Tag Archives: Garden

It’s Not Too Late to Plan a Veggie Garden

garden_b_0Seems like I keep forgetting to tell you Sixburnersue folks about a really cool article I had a chance to work on for Martha’s Vineyard magazine about starting a vegetable garden. The story, aptly titled “Holy Homegrown!” (this is exciting stuff after all!), begins like this:

“What if the secret to happiness lay right outside your kitchen door? In a pretty little garden, full of delicious things to eat?”

And honestly, having spent the last week digging in the dirt, I think that just might not be such a far-fetched thought. Growing some of your own food is satisfying on so many levels, from physically stretching your body and taking in the sunshine, to watching the tiny miracles of seeds sprouting, to (already) eating some of that arugula you might have thought to plant a few weeks ago (Yes I am; yes I did!).

DSC_0025So I just want to say this. Now is your time. If you’ve always wanted to start a little veggie garden, but are worried that you’ll get overwhelmed, click here and you’ll get all kinds of tips about how to make it as small as you want it and about how to keep it manageable. (Better yet, pick up the magazine on the newsstand if you’re an Islander.)

And if I can’t talk you into it, then just look at the beautiful and tantalizing illustrations of three real Island gardens that artist Fae Kontje Gibbs drew for the story. The designs are all based on classic square and rectangular patterns and almost all of them include several of the veggies that I compiled in a list of “top ten favorite veggies to grow” (Salad greens, kale, basil, cherry tomatoes, etc.).

But each garden also has its own distinct personality, with quirky garden objects and a lesser-known vegetable or two to keep things interesting (lovage or paw-pay anyone?). (That’s Fae’s drawing of my friend and neighbor Katherine Long’s garden, at top.)  I think, in fact, that Fae’s drawings are probably the most inspiring thing about the article, because they invite us to be creative, which is really the most fun part about having your own little garden. No two are alike and each truly is a canvas for you to paint on—though you’ll really have no idea what it is going to look like until it all grows in! A garden has a mind of its own. But you can count on delicious surprises.

And one last cool thing about this Home and Garden issue of Martha’s Vineyard magazine —the photo on the cover (see below) was taken by Susie Middleton! How fun is that? My first ever cover photo. You just never know where this vegetable thing will lead!

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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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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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!

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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August on the Vineyard—and Five Favorite Tomato Varieties


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Yesterday, I witnessed a traffic jam out front on State Road. A horse pulling a buggy had just trotted out onto the road from the Fair grounds. In front of him was a tractor fresh from haying the field next door. A moped was coming one way down State Road, a bicyclist going the other—and two or three cars trying to pass them all at once. (Note—no one was hurt here.) A few minutes later after all that was sorted out, the Presidential motorcade flew by.

That pretty much sums up what it is like out here in August.

DSC_8303The other reality is that there is a traffic jam at the farm stand every day. This is a very good thing for business, but a very bad thing for trying to find time to do anything (including sleeping, eating, showering—that sort of thing) else. What we do mostly is harvest (and put stuff in baskets). Pick-pick-pick-pick-pick. (The photo at right is an evening’s haul of tomatoes in the farm stand processing area.) But we are also, of course, trying to keep everything alive (watering, killing pests) and plant fall crops—turnips, arugula, etc.—at the same time.

So there is really no time to do things like write blogs. So I thought I’d share some current tomato favorites with you as a substitute!

DSC_8129 Heirloom German Green.  My friend Katie Cannon sent me this seed from Virginia. This is the second year we’ve grown it, and it is hands-down the best tasting tomato in our bunch. Tangy without being acidic. Smooth and luscious.

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Black Pear. This is the other seed Katie gave me. All the fruits have sun-scald due to a foliage issue we’re having. So only the bottom two-thirds of the fruits are ripe. Hence, I am not selling them, just keeping them all for us to eat (too bad). Rich, dark flesh with deep tomato flavor.

DSC_8160San Marzano.  The original Italian sauce tomato. These are starting to ripen seriously and I am so afraid they will all ripen up at once and not leave me time to make sauce with them. I’ve cooked with just a few of them and the flesh is amazing. When they get really red-ripe, the flavor is seriously fruity, too.

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Jet Star—We’ve never grown this old standby before, but I admired my neighbor’s so much that I decided to try it this year, still looking for the perfect farm stand beefsteak. While not as impressive in size as something like a Burpee Supersteak, Jet Star’s fruits are big, round, juicy–and abundant. Great yields–it’s a keeper.

Sweet 100 (or Sungold). (Okay, that makes six varieties. Both are pictured in the small photo above in white bus buckets.) Roy and I both go back and forth about which of these two cherries is our favorite. A Sungold when ripe is absolutely unbeatable in flavor. But the Sweet 100s yield and yield and yield—big droopy branches of dozens of red tomatoes. And when they’re perfectly shiny red, the flavor is more deeply tomatoey than a Sungold. Both are keepers for us—we’ve grown them every year and always will.

Happy August!

 

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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