Tag Archives: Farm life

Something About October

DSC_2544What is it about October? Darn if I don’t get all gushy and grateful this time of year.

It may be just that we are finally slowly, slowly, slowly but surely winding down from summer’s hectic pace. (Whew, I am relieved). There’s time to stretch a bit, ponder a lot. Time to appreciate the magic of warm days, bright blue skies, falling leaves, and cool, crisp nights.

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Yes. That’s it. It’s not just the loosening up of our schedules, but the perspective it gives me on why I love this quirky life of mine. Whether I’m puttering around the farm or spending a delicious hour away from the farm with Roy and Libby at our favorite beach, I now have the brain space to realize this: I am very fortunate to spend so much time outdoors. It’s something I longed for unknowingly when I worked all day in an office.

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To work outside is a gift of grace, I now understand. And to be outside in October is to enjoy the world at its best.

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Here are some things I love about October, both on-farm and off. I bet you have yours, too.

The light and the shadows.

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The color orange, of course.

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Having the beach nearly all to ourselves.

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Well, almost all to ourselves…

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Things in the garden get all tangled up together, beautifully.

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Like these cosmos and beans

DSC_2820And the vegetables themselves are hurtling towards the last harvest hurrah, going big before going away.
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Greens love the cool nights.

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Some flowers, like my favorite bright red pineapple sage blossoms, don’t even arrive until October. Others are spent and withered, yet still some of the most interesting things on the October horizon.

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Farmer loves October, too. It’s been a busy summer. He needs to relax.

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October is gold and blue, warm and cool, soft and crisp. Did I mention it’s my favorite month?

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How Much Water Does a Small Farm Need? A lot!

DSC_0185Just when I thought things were going to calm down a bit around here, a whole posse of trucks shows up in the driveway. First it was the electrician and his assistant. They’re here to update the wiring in this old farm house. This is actually a very big deal (maybe we’ll have an outlet in the bathroom!), but I didn’t realize that the work was going to start, er, this week. Already the house is even messier than it usually is with a dog, a cat, no closets, no storage space, etc. Bits of wires and plastic and plaster are everywhere.

Next, I look out and see two very large trucks with very large gizmos on them pull into the lower field. The well guys are here! This is perhaps an even bigger deal.

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All this traffic is on top of the farm stand traffic, which quieted down after the Labor Day exodus of thousands of people from Martha’s Vineyard for maybe one whole day before picking up again. Good for business, which I have to keep reminding myself, we are in. (Business was awesome in August, if exhausting.) I am trying to test and photograph a feature for Martha’s Vineyard Magazine this week, plus put up some tomato sauce and pickles, and do my regular farm chores of harvesting, seeding for fall, and watering—so the chaos is distracting.

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Watering, in fact, is probably the most important thing we do all day–and why the new well is so badly needed. We could neglect everything else but that and the farm would still soldier forward. But no watering, no chickens, no eggs–and no crops (or very little).

The chickens drink an enormous amount of water—the barrels and troughs we’ve set up in the chicken yards have to be filled every day. A laying hen won’t lay if she doesn’t have enough water. (Good thing we don’t have cows—each can drink 20 to 30 gallons of water a day.)

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It hasn’t rained here in any appreciable way in weeks, so to say it is dry is an understatement. Every time a car comes down the driveway, a cloud of dust enshrouds it. A lot of the grass looks like the photo above. And we can tell when we go to pick blackberries now that the vines are really stressed (below), and a lot of the berries shriveled up. Also, it’s been hotter so far in September than it was in August.

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So our cobbled together system of hoses, sprinklers, drip hoses and irrigation tape has to be activated, area by area, every day.

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In some areas, like a seasonal seed-starting set-up, or a newly planted apple tree, we have no choice but to hand-water with the hose.

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Basil thrives in the hoop house, but only if it is watered absolutely every day.

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Without the drip hose, this new round of arugula wouldn’t be so perky.

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Between turning everything on and off, checking, hand-watering, hooking and unhooking, topping-off, etc., it takes a while.

Plus everything is being run off of our house well. We thought Roy’s efforts at installing a new well in the lower field this spring were going to work, but a couple pieces of equipment failed, and ultimately our landlord offered to hire the guys with the big equipment to come dig the well. It just took until the end of the summer for it to get going.

