This Thanksgiving week, we're grateful for so much: a healthy, happy family, first and foremost; a strong community of friends where we can find support, understanding, and last-minute babysitting; a solid network of fellow farmers, where we can find advice and used equipment; good soil; a new pond; a great preschool; and on this coldest morning of the year, a blazing wood-stove to combat the drafty breezes in our 200-year-old house.
And of course, we are grateful for all of you: CSA members and market customers, neighbors and friends, folks who stop by the farm to help or root for us from afar. Without you - and all the people all over the state and country who are helping to rebuild local food systems, who are willing to invest in small farms like ours, week by week and season by season - we'd never be able to be living this dream of ours.
So, thanks. And we hope your Thanksgiving is as full as ours.
A good hard freeze this morning seems like a fitting kickoff to the first week of our first Winter CSA. The CSA will run for seven weeks, with an extra-big share for Thanksgiving and another one at the end as a send-off. We're pretty pleased with the offerings we've got lined up - lettuce, spinach, arugula, kale, beets, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, winter squash of several sorts, pea shoots, dry beans, onions, garlic, cauliflower, broccoli, and right now we still have tomatoes and peppers. We're still seeding greens for the late winter, some of which we're planning to have in the very early spring when the winter farmers' market opens up again in March. All in all, we're pretty happy with how the winter growing season is looking. At home, we've been getting into the winter routines - splitting kindling, simmering soup. This method of "perpetual broth" in the slow cooker has been pretty amazing for us - if you've got vegetables in the house (which we and, we hope, our CSA members, always do)
a pot of hot broth means that you're only ever a few minutes away from a satisfying meal. Just chop up some carrots/potatoes/sweet potatoes/beets/broccoli/cauliflower/etc, saute an onion and garlic if you've got time, add the broth and leftover rice or meat or beans or mashed potatoes or squash, whatever is to hand and seems good. We freeze whole tomatoes in the summer, and they're perfect for soup like this. Simmer for a few minutes, throw in a handful of greens at the end, some salt and a dash of lemon juice, and there you go! A cup of broth is also a good holdover when dinner is only half an hour off but kids are hungry now - nourishing without being too filling for too long.
We hope that you're easing into the new season with pleasure and look forward to seeing you soon!
Huge thanks to all our Summer CSA members! We've had such a good year - we sure hope you've had a good one as well. Folks who are staying on or joining us for the Winter CSA, please note that it starts the first week of November - there is no CSA pick-up next week.
The main growing season is almost over. The final CSA pick-up and the last outdoor market are both next week! This has been a really good season for us, on the whole - plenty of challenges, a few disappointments, but mostly good growth all around. We employed more people, worked more land, grew and sell more food than any previous year. We were excited to expand our CSA to include workplace delivery, and that program seems to have been a success. We also expanded our understanding of this piece of land - where the wet spots and cold spots are, where the deer and woodchucks live, where the soil is more rocky or more sandy. It's been a season of good learning and good work. The summer may be over, but we're not quitting yet! The Winter CSA starts November 5, the market moves indoors to Mary Hogan School starting on the 2nd, and we've got crops in the ground and in the greenhouse that we intend to keep harvesting through December. (Plus multiple tons of storage vegetables nearly all cleaned, sorted, and stored.)
So, thanks to all our amazing customers - CSA members, farmstand regulars, co-op produce buyers - for making this trip with us! We're looking forward to seeing you this week, and next week - and hopefully, well into the winter. (And while we're talking about it, the Winter CSA is filling up fast - let us know soon
if you want in!)
Fall is the heavy harvest season - all the root vegetables, the winter squash, and the onions get pulled and hauled and crated and hauled some more, in the thousands of pounds each. One of our employees told us a story about how she laughed and laughed when some friends suggested she join them for a morning at the gym the day after the crew brought in more than a ton of onions in one day.
We're still getting all the infrastructure in place - the barn in which the new coolers were meant to go turned out to be in worse shape than we thought once it was all cleared out and needed some shoring up (and a lot of power washing), but now is ready for the cooler to be assembled. Jeremy is putting the finishing touches on a root washer to making the cleaning of all those roots much more efficient. All in all it's a busy time!
We've grown dry beans a few times, though never in much quantity, mostly just for our own family. They're a great crop in a number of ways - as a nitrogen-fixing legume they're good for the soil, they don't require a whole lot of work between planting and harvesting, and, once processed, they produce a great and somewhat unusual product that stores well and doesn't take up too much room. The tricky part is that little phrase, "once processed."
The bean plants need to be pulled and the pods dried down thoroughly so that the beans don't rot or sprout. Then the beans themselves need to be separated from their pods (known as threshing), cleaned of dirt and pieces of plant, and checked over for quality. On a household scale, we would just keep a bushel basket of pods handy and shell beans by hand whenever we watched movies or as we were sitting around the kitchen table after dinner. We mostly managed to keep up with our own bean usage that way, but it's not a particularly viable method on a commercial scale. Of course, there are plenty of machines one can buy to thresh and clean beans, but those are also typically not viable on the relatively small commercial scale at which we are operating.
