Category Archives: Sustain

Walking the November Road with The Farm Dog, and Other Clever Ways to Procrastinate and Contemplate

photo-539Now that our second photo shoot for the new cookbook is behind us, I am back to work in the kitchen and at the computer developing the last batch of recipes for the book. This means, of course, that (as with any self-propelled creative endeavor) there is some clever procrastinating to accomplish every day. You simply must get up from your computer or get out of the kitchen a few times a day to reboot your creativity!

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I’ve been spending an hour or two every day cleaning up and mulching the market garden, hauling the tomato vines out of the hoop house, ripping the twisted dried green bean vines off of the trellising, and moving strawberry plants around (they’re everywhere).

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Incredibly, there are still things growing in the garden. Every year I am amazed at how temperate the Island is in late fall, with the warm ocean waters still surrounding us. But this year it has been especially warm.

DSC_0108Since I topped off the Brussels sprouts plants, the little buds have grown bigger, and I’ve popped enough off the stalks to sell a pint or two at the farm stand a few times a week.

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And I just pop the baby ones in my mouth, too; they are sweet, nutty and crunchy.

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I even managed to grow a few kalettes; I was very excited about trying this new vegetable (a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts) when I got the seed, though I did read that they would take four months to mature. Unfortunately, I was late getting my plants in the ground, so the vegetables really only started to take shape a few weeks ago. I don’t know how much they will grow once the daylight seriously wanes, though I imagine they are pretty frost-hardy.

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We’ve got a last patch of salad greens under cover, and there are a half dozen magnificent and terrifying Ruby Streaks mustard plants that I never cut back sprawling three-feet round in a spiky pinwheel of purple teeth.

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So once a week or so I can make a small batch of salad mix.

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The parsley patch is epic.

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And, I have a bunch of flowers in my little secret side flower garden that seem to have no idea that winter is approaching.

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The calendula and snapdragons couldn’t be happier. I have to remember that—it really is cheering to have fresh flowers in November.

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Cheering is good, as I find November a bit foreboding and contemplation-inducing. Unlike my favorite month, October, when the buzz of summer is gone but the sky still swims with sun, November, with its spackle-grey horizon, its sticky wet leaves, its frisky wind gusts, is decidedly Act I of winter. I know how the rest of the play goes, and last year sitting in the seats until the curtain went up was torturous.

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But I am trying not to project, as the best thing about November, as opposed to real winter, is the walking. I can still get outside, it’s relatively warm, and actually, all those sticky leaves on the ground are a gorgeous kaleidoscope of texture and patterns. My favorite procrastination activity is walking with Farmer along the Land Bank path behind the farm, down across Mill Creek and over to Old Courthouse Road.

Technically, the path is closed for hunting season, so there is a point when we get to a locked gate and we both stop and stare at each other. Should we turn around? Go around? Jump over? And if we do, should we take the right hand fork, or the left?

Every time we are there, I can’t help thinking of Robert Frost’s classic poem, The Road Not Taken (which can be interpreted several different ways). So I leave it with you today, in case you’re walking the November road, or just contemplating winter.

The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

 

 

 

An End to the (Thankfully) Not-Endless-Summer

DSC_0037Don’t get me wrong. I love the beach and lobster rolls and fireworks and the Fair. Especially the Fair. But there wasn’t exactly a lot of down time to enjoy these kinds of activities this summer. The farm was busy because we grew many, many, more vegetables. And many more people came to the farm stand (and bought those many more vegetables and every single egg). That is a good thing, of course.

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But the many (!) more hours spent planting, weeding, watering, staking up, pulling down, covering up, replanting, reseeding, weeding (yes, I repeat myself), mulching, harvesting vegetables, washing vegetables, packing vegetables, collecting eggs, washing eggs, packing eggs, stocking the farm stand, restocking the farm stand, closing up the farm stand every night, and doing it all over again, with dirty fingernails, dirty clothes, dirty hair, squash-juice stained tee-shirts, seriously ripped jeans, and pockets full of the weirdest stuff (rubber bands, shriveled green beans, plastic zip-ties, chalk, dog biscuits, pocket knives, seeds, bugs, nails, clothespins, three kinds of twine…and scissors, always scissors) – well, you can see how it felt a little bit like Groundhog Day, the movie. Doomed to repeat ourselves every day.

DSC_0005The good news is that the spell has been broken—Labor Day weekend has come and slipped away into the cool nights and shorter days of September. And hopefully, like Bill Murray in the movie, we’ve learned a few things about what works and doesn’t work when you’re in an endless loop.

DSC_0002One thing I know for sure—the best thing we did this summer was hire our friend Laura Watt to come work with us. (That’s her with her prize-winning turnips on the opening day of the Fair.) That girl is seriously energetic and noticed even the smallest of details, helping us to figure out all kinds of enigmas that pop up daily on a farm. She went from 0 to 60 in no time. And she did it laughing. (She is damn funny, and for that I am eternally grateful.) Plus, Farmer fell in love with her. He waited for her at the end of the driveway every morning and when she arrived, they would go for a walk together. Laura even filled his water bowl with her own Poland Spring water.

