Tag Archives: Farm life

Farm Dogs, Fresh Flowers & Ferdinand The Bull

DSC_0331 51gQ1zSyL-L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Picking flowers last night, I looked over at Farmer lounging in the grass and was reminded of my favorite children’s book, The Story of Ferdinand (The Bull). Just like Ferdinand, Farmer likes nothing better than to lie around outside peacefully, watching the world go by and literally, smelling the roses. Poor Ferdinand got hauled off to the bullfights when he accidentally sat on a bee and jumped so high that folks thought he was a lively sort. But it all ended well when Ferdinand refused to fight and simply sat and sniffed the flowers in the hats of the ladies in the arena. It’s a story of contentment and peacefulness, two things that are a bit hard to come by on a busy farm during the high season.

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But now the flowers are coming in. The zinnias and cosmos and sunflowers are blooming, the dill is 6 feet high, the calendulas are everywhere.

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Which means that now, after an exhausting day on the farm, I can look forward to my favorite zen farm chore–collecting flowers in the cool of the evening with my very Ferdinand-esque dog at my side (or rolling in the grass nearby). A most excellent antidote to the day’s stresses!

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Flowers and dogs are really two of life’s greatest joys, so listen, get yourself one if you don’t have the other.

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An Evening Stroll Around the Farm

DSC_0173On my way out to the compost pile tonight with my kitchen scraps, I stopped to say hello to the pullets, who are grazing out on one of the nicest spots on the farm. They are just starting to lay in earnest; once a few of them really get going, it’s like the rest get the hint. We collected 24 eggs two days ago, 35 yesterday, 48 today. It will be 150 or so before we know it. That’s good–we’ll certainly need them this summer, if Memorial Day is any indication–over the weekend, we sold more than 100 dozen eggs (from the older hens, of course, not the pullets!), all at the farm stand!

DSC_0222That’s the way it goes around here…I can hardly believe how fast things are moving now. The potatoes are already up. Not just up, but tall enough that Roy did the first “hilling” on them (raking soil up and around the base of the plant).

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I spotted the first pea blossoms yesterday on the sugar snap peas (a particularly early variety) and sure enough, there were dozens this evening.

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It’s lovely to walk around in the evening light and see all our hard work taking shape. We are both exhausted and yes, occasionally cranky, so we have to stop and look around and see how beautiful everything is and also to realize that we’re pretty much on schedule–as much as you can be in a year when everything is late because of the winter. Now if we can just get those tomatoes in the ground …. and more carrots sown, and the brussels sprouts transplanted, and the rest of the squash seedlings started, and…well, you get the idea!

How Can You Forget About Homegrown Asparagus?

photo-411I forgot about the asparagus. I mean, I forgot to go check and see if there was some to harvest this week. How could that happen? I mean it’s only the coolest and most delicious thing growing right now. Fortunately, when I went down there this afternoon, only a few spears had gotten away from me–shot up into the sky, tips set to burst open like little rockets.

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It happened because we are busy. This is a snapshot of the market garden which I took this morning. This year, the market garden is going to be filled almost entirely with greens and other things that require cover at this point, so it is not a very bucolic look. Waves and waves of Agribon (fabric row cover). Underneath lie baby bok choy, kale, chard, germinating carrots, japanese turnips, radishes and lettuce–all things we  have been planting like crazy. Fitting all that row cover over the hoops and stapling or weighing it down is a particular nuisance (it has to be uncovered for watering), but yes, we did sign up for this!

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We’re still moving some seedlings (like the basil above) in and out of the house every morning, which is a bother, but until we get warmer nights, even the hoop house won’t quite do for these things.

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Fortunately, I think our timing in the hoop house will be good–not long after these baby bok choy are ready to harvest, it will be time to plant the basil where they came out.

salad bowlYou’ll be happy to know that I haven’t forgotten to harvest the salad greens in the hoop house (unlike the asparagus). That would really be impossible since we are starting to sell them at the farm stand. Naturally, some of these make it into the house, so we are enjoying some mighty fine salads around here. Might be time for a little asparagus in that salad.

