Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Happy Passover!

Spring is in the air and the yard is starting to look like one of those horrifyingly picturesque hallmark cards.

After a long spell of rain and chilly nights we finally had a little bit of a break today.  I was able to get outside and get a little work done and check on all my babies.  Spring is so exciting all the trees are budding and flowering, and the radishes that I direct seeded awhile ago are coming up and are ready to be thinned.

Another great thing about spring?  ASPARAGUS.  Of which we have a lot.  When I came here last year in April we literally ate fresh asparagus with ever other meal.  They're a shit pain to grow though.  They're a perennial rhizome and after they're planted they usually take about three to four years before they will produce a viable harvest, that is if the gophers didn't eat all the roots in that time.  They also require heavy mulching in the winter to protect the roots from frost.  If the ground freezes you can permanently damage the root and eventually kill it.  But asparagus is worth it.  While generally speaking I think most homegrown vegis taste superior to anything you'll find at the store, there are certain things that when eaten fresh have such an improved flavor that it's almost like you're eating an entirely different vegetable.  Asparagus is one of those vegetables.  It's one of those "this is what it's supposed to taste like?! where have you been my whole life?" kinda things. 

I seriously can't wait for Eastover brunch with lots of matzah brei and maybe some asparagus and poached eggs drowned in hollandaise mmmmmm.

Not much else going on farm-wise, though I did get a fun pressie from Suzanne yesterday.  She gave me a batch of water kefir crystals!  I didn't even know water kefir existed.  I'm a big fan of milk kefir though, and since I currently don't have any milk kefir grains or even any kombucha I figured I might as well try my hand at some other probiotic fermented beverage goodness.

For those who are like "wtf are you talking about" kefir grains aren't actually "grains" they're weird little gelatinous blobs of bacteria and yeasts that you than add to what ever beverage you're fermenting.  In the instance of milk kefir, they feed off of the sugar that naturally occurs in the milk and ferment it so it becomes a kind of sour fizzie mildly alcoholic (1-2%) yogurt smoothie.  Lots of people blend fruit into it to kinda take the edge off the sourness but I prefer adding just a little agave or maple syrup.  The water kefir though, is made with water, sugar, dried fruit and a