Roy, Laura, Farmer and I had a “company party” on Laura’s last day this weekend. Ice cold cokes, treats from the local bakery, dog biscuits  and party favors.

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(Okay, and we did pat ourselves on the back just a little for our 10 blue ribbons at the Fair this year.) We were very sad to say good-bye to Laura, but she promised Farmer she’d come visit.

DSC_0009Of course we still have fall to get through and we are still harvesting like crazy (literally hundreds of pounds of beefsteak tomatoes every few days). But there’s something in the air. Something good. Yeah, summer’s great, but fall is better.

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Of Eggs and Cherry Tomatoes

DSC_0003Summer creeps up and then whizzes by here on the merry Isle of crazed vacationers. And I mean crazed. More like frenzied, now that it is August. There are an extraordinary number of people here. Normally our population swells from 20,000 year-round to 100,000 in the high season (August), but I think each person has brought four more friends with them this year. And they are hungry. (Plus the President arrives in a couple days. Traffic? Oh, my.)

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Grocery store shelves are empty at noon time. Our own farm stand customers race each other to the refrigerator to grab the last dozen eggs (by 11 am they’re all gone) or the last six ears of corn (we have a lot of back-up there, thanks to Morning Glory Farm). Cherry tomatoes are disappearing like M&Ms at midnight.

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Keeping up with the vacationers is exhausting (add heat plus little sleep and you have cranky farmers), but of course we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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And there are those moments—the ones when you see how happy people are with their goodies. And I mean really happy. Beaming, grateful, excited. I totally did not expect that when I got into this.

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Or this: One of our farm stand customers, who’s been shopping here since the very beginning, is spending her last days (cancer) at home with her family up the road. She is a lovely lady, and she came by a month ago to tell me this news and to see if we had any of her favorite green beans, and eggs. Last week her daughter came by and said that what her mother is mostly feeling like eating right now is our eggs. Wow.

That’s all.

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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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June Surprise: Strawberries To Sell at the Farm Stand

photo-428 June flew by in a frenzy of planting, harvesting, weeding, and watering–Wednesday is July 1 already! We have coined a new word here for how tired we are: “Exhausterated.” Farmer epitomizes the exhausterated look when he passes out on the couch every night with his eyes rolling back in his head; it’s hard work being a farm dog on a busy farm, after all.

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The best thing about this June has been the explosion of strawberries. Remember last year I was all giddy because there were finally enough for me to snack on every day–but not enough to sell? Well, I don’t know if it was the cold winter or the compost I dumped on the patch last year or a little pruning and separating we did, but this year our one little fat row of strawberries yielded hundreds, probably thousands of strawberries. Enough for us to sell some at the farm stand most days, and still have leftover “house” strawberries.

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pink-bowl-300x298Libby and I made our first batch of ice cream for the summer. Both of us rank fresh strawberry ice cream right up at the top of favorite flavors. (In a few weeks, we’ll be able to make black raspberry, too.). We made shortcakes with a lot of whipped cream, and there are still enough strawberries left out there for me to make a batch of Gingery Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp with Brown Sugar-Pecan Topping, that killer recipe from my cookbook, Fresh From The Farm.

farm_fresh_cover_1Oh, and that reminds me, that recipe is just one of many  that my publisher, The Taunton Press, has put together into a special “bookazine” called Farm Fresh that is now on the newsstands (grocery stores, Barnes & Noble, Costco, etc.) or available by mail from The Taunton Store.

It’s an excerpt of my cookbook and there are, of course(!), a ton of great recipes. So be on the look out for it. (Gorgeous food photos, like the one of the crisp below, by Alexandra Grablewski.)

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Anyway, there’s no time to think about strawberries anymore. Tonight I picked 13 pounds of shell peas (we planted a lot more this year) and Roy has been harvesting lots of summer squash from his early planting on black plastic. The plants started yielding only 30 days after they went into the ground. We’re growing “Zephyr” crookneck summer squash with beautiful green tips; bright yellow “Sunburst” Pattypans; “Jackpot” zucchinis; and “Golden Arrow” yellow zucchini. Here’s an iPhone pic–in fact all my photos today are from the phone. Once again, I have a broken camera on my hands–oh well! Here’s to summer eating, and a happy July 4th week.

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Beautiful Work: Surviving June on a Small Farm

DSC_0241Blink and you will miss the best parts, like these baby apples. There’s just so much to do…

June on a small working farm is a blur of soil (most of it in the form of dirt under your fingernails and dark stains on the knees of your jeans), seedlings (hundreds of root balls and spindly stems), hoses and more hoses, old hand tools that give you splinters, plastic covers and metal staples and wheelbarrows of mulch. And weeds. And ticks. Did I mention we have baby apples?

DSC_0236We are drowning in lettuce. Cutting, washing, packing, salad mix every day.

DSC_0256DSC_0258It’s pretty much lettuce as far as the eye can see. Except for those potato rows…

DSC_0250Roy’s been hilling his potatoes–they’re already a few feet tall and blossoms have started to appear. (So have the Colorado potato beetle, our favorite.) The neat rows look really cool.

