Tag Archives: Farm life

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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DSC_5686Potting bench and cart shadowing  the coop-shed

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DSC_5742Newly potted tomato plants waiting for a move up to the farm stand

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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

 

 

A Letter Home from Camp Green Island Farm

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Dear Mom and Dad,

Well the first day at camp was nothing like I thought it was going to be. Are you sure this is the camp with the beautiful brochure we looked at? Did you really mean to send me here?

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First of all, we got up at like 6:30, way earlier than I’m used to. Then, instead of a nice breakfast of farm eggs and home-cured bacon, we trudged down to the green house to pick greens and radishes for the farm stand. That was okay except it was really cold at first and then it got really hot, so I had to, like, go back to the cabin to change my tee-shirt twice. Not sure you packed enough play clothes for me.

DSC_4896Then we had to water what seemed like two billion tomato seedlings. I thought maybe we’d at least get to run through a sprinkler or squirt each other, but they don’t let you do that here. Supposedly we are going to walk down to a creek later this week to collect watercress, but that’s hardly like going to the beach.

Later on we had to hike over to the smelly chicken coops and collect eggs. A hen tried to peck my earring off my earlobe when I grabbed her egg. It was pretty hot in there, too. And did I mention stinky? Plus, there are like hundreds of chickens so the bucket of eggs was really heavy. And then, you wouldn’t believe it, but we had to wash and package up all those eggs!

Then there was some excitement because the refrigerator at the farm stand broke. So the maintenance guy (he’s also the head counselor) had to stop what he was doing (fixing a barn roof I think) and come and haul another refrigerator out of the mess hall and saw off a piece of the farm stand counter to fit it in.

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Our job was to move like 50 dozen eggs and lots of other stuff from one refrigerator to the other. And then sweep up the mess at the farm stand after he got that done.

DSC_4976In the afternoon we planted lettuce seedlings. I don’t know why as there already seem to be a lot of lettuce seedlings around this place. Only we don’t get to eat any—it’s all for the farm stand customers. We had hamburgers and pretzels last night for dinner. Can you believe it? Some farm fare. Oh, they did let us go down to the asparagus patch and cut asparagus, but there was only enough for like, one per camper.

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The worst was the after-dinner activity. I thought we were going to build a camp fire, or have movie night or game night or something. Instead they stuck us out in the back field and had us pick rocks out of the dirt and rake them up to the tractor bucket.

photo-44There is one good thing about this camp—they let the camp dog and kitty sleep in your bunk with you. In fact, the farm dog pretty much comes along on all our activities with us.

So like, its’ only May, and I am supposed to be here all summer? When can you come pick me up? Next summer can I go to that camp where you go to the beach all day and lie in the sand?

Love,

Camper Sue

P.S. My counselor took these pictures. She is trying to make the place look nicer than it really is.

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My Potato Farmers, Then and Now

10171130_10203818806489450_6846942003228336987_nMy mother took a lot (I mean, a lot) of photos of us growing up. We complained. Kids often do.

I have turned into my mother, of course.

My favorite (human) subjects are Roy and Libby. So far, Libby has been an incredibly good sport about this. However, you may notice that there are not many pictures of Roy straight on. That’s because he makes a funny face every time I try to take his picture. So I usually have to catch him doing something (which is really the way I prefer to photograph people anyway).

But this weekend he reached out to put his arm around Libby, very proud of the help she’d just given him with planting potatoes. I took a few shots and posted this one (above) on Instagram and Facebook (as I do with some sort of photo almost every day…usually of my other favorite subjects—food, plants, or farm detritus). Normally I don’t then use those daily photos on the blog, but this one brought forth such a warm response from so many people (even some I ran into in the grocery store!) that I thought I’d share it here with folks who don’t see those sites.

And because, in my ongoing surprise at how time flies, I realize this is my second favorite Roy-and-Libby-with-potatoes photo. The first (the pink bucket photo below) was taken in our first market garden in 2010. (Funny how Roy’s face is missing from that photo!) As I mentioned last week, this is now our fifth year of doing this—unbelievable.

Libby Riley, potato harvest

IMG_7017I looked back at the spring potato planting photos from that year, and sure enough, Libby was helping Dad. Right from the start, potato planting was a father-daughter thing. (Though in the beginning, Libby certainly wasn’t wielding the knife as she did this time to cut the potato seed up.)

Maybe this is because Roy wants to pass along a little Irish heritage to Libby. Or maybe it’s because potatoes are Roy and Libby’s favorite vegetable. But more likely it is because the big potatoes are an easy thing for kids to plant.

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Whatever the reason, this year the potato thing is out of control. Due to an ordering snafu, we are going to wind up with double the amount of potato seed we were supposed to have (which was much more than last year in the first place!). This small field (below) that Roy and Libby planted over the weekend ate up just a fraction of that seed. And Roy has already planted 300 more feet of potatoes out in the new big field. Not sure where the rest is going to go, but if you’re a farm stand customer, stand by for Red Golds, Red Thumb Fingerlings, French Fingerlings, and German Butterballs. Lots of ‘em!

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Even though it was a grey and chilly weekend, we stubbornly followed up our farm work on Sunday with a trip to get ice cream and a walk on the beach. Libby is a good sport about both photos and farm work (she also helped me plant more seeds in the hoop house), but we always want to do something fun (off-farm fun) when she’s with us, too.