Or we might make asparagus fried rice! Yet another thing I forgot about–this recipe I developed for the latest issue of Martha’s Vineyard magazine!

 

One Little Farm, Thousands of Things To Do

little gem 2For once, I am not exaggerating. There are literally thousands of reasons why I ran out of time to write a blog post last week–and for why my posts are going to be a bit less frequent and hopefully a lot shorter this farm season. Here are some of my excuses:

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1. We’ve planted more than 3000 seedlings in the hoop house (in flats mostly, but also in the raised beds.)

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2. The onion sets arrived — 1800 little onion plants that all have to go in the ground. Soon.

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3. I have 1400 peas and sugar snap peas sprouting, ready to be planted tomorrow and the next day. Roy used our new tractor attachment to till up a big new pea bed in the lower field, and then he built a three-row trellis from bamboo and monofilament. All afternoon today I stared up at the blue-blue sky (yay-yay) as I tied deer fencing on to the trellis.

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4.  We have 200 new pullets (16-week-old hens) arriving tomorrow. Roy has moved his new coop and one of the old coops out to a new area of the back-4. Each has fresh shavings, food, and water. Ready.

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Oh, and #4B: Currently, about 350 eggs to wash and package every day.

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5. I have what seems like hundreds of recipes to develop for various projects and deadlines. One is a story I’m doing on things to make with a spiralizer.  I’ve been given a Paderno model to work with, and so far, though I’m not a gadget person, I’m getting a kick out of it. And when you crank those veggies through the blades, you can wind up with one long ribbon that is practically the length of your kitchen (or my kitchen anyway!). Veggies by the thousands, who knew?

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I will spare you the rest of my excuses–until next week. At least there were a thousand rays of sunshine to soak up today. Spring, at last.

Follow me on Instagram for quick bites throughout the week.

 

Here We Go Again–Green Island Farm Turns Five

DSC_0014All of a sudden, just like that, there’s work to do. Lots of it. Winter has hung around so diligently (two more inches of snow last night), that spring now comes with a decided urgency.

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Hard to believe we are starting our fifth season on the farm. It feels almost comfortable now—this routine, this life. But still, I find the promise of the very long hours and long days ahead a little daunting.

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It isn’t pretty out there, but there’s been just enough melting, just enough warming, to let us get into the hoop house and the storage sheds and start cleaning and repairing—and seeding.

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Roy patched up the hoop house on Sunday, repairing tears and replacing and removing lumber here and there.

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Amazing that the hoop house came through the winter without major damage.

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I cleaned and organized all the clutter, dumping over buckets of odd tools to sift through the detritus of fabric staples and worn gloves, balls of string and clothespins, and yes, plastic snakes.

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I cleaned out one of the storage sheds, too, effectively meaning I just moved things from one place to the other…

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…Things lIke fluffy clouds of fabric row cover, which I finally shoved under the potting bench in the hoop house, where they can live scrunched up until needed.

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The Aracaunas stood outside the shed while I was working, shaking their heads.

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Only a few heads of lettuce survived the winter in the hoop house.

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So we went ahead and started clearing out the beds, bringing in some compost, and getting them ready for kale and arugula seeding.

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This is the easy stuff, this little hoop house, that little storage shed. But you have to start somewhere.

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A Winter Farmers’ Market Book Signing, plus Family Time

photo-398Saturday morning early-early, we (Roy, Farmer, and I) saddled up the little red Honda and boarded the ferry (aka the icebreaker) and whooshed our way over to Woods Hole. We picked up Libby in Falmouth and drove up to Wayland, Massachusetts, just west of Boston, where I was scheduled to do a book signing event at a winter farmers’ market held inside Russell’s Garden Center.