DSC_0216The peas are doing that thing they do–climbing the trellises fearlessly.

DSC_0242We’ve planted a 100-foot row of zinnias. Benary’s Giants in all different colors. Can’t wait! Gladiolus and sunflowers, too.

DSC_0212And in the hoop house, the early tomatoes are absolutely thriving–lots of little green Sungolds showing up.  DSC_0190 DSC_0196

And the hoop house basil finally settled in–some really cold nights left the plants feeling a bit queasy, but they’ve recovered, and with a nice boost of fish fertilizer, they’re greening up. DSC_0184DSC_0226

The first rounds of cucumbers (below) and summer squash (above) are in and they look happy. DSC_0228

The hardest thing right now is getting the tomato rows prepped (a LOT of rocks that need to come out), covered, set up with irrigation hoses, etc. But we’re making progress, with 100 or so plants in…and many more to go.

DSC_0233And back up at the farm stand, all our purple flowers are in bloom and Roy’s little lupine and hosta corner is looking smart. Pretty little things to rest your eyes on if you remember to stop.

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But about that lettuce…there are certainly worse things to have a lot of–I love this stuff.

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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!

A Reminder to Love Your Lilacs and Eat Your Japanese Turnips

photo-417Well the pace hasn’t gotten any more relaxing around here—no eating of bon-bons while reclining on the chaise happening any time soon. So I’m cheating again on the blog, treating you to a few of this week’s Instagram pics, so at least you’ll know that the colors are changing, and pink and purple (oh my!) have appeared. I swear the lilacs are early (maybe they like cold winters? I think I heard that). And the radishes are right on time.

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I did such a good job with the spring bok choy (that’s the lovely purple variety below) that naturally I had to screw something else up.

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After growing beautiful Japanese turnips last spring, this year I planted them too close together and never thinned them.

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They are pretty small (see above) but still tasty.  I think I may still thin them and see if the rest grow bigger. (In the meantime, if you see them at a proper farmers’ market, you can follow my tips for a yummy stir-fry from last year.) The greens are totally delicious, but kind of a hard sell on their own. (As are mustard greens AGAIN. Apparently I have been wrong about predicting that mustard green trend. Oh well.)

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We have some lovely Ruby Glow romaine lettuce (above) about ready to harvest. There are zillions of strawberry blossoms. And the peas (and everything else) are breathing a mega-sigh of relief today with some long awaited rain. My dear farm helper Laura (more on her another time) helped me plant 16 of our tomato seedlings in the hoop house this morning and transplanted the first of hundreds of basil seedlings in the other hoop house bed. And everywhere you look, there’s something else to do. Why, there goes Roy on his tractor now…heading out to the back field to get the tomato rows ready.

Before you know it, we’ll be grilling eggplant. Just a reminder to stop and smell the lilacs (and eat the baby turnips) while you can!

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!

 

All’s Well Here at The Magic Kingdom

new chick redAll’s well here at The Magic Kingdom, which is what my friend Judy likes to call this place. Despite chilly temps and a persistent grey tinge to the sky, the grass is green, the daffodils have bloomed and our first asparagus spear has poked up through its compost-y bed. Sure, we’ve had a little drama here and there, but mostly we are working away, planting like crazy, and pinching ourselves to make sure this isn’t a dream, and that three feet of snow isn’t lurking somewhere just around the corner of that chicken coop.

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The new young chickens have all settled in nicely and are learning to explore the world outside their coops. They’re not entirely sure yet what all that green stuff is, but soon they will be devouring it.

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We’ve started to harvest beautiful arugula from the hoop house, packing up and selling just a few bags a day at the farm stand. It won’t be too long before we’ll be harvesting Little Gem lettuces, baby Red Russian kale, and baby Bok choy, too.

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Meanwhile, we’ve started seeding carrots, radishes, and Japanese turnips and transplanting lettuce, kale, and bok choy out to the market garden, so those familiar ghostly white tunnels have sprung up on the horizon!

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Down in the lower fields, the onions are all planted, and the peas are already an inch high.

onion chicken peasThe young apple trees we bought last fall have their first buds. I can’t wait for apple blossoms!

apple budorchardThe five apple trees make up the little orchard that Roy created in his two sister’s memory. I noticed he just moved a bench down there, and last week he planted some plants around the sign he made for them last year. I have to tell you, it is so touching.

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Back up near the market garden, not only has the asparagus appeared, but all three of the rhubarb plants that I’ve been so unkind to managed to scramble to life. Wild black raspberry vines are leafing out, too, despite Roy running over them nonstop with the tractor.

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This afternoon, probably because it was particularly cold and grey, I picked a little posey of the daffodils and grape hyacinths in the yard.

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All’s well here at the Magic Kingdom. And yes, I am repeating myself, because sometimes I have to remind myself to look around when I’m tired and all those “to-dos” seem to clutter my vision. And besides, you have to keep your eyes open around here, because Roy is always up to something. Just the other day I noticed this half of a chair hanging on the farm stand. Sweet.

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