Spring produce update

After getting all introspective with my last post, I thought I would follow up with some nice boring factual data :-). So… let’s talk about what we are growing on the farm this spring.

Last Saturday at the farmers market, I worked Brian’s booth and we had for sale: salad greens, spinach, asparagus, rhubarb, beets, carrots, broccoli raab, radishes, and red leaf lettuce. Oh and also eggs. We harvested and prepped the veggies on Friday and sold them at the market on Saturday. We sold out of everything except spinach! Most of those veggies have been growing slowly under hoophouses since winter – the carrots, for example, were planted several months ago and last week was the first harvest of little baby carrots.

We’ve been doing a lot of seed starting for warm season crops. Recently I have helped plant trays of potting mix with bean, squash, corn, lettuce, and broccoli seed.

The seeds we plant into trays get held in the propogation house for several weeks to germinate and grow into little seedlings. Then they get transplanted. Some things we are now transplanting directly out in the field: lettuce, onions, leeks, chard, kale, beets, kohlrabi, collards, etc. I am getting to the point where I can do the transplanting like a frickin machine! No careful handling for these seedlings, efficiency is the name of the game. Moving quickly down the row, you make a little hole with one hand, drop the plant in with the other hand, and lightly shove the dirt back around while moving on to the next plant.

Some heat-loving crops are being transplanted into the hoophouses and will grow there all summer. So far we’ve put in green beans, zucchini and yellow squash, and – just this week – two whole houses full of tomatoes! Growing these plants under the protective houses will allow Brian to get an earlier and bigger harvest than many of his competitors.

With Betsey we’ve been tending the garlic and onions and next week we’ll be planting potatoes. There are pounds and pounds of seed potatoes sitting around everywhere – in the shed, on Betsey’s porch – patiently waiting to go into the ground! Betsey has also been teaching us about fruit trees and grape vines – pruning, pests and diseases to watch out for, and how to tend the plants to get a bigger and better harvest. There is so much work and thought that goes into this and so many choices to be made by the farmers for each crop. It gives me a new perspective on what all goes into a bottle of wine as well as the organic veggies that I see at farmers markets.

One thing that goes into them is a helluva lot of weeding! Thats basically what organic growing is all about… a neverending battle against weeds. We’ve done weeding using hoes and pickaxes and a cultivator pulled by Sam the horse, but the majority is done by hand, on hands and knees getting in between and around the plants. I am getting quicker and quicker at weeding by learning to be slightly less of a perfectionist!

In fact it has been interesting watching myself learn to do each of these new tasks. Each thing may sound easy – hand weeding or hoeing or driving the tractor or spreading fertilizer or sticking transplants into the soil – but the tasks are on a large scale and new to me and there is always a technique to learn in order to do the job quickly and efficiently. My learning curve always follows a similar progression: at first I start out like a complete idiot and fumble through whaterver it is doing a bad job and doing it slowly 🙂 Then I start to improve my technique so now I am doing a good job, trying to do it perfectly, but moving very slowly still. Finally, after a bit the muscle memory kicks in and I can speed up, maybe losing a bit of accuracy because doing the job fast is usually more important than doing it perfectly.

So, I am enjoying the challenge of learning all these new bits and pieces and how they fit together into the running of the farm. Some of them do get monotonous. But every so often, I will be out in the field in the middle of a 3 hour stint of weeding, and the thought will just pop into my head, “I could be sitting behind a desk staring at a screen on this gorgeous Tuesday afternoon, but instead I’m out here in the world with my hands in the dirt and I’m glad I am here doing this right now.” It’s a good feeling.

Next time I post I will get some good pictures up but this time all I have are a couple of crappy iPhone pics:

Erin and Stacy with the new baby lambs

Getting ice cream after work with Brian

Betsey, Sam, me


Trip to the Small Farmers Journal Auction

Our second week on the job, and we get to take a vacation! We all headed down to Madras, OR for four days to attend an event I would have never known existed: the Small Farmers Journal Horsedrawn Auction and Swap. Betsey gets sooo excited about this event! It’s a special thing she does every year and I think it’s awesome of her to share it with us. She really throws herself in and helps out with the auction and everybody there knows her, so we were known by extension, as “Betsey’s brood.” It was a totally new experience, listening to the auctioneer’s chant and watching people bid. I learned some about harness types and “single tree” vs “double tree” hitches and different types of implements that horses can pull and the difference between driving “four up” and “four abreast”. We got to help on the auction floor by doing the Vanna White and pushing wagons around. There was a fantastic bluegrass/folk band and dancing on Friday night.

