News and blog
Hello Gentle Readers!
I will have been sixteen years on this farm this coming April, and although 16 isn't commonly considered a big anniversary, 16 is 2 to the fourth power, and so perhaps it should be. In any case I was doing some reflecting on the many twists and turns over the last decade and 3/5, and what strikes me more each passing year is that I had no idea, really, what I was getting into back in 2005, and its just now that I'm beginning to realize what I should have done differently in the first few years. It's not solely because I was impatient and inexperienced (although I certainly was those things and doubtless my 66 year old self, in 16 years, will feel that way about who I am now). It takes a while to get to know the land, its characteristics and challenges, and then there is the human element as well. For what is farming if not an awful voyage of self discovery?
Most people, when agricultural pests are mentioned, think of insects, but for us, by far the worst pest is deer. Given our picturesque location at the foot of the Tuscarora Mountain, surrounded by woodlands, its hardly a surprise, but we must take measures. Here's a picture of some baby chicks being mothered by the hen for those of us with short attention spans and don't like long blocks of text:
So cute right? Ok back to the deer. We must take measures, as I said, or they eat me out of business. For a while we had dogs, and they did a good job chasing the hungry ungulates off, but dogs can't be everywhere at once, and they need to sleep sometimes. As the amount of land in production grew the dogs (actually it was pretty much one dog, Kelly. Sparky was sweet and loving but didn't chase many deer) had a hard time of it. The other problem with dogs: they grow old and die, and then I'm heartbroken.
The next measure we took was to install an electrified deer fence, pictured here.
I don't know why it's on its side. Kindly tilt your heads 90 degrees to the left. There. It was a major undertaking, and costly, but it was fast and does a good job-- at least until the electricity goes out, or the charger breaks, or a tree falls on it. Also, it needs the most maintenance when we are busiest, in May and June. It's not particularly pretty, and I always worry about little children or aged grandparents getting zapped with 9.9 kilovolts. Ouch!
So here's my next project to address the problem. It costs nothing in materials, is quite beautiful, will add to the biodiversity of the farm and create habitat for squirrels, bugs, gastropods and birds, and, if I do it right, will be 100% deer proof. It starts out looking like this:
I'll tell you what those are, in case you don't recognize them: osage orange fruits, in various states of decay. An incredibly versatile and useful tree or shrub, the wood is greatly prized for making bows (like for bow and arrows) and woodwind instruments (like for playing music). The lumber is highly rot resistant, stronger than oak, and has the highest heating value of any North American wood. But even better, from my perspective, the osage orange-- or "hedgeapple", as it is sometimes called-- when properly managed and pruned will form a hedge said to be "horse high, bull strong and pig tight". Not only is the wood super strong, but it is covered in big, sharp thorns. It was commonly used for making hedges in this country until the advent of barbed wire in the 1870's. Not an improvement, in my opinion. But then, I wasn't consulted.
Here is a picture of the trusty shovel I am using to dig up the ground.
Next year, when I'll be better prepared, I'll use some sort of tractor implement, which will be faster. And here is a picture of the seeds and some rotting pulp in the furrow:
The fruits exude a smelly, sticky latex fluid, which makes the job even more pleasant. Once the seedlings emerge, I'll post another picture, and regular progress reports. I'm only planting a couple hundred feet this year, so I can learn what I'm doing, but I plan on surrounding the whole field in five years. That's the official Jade Family Farm Five Year Plan. Although, given my track record in estimating the amount of time it takes to complete a project, it'll probably take ten. After that, I'm off to France, to spend several months backpacking around Gascony with only a small guitar and book of Rimbaud's poetry. But that, Gentle Reader, is a tale for another day!
Meanwhile, Spring has arrived. Here's a picture of emerging rhubarb to prove it:
and some foolhardy apricots that decided to bloom early. I told them to wait, as we are expecting 23 degrees tomorrow night, but they persisted:
We planted these trees in 2007 and gotten a total of three apricots from the two of them, but it is worth it just for the scent and sight.
This skunk cabbage is my favorite harbinger of spring.
Do not eat! Mildly poisonous and/ or extremely yukky.
And finally, another baby animal picture! I just couldn't resist!
That's it for now. Drop me a line if you want to and let me know what you think about my five year plan---
You wouldn't know it from the temperature, but the brightness of the sun gives it away: Spring is just around the corner. Gone are the lazy winter days of lolling about the fireside, leisurely leafing through seed catalogs and going to bed early. Our main activities this time of year are seeding in the greenhouse and pruning the fruiting trees, shrubs and vines. It can be a daunting task. Here is a "before" picture of a kiwi vine:
and that same vine after pruning:
For some reason known only to him, my father decided to festoon this vine with cheerful ribands.