I had tried to get to the Wayland Winter Farmers Market in January, but that time we had boarded the boat, only to get backed off due to high winds. No way was I going to miss it this time.

Now, I only wish I could go back to the market next Saturday (which will be the last market for the season) as it was truly wonderful. I was so busy at the signing table (a very good thing, of course) that I didn’t get to poke around as much as Roy and Libby did.

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Ann StarbardHeld inside a big greenhouse (my table backed up to an orchid display), the market was packed with farmers and vendors from all around New England. In fact, this Saturday was New England Cheese Day at the market, and next to me was Ann Starbard from Crystal Brook Farm (right) with her award-winning fresh goat cheeses. I could have spent a good bit of time sampling!

I brought along my own samples—three loaves of Spiced Butternut and Cranberry Quick Bread (top photo), a recipe from Fresh From the Farm. We cut the loaves into small pieces, but nevertheless they disappeared! Along with almost all of the books we brought with us.

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The best part was meeting quite a few readers of my cookbooks—and friends of friends—who made a dedicated effort to come to the market.  (Sisters Gail Lilligreen, right, and Linda Ohsberg, left, in the photo above, drove up from Rhode Island.) Such nice people.

The nicest of all was market manager Peg Mallett, who is not only super-organized and friendly, but saved me with three bottles of water and a cool spot to sit for a minute when I unexpectedly felt very light-headed and momentarily thought I had come all that way only to fall ill…’Jeesh, Susie,’ was all I could think.

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While I regained my equilibrium, Roy and Libby manned the table, holding would-be book buyers hostage with farm stories until I returned. After that, Roy and Libby had a well-earned (and delicious) lunch of thin-crusted pizza from the Vesta mobile wood-fired oven at the entrance to the greenhouse. And then they gave Farmer a tour of the (outdoor) grounds.

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We were all so tired at the end that we drove straight back to Woods Hole (one quick stop at Lowe’s) and got on an early ferry. There’s just only so much you can do in one off-Island excursion.

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DSC_0001Now, as if Libby doesn’t get inundated enough with everything food-and-cooking (like trips to farmers markets on her school vacation!), we decided to do some cooking lessons together this week. First assignment: Making and baking Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies, solo. (Well, solo, with a few tips from teacher.)

Happy to say she got an A+ on this assignment. (Yes, that is Barney on the kitchen counter in the background of the photo at right.)

The cookies were a surprise for Dad, who is truly swamped with work, both on-farm and off. On Sunday he was starting to build a chicken coop in the yard on a trailer—until we got the call that our 200 new birds won’t be coming this week, after all, but three weeks from now.

What a relief.

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The snow is beginning to melt, and it is predictably swampy out there now. But at least we can think about getting the spring work rolling. Oh goody.

 

Photo credits: Cheeses, courtesy ask.dr.cheese.com; photos of all people at market, Peg Mallett; photo of wood-fired oven, courtesy Vesta Mobile Wood-Fired Pizza; all others, Susie

More White on the Way? Think Pink!

DSC_2054Karma paid me a visit this week with a head cold. We very rarely get sick around here, and I am fond of bragging about this, citing all the studies that show children who grow up on farms are healthier…because they are exposed to more germs! But apparently I have made this point one too many times, because this week I got sick.

Also (you’d think I’d learn), I’ve been going around saying that we’re lucky we haven’t had quite as much snow as our friends a little to the north of us. So of course, the next blizzard, sporting hurricane-strength winds and a foot of snow, is heading right for us this weekend.

Lastly, it has been kind of a sad week, national-news-wise.

And now it is Friday the 13th. Therefore, I’m not taking any chances and am going to stick with something cheery for the blog this week.

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My favorite color is pink. I like to wear pink, eat pink, grow pink. Someday I would like to walk in the (pink) Avon Walk to End Breast Cancer, in Boston, maybe with my friend Eliza (she doesn’t know this yet).

