Tag Archives: Garden

Hold the Green Beans, Olive the Berkshire Pig Loves Pizza

One of the very coolest things about the vegetable garden we will tend this summer is that it lies squarely between a hog pen and a goat yard. All summer long we’ll be in the good company of Olive the Berkshire pig, who is (cross your fingers), hopefully pregnant, so we’ll be joined by some little black piglets, too. Soon, Thunder the boar will also be back at Native Earth. He’s been on loan to another local farm for the last three months.

The goats, who are the very cute mini-goats known as pygmies, will probably move around a bit, as they have a job to do—clearing brush. But they’ll be close enough for us to say hi to every day. And these gals are expecting, too, thanks to a new billy goat who’s joined them.

Besides the goats and pigs, there are sheep and hens and guinea fowl and ducks and geese and I- don’t- know-what-else at the farm. I am beside myself with excitement. Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I get kind of goofy about pigs and goats, and pretty much every other kind of farm animal. I’m just crazy about them. Fortunately, Roy and his daughter Libby (with Olive, above) share this passion of mine. We dropped by the farm today, ostensibly to add some kitchen scraps to the compost pile. But secretly we’d brought along a few slices of last night’s pizza (plain cheese) to offer to Olive, even though we understand she’s getting plenty to eat right now. Hopefully we won’t get in trouble. We just thought it’d be nice to make friends early on. It seemed to work. Olive smiled. So did Libby.

On our way home from Native Earth, we stopped in at Whiting Farm to see the newborn lambs. The Whitings’ sheep are a handsome breed known as Cheviots, and even the babies have distinctively upright ears. Allen Whiting let Libby help him bottle-feed a lamb who’s not getting quite enough milk from Mom. Libby asked if he had named the lambs, and he explained that he usually doesn’t, as most of these lambs will become meat. Libby understood that, just as she did when we mentioned the piglets would be raised for meat. “Bacon?” she asked. Yes, really, really good bacon.

Between our vegetable garden and being around the farm, Libby’s going to learn a lot about where her food comes from this summer. (Jamie Oliver would be proud!) We’ve picked out some vegetables—like baby carrots and mini-pumpkins—just for her, and she’s hoping we’ll get a hen or two for her to help take care of. (She loves fresh eggs, too.) I can’t help but feel grateful for this: The chance for her to learn and be challenged—while we all spend time together outdoors—is just one more bonus to our vegetable garden project.

My Secret Urge to Be a Farmer: The Great Vegetable Growing Experiment Begins

I am pretty sure I didn’t turn out the way my parents had planned. They sent me to good schools and had high hopes for my future. When I was in college, my father announced that he had found the perfect graduate program for me. It was a combo law-school-and-business-school all rolled into one. Was he kidding? Sounded like pure hell to me. “Sorry, Dad,” I said, “I am going to New York to be a writer.” Yikes, could there be any words a father would rather not hear?

I give him a lot of credit for being a good sport then—and for standing by for the next 25 years as I pursued not one, but possibly two of the worst paying career choices a girl could make—publishing and cooking. I shifted back and forth from one to the other, finally managing to splice the two together to earn a halfway decent salary as the editor of a cooking magazine. But then I longed to be poor again and quit that job a couple years ago.

Now, unbelievably, I have found a third passion to pursue that very definitely has the potential to earn me even less money than the first two careers—growing vegetables. It could, however, be the most satisfying pursuit of all. Who wouldn’t want to play around in the dirt all day, sun screaming down from a perfect blue sky, little green edible jewels poking up all around you like candy spilled out from a piñata?

Okay, I know it’s not all like that. Not hardly. I went to work on a friend’s farm in upstate New York last summer to try and see if I had what it takes. I spent one entire week on my hands and knees weeding carrot seedlings. My friends were really polite and claimed that I “saved” the carrot crop, but all I could think about was how slow and out of shape I was, and how hard (REALLY hard) they worked.

Still, I can’t get this growing urge to go away. I’ve had little vegetable gardens over the years, but this year I’ve really gone and done it. Along with my partner Roy Riley, I’ve rented a big plot from my friend Rebecca Gilbert over at Native Earth Teaching Farm here on Martha’s Vineyard.  By big, I don’t mean huge, as in acres; I mean big by backyard vegetable garden standards, about 2800 square feet. Much of that will be paths, of course; what Roy and I have drawn on paper is actually 16 beds, each 24 x 3 feet, plus two longish borders with perennial herbs. (So it’s really more like 1400 square feet.) Roy, thankfully, is a builder, so he has already started crafting useful garden stuff for us, like cold frames to harden off the seedlings (and the seed-starting shelves in the photo at right).

We’ll be growing peas, sugar snap peas, snow peas, pole beans, bush wax beans, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, carrots, beets, onions, potatoes, winter and summer squash, lots of different kinds of cooking greens and salad greens, fresh herbs, and flowers. All winter long we’ve been hoarding vegetable gardening books from the West Tisbury library, ordering seeds and equipment, and figuring out a budget for this project. We’ve already started a few hundred seedlings inside, and we hover over them like ridiculously nervous parents.

Our plan is to help Rebecca get the farm stand (on North Road in Chilmark) to be a more robust destination for veggie-, herb-, and flower-hungry Up-Islanders. So Roy and I will be selling our harvest there, and possibly at a few other places. My goal is to see if there’s any way that this growing thing could become a permanent part (albeit a really tiny part) of my future livelihood. So while it’s not exactly farming, I’d be proud to call myself a grower if I can learn the secrets to this art. I’m optimistic and excited, because I know how much I’ll enjoy the process even if our yields are less than stellar the first year.

By the way, I realize this website (and blog) is supposed to be dedicated to cooking vegetables, so I’ll try not to get too sidetracked with talk about growing them. I will, however, give you an occasional update on the garden as the season gets going. Because, after all, what better excuse to develop more new vegetable recipes!