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When the well is complete, we will have a separate water source for all the chicken areas and the lower field of crops, as well as the duck pen and the fruit trees, and we will also be able to install a few more permanent watering fixtures that will make some of the daily chores go more quickly.

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So I am certainly not going to complain (to whom, anyway?) about this happening right now.

In the meantime, I’m in awe of the plants that seem to thrive even without the best attention to their watering, like these amazing Joker sunflowers.

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And as for the chaos inside the house? Well fortunately, I have two doors on my little office here and both are shut. Barney and Farmer are hiding out in here with me for now (the noise scares them a bit). The afternoon sea breeze has kicked up and is gently pulsing across the room thanks to opposing windows. And in another hour or so, the sun will be far enough down behind the trees for us to go out and finish those farm chores. Maybe we’ll even go berry-picking tonight. Farmer says yes, please.

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100 Veggie Photos in 100 Days—Done! Now 100 More, Fresh from the Farm

photo-104You might remember a few months back that I told you about a little challenge I set up for myself—to take a photo of a different veggie (or fruit or herb) on Green Island Farm every day for 100 days straight and to post it on Instagram. That was May 20—Day 1.

Well, Thursday, August 28 was Day 100, and I made it! I managed to post at least a different variety every day, and it was a kick doing it. For Thursday’s post (the “finale”), I did something a little different and arranged a bunch of things for the photo (above). It was kind of hokey—I spelled out “100” (sort of) with an eggplant and two sunflowers, and then filled in with assorted other veggies, herbs, and fruits. As usual, it was the end of the day and I was rushed, so I was pretty much winging it. Halfway through, it occurred to me that I should’ve tried to get 100 things in the picture! I went out and picked a few more random edibles—a fennel flower, an asparagus frond, a pea shoot—but it was too late to redo at that point. After I took the photo, I counted, and I had managed to get 67 different items in–not bad. The best thing about the photo was the cheery color.

I thought it would be fun to show you, in retrospect, the photos in the #100Veggies100Days that were the most popular on Instagram and Facebook. (Keep in mind that “popular” means among my dear friends and very small group of social media peeps!). Not surprisingly, many of the favorite photos were tomatoes, but I think my own personal favorite is the little pumpkin, because of the light and the wispy vine. (See photos below.)

And I also wanted to let you know that it is not too late to follow along. Egged on by a few friends, I decided to keep going for another 100 days, only with a slight shift from strictly veggies and garden edibles to a broader look at the farm–#100DaysFreshFromTheFarm. (Yes, I conveniently co-opted my cookbook title for the hashtag! And by the way, I’m also now writing a regular “Fresh from the Farm” column for Martha’s Vineyard Magazine. You can read the latest one on beefsteak tomatoes here.)  So sign up for Instagram or “like” my FaceBook business page, Susie Middleton Cooks, if you’d like to travel through fall on a small farm.

And here’s that look back:

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San Marzano tomatoes, most “liked” photo of all!.

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Purple baby bok choy.

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Chive Blossom (this was Day 1!).

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Sunrise Bee, one of the Artisan series tomatoes.

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Red Gold potatoes.

photo-105Jimmy Nardello heirloom sweet pepper.

photo-102 Little volunteer pumpkin.

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Black raspberries at the bottom of a cardboard pint box.

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Orient Charm eggplant in good company.

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See you on Instagram!

P.S. The latest photos show up every day on the home page of sixburnersue.com, too.

 

Making Memories at the Fair

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Every August you nice people put up with me writing about the Fair—my excitement, and my ensuing exhaustion. This year, well, you’re in luck. It was such a busy week with so many late nights and really early mornings getting everything harvested and the farm stand set up, that I missed posting entirely last week and now can hardly put a sentence together.

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I will say just this one thing, and then leave it to all the pictures of the ridiculous food we ate, the ribbons we won, and the animals we admired. That thing is this: The theme of the Fair this year was Making Memories at the Fair, and I realized today that this is exactly what Roy, Libby, (Farmer) and I have been doing since we moved into the farm house in 2010 and started crossing the street every day, several times a day, for four days in a row, the third week in August.

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The Fair has become our only break from the farm in the high season—a mini vacation just across the street, and one in which we relish doing nearly the same exact thing (with slight variations) every year. I have the photos to prove it, of course, and I hope they will be fun for Libby to look at some day. For me, looking at the last few years of them now, the most startling thing is watching this little girl grow up so fast.

