It’s not always easy to find a lovely thing to say about the farm. Like any other, farming is a job, and in July we are a little tired of our job. At the moment the farm is in a state of disarray and looks a bit rough around the edges. This is because there are quite a few areas that are coming out of their spring crops, and are ready to be prepped for fall crops. These beds are waiting for us to make time between harvest and market to pull the weeds, till the soil, add compost, and transplant new crops. As they wait, the weeds begin to flower and go to seed, which is not in and of itself a good thing for our future crops, but it is where I will find my silver lining for this post!
Left to its self, nature is very disorganized and chaotic. Farmers try to tame it, raising plants in straight rows, all growing at the same rate, nothing but bare ground between each plant, etc. When the weeds get the better of us the silver lining is in the added plant diversity available to the insect life in our fields. There are quite a few weeds and crops (wild carrot, arugula, clover, yarrow) whose flowers attract parasitic wasps and other predators of common garden pests. There is nothing quite like seeing the eggs of a Brachonid Wasp hatch out of the body of a tomato horn worm and then proceed to consume the caterpillar from the inside out. Sweet retribution for damage done to the most valuable crop on the farm.
And so today I choose to look at my messy farm as a glorious bio-diverse habitat for a rich and balanced local ecology. And maybe tomorrow I’ll finally get around to borrowing the neighbor’s mower. Not likely, but when I do, I know I’ll be mowing around the wild carrot flowers and not over them.
It’s market season, the moment that farmers and customers wait for all winter long in CT. Can’t you just taste the greens? Feel that sweet little crunch of mesclun mix? This is that gleeful moment when we can all leave grocery store produce behind, just a dim, unsatisfying, slightly wilted memory, and instead head out to the farmers markets in your area for food that is infinitely more fresh, flavorful, and nutritious.
Farmers across the region have been toiling away, waiting for this time of harvest, coaxing along tiny plants against all the threats of spring weather and pests. Many of us have strong convictions around why we work this hard. Often a website page is dedicated to describing this passion. I encourage you to go and read the stories of our new generation of farmers, how they got here and why they care so darned much. The stories of some of our favorite farming friends are found at Shundahai Farm, SubEdge Farm, Eddy Farm, Provider Farm, Cloverleigh Farm & Beltane Farm. And ours is here. There are many faces to this new movement, and learning a little bit about them is an inspiring way to prepare for the season ahead – to reconnect yourself with the reasons why you choose to support the people who have chosen to grow good food for their communities.
It’s June, and the bounty of summer is right in front of us. I challenge you to commit to eating with us, with the same conviction with which we have committed to growing for you.
As for our market schedule this year, you can find us every Tuesday at the West End Farmers Market starting June 7th, 4-7pm, on the Clemens Green right next to the Mark Twain House.
On Saturdays we are at the Storrs Farmers Market in downtown Storrs, 3-6pm.
6 weeks ago the deliveries began – large tractor trailers arrived on 3 occasions bearing heavy and/or awkwardly long boxes. “I guess there’s a greenhouse in there, or something”. The driver would tell us. The bulk of the structure (20 foot metal poles, a 120 pound roll of plastic, box after box of heavy-duty hardware) arrived in the middle of that April snow & ice storm. Of course it did. I subsequently got a crash course in driving our tractor on slush and ice, while the truck driver said encouraging things like, “you should probably wait til your husband gets home.” I did not. (Who has time for that kind of nonsense?)
The first thing that needed doing was to lay the rails on which this rolling behemoth would travel, requiring a long shallow trench to be dug, and a good few days of banging on a boulder with a sledge and pick. Once that work was done we could begin building the house itself. We’ve put up a number of greenhouses in our years farming. Heck, we’ve moved our propagation 3 times! In the construction of a stationary house, each hoop is attached at each end to a post that has been driven 4 feet into the ground – very solid. Each hoop of our Rolling Thunder house stands on metal wheels that slide on the track, needing to be braced 4 ways before we could move on to the next. This novel need for bracing was a lesson we learned the hard way:
Our first day of putting up hoops was sunny and beautiful. We had friends helping, things were moving along briskly and spirits were high. We put up the last hoop in a line of 19, and as we stood there smiling with pride at how efficiently the day’s work had gone, the entire structure came crashing to the ground quite literally around our ears. It was dramatic, and traumatic – I screamed and fell over. Jonathan didn’t say anything for a long time. The ridge pole was destroyed, and our hopes were (temporarily) dashed, but when we look back on that moment now, it is purely with the relief that no one was hurt. The last few hours of that day were spent in runs to the hardware store for replacement parts, planning how to start over and better the next day, and occasionally yelling in chorus at the sky to relieve some tension.
So then we did it right. It took a long time. But boy oh boy is it beautiful. Our tomatoes, which had grown much more quickly than usual with the warm weather in March, were screaming to get out of their pots and into the ground. They’ve recovered remarkably since we were able to plant them on May 1st, slowly going from chartreuse to deep green as their roots were released into the soil.
We’re looking forward to all the benefits this house will afford us over many years to come: extended tomato harvests from healthier plants all summer, & growing green crops through the winter, to name a few. I am thankful that we succeeded in getting the greenhouse up… and I hope never to have to do it again.
Up next – the new wash station! We’ll keep you posted.
Spirits are high on the farm these days. The early spring has given us a much-needed jump on the season, and there’s nothing like long, sunny days full of building projects and baby plants to put farmers in a good mood!
We have welcomed many new arrivals this spring. Topping the list is our first-ever intern, Sydney, who flew in from Arizona to spend the summer sustainably farming with us! Her enthusiasm and willingness to pound stakes for a pea trellis all day in the sun are already a beautiful addition to our small, mostly-human-powered farm.
She is pictured above with our recent shipment of perennials, including asparagus, rhubarb, blueberries, raspberries, & hearty kiwi. Perennials are an exciting new frontier for Sweet Acre. In the past, farming on rented land, we restricted our growing to annual vegetables. Now that we own our fields, we feel liberated to invest in long-term crops, planting a few more every year, and experimenting with our own propagation.
As I write this, I can see out the window our good friend David, visiting from Texas, whaling away on a boulder that is currently in the way of our new greenhouse foundation (I said he was a good friend, right?). With it’s demise, the track of our Rolling Thunder greenhouse will be set to receive it’s wheels, hoops, plastic, and the hundreds of tomato plants patiently waiting in our seedling house.
Yesterday the foundation, floor beams and joists were set for our timber-frame shed. These are beams milled from the trees Jonathan felled last winter in our lower field. Our brother-in-law brought his carpentry skills (and two exceptional children) down from Boston to help jump-start the construction.
Spring is a time of such momentum on the farm! Every day the place looks different – a new section plowed, a new crop transplanted, a new pastured opened to the goats & chickens. At moments it’s hard to keep up, which usually means it’s the perfect time to grab a beer and sit down to watch some farm TV from the back porch – the sprinklers turning, the animals munching grass, the garlic growing before my eyes. That never fails to get me up and out there again – getting dirty, making progress, having a blast (did I say we’re in good spirits??).