Tag Archives: Garden

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.

DSC_0063

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.

roosterk

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.

DSC_0045

 

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.)

DSC_0104

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.

DSC_0134

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

rooster 2

The Year in Photos: Green Island Farm, 2014

January

Barney 4

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

DSC_2818

DSC_2929DSC_2957

DSC_2320

February

farm dog

DSC_1059

DSC_2359

Paulie’s last stand.

March

DSC_3008

photo-290

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

DSC_6263

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.

DSC_3977 DSC_3972 DSC_4126

May

DSC_5222

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

June

DSC_5912 DSC_5637 land bank path DSC_5576

photo-298 DSC_0769

photo-75

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

July

photo-296photo-301 photo-300 blues under tulle DSC_7339

photo-98DSC_6547

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

August

DSC_6069 DSC_7006 DSC_6634 32 ribbons 1

DSC_0014

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

September

photo-303 photo-302 photo-114 photo-304

photo-299

Serious harvest time.

October

DSC_8309

DSC_2096

DSC_6744 DSC_6849 DSC_7593 DSC_2497 DSC_3033 DSC_3313

October is the best.

November

photo-189

DSC_2469 photo-194

DSC_5686

December

photo-306

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.

DSC_3019

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.

DSC_2614

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.

DSC_2620

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

The light and the shadows.

DSC_2055DSC_2096

The color orange, of course.

DSC_2235 DSC_3033

Having the beach nearly all to ourselves.

DSC_2550DSC_2562

Well, almost all to ourselves…

DSC_2588

 

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

DSC_2270

Like these cosmos and beans

DSC_2820And the vegetables themselves are hurtling towards the last harvest hurrah, going big before going away.
DSC_2310

Greens love the cool nights.

DSC_2411

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.

DSC_2799DSC_2024

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

DSC_2137

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

DSC_2551

 

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.

DSC_0909

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.

DSC_0769

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.)

DSC_0911

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.

DSC_0403

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

DSC_0918

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.

DSC_0906

DSC_0925

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

DSC_0903

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

DSC_0901

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.

DSC_0919

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.

DSC_0917

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.

DSC_0375

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.

DSC_0450

 

 

 

 

August on the Vineyard—and Five Favorite Tomato Varieties


DSC_7835

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.

DSC_8118

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.

DSC_8571

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.)

DSC_7374

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.)

DSC_7161

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.

DSC_8439

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!

DSC_8458

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!

DSC_7217

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

DSC_0169

Tomatoland

DSC_6774Some weeks are crazier than others around here, and I will just say that this week, I was pretty darn happy to see Friday arrive.

It’s also easy, this time of year, to look around a farm and get discouraged. Weeds are ravenous, pests are ravenous, farm stand customers are ravenous. (And our egg supply isn’t keeping up with demand.). The pretty green frilly stuff of spring has fled, replaced by dying pea vines (piled on the picnic table, below) and bolted lettuce and plants ravaged by potato beetles.

DSC_6713 But wait. That’s only one way to look at it.

DSC_6718

Despite what I consider to be a lot of messy, less-than-ideal aspects to the current state of things (like this entire row of weed-smothered arugula, above), there is, by far, much more to celebrate.

DSC_6733

For instance, the sunflowers are just killing me—they are so gorgeous, it hurts. And cheery? Nothing cheerier. And don’t even talk to me about the zinnias! (Okay, I realize that I’ve talked about the sunflowers and the zinnias for like the last three blogs in a row. I’m besotted.)

DSC_6730

And I think it is safe to say now, that barring a true tragedy (not just one that I imagine or one that calls itself a hurricane), we will have a bountiful tomato harvest this year, and far more tomatoes than any other year.

DSC_6777DSC_6788 Just look at all the fruits on these plants.  And there are 230 plants!

DSC_6793DSC_6798 This tomato thing is not to be under-rated. Everybody waits all year for these quintessential summer goodies, but not everyone is arranging their yearly budget around the tomato harvest. We have a lot to be expectant about.

DSC_6849

We’ll be harvesting tomatoes every evening now. They’re just trickling into ripeness—Roy picked this quart of Sungolds and Sweet 100s last night—but soon we will be looking for surfaces all over the place to put them on.

There’s plenty of other good stuff, of course. (I can’t believe we’re actually getting to the ripe black raspberries before the birds do! With any luck, Libby and I will make that berry ice cream this weekend. )

DSC_6828

Now that my pep talk is over, I can go back out and keep weeding. Underneath all those weeds are still some pretty nice vegetables!

DSC_6720

 

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.

DSC_6655

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.)

DSC_6644

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.

DSC_6678

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).

DSC_6069

DSC_6085

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?

DSC_6539

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.

DSC_6547

DSC_6686

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.

DSC_6641

 

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.

DSC_5993

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.)

DSC_6024

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.

DSC_6014

DSC_5984

The cheery yellow calendula blossoms went off like firecrackers everywhere.

DSC_5967cropped DSC_6009

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

DSC_6018

The lavender let loose…

DSC_6027

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!

DSC_6054

 

 

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.

DSC_5702

Poppy volunteering in the market garden

DSC_5735 New field echoing old.

DSC_5775Baptisia blossom poking through the deer fence

DSC_5686Potting bench and cart shadowing  the coop-shed

DSC_5771Flag iris flanking the garden gate

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

DSC_5538Cilantro soaking in cold water

DSC_5747Purples and greens blowing out

DSC_5751Light sneaking DSC_5717Peas climbing

DSC_5694Two hundred-plus tomatoes marching to the East

Next week: Strawberries and Sunset!