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So I’ll start with our healthy food choices:

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Famous Fair fries. Famous Fair Veggie Tempura.

Next, the animals.

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Libby still wants to be a Vet.

Okay, there were rides and games and stuffed animals, too.

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And not necessarily best of all, but certainly wonderful: Eleven ribbons for us this year! (That’s a record, I think.) Six blue, four red, and one white. First place for yellow onions, plum tomatoes, carrots, blackberries, large brown eggs and pullet eggs. Second place for red cherry tomatoes, zinnias, cosmos, and Junior brown eggs. Third place for yellow cherry tomatoes.

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Roy hung up the ribbons back at the farm stand. They’ll stay there for a while, then head off to the place where the rest of the memories live. But this year, Libby took home a Fair poster to hang in her newly redecorated room. Next Tuesday she starts an exciting adventure at a brand new school. Things change and grow, I know. But memories (maybe lightly polished or gently rearranged) remain.

 

Little Blue Boxes

DSC_7303There might have been a time when I was more interested in something that came in a different kind of little blue box. But these days, I am obsessed with berry boxes. You know, those little blue cardboard farmstand classics. They come in half-pint, pint, and quart sizes. (We order them online by the case, but our customers are also really great about bringing them back to us.)

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Pretty much everything about the little boxes appeals to me: The bracing aqua blue color (until they fade to a calm, pleasing celadon); the square shape, the smart design. And their functionality, of course. They contain things after all. And I’m all about containment. And arranging stuff. (I know this says something about my personality.)

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But maybe even better than the box itself is the promise of what it will offer. It’s always going to be something freshly picked, freshly plucked, freshly dug. Guaranteed I am going to love what’s in it.

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And as much as I love spring on the farm, the little blue boxes don’t come out until summer, when the absolute best stuff is being harvested. So when we first retrieve the boxes from storage, I get all giddy with anticipation. Here we go!

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Of course then I can’t stop photographing the little blue boxes—with just about everything in them. We keep a stack in the processing shed, so we use them to carry orphan veggies into the house, or to pick a quick few berries for breakfast. Or simply to hold rubberbands for flower bunches!

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When we pack them away for the winter, it’s a sad day. Fortunately, that’s a long way off.

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Strange but True — Chickens Chasing Fireflies and Pumpkins in the Piggery

DSC_6695Funny, strange, unexpected things seem to be happening a lot on the farm these days. Never a dull moment, as my father likes to say.

We found a birds’ nest in a tomato plant yesterday. (Four beautiful eggs; Mommy is a fox sparrow.) Farmer found (another) nest of baby bunnies (six of them) in between two rows of onions last week. Then yesterday, he unearthed a pack of snails under a cosmo plant. That’s in addition to the robin’s nest he found a month ago with newly hatched baby birds in it.

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There is a frog living in the pea patch.

At night, two owls talk to each other at opposite ends of the farm. The sound is loud and disconcerting and space-alienish, especially with a full moon on a misty night (like the one we had tonight, above).

There is a group of hens who won’t go into their coops at night, because—get this—they’re having too much fun chasing fire flies. Roy did an imitation of them the other night after trying to corral them, and I was in stitches. Apparently the hens get really confused and practically fall over each other dancing around after the flickering lights.

The ducks—and the Aracaunas—are taking turns sitting on a nest of duck eggs. (We have one male duck, so ducklings are, theoretically, a possibility. A couple of the Aracaunas like to brood on their blue eggs constantly, but little do they know, with no rooster, there will never be any baby chicks.)

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All over the farm, plants are growing where they weren’t planted. We have two  really healthy pumpkin vines in the old piggery. Poppies and tomatoes in practically every garden bed. (We moved a volunteer tomato into Libby’s garden, and it has the first ripening Sweet 100). An entire row of sunflowers and calendula we didn’t plant. There is dill in the chard bed. And cilantro absolutely everywhere.

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There are even blueberry bushes in a chicken pen. That’s right, our new group of 125 pullets (18-week-old chickens) are the lucky owners of a huge wooded parcel of land (fenced off by Roy) that includes wild blueberries and black raspberries that we can’t even get at through the thick growth (and ticks).