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It just so happens that I got some pink cookies in the mail from a friend today, a thank you for sending her a book. They cheered me up.

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So did the raving pink color of the beets I pickled, during the hours between the pounding sinus headaches. (Did I say I wasn’t going to complain?)

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All that pink got me thinking about looking through those rose-colored glasses and pulling up a few of my favorite pink things.

DSC_7829_01 Like pink ice cream.

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And pink zinnias.

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I like pink zinnias. A lot.

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The America rose Roy gave me for my 50th is a swell coral pink.

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Pink onions are swell, too.

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So are pink beans.

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This cherry tree across the street from us will be blooming in only a few months—YES!

mag 1 As will the magnolias.

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I’ve been dreaming of pink coneflower (aka Echinacea, which perhaps I should have been taking to avoid this cold.)

DSC_0078 I’ve been pickling radishes, too.

IMG_5992_1 But seriously, nothing’s pinker than chard stems.

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And of course, my favorite potatoes are pink. Sometimes, so is my favorite little girl, who, um, isn’t quite so little any more…

photo-382Okay, if that all doesn’t cheer you up, I will try harder next week.

In the meantime, stay warm–and wear a pink hat, like I do! (I’m so attached to my hat that I wear it inside, too. Forget I told you that.)

I hope you have a warm and cozy Valentine’s Day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So What’s It Really Like To Be a Chicken Farmer in a Blizzard (Or Any Day)?

DSC_0020The answer to that question—“So what’s it really like to be a chicken farmer in a blizzard?”—is, “Not as bad as being a chicken farmer the day after a blizzard.”

At first, I thought to answer the question this way: “Not as bad as being a cow farmer,” because cows have to be milked twice a day, no matter what, whereas chickens can be supplied with food and water, locked in their coops, and left for the duration of the storm (sort of). But then I realized that the cow barn is usually closer to the house than a whole bunch of chicken coops (seven coops, housing now only about 450 birds but will be 700 come March).

Unlike backyard chicken coops that tend to be located close to the house, our coops are way out in our back field because each one is integrated with a large fenced portion of the field so that all the chickens can have lots of room to roam around. (Photo below taken Monday, pre-storm.)

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Every morning, Roy goes down and unlocks the small door on the front of each coop, allowing the chickens to go out. He then refills all of their feeders with heavy bags of grain he carries to the feeders from a central feed storage shed he built near the coops. Then he refills the large vessels of water out in the yard. This time of year, though, the hoses and the water vessels are mostly frozen, so we use axes and hammers to break holes in the ice for the chickens to access the water. (In bad storms, we’ve experimented with bringing water buckets inside the coop, but the hens tend to either knock them over or mess them up pretty quickly. So you can see that getting water to the chickens—who, like all livestock, must have regular water—is probably winter’s biggest challenge.)

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During the morning and early afternoon, the hens (in normal weather) go in and out of the coop at their leisure to lay their eggs in nest boxes inside the coops. When evening comes, most of them also naturally gravitate back into the coop and get up on their roost bars. When Roy goes down to close and lock the doors (thus protecting the chickens from raccoons, feral cats, and other critters that might get in during the night), most of the chickens are inside, though during warmer weather and longer dusks it can take some encouraging. Inevitably, a few will jump into some of the trees in their yards and sleep there overnight.

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People ask if the hens are warm inside the coop this time of year. Generally, yes. Their body heat, combined with the layer of poop and shavings that we leave on the coop floors during the winter to help insulate the coop (we layer on fresh shavings), raises the temperature. They tend to cluster together on their roosting bars, too. (Outside during a normal cold winter day, you’ll see hens happily hanging out in the yard because they have the ability to puff up their feathers, which traps air pockets and keeps them warmer.) However, since coops have to be ventilated, there are plenty of places where wind and stray snow can blow through in a blizzard. Wind will make the coops colder.

