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

Farm fresh food: Garlic Scape Fritatta

A couple weeks ago, I found myself needing to make a quick potluck dish for a little get-together at Betsey’s. It wasn’t really an impromptu thing but (as usual) the time to cook had arrived I hadn’t taken the time to really plan out what dish I was making or go buy ingredients for any recipe.

Luckily, I didn’t need the grocery store. There were all the ingredients for a frittata right there in Betsey’s fields. The chickens contributed some amazingly orange-yolked eggs. We had a huge surplus of garlic scapes. I took home a couple of “seconds” potatoes and onions (not quite beautiful enough for market but still just as tasty). I added some spinach from my own garden. With salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese and olive oil, you’ve got a farm-fresh frittata! I topped it off with some herbed chevre from Port Madison Creamery and a bit of Persephone Farm parsley. Yum!

It was so satisfying to see all the raw ingredients come straight out of the land, get combined into a really basic and wholesome dish, and then get eaten around the fire pit at Betsey’s. We grow our own food here. We work awfully hard at it, but the results are so worth it if we take the time to enjoy them.

Anyone with access to a farmers market can make this type of dish pretty much any time of year. The beauty of this fritatta is that it can be made with many combinations of ingredients. Get a dozen eggs and make sure they are from pastured chickens. Get some onions and/or garlic and potatoes (all three usually available at market year round). Add whatever else is in season, whether it’s spinach or zucchini or kale. Try to get some local cheese (I failed on that one as mine was from Trader Joe’s!)

Here’s the recipe and a few pictures:

Harvesting garlic scapes

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups or so of potatoes, cut into very thin half-circles
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 8 or 10 garlic scapes, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 lb spinach leaves, cleaned, chopped
  • 9 large eggs
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • fresh parsley, chopped (optional topping)
  • 3 oz goat cheese (optional topping)

Fritatta ingredients: eggs, spinach, onions, potatoes and garlic scapes.

Method

  • Preheat oven to 400°F.
  • In a mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  • Sauté scapes, onions, and potatoes in olive oil in an oven-proof, stick-free skillet, until cooked through, about 4-5 minutes on medium-high heat. Add a little water if they start to stick.
  • Throw spinach on top and mix in, cook til wilted.
  • Spread out spinach mixture evenly on bottom of skillet. Reduce heat to Medium. Pour egg mixture over spinach mixture. Use a spatula to lift up the spinach mixture along the sides of the pan to let egg mixture flow underneath.
  • Sprinkle bits of goat cheese over the top of the frittata mixture if desired. When the mixture is about half set, put the whole pan in the oven. Bake for 13-15 minutes, until frittata is puffy and golden.
  • Remove from oven with oven mitts and sprinkle with chopped parsley, if using. Let cool for several minutes.
  • Cut into 8 pieces and serve with fresh bread and a mixed greens salad!

Finished frittatta topped with parsley and chevre.

Fritatta as the centerpiece of a delicious meal.

Nematodes and other things



Well, the weather is finally warming up and it’s starting to feel at least springlike if not summery.  Every day on the farm continues to be a delight and a joy for me. I feel extremely lucky to be here.









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Betsey has started a new blog for her farm!  We’re working on getting it up and running, at laughingcrowfarm.wordpress.com.

I wrote a little post on there about our recent trip to Sequim, which was *awesome* as we got to learn about draft horse farming and drive a team of draft horses.  More pictures from the trip are on my flickr page, http://www.flickr.com/photos/warnerbecky/

I have a lot of prior horse experience, but it’s all been with riding. I was really surprised at how hard it was to drive the horses while sitting behind them on a wagon instead of on top of their backs. It’s the same communication, right? Wrong — when riding, you have your whole body (seat and legs) to use for communication. When driving you just have your hands on the lines and your voice. John, the horse trainer whose farm we visited and who taught us the driving lesson, has amazing communication with his horses. He can be standing across the field and say “back” and that horse will march backwards. It comes from a lifetime of learning on the part of the trainer and years of building up a relationship with that particular horse. I hope that someday I will have the opportunity to own horses again and experience that relationship as a daily part of my own life.



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Mainly, I wanted to write this post about beneficial nematodes. What are those?? I wrote about soil microbes in my compost post and then realized I didn’t really know what I was talking about. What is a microbe exactly? And why exactly is it good to have them in soil that you want to grow stuff in? I decided to investigate one type of microbe.

A microbe or microorganism is an organism that is too small to be seen with the naked eye. Nematodes are one type of microorganism I had already heard about from Betsey. She applies a spray to her fields containing these little guys as a preventative against pest problems.

A nematode is a wormlike creature that lives — get this — in the film of water surrounding soil particles. Crazy! There are many types of nematodes. In fact, they are the most numerous multicellular animals on earth. But one type of nematodes are what we call beneficial or insect-parasitic. What they do is burrow inside a larger insect, entering through one of its natural body orifices(!), and then emit a bacteria that kills the host via blood poisoning.  The nematode then feeds off of the host and multiplies inside it.  Yikes!

As much as this sounds like some terrifying horror movie, the fact that this happens is great for farmers because having a healthy nematode population will keep down your soil-dwelling pest poulation. Pests like black fly (Brian worries about them on carrots) and root maggots (Betsey had some failed onion transplants because of them) can wreck your crops if they get out of control. In organic farming we can’t (and don’t want to) use chemical pesticides to kill those bugs. What we have to do instead is make sure there is not a good environment for the bad guys to flourish. This includes making sure we have really strong and vigorous plants that will be more resilient and not overwhelmed by a bug attack. It also helps to keep natural predators like bumblebees, ladybugs, and nematodes happy.

To that end, Betsey uses the beneficial nematode spray. The nematodes come via mail order from someplace that grows them (can you imagine being a breeder of microscopic wormlike creatures as your job?) She mixes them with water and sprays them on the fields. I see Betsey out there in the onions occasionally with a backpack sprayer in the evening and I know she is spraying her nematodes — ultraviolet light and heat will kill them so it’s best to apply in the evening.

So…… now we know!

In the news

An article with pictures from our Memorial Day veggie garden planting at City Hall… Includes pics of Brian and Betsey and me.
http://www.kitsapsun.com/news/2010/may/31/bainbridge-island/

Lovely article about our “grandfather” farmer Akio who was recently honored with an award. Akio grew up in the house I’m living in on the farm.
http://www.pnwlocalnews.com/kitsap/bir/lifestyle/93729204.html

We are keeping busy, planting and harvesting despite the crazy cold and rainy weather. It does not feel like June! We had one sunny afternoon/evening yesterday, which we celebrated with a bonfire and drinking wine outside. Yay! New vegetables are coming on: romanesco, zucchini, collards. Garlic scapes are ready for harvest. First early potatoes will be for sale in a couple weeks. The baby animals are getting bigger — Brian’s chickens, whom I first met in January when they were 3 days old, are now getting their egg-laying skills figured out. The eggs are still small and often double-yolked, I’m not sure why. Eventually, out of our 50 layers we expect to be getting at least 20 to 25 dozen eggs a week.

We got to take a field trip to Sequim last week to spend a day driving horses with Betsey’s horse mentor, John Erskine. Pics of that coming soon!

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