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And weeds? We have more weeds this year then we’ve had total in all previous years. I am completely confounded by this.

And that’s just the critters and the plants. People at the farm do funny things, too. A nice couple stopped by the other day just to give Farmer a present. They were leaving the Island after three weeks and apparently (unbeknownst to me) had bonded with Farmer. Farmer, in fact, is a Rock Star. He has all kinds of fans who ask for him to come outside if he’s not around. Who knew?

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Because of the crap-shoot nature of farming, the surprises are often not pleasant. But it seems, often as not, the unexpected is lovely, even joyous. Bionic summer squash! A towering volunteer sunflower! Peas, peas and more peas. A gift of freshly baked bread from a farm stand customer…chocolates from another…dog bones for Farmer.

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A customer told me the other morning, “It makes me so happy to come here.” That’s the kind of unexpected surprise that makes my day.

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Hope for the Flowers, Witchcraft for the Weeds

DSC_5972 croppedThursday night I drove up to York, Maine. Taught two cooking classes Friday and Saturday mornings at Stonewall Kitchen, spent some precious hours Friday afternoon and evening with my friend Eliza and her family, and drove back to Woods Hole to catch a 6 pm ferry home on Saturday night.

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I was hardly gone for 48 hours, but stuff grew. A lot. I’m sorry to say that the weeds grew the most. (Those are supposed to be carrots on either side of the nasturtiums, above; but looks like mostly pursuane and grass to me!) I really cannot fathom how these weeds do it. Some sort of black magic, I guess. I wish I could cast a spell on them (crabgrass be gone! poof!) or conjure up some other weedy witchcraft to get rid of them. But this is just the kind of bizarre thought you have when you are hacking away at a tangle of roots at twilight when the fireflies are dancing against the darkening trees, the neighbor’s sheep (newly moved to a field next to us) are baa-baa-ing, and the potent scent of honeysuckle and wild roses make the evening seem a bit surreal.

But back to reality. There are weeds, yes, but flowers, too. Lots of them. That gorgeous sunflower (Ring of Fire, I think) is a volunteer from last year, so it came up (with a couple dozen more volunteer sunflowers) early in the season, and took “first to open” honors while I was gone. It is really stunning, since the petals haven’t suffered any bug damage.  (You could call that a miracle.)

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While I was gone, the Fairy roses bloomed, too, the zinnias started lining up in their merry parade, and the pea blossoms topped the trellises.

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The cheery yellow calendula blossoms went off like firecrackers everywhere.

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The cilantro bolted and arranged its dainty white flowers in clusters among the peas.

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The lavender let loose…

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And the surest sign of summer–the nasturtiums all over the garden started to flower.

DSC_6026Best of all, there is more on the way. Next up: coneflowers and daisies.

DSC_6036daisy 1In the meantime, I’m helping myself to a little magic potion–a glass bottle of freshly picked flowers. Maybe flowers are an antidote to weeds!

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First Light, Sort Of: A June Morning on Green Island Farm

DSC_5676I am forever wishing I could get up earlier. And earlier. And go to bed earlier. And earlier. But it never quite works. We get most of our best garden work done in the cooler evenings, so everything gets pushed back at night. Then the 5:20 alarm really doesn’t work for me. So I am not Susie Sunrise Greeter. But on the occasional morning when I can get outside with the camera before Farmer has realized it and wants to come along, just a little bit after first light and not before the dew is gone, I am happy. I love the light, the quiet, the coolness, the promise. Wouldn’t it be great to hold on to that morning karma all day long? But then, of course, you wouldn’t have evening…and sunset–my second favorite time of the day.

Here’s a look at what I saw one June morning on the farm.

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Poppy volunteering in the market garden

DSC_5735 New field echoing old.

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Next week: Strawberries and Sunset!

 

Market Garden or Farm Field, It’s Still an Outdoor Room

DSC_5222DSC_5267One of the things I love about formal gardens is the outdoor “rooms” they create from their inherent structure. I can remember as a child, tagging along behind by father, an enthusiastic horticulturist and talented amateur landscape designer, on garden tours, along brick paths, through boxwood mazes, under rose arbors, across pond bridges. In my memories, it was always a warm, muggy June day in Washington, D.C., where in my long-ago childhood, there were many elegant homes with beautiful gardens. The stone paths were hot under my flimsy sandals, and once a bee got underneath my little dress and stung my tummy. But it was an adventure and a privilege to be allowed to walk those secret gardens.

