Micro & Macro: My garden on the farm.

It’s been two weeks since I last wrote!  In just two weeks, the corn that I had pictured in my last post has gone from dry seeds to germinated seeds to little sprouts in trays to little sprouts planted out in the field in front of my yurt.  Tracking time by watching plants grow is a great thing.

I was amazed at the 100% germination rate of both types of dry corn that I brought home from Betsey’s!  Those little corn kernels had been sitting patiently, waiting on their cobs for a couple of years (I think they were harvested in fall 2009), keeping intact their little germ of life that only wanted moisture and nutritious soil to spring into action.  They were pretty pumped to wake up in the Oxbow greenhouse.  They germinated in 6 days, and by the end of another week after that,  they were looking ready to transplant out.  This was the impetus I needed to get cracking on my garden.

I got a lesson on the walk-behind rototiller from Farmer Adam.  It was all levers: put this one in neutral, pull-start the motor, use this other one for first gear, reverse, engage the tiller, you’re set to go.  I yanked my shoulder uncomfortably a few times trying to emulate Adam on the pull-start, then I resorted to the two-hand method favored by those with less upper body strength and got it on the first try.  He showed me how to load the tiller up ramps into the back of the farm van!  I snagged a can of gas from the shed and headed out to the far field by the yurt.

An hour of slow-walking the tiller back and forth and I converted my 50′ x 30′  garden area from cloddy chunks into flat and springy with frothy, rich topsoil.  This tiny little area on the edge of the 3-acre squash field is where Alice and I are going to plant our personal crops.  She’s leaving in August for the allure of Michigan and a graduate program, so the garden is mostly mine for planning, planting and upkeep.  The planning had been piecemeal up til now, but now that the soil is ready I can’t stop thinking about things I want to put in it.  First are my 3 rows of corn.  80 transplants went in immediately after my tilling session on Memorial day, plus another 40 direct-seeded into the field just for comparison’s sake.  Then a row of sunflowers to brighten things up.

Next came my row of potatoes.  I got some seed potatoes from Betsey as well as the corn.   I’m going to grow a few of my favorite varieties from last year — I’m most excited about the Carlotta – Ohhh how yummy with its unique firm and waxy texture!  So different from any potato I’d had before!  I planted them using Betsey’s method: hand-dug a shallow ditch and scooped out little pockets at the bottom of the ditch to nestle the taters into.  One little row of 30 potato plants.  It might sound like a lot of plants to a home gardener, but it seems like a drop in the bucket to me considering that earlier the same week Sonja and I helped Adam plant forty-two 450-foot rows of potatoes.  Just thinking about it boggles my mind 🙂  We spent most of a day walking up and down the field behind the tractor, balancing buckets of seed potatoes against our bellies and the tractor’s implement.   In an alternating rythm, Sonja and I reached over and over into our buckets and tossed potatoes into the tractor’s wake, trying to get them to land as close as possible to a one-foot spacing all the way down the row.  It was like playing a video game or something – it required immense focus to keep a continual flow of potatoes at that speed, and accuracy to get them to land in the space that was being opened up by the tractor’s chevron, before the chasm closed up with the soil mounded over it by the discs being dragged behind.   Adam kept ramping up the speed on us so that as soon as we got good at it, we had to go faster!  He timed our rows and by the end we were knocking out that 450-feet in under 3 minutes.  Boom.

Anyway my little row of personal potatoes excites me because I am interested in saving my own seed and carrying on a few of Betsey’s time-tested varieties.  I will have more than enough potatoes to eat from Oxbow; I don’t need to grow my own potatoes to feed myself.  It’s more of an experiment and a way to generate more seed for the following year.  Similarly, I am putting a 30-foot row of cabbage in my personal garden.  This is my sauerkraut bed.  Oxbow will provide me with plenty of cabbage to eat, but I feel pretty pumped about having friends over for an enormous kraut-making extravaganza later in the season, and for this I feel I ought not raid the farm supply which will be intended to be sold at market.  So I’ll grow 60 or 70 heads of cabbage myself.  I think I will probably stick a few row-feet of carrots on the end of that bed, because I enjoyed the cabbage+carrot sauerkraut I made better than the plain cabbage one.

So there it is: corn, taters, and kraut.  Some lovely storage crops for my post-Oxbow winter.  Alice will be adding ground cherries and and bee-attracting flower mix as well.  I will sprinkle some statice flowers around the edges, and we’ve got ourselves a garden.  It will be a challenge over the next three months to maintain this little plot; I know from last year that things are about to ramp up into absolutely intensely crazy here for June, July and August, and it’s difficult to go home from a full 12 hour day of farming and even have time for dinner before bed, much less another session of hoe-weeding on the personal garden.  But it’ll happen.  Just keep thinking about that kraut :-)!

Check out my May pictures on Flickr.  There’s a great feeling in the air right now… the farm is ripe with expectancy as the first of the crops that we planted back in April are suddenly ready for harvest – gorgeous ruffly butter lettuces and succulent, tender lacinato kale whom I knew when they were just babies in seedling trays are now being sold at market.  We just got the bulk of the warm-season crops transplanted out (zucchini, cukes, peppers, strawberries, beans) and before you know it those too will be pumping out their fruits for harvest and delivery to CSA customers and restaurant diners.  The tomato plants are thriving in their cozy hoophouses and I heard a rumor that this week we will be top-tying them for the first time, so I’ll be learning a new method of tomato cultivation to add to my farm skillset.  I’m really enjoying this second farm season as a way to solidify my knowledge & hone my instincts from last year, as well as to learn new & different ways of doing the same things.  Because this is a bigger operation, I’ll be learning a lot about efficiency, gaining speed and accuracy on tasks, and getting comfortable with equipment (drove the tractor for the first time today)!   Putting in my own garden made me realize that all this will potentially make it super easy to scale back to a more manageable single-person size operation when I want to.  Having done the 450-foot row tractor potato dealio will make it much less intimidating to put in a few rows of potatoes for my startup farm.

Woah, it is really time to end computer time for the night and hit the hay (I don’t actually sleep in hay, it’s just a euphemism :-))  I am happy to be here, grateful that I will be waking up tomorrow and spending another day on the farm, trying to relish the present while dreaming about good things in the future.


An update in pictures.

spinach in the greenhouse

First week of March at the farm: spinach, lettuces, and carrots in the greenhouse


On the home front: the seeds I started indoors sprouted! (this is the sage)

dill sprouts

After they got their first set of true leaves, I moved them outdoors (this is the dill)


Eventually they each get their own home in a 4" pot. (Sage again)

workin the tiller

Have been doing plenty of volunteering recently: Marra Farm, Harvest Collective, and Alleycat Acres (seen here).

I’m not growing anything illegal, I swear!

Pots, not pot

This week I got my first seeds started indoors!   I don’t have a good south-facing window so I rigged up a little bit of lighting.   I have no idea if this will actually work, but I decided to give it a try!  I want to add to my herb garden, so that’s what I’m growing right now.  I love having fresh herbs out on my balcony — I grew chives and thyme and parsley out there last summer and they are thriving.  (See pic below.)  I have been using all 3 in recipes all winter long.  I also love dill, sage, cilantro and rosemary so those are going to be added to the herb garden this year.  I’ve got 4 dill seeds in one pot under lights and 4 sage in the other.  After these guys sprout and I move them outside, I’ll start another round of veggie seeds in the little pots.

Herbs, not herb