There are a number of small-scale solutions, powered by bikes or made from modified wood chippers. There are also extremely low-tech solutions, like putting the beans in an old pillowcase and whacking it against a hard surface until the beans fall out of their shells, and then pouring it all in front of a fan a few times to blow away debris. That will probably be our solution for a few batches of beans until we figure out which kind of slightly higher-tech solution will work best for us.
Look for dry beans at the market in a few weeks and in CSA pretty soon!
Well, we hate to say it, but it would appear that fall is getting a foot in the door. We started bringing in winter squash this week, and the onions and potatoes are ready to harvest as well. Jeremy drove to Brooklyn this past weekend to pick up the cooler that we will install in the barn to hold all of those fine vegetables. In the next week or so that will get put together, and then the heavy harvest will begin. Also coming out soon: storage beets, carrots, and celeriac. The other fall vegetables - Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes - are also coming along nicely. Don't worry, though, we should still have several weeks of summer veggies before the frost overtakes us. In fact, we intend to have tomatoes through the end of CSA in October, if not longer.
Now that I think of it, September might be the best month - all the late-summer glory, most of the good fall foods (apples are in at the farmers' market!), and cool evenings to boot. Hopefully there will be enough warm days for a few more trips to the lake before we turn the corner, but even if there aren't, the summer's been a good one. Hope you've enjoyed it, too.
We had our first expansion into significant winter sales last year, with promising results; this year we're planning to produce much more for the cold cellar and the pantry shelf. One new crop to that end is the sweet potato. We grew them several years ago, when we were farming a piece of leased land with a particularly tough plow-pan, which is the layer of compacted soil that develops just below the reach of the plow - or the tiller, in this case, as we didn't have any large equipment at that point and our primary cultivation tool was a rototiller. So about six inches down it was hard as cement. The sweets actually grew through that, but our root digger couldn't get into it, and when we harvested them many got sliced right in half. In addition to which, some vole or mole or rat or something had discovered them before we dug them up and taken a few bites out of almost every one.
So that was a disappointment, and we didn't try them again for a while. But we love them, and know that they'd be a good addition to a winter market stand, so this year we vowed to try again.
Sweet potatoes are typically planted from what's called a "slip," which is essentially a little seedling, except it sprouts off an old sweet potato rather than from a seed. We ordered ours from a reputable organic supplier in North Carolina with three-day shipping, but an unhappy coincidence of delays meant that they arrived after five days instead of three, and we weren't able to plant them until the day after we got them. They were sorry looking little sprouts, indeed, but we thought we'd give them a shot.
Well, the short story is that they didn't make it. But, undaunted, we decided to give it another try, this time with guaranteed two-day shipping. The slips arrived in good shape, and our two employees were kind enough to agree to come back to the farm after their dinners, when it was cool, to help us plant them out. With the four of us (plus the help of our toddler, whose job was to pull out the poor little dead stems of the first round), we got all six hundred feet re-planted. As there was no rain forecast in the next day, we covered the plants with shade cloth to prevent their drying out. It was a tense little while - our soil is stellar at holding moisture, but a baby plant can only take so much sun, and to water them by hand would be an effort we hoped to avoid. But the rain did come, and they seem to be thriving.
It's too early to bet on rodents, but we've got better soil, better harvesting equipment, and a lot more experience now; with luck, we'll have sweet potatoes for the end of CSA and well into the winter market.
Don't forget to load up on supplies for Thanksgiving at the farmers' market this weekend. We'll have lots of great produce, including plenty of Brussels sprouts.
One of our current favorite side dishes is roasted veggies with Brussels sprouts, potatoes, and delicata squash
. It's a definite for our Thanksgiving table. What's your favorite vegetable side?
We're thankful for all our customers, friends, and the great community of farmers and eaters that we have here in Vermont. We hope to see you on Saturday!
As spring is fast approaching, it is time to turn the farm switch to "on". We had a much busier winter than expected, which unfortunately did not involve growing any produce.
Jeremy spent the fall and winter building a new high tunnel and solar heating system for the greenhouse. This will enable us to expand our indoor production greatly. We are both very excited about having 3 times the greenhouse space as last season. What that translates to is more early spring produce (greens, radishes, and scallions) and more tomatoes in the summer.
Last Fall we received a grant from the State of VT to build a solar heated germination chamber in one of the high tunnel greenhouses as a research project. We are researching the feasibility of using solar hot water for supplemental heating in the greenhouse. The idea is to heat a very small portion of the greenhouse rather than heating the entire volume of the building. While we have not artificially heated our high tunnels until now, we feel that this system fits with our philosophy in that we are still only using the sun and water to grow plants (no fossil fuels). What we did was create a radiant floor heating system in a raised bed and then covered that with a cloth cover (row cover). So far the system has been able to keep the soil in the bed between 50F-55F and the air temperature 3F warmer than the rest of the greenhouse. The next test is to set the soil to 70F and see if we can keep the air temp 20F above ambient.
Finally, the most exciting news is Caitlin's winter growing project... a baby! We have a new addition to Gildrien Farm arriving soon. The due date is March 13th, which can mean any day now. Much of our winter was spent preparing for the baby and now we are waiting for the baby to arrive.