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The gardens of my current life might seem like the antithesis to those beautifully coiffed architectural gems. But they are still outdoor rooms, with their own personalities, their own feng shui, and always, their unique interplay of man-made structures and natural plantings.

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DSC_5149I’ve been thinking about this a lot as our new back field has begun to take shape. The quarter-acre (above, and photo second from top) is much more like a traditional farm field than our original market garden (top photo). It has long parallel rows, each being planted with one crop as we move down the line. But once Roy got the fencing finshed, the field enclosed, and the gate up (a tri-fold of old chicken pen panels big enough to get the tractor through), it became an enclosed space. There’s a grassy strip left open, where we think we might put a table and chairs. The well pump will get a little structure over it. And we’ll be planting at least one row of flowers down here, too, in addition to tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, beans, potatoes, and greens.

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So as the summer progresses, the field will develop its own personality. But it already feels like a destination to me, since we’ve been working in it a lot, and I’m fond of wheeling my little cart down there with buckets to harvest the arugula and kale under the row cover. I like opening those big gates and feeling like I’m stepping onto another plane. (We’re often working in the field in the evening, too, so the light is nice.)

It’s a much different space than our original market garden, which has its own quirky personality, with lots of smaller beds, some raised, some trellised, some staked. The market garden has flowers and herbs scattered about, and a nice swatch of perennial flowers flanking the gate. The market garden sits up high, the field down low. And the field is next to the chicken pens.

But like the hoop house, the farm stand, the potting area, the old stone foundation where the piggery went, and the old chicken coop that’s now a tool shed, the field is yet another distinct space that we’ve created or re-created while making up this small farm.  A small farm, it turns out, is a fascinating collection of outdoor rooms. Not fancy, but certainly alluring and comforting, in the way only an outdoor space can be.

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100 Veggies in 100 Days: Follow Me on Instagram!

photo-54photo-53photo-51photo-50photo-57photo-49 You may have thought I was just having fun or being silly when I wrote that letter home from “Camp Green Island Farm” last week, and I was…sort of.

But what I didn’t really say is that what inspired me to write the blog is the seemingly endless work list we’ve got going this year. (Camp “activity” was a euphemism, yes.)

We’re truly working harder–much harder–than ever before, having taken this big leap towards growing so many more vegetables. And this is a particularly tricky time of year, because not only do we still have a lot of planting to do, but we are already harvesting/washing/packaging/selling greens and some veggies (in addition to eggs), as well as managing about 1000 seedlings waiting to go in the ground. Endless watering, moving around, repotting, etc…The bottom line is that you have to be constantly re-prioritizing about what to do next. We are up at sunrise and still working at sunset, and dinner is well, unmentionable.

I’m telling you all this as a big fat excuse for writing a short blog tonight. In fact, I am so tired that I can hardly string words together (I keep repeating myself and I just accidentally erased this entire paragraph)–but I do have photos! I discovered that Instagram is the easiest, quickest way for me to keep up my social media duties (after all, I’m still in cookbook author/vegetable expert mode–can’t very well just drop that for the summer)–while also posting something informative and pretty.

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This week I realized that I’ve been taking a photo of a different vegetable (or variety) in the garden nearly every day, so it occurred to me, why not challenge myself to do that all summer? 100 Veggies in 100 Days! Maybe not 100 different veggies, but I think I can do 100 different varieties of veggies from the garden (especially if I include herbs and fruit). I think it will be cool–and informative, too–since I’ll be able to share some things that folks might not see in grocery stores (or may see at farmers’ markets and wonder about) and/or show how some vegetables look when they’re growing. Of course, I can always mention a recipe or two to use them in!

So come along for the garden tour this summer and follow me on Instagram.  Photos and a few garbled words may be all I can muster for a while.

Photos, left to right (each row, top to bottom): Purple Pak Choi, Golden Frills mustard, rhubarb, pea shoots, spring onion, Garden sampler, Zucchini seedlings, Cherry Belle radishes, Shuko baby bok choy, Buttercrunch Bibb and Speckled Amish Lettuce, Ruby Streaks mustard, Collard and Arugula flowers