses when he opens the greenhouse door!

I have been building tractors for our rabbits for what seems like weeks now.  I’ll post later about my on-going project to get our rabbits off of pellets completely and hopefully, eventually, certify our rabbit meat organic.  Right now only our produce is certified.  More pictures of the tractor when I’ve actually finished it!

Infrastructure Projects are in full-swing:

 

We are now three weeks away from the opening of our Farmstand.  I have never been more thankful that May have five weekends this year.  Although we work on the farm all week, we get lots of fantastic help from friends and family on the weekends.  As I think about the next item on my list for today, I think about all the great help I’m getting along the way.  We have supplies from NH, 5 gal buckets from our neighbor, and lots and lots of encouragement!

I only know there came to me/ A fragrance such as never clings/ To aught save happy living things;/ A sound as of some joyous elf/ Singing sweet songs to please himself,/ And, through and over everything,/ A sense of glad awakening.

“Renascence” Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1917

 

Potatoes in the Half-Moon

Another two weeks come and gone!  My Mondays of computer-work have been hijacked by other (more pressing) farm projects.  We had our organic certification inspection last week, which went well and we’re excited to (hopefully) be getting our certification soon.  Compost was delivered, potting soil picked up, a bolt broke on the tractor and was fixed, peas and greens planted, seeders calibrated…and on and on…

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We got some much-needed help on Saturday from my father, who worked with Justin to clear two giant, old piles of guardrail posts that had taken up residence at the farm. With all the field work to be done, clearing piles of junk that have been in place for years wouldn’t seem like a high priority. But we can now turn the tractor around at the end of those beds and drive between the field and the greenhouse.

 

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The plants in the greenhouse, including this chard, look fantastic. We had divided the greenhouse into two sections for heating but yesterday we took down the wall and opened the whole thing up. I was expecting this to open up a whole lot of room but somehow we are still completely full! I’m hoping to move the soon-to-be-transplanted outside after tonight’s low temps.  The forecast has the temperature getting down to 31 tonight.  We’re still running the propane in the greenhouse at night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think that this week has been the first ‘real’ week of the growing season.  Today we finished our projects around 6 and the sun was still fairly high in the sky and the temperatures were warm.  We grabbed a pizza and ate it in the prep area and then planted potatoes until 8:30.  One of the joys of working for yourself is that you can take a break with a couple of slices of ‘Garlic Luv’ from White Rock and go back to work until dark.  It was a beautiful evening, with the birds loud in the copse and the sun slowly setting behind the lake.

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This is about all the farm news I can handle for the moment.  Off to bed to dream of potatoes and strawberries!

Bunnies.  The bunnies are wonderful.

Bunnies. The bunnies are (big and) wonderful.

 

Spring is the fastest season

Two weeks flew by!  Our flywheel farm began turning very fast last week with the rapid melting of snow, the oh-just-kidding snowstorm that followed, the water-water everywhere, the ‘hot’ section of our greenhouse filling up, and the birth of our first batch of meat rabbits…!  Then, of course, the nights turned cold again, getting down to 12 and 15 degrees, thus stalling the progression of spring.  Spring will not be stopped however, something I see clearly in the rapid growth of the baby bunnies and germination of seeds.  Everyday is a marked difference.

I read somewhere that rabbits nurse only once or twice a day and only for about 4 minutes per litter.  I’ve only once caught one of my does jumping out of her nest box, presumably after she finished nursing.  For the litter to grow this much in little more than a week, that rabbit milk must be a real superjuice.  Unsurprising, since everything in spring seems to be powered by some incredibly nutritious, growth-enhancing elixir!

As the fields thaw and the ground dries, Justin and I are looking toward the coming months of infrastructure improvements on the farm.  We will be expanding our wash and pack house to include the walk-in cooler and we’ll be extending electricity into the farmyard.  We will be busting out of the seedling house, prompting another round of discussions about expanding the greenhouse or building another one.

Although everything is moving faster, I am walking the edge of the stream daily to catch the first fiddleheads poking up.  They will likely be our first product for sale this season but they will also be our first farm-ground green meal in a long time.

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After a winter in the barn, our little Ford started right up. Justin took the opportunity to do a little pre-season maintenance.

Sunny Days and Thaws

Sunny days mean the snow is melting.  Two feet of slushy mess makes the walk to the greenhouse a bit treacherous, one mis-step off the path lands you in the snow.  It means we’re replacing our socks multiple times a day but that’s a small price to pay for sunshine.  Everyday more soggy, brown grass shows up along the edge of the greenhouse or the wash and pack shed.  It’s messy but fabulous!

Our greenhouse is up and going, with the heat mat keeping our plants at a nice 77 degrees.  The onions and shallots have been seeded as well as a whole host of herbs.  At night, when it’s 40 degrees, we cover everything up with plastic and a blanket and during the day we open the doors when it’s 90 degrees.  With the greenhouse up and going we begin months of constant monitoring: Running to open windows when a cloudy day suddenly becomes sunny or running to close the windows when a cold wind blows in.  The trials and mishaps of monitoring the greenhouse reminds me of the first coldframe we built.  We found these two 4′ x 4′ windows for free and decided to build a base for them.  They were incredible heavy and curved, so they weren’t the best windows for what we were doing.  When we finally finished our coldframe we were so excited that we immediately put our tender celeriac and onion seedlings inside.  That day turned out to be sunny and cold.  Justin and I were threshing beans and freezing in the shade of the barn.  When I went to check on the seedlings after a couple of hours, I found our plants melted inside a coldframe that had gotten to over 130 degrees inside.  Thinking it was such a cold day, we hadn’t opened the windows at all.  That night I tried to save the onions by meticulously separating them with tweezers.

As long as we make sure not to cook our plants, the heat that the greenhouse can offer is great for growing.  It allows us to grow tomatoes, eggplants and peppers and it’s not a bad place to hang out when we’re cold and missing those summer days.  Today I carried a lawn chair down and made a space for myself to sit and relax.  Now all I have to do is find my sunglasses.

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Hey-Zeus prefers to sit outside in the sun while we work in the greenhouse.