But obviously, your first decision in a blizzard is to forgo letting the chickens out of their coops in the morning. Keeping them inside roosting together is the only way to go.

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The other daily task, of course, is egg collecting. Roy and I go down with buckets between 2:30 and 3 (when we’re sure they’re all finished laying) and collect the eggs out of the nest boxes. We enter the coops from a back door—a people door; the hens use the front door. You have to be sure to pull or hook the door shut once inside so that hens don’t push it open and go out the back. All of the big coops with outside latches have a wire you can pull from the inside to release the latch—without that, you’d risk the possibility of locking yourself inside the coop. (Which I did once in fact, do, in a smaller coop. But that’s another story.)

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The hens tend to gather around your feet, peck at your pants and shoes and make a lot of clucking noises. It’s certainly not the worst task (cleaning the coops ranks at the top of that list by a mile), as long as you’ve got on your “chicken clothes” –thick boots, crummy jeans, thin work gloves, and a jacket you don’t care about since it’s going to get poop on it. (All of these clothes live on the mudroom floor.) And once you get the hang of it, it doesn’t take too long. But the buckets are heavy.

Carrying the buckets through thigh-high snowdrifts is a good deal more cumbersome.

And that has been the worst part of the blizzard. That, and an interminable amount of shoveling (interminable, as in not done yet) to get a path to the coops and to remove drifts. I, in fact, haven’t been all the way down to the coops since Monday. I’ve been halfway down, but Roy (and our nextdoor neighbor who’s been watching) tells me some of the drifts down there are six feet high. So you can imagine what it has been like getting the feed around, breaking the ice, and collecting the eggs for the last two days.

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We lost one chicken (frozen, but it’s hard to tell if that was the cause of death—chickens sometimes just keel over), which all things considered, is not bad. And we lost probably about $100 in eggs because we were not able to collect eggs Tuesday afternoon during the worst of the storm, and by Wednesday morning, many were frozen and the hens in one coop had managed to knock over one row of nest boxes. We collected again yesterday afternoon.

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We’ve now washed and packaged all the eggs from the last two days, and shoveled a path to the farm stand, which was completely snow-covered. Eggs are in the farm stand fridge, and we’re open for business.

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It’s hard to say how much snow we got (maybe 18 to 20 inches?) because it blew constantly (occasional gusts over 60mph, but mostly in the 30 to 35 range I guess) and everything is essentially a drift. There are bare spots and sculpted towers. The inside of the farm stand—where we process everything in warmer weather—was covered in an inch of snow. And of course, the driveway was completely obliterated.

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We don’t have a regular plow person, but Roy thought to call Keene’s Excavation right down the road from us, and a truck came right over—Hallelujah! We had been shoveling our way down the (very long) driveway in the meantime, and neither one of us was looking forward to doing the whole thing.

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We’ll be shoveling more, and collecting eggs again later this afternoon. I guess the one thing all farmers buy into is the “daily” in daily chores.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if you’re a chicken farmer or a cow farmer or a sheep farmer—or even a strictly vegetable farmer—a blizzard is going to make your daily chores a lot more difficult, and/or it will likely cause some damage to your infrastructure. (Our hoop house is still standing, but we know of others who’ve had damage to barns and greenhouses. And only this morning I saw that the plastic cover over our arugula and spinach bed had lifted off, despite my doubled-up effort to weight it down.)

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It sure looked beautiful out there (still does), but we aren’t too thrilled that another storm is on its way—tomorrow!

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P.S. I did get down to the coops this afternoon to help Roy collect. Shoot-dang, it is DEEP out there! But I took the iPhone with me, and coming back, the light was beautiful on the snow, coming through the hoop house.

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Garden and Fence Hopping on a Clear Blue January Day

photo-367One of the mildly annoying things about writing for magazines and books is that I can’t really reveal what I’m working on while I’m working on it, as that would, you know, spoil things. And I’ve never really been the spoiling type. My sister was the one who would find all the hidden Christmas presents ahead of time.