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When we got to the beach, she immediately took her shoes off and started running about, teasing the surf, scooping up rock finds, doing a full-body sand-plant, chasing Farmer. I took pictures, of course. Later at home, looking at one of these (right) and at some photos I took of her the very first day I met her in 2009 (left), I realized that though she may be turning into a lovely young lady, she’s still a beach girl, through and through. Lots of traditions are worth keeping—even that one where the mom takes too many photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Serious Spring Planting: It Isn’t Pretty; but It Is Pretty Exciting

DSC_4391While some folks celebrated the Easter weekend with egg hunts and sunrise services and delicious dinners, Roy and I planted. And planted. And planted.

Finally the spring window has opened up and the clock has begun to tick: Get the cool weather crops in now or you won’t have anything come Memorial Day…or your first potatoes won’t be ready for Fourth of July…or your greens will suffer in the June heat before you’ve gotten what you’ve wanted out of them.

This is the start of our fifth season growing and selling vegetables. It’s a big year for us, as we now have more than double the amount of vegetable growing area we’ve ever had in years past. Thanks to the “back four” (our version of the back forty) that  we leased to put the 500 chickens on, we’ve also carved out more space for veggies.

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We’ve spent the last year prepping a nice new 100’ x 100’ field in that back area (photo above and top), which will be the home to 100’ rows of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, beans, and potatoes—all of which are moving out of the market garden to leave me lots of room for lettuce, carrots, flowers, etc. The soil in that field, though rocky, is rich and fertile. Best of all, since Roy has been hot-composting large amounts of chicken manure since last summer (turning over with the tractor every so often), we now have a great supply of composted manure to juice things up.

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Also, having rotated some of the chickens into a new pen a few months ago, we will have another 80 x 80 foot bonus area (photo above) ready to use (the soil is nearly black) before too long (most likely for squash). With the hoop house, the market garden, and a few other miscellaneous spots, that gives us about a half-acre of veg cultivation (not including berry bushes here and there—and more coming.). Based on what we’ve been able to do in past years with a small amount of space, we’re hoping for a great year. Of course there will be drought and crop failure and probably a plague of locusts. And most definitely a hurricane or two. But why not think positive at this point? Spring is all about hope, after all.

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DSC_4300Roy started in the back by planting two 100-foot rows of potatoes (more on the way), and trying out our new Earthway Seeder to quickly lay down four 100’ rows of arugula, two of kale, and one of chard on one end of the new field. I had too many onions to plant them all in the market garden so some went down next to the arugula. I started planting out flats of lettuce and bok choy, and seeded baby turnips, mizuna, mustard, tat soi, and more radishes. (And admired the peas, which have all germinated and are a few inches high.)

Then the challenge was to get the fabric row cover up over all of the greens, which will grow a little faster and stay somewhat protected from pests this way. Roy got more PVC plumbing pipe and we fashioned more hoops, which we hold in place by popping them over small dowels. Then we fought over who got the new Agribon (brand name for row cover, also called Remay) and who had to use the old stuff with the holes in it. This year we are swearing to use only boards, bricks, and rocks to hold the stuff down, as the pins make wicked holes. But the fabric always tears anyway, no matter what you do. This is not a big problem for crops like lettuce that just enjoy the little microclimate under cover, but don’t need protection from the flying pests. But the bok choy and the kale will quickly begin to look like swiss cheese when the little pests get through those rips and tears in the fabric.

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The result is a fairly unattractive sea of white fabric that kind of wrecks the whole concept of spring beauty. But it is satisfying to look at, nonetheless, as it means we’ve got stuff in the ground.

DSC_4384We also resurrected the clothesline this weekend (we spent last summer without it), and Roy finished moving the ducks and the Aracaunas to their new pen in the pine grove (also out in the back four).

The ducks are loving more room to move around, but some of the Aracaunas fly out every day. (The same five birds, actually.)

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Next up is planting out the rest of the lettuce and kale, starting the basil in the hoop house, starting more seedlings for the farm stand, planting carrots, and planting several more rows of potatoes. The work feels good—I’m calling it pitchfork yoga and planting squats. Hurrah for spring!

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Lovely Afternoon Light for Pea Planting with the Farm Dog

DSC_3963And so it all begins. The outdoor work, I mean. There is daylight enough for me to sneak in some garden time before a late supper, after I release myself from the office and the computer and the deadlines imposed by more travel coming.

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Farmer and I spent a lovely hour or two in the leaf-strewn garden (the leaves were our winter mulch for the beds) planting peas and moving a few odd winter greens around.

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We dawdled in the hoop house, too, finally warm and dreamy after days of cloud cover and chilling winds. Farmer is an excellent garden companion.

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Naturally I brought my camera along, mostly because I find it so interesting to look back at the stark reality of early April when August comes around. And vice-versa—I’ve been deep into my photo archives this week putting together three different Power Point presentations. Looking at all those pints of cherry tomatoes and bunches of zinnias not only reminds me that we do actually manage to grow a lot of food, but that warm (truly warm) days will come again.

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On an early April day, objects that will later fade into the summer collage now pop out in relief.

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DSC_3939DSC_3990 Even not-so-pretty objects look better in early spring.

I could do without the constant fiddling with Remay (the fabric row cover that keeps pests and a little bit of chill off early greens) this time of year, but getting my boots tangled up in it and stabbing myself occasionally with the fabric staples (in the very top photo) is surely a whole lot better than being inside staring at frozen, snow-speckled ground. If early April is what I’ve got, I’ll take it!

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