We've also been doing some infrastructure projects. Here I am driving out a portable greenhouse "module" out to the field:
The fact that these are easily movable enables us to use the same structure several times in one season.
No spring would be complete without a new crop of kids. Here is newborn Moppet learning to nurse:
Queenie is not the nicest goat but is a good mother. More kid pictures:
Goats are just a hobby for me, and not part of the farm business. They take up a lot of time and money, but the milk is really first- rate and, now that my own children are young adults, the goats serve as a great source of aggravation.
Space in our 2019 harvest share is filling up fast! I recommend not to delay much longer if you plan on joining us this year. You can use this link to go straight to our signup page.
And finally, here is a picture of me with my hand stuck in a mason jar, and my daughter Evelyn refused to help pull it off!
Luckily the 911 operator was able to advise me well (she suggested I unclench my fist) and the story had a happy ending.
Hello! Every year I face the same dilemma: by the end of Winter my boots invariably are full of holes and rips and barely even make a pretense of keeping my feet dry. Do I go shopping for a new pair, or do I just slog through the mud half shod until the weather warm and I can go barefoot or in flip flops and don't care if my feet are wet? As much as I hate having cold wet feet, I dislike shopping even more, so I have elected to wait until October for the new boots. Although on days like today, with 3 inches of rain and 38 degrees, I wonder if I made the right choice. Surely, it has to warm up soon....
But enough of my wardrobe woes. You're doubtless wondering what has been going on here lately. The cold wet beginning of Spring has made it difficult to get things planted. Difficult, but not impossible! We will find a way! Even if it means pre- sprouting peas in my kitchen and planting them by hand. We've also planted carrots, radishes, green onions, beets, turnips, lettuce, cabbages, kohlrabi, and spinach. Presumably they will start to grow once it warms up and the sun comes out. Here is a picture of some nice cabbage seedlings just planted.
And here is my 78 year old father risking life and limb perched on a ladder pruning an apple tree toward the end of march. Dad lavishes the trees with care and attention, but organic tree fruit is never a sure bet, so keep your fingers and your cold, wet feet crossed!
This handsome fellow standing in front of 17 tons of compost is myself. Applying compost and other organic soil amendments and otherwise preparing the fields for planting is a major activity this time of year.
Finally, here is Queenie, licking off one of her newborn kids. Queenie is a very attentive mother, but not a very nice goat in other respects. She's a spectacular milker, though, with huge volumes of rich creamy milk, which more than compensates for her personality failings. And besides, we all have our foibles, no?
For anyone still planning or thinking about signing up for a CSA share this year-- we are filling up rapidly, so don't wait too long. You can click here to navigate directly to our signup page. As always, email me with any questions or just to say hi.
I've been told today is officially CSA day. What does that even mean? Who made it official? Some official somewhere? On what authority? It sounds like a made up holiday to me, like "Presidents' Day" (James Buchanan needs a day? Warren Harding needs a day? What?) or "National Cottage Cheese Appreciation Week". Anyways, my marketing plan tells me I'm supposed to make a big deal out of CSA day, to encourage people to sign up for my CSA, but I don't really like trying to tell people what to do, so instead I'm going to show you a picture of some baby goats.
They are all less than a week old and like to form a pile at night in order to stay warm. We now have nine kids. Does anybody want one? I don't sell dairy products commercially and have no plans to do so, but I love having my own source of fresh milk and butter, and nothing beats keeping goats for aggravation. Today is also the feast day of St. Serenus the Gardener, in addition to being CSA day. Did I mention it was CSA day?
In keeping with the theme of new life, we have also started seeding in the greenhouse. Here are some little tiny kale seedlings just starting to grow.
The old name for plants in this family, now known as "brassicas", was "crucifers", because the emerging seedlings look like little crosses. We have also started onions, lettuce, parsley, peppers, tomatoes, Swiss chard, eggplant and shallots. We will be seeding every week from now until August.
The end of winter also means for a me a mild feeling of panic, when I realize that things are about to get extremely busy and I haven't finished-- or even started-- many of the things on my winter to- do list. Time to get back to work! If you want to celebrate CSA day in style, you can click on this link to sign up for our CSA now!
Hello! A friend of mine once accused me of being a Luddite. Unsure what exactly that was, I proceeded to read an entire book on the subject of the original Luddites (Northern England, beginning of 19th century) called "Rebels Against the Future". Parts of it were extremely boring! Turns out, my friend was right-- I am a Luddite.