But I wanted to talk a little about a piece I’m working on, because today it made me think that sometimes my “job” is hardly work at all. More like fun. Of course my “job” changes constantly, depending on what hat I’m wearing. But during the winter, if I’m lucky I get some writing assignments I can complete before the busy farm season returns. Better still is a writing assignment that requires me to go outside and poke around in our beautiful winter landscape—and to visit with some of my friends and neighbors.

So today I had Martha’s Vineyard Magazine to thank for a lovely morning spent in lovely company. The company was the talented Fae Kontje-Gibbs (below), and the mission was to visit a few Island gardens that Fae will be illustrating for the feature I’m writing on kitchen gardens.

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The idea behind the article is that everyone (who wants one) should have a vegetable garden, no matter how small. No big plot needed. In fact, small is good, tiny is wonderful, and medium is dandy if you can swing it.

greens on steroids To that end, my editor and art director decided to use real-life Island gardens as inspiration for three sample garden designs.

Today was Fae’s birthday, so maybe the karma was just good to begin with. And Fae is certainly one of the most positive-seeking persons I know. Also, it didn’t hurt that we began our morning with a visit to my neighbor and friend cook-gardener-quilter-hen whisperer Katherine Long, who is simply one of my favorite people on the Island.

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When we arrived, she was outside letting her hens graze a bit on fresh grass, and we were immediately drawn into a beautiful circle of chickens, and then into a conversation that spanned everything from the merits of roosters to the study of cell biology. Fae got out her notebook and did some rough sketches of Katherine’s colorful chickens and of her garden—a place where practicality and efficiency combine with charm and whimsy in the most delightful way.

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While we were there, Katherine took us into one of the chicken coops to see two baby chicks, recently hatched out by Silkie hens, who are wonderful mamas and don’t seem concerned that January may not be the best time to hatch chicks.

After leaving Katherine’s, we went on to a larger garden where we gently trespassed into a family’s personal sanctuary (with permission) and then drifted over to the neighbor’s fenceline (without permission) to take a peek at some large animals grazing on the other side. They turned out to be alpacas, and one large chocolate brown fellow (or gal?) came to greet us. While Fae gently spoke to him, I tried to photograph his amazing face. Then suddenly he decided to drop to the ground a do a roly-poly, like Farmer does several times a day. I gasped—I’d never seen an animal that large just decide to lie down, roll over, and scratch his back for fun. (Although I do remember being on a horse in a shallow river when the horse decided to roll over.)

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While Fae finished up some rough sketches of a bird bath, a watering can, a pathway and a hand trowel, I simply stared up at the tree limbs etching the blue sky. Stared and stared. As much as my mind likes to travel to unnecessary worry and forethought, I just couldn’t think of anything wrong with our morning, anything to make me fraught. I just thought about how blue the sky was.

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And that I really should spend more time toddling around. Serious work, you know.

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The Year in Photos: Green Island Farm, 2014

January

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2014’s best moment: Little Barney comes in from the cold

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February

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Paulie’s last stand.

March

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photo-12Egg production picks up big-time in spring.

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Turning over the new veg field in the “back four.”

April

10171130_10203818806489450_6846942003228336987_n DSC_4091Onion and potato planting in the damp new days of spring.

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May

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11 may photo-291 photo-293 photo-294And we’re off! Baby kale, Baby bok choy, radishes–and lots of seedlings.

June

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It’s all happening fast now–berries, basil, carrots, and…plenty of daylight

July

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Blueberries, black raspberries,  yellow pattypans, purple eggplants, sunny sung olds, cheery calendulas–June is color at last.

August

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Tomatoes, of course. And new chickens. And lots of ribbons at the Fair, oh yeah!

September

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Serious harvest time.

October

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October is the best.

November

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December

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photo-308 photo-305photo-307And to all a good night. Cheers to 2015!