Thoughts on being done

So, October is over and the end of the season has come. It’s been a good fall as it was a good summer and a good spring. Looking back over the whole seven months, it’s one of those things where somehow all at the same time it feels like it’s been forever and it has also flown by.

The last few weeks of the apprenticeship were great — it was such a treat to relax a bit and enjoy the fall days as things on the farms were winding down. We finished digging all Betsey’s potatoes and sweet potatoes and put them into storage. We went through the piles of onions, throwing out the mushy ones (there were a lot) and cleaning up the good ones for sale through the winter. We were able to spend *half* days harvesting for Brian’s CSA instead of *all* day Tuesdays and Thursdays. The CSA members are still getting a lot of good hardy veggies — collards, kale, chard, beets, carrots, squash, broccoli. But since we’re done harvesting tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, etc, we have all this luxurious extra time to do things like PLANTING again! It felt so good to sow Brian’s cover crop and let the fields go to rest for the winter. The rye/vetch mix that we planted is grown in Seqim by Nash’s farm and it will do what any good cover crop should: 1) fix nitrogen in the soil so it will be available to the veggies next year, and 2) grow into a nice tall grass that will act as a “green manure” adding lots of good organic matter when it is tilled in next April. That cover crop really wants to grow; the seed sprouted within a couple days of planting and by now it is looking like a lush green blanket in the fields.

It was fun to plant cover crop because we’ve been doing very little planting at this time of year. Spring is for planting, fall is mostly for harvesting. With a noticeable exception: garlic! Garlic seed gets planted in Oct/Nov and grows over the winter so that it will size up for an early harvest next year in July. So this past week or so, whenever there was a break in the rain, Betsey would rush us all out there to get the garlic in the ground. 9000 garlic seeds to plant… it takes a little while. It is repetitious work but it felt *great* to be hands-in-the-dirt planting vegetables again, and this time with the perspective of the whole season behind us — I know what those little garlics are going to look like as they grow and how they are going to be harvested and processed next year. Betsey saves all of her own garlic seed, so we got to help with the seed selection process. What do garlic seeds look like, you may ask? Well they aren’t the type of seeds you might be picturing… you grow garlic by splitting apart a head and planting each clove. So you can get up to 10 or 12 new garlics from each head if you plant every clove. But Betsey’s process is a little more involved: you select the largest heads of each variety and then break the heads apart and save only the largest cloves from each for replanting. It’s fun to think about how we are helping nature out with a little natural selection of our own! Betsey has been able to significantly grow the size of her garlic heads by following this method for many years. She really is the garlic queen! In fact she dressed up as garlic for our final farmers market on Oct 30:

Goofy Halloween market: Betsey (garlic), Erin (farmin' Carmen Miranda), Renee (eggplant), Becky (cowgirl). Stacy is absent because she got roped into chicken processing at Brian's farm that morning.

I’m going to get sappy now, but I need to say that this apprenticeship experience has truly been one of the most transformative and wonderful times in my life, right up there with study abroad as an intense suck-out-the-marrow, taste every breath, feel fully alive and in the right place life experience. I have learned a lot about the hows and whys of farming; I have also learned a lot about myself and how to be in the world. I hope everybody can have such an experience in one way or another – obviously it’s not going to be growing vegetables for everyone, but I feel like there are a lot of people who are going along in comfortable but unfulfilled lives like I was who could use a radical life shift like I found, a kick in the head that says, this is your one life to live; get out there and make the most of it.

Some things that I have gained from farming. The obvious: The confidence that I can plant a seed and it will grow. That I can tell when a vegetable is ready for harvest. That I can make choices about how to grow food to maximize yield and quality while still using resources sustainably. Knowledge of the layout of chicken internals. The ability to confidently reverse an enormous van with no windows into a parking space. The not so obvious: An uncanny ability to estimate 8 oz and 1 lb of things without weighing. A newfound comfort level with spiders on my person and in my living environment. Inspiration on how to be a contributing member of a community where each person has a useful skill and trade/gifts are the norm. Inspiration on how to be true to oneself and still be a great boss and mentor. A little toughening up (Hands dirty? Wipe them on your pants and eat your lunch. Cut yourself? Slap some duct tape on it) in the face of new and interesting challenges (there are mouse turds in the kitchen… Okay, now there’s a dead mouse in a mousetrap to deal with.) An addiction to spending my days outdoors doing physical work and the realization that I can’t go back to life as I used to know it.

It is looking like I will have a computery-type job and a place to live in Seattle this winter. The pieces for both are kind of falling into place in the sort of effortless way that the universe sometimes hands you with a gentle nudge saying “this is the right thing to do…” I’m hoping that the job and the place to live in Seattle will be for Jan/Feb/March, and that next farm season will find me back to the land — if not here on Bainbridge then on some farm and doing this again.