The range of people there was really interesting. Mainly older men with big mustaches and cowboy hats and lots of horse knowledge they were eager to share with me. Then there was a small group of excited young farmers. It was an interesting dichotomy. The young folks of course are very idealistic and talking about how important small farming is and the changes that need to happen in society to give farming the credit it deserves. The old guys have been doing this a long time and have seen back-to-the-land movements come and go so they are understandably a bit more reserved. But I felt like they weren’t critical of us young upstarts. Instead they seemed willing to take our questions seriously and talk about their experiences. I surprised myself with the emotion I felt when a gentleman to whom I’d been chatting about my apprenticeship looked me in the eye and said “I’m proud of you. It takes courage to do what you’re doing.” My eyes welled up at the genuine validation of a choice I’m still uncertain about. I don’t think I’m doing anything courageous, but I have been worrying that I’m not taking this seriously enough and no one would ever take me seriously. Am I just playing at being a farmer because of some romantic notions I had? Making a living farming is hard work – who do I think I am to waltz in and think I can do it? These doubts have been dancing around in my head, and I am grateful to Larry for that little bit of support. It made me feel like it’s ok for me to be exploring and doing what I’m doing.

My horse passion also got a lot of rekindling on this trip. Betsey’s horse mentor, John Erskine, and another horseman named Doc Hamill gave a little clinic on Thursday morning and the deeply thoughtful horse stuff gave me chills the way it always does. I’m realizing that what I have always loved and craved about working with horses can be gotten in ways other than riding. All the same communication happens when driving horses in harness, and it’s even up a level if you are working multiple horses at a time. Using horses for farm work is really starting to intrigue and attract me. It seems like an art and it is easier on the land (less soil compaction). More importantly, it seems like you’re more intimate with your land when you work it with horses instead of tractors, in much the same way as I feel a connection to city neighborhoods I’ve biked more than the ones I’ve only driven in. So there I go getting all romantical — certainly it doesn’t seem particularly practical to farm only with horses. But if I have a passion for both horses and farming it seems awfully wondeful to be able to combine the two.

Pics from the auction are on Flickr at

Here are a couple to whet your appetite. Go check out the rest!

First week pics on flickr

We did our first farmers’ market today!  Lots of Bainbridge Islanders came out in the cold morning to support the opening day of the market.  It was incredibly cool to see this from a new perspective:  selling food that I’m proud of because I’ve had a part in growing it and harvesting it.  Knowing exactly what it took to get that food to where these people are buying it.  Knowing that the people are going to take it home and eat it for dinner the day after it was picked and within a couple miles of where it was grown.

Here are pics of the four of us apprentices manning (womaning?) the two booths.  More pics of fun stuff (me driving a tractor, for one) are at:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/warnerbecky/sets/72157623828028506/

It has now been 6 days in a row of work… Now I’m going to go and SLEEP for awhile.

Bex and Renee at Brian's market booth

Erin and Stacy at Betsey's booth

First week update

Well, week 1 of farming is well underway and already I’m too busy to find time to blog 🙂 I’ll upload pictures soon I promise!

It has been a good first few days. Moved my stuff over here Sat with help from awesome Seattle friends and Betsey even treated us all to a little tasting at the winery. Then Sunday was spent settling into my room at the house and getting to know the other apprentices (houseful of girls… Gonna be trouble! ;-). Then Monday it was off to work.

This is the “slow” time at the beginning of the season, but Betsey and Brian are good at coming up with stuff for us to do. Today, for example, I worked with Brian and fellow apprentice Renee and we put in about 500 brassica plants of different types — collards, kale, broccoli raab and kohlrabi. We prepped the beds (Renee and I got to try out driving the tractor!) and fertilized, laid out the transplants and then planted them. We also fed the pigs (14 of them) who are getting an organic diet of grain and whey from a nearby goat dairy that would otherwise be thrown away.

This upcoming Saturday will be our first farmers market. Next week, we aprentices (me, Stacy, Renee and Erin) are taking a 3 day trip with Betsey to a draft horse equipment auction in Oregon. After that, we will settle into a regular farm schedule.

Other than adjusting to a schedule where I actually have to wake up at a certain time in the morning (unlike working in software… Ha!) I’m feeling great. It is a good little community here, a culture of sharing and supporting each other that I really appreciate. I miss my Seattle friends already though 🙂

I’ll write again soon with pictures!

Look, Mom, I’m farming

Betsey took this awesome picture of me getting ready to attempt cultivating the garlic with Sam a couple weeks ago.   That mid-March day was warm and sunny t-shirt weather.  For my moving day tomorrow, it is shaping up to be 45 degrees and constant drizzle.   Oh well!

Working with Sam has been really fun.   She is very calm and attentive and knows how to do her job.  I’m looking forward to learning more about using draft horses and also watching the development of the two young fillies that Betsey has in training.  Cool stuff.

Next time I write I’ll be living at the farm!