Nevertheless, even though I still think most modern technologies are bad ideas, I feel compelled to embrace several of them, albeit reluctantly. I have an instagram account now, jade_family_ farm is the "handle" or whatever they call it. Here are a few pictures from it so you can see what you are missing by not being my "follower":
That is my Nephew harvesting kale, and
a portrait of myself and children with some stuff we had lying about in storage.
More importantly, we have upgraded our CSA/ harvest share software. You all know that we have long been committed to offering customized boxes and maximum flexibility; the challenge has always been doing so in a way that didn't create too much of a logistical and record keeping nightmare for me. This new software, called "Harvie", is designed specifically for family farms such as ours to make our lives easier while giving you what you expect and deserve.
I've been told by the experts not to put too large a block of text into a blog without a picture, so here is a picture of a very large parsnip:
Apparently the experts don't think you have much of an attention span.
Anyway, back to business. The upshot of Harvie is that things will be quite similar to what we are doing already-- you still get to choose exactly what you want from what we have available-- with some extra features added in. The only big change is that there is no straight a la carte option. However, since each share size has a biweekly option, and you can skip weeks and reschedule them at will, I believe it will still work well for those people accustomed to a la carte. I go into more detail on our website, also you can visit the Harvie website by clicking here to learn more, or if you wish to sign up for a share right this very instant, click here. If you have any questions let me know and I will find out the answers.
Finally, here is our new logo. It's based on a self portrait, more or less.
It took me 13 years of being in business to come up with a logo and motto which accurately reflect my philosophy toward business and life. People told me my former business motto- "Our Best Will Have to Do!" was horrible and I should never tell it to anybody!
All About Sweet Potatoes
Lets's start by explaining the difference between sweet potatoes and yams. Botanically speaking, they are utterly different. Yams are not a type of sweet potato, and sweet potatoes are not a type of yam. Yams grow only in tropical areas, with a 300 day growing season, get to be very large (up to 4 1/2 feet long and 130 pounds!), and taste very different than sweet potatoes. They are related to lillies. Most people in the United Stated have never seen or eaten one. Most grow in Africa, where they are native, although they are also popular in Jamaica.
Sweet potatoes are originally from South America, are related to morning glories, and come in many many colors and consistencies. Many people call orange sweet potatoes "yams", and although it is technically incorrect, what's the harm in it? Call them whatever you want, I don't care. Whatever you call them, they're one of my favorite things to grow. Here is a picture of them after a full season of growth, ready to harvest:
It just looks like a mass of green, but really they are long trailing vines. Next we cut the vines off of the tubers, move them out of the way, lift the tubers up by running a large bar attached to the tractor underneath them, and the bed now looks like this:
All that remains is to pull them out of the ground with an expression of calm satisfaction, as Angel is doing here:
Or with a broad smile, as exhibited by Juan:
Both Angel and Juan help plant the "slips", as young sweet potato plants are called, and it is a long season and a lot of work to care for, so it's no wonder they are pleased. Not pictured is the crew who spent many hours weeding the plants during June, July, August and September-- Matthew, Ella, Charles, Suzie, Stella, Jose, Evelyn, Jim and myself. I know it sounds like I have a lot of employees, but half the above named are relatives-- which means I don't pay them, so technically they aren't employees-- and nobody is full time. Except me.
And finally here I am holding the largest (so far) tuber of the year:
It weighs 5 1/4 pounds.
Here is my favorite sweet potato recipe:
Boiled Sweet Potatoes
Ingredients: sweet potatoes
Directions: cut up sweet potatoes and put into a pot of water. Bring to a boil and boil until soft. Remove sweet potatoes from the pot, mash with a fork, and add butter and salt.
I don't spend much time cooking but I know what I like! By the way there is no need to peel a sweet potato, ever.
As you can imagine, now that spring is here our sleepy little farm is transformed into a hotbed of activity with preparing the fields for planting, planting itself, finishing up winter projects that I put off a little too long, and so on. Here are some peas just pushing up through the ground:
Peas are always uncertain in the spring due to the possibility of the seeds rotting in the ground, being eaten by birds, or, worst of all, attacked by the dreaded pea seed maggot. This is reflected in the Medieval English pea planter's rhyme, as follows:
One for the rook
One for the crow
One to rot
And one for the dreaded pea seed maggot.
Which, in a bad year, doesn't leave too many for us. Our first two plantings of peas did well enough, but the third was almost completely destroyed by maggots. So, I replanted in another part of the farm, and didn't tell the maggots. Don't anybody tell the maggots!
And here are some spring onions just starting to send out shoots:
And those same peas and onions 2 weeks later (April 28th)
Quite a difference!