Thanks for reading my blog. Here’s a little photo summary of the season, following a few of our crops from beginning to end. I took a million and a half pictures. I bet my colleagues got a little tired of all the camera-ing around! But it was great to look back through all the images and remember the phases of the farm season. Enjoy!

Weeding young garlic - April

Harvesting garlic - July

Garlic for sale - July

Garlic braided for sale - September

Starting brassica seeds in Brian's greenhouse - April

Transplanting seedlings - May

Harvested greens ready to be prepped for market -August

Beautiful vegetables for sale - September

Laying down drip tape on tomato seedlings - May

Tomato plants growing up stakes - July

Tomato harvest - September

Ripping out tomato plants & stakes at the end of the season - October

Planting potatoes - April

Potato plants beginning to grow - May

Digging potatoes - August

Potatoes front and center in Betsey's market display - August

Potatoes getting boxed up for storage - October

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Holy goodness, it’s August

Wow!  I kind of lost track of the blog there in July — too much going on.  But life is good.  The past month has been just an explosion of things growing.  All the stuff we’ve planted over the last few months is now ready for harvest… so we’ve been harvesting, harvesting harvesting all the livelong day.  Additionally, there has been: a fantastic visit with my parents who flew here from Michigan, getting to go horseback riding with a friend of Betsey’s on her lovely saddlebred horses, occasional bike trips to Seattle, eating venison over a bonfire with friends at Betsey’s house, hosting Seattle friends visiting the farm, learning chicken butchery and still being able to eat chicken, hacking at grapevines with a machete, getting to know the regulars at the farmers market, working 7am to 7pm, not getting enough sleep, getting sick with tonsilitis, harvesting potatoes, harvesting tomatoes, harvesting blueberries. Harvesting zucchini and cucumbers from my own garden now.  Etc. Etc. Etc.

It’s been the kind of busy where I go to write in my journal at night and I can’t remember what all I did during the morning.  The kind where I’m trying to recall when it was that something happened and realize it was just yesterday.  Really?  Yesterday?  It seems like a week ago!  But I love it… I love working the farmers market and interacting with customers and talking about the produce.  I love showing off the farm to visitors.  I love hanging out with my farmer bosses as friends during a moment of downtime.  And best of all, I’m starting to noodle on some ideas of what’s going to happen to me in a few months when I’m done with the apprenticeship here.  Stay tuned!

That’s all for now —

B

Kindred spirits

Persephone Farm in Indianola is another great farm in our little corner of the world that does internships. In fact Betsey credits a former Persephone intern as the inspiration to start her apprenticeship program! Our booth is right across the way from Persephone’s at the Bainbridge Farmers Market, so we have been seeing each other every week, but the market is such a flurry that we’d all barely had a chance to talk. I had been wanting to make friends with the interns but it hadn’t happened yet.

So I was excited when our mutual friend Chandler, a former Persephone intern who now farms near here on Vashon Island, created an occasion for us all to get together and hang out.

We were invited over to Indianola on a Saturday for dinner on Persephone Farm. We were served amazing farm-grown food and homemade ice cream, took a walk around the farm/orchards/pastures/yurts, and then stopped over to a “prom” themed birthday party at the Indianola community hall. The next morning we had delicious local food for brunch at a home down the road from their place. It was great to sit around and chat with farmer Rebecca and her apprentices about how their farm works and to compare and contrast it with ours.

Apprentices Greg, Caitlin, Joel and Mo seem to be enjoying their experience and integrating into their community over there just as much as we are here. We are all understandably proud of our own farms, land that we are becoming intimately familiar with. We each respect and admire our respective farmers who we also get to live intimately with as part of the farm family. We hopefully agree with our own farmers’ methods and feel pride in ownership of our own farm products, vegetables that we’ve invested hours of labor into and watched grow from seed to fruit.

But although we come from different, unique farm operations, we are all here doing this for the same reasons. We care about the land and about living sustainably and thoughtfully on it. We are fascinated by plants and especially by the process of growing food. We love to eat real food and make this food available to others who appreciate it and help those who don’t yet appreciate it learn to value it. We started some good conversations over brunch especially, and I look forward to spending more time with Rebecca and her crew!

New pics and farm visits

I’ve been told that I need to update the blog more frequently, so here I am writing a quick post on my lunch break. Today we are prepping vegetables for the farmers market. Erin and I are working on onions, carrots and beets. Turns out that carrots are extremely annoying to prep because of all the rinsing that needs to happen to get all the dirt off, and then the wet greens getting tangled as you try to bunch them. Who knew? They do look quite lovely once you finally get them organized into their bunches, though.

This update is mostly to say that I have some new pictures on flickr and in the comments there I wrote a but about what’s been going on this past week. Such as planting strawberries with a cool machine and visits from friends. Had a great time with Sara and Erin M and Jonathan when they came out to the island last Sunday! Looking forward to more farm visits as the season progresses.

Check out the pictures here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/warnerbecky/

Love!

B

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!