Tag Archives: Garden

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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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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. )

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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!

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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.

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!

 

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.