And here is a nice cover crop of rye and vetch, taken two weeks ago:
We just mowed it, in preparation for incorporating it into the soil, where the biomass from the rye and nitrogen fixed by the vetch will feed the crop and give us the second best pepper harvest ever!
Not that everything here is work work work. Especially the younger generation finds time for a little fun and relaxation. Here is a picture of my nephew Matthew and daughter Evelyn weaving a hammock out of used irrigation drip lines:
Waste not, want not!
Hello everyone! Lately we've had a few long time shareholders sign up for a couples share, when they had previously gotten the family share, due to their children being adults now and moved out of the house. How quickly they grow up! My eldest child is also turning 18 this May and it got me thinking about what impact our vegetables may have had on their lives over the past 11 years we have had a CSA. How many school lunched had carrots or sweet peppers in them instead of chips? How many extra bowls of salad at the dinner table? How many cries of "yuk!" when confronted with a steaming dish of eggplant or Swiss chard?
Speaking of growing quickly, despite the snow(!), we have been busy in the greenhouse and elsewhere. Here are some seedlings a few weeks away from transplanting. Hard to believe that each one will grow up to be a 4 pound cabbage! Especially hard to believe since these are spinach sprouts, not cabbage.
We've also been busy pursuing my Belgian endive obsession. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Belgian endive is a tasty winter treat, grown in a dark heated room from roots harvested the previous Fall. Here is a picture of the endive growing in trays, almost ready for harvest.
And here is some already harvested. So you have a sense of scale, the gnome is life sized.
Unsurpassed for winter salads, and if I ever line up my Autumn ducks sufficiently in a row to offer a winter share, endive will be part of it.
Bye for now!
Hello! Its been a long, restful winter and now we are getting back into the swing of things. The big news here is baby goats. It happens every year-- 14 times this year so far with one goat yet to kid-- but the novelty never really wears off, each time is special and thrilling. Here is a picture of Ramona and her babies just minutes after they were born:
This is Ramona's 4th time of becoming a mother and she knows just what to do. I also took a little video of her caring for her kids, but I can't post it here without a lot of bother, so if you want to see it, you'll have to email me and I can send it as an attachment.
Unfortunately its not all baby animals and buttercups around here. Remember that big snowstorm we had a few weeks back? This is what it did to our high tunnel greenhouses:
Oops! Totally collapsed from its guggle to its zatch. It was so bad that I had to resort to drastic measures and uttered a four letter word-- "help". And I'm pleased to say the response was terrific. In one short weekend we disassembled both structures so they now look like this:
Huge thank you's to Ken, Rachel, Steve, Ollie, Serena, Emily and Evelyn.
Now we begin the work of salvage and reassembly. We'll have another work party when its time to put them back up, stay tuned-- you are invited!
Other than that we are busy seeding in the one remaining greenhouse and getting supplies and seeds together for the upcoming growing season.
Apparently yesterday was national CSA signup day, which I think is a little silly, but if you haven't yet signed up for the 2016 season, why wait? You can click here to navigate to our signup page. We have added a new delivery location in downtown Harrisburg.
Bye for now!
Some years we have at least a few fields plowed and planted by St. Patrick's day, but not this one. Cold weather in February and March, and a good heavy snow on the Spring equinox, have meant we have had to find other ways to amuse ourselves. The other day it struck my fancy that I should very much like to clean out the goat pens, so I grabbed a pitchfork and wheelbarrow and got to work. It had been a while since I'd emptied them out, and so at the end of the day's work this is what I'd managed to accomplish:
It looks bigger in real life. Notice the fine hat Evelyn crocheted for me. I am reminded about the story told of John Adams, who, after being the second president of these United States, retired to his farm in Quincy and, every morning after breakfast, went out to admire his manure pile and chortle with a tankard of hard cider. Now I know just how he must have felt, minus the parts about being president (although I am secretary of the Boalsburg Farmers' Market) and the cider.
Of course I am just kidding, I didn't really muck out the stables by hand. Here is a picture of what actually happened.
The young man operating the machine with such skill is Suzie's fiancee, who she somehow convinced to come over and do the job for us.
So, I'm sure you are wondering what I am planning on doing with all that manure, other than admiring it, and so I'll tell you. Some of it I will mix with finely chopped green grasses and compost in our static aerated composting facility, and the rest we will let age, like a fine wine, until it is just right for worms. Then it's vermiculture mania!
Still haven't signed up for a 2015 farm share? You can do so by clicking here, or, to read more about our share options, click here. Were planning on having the best season ever-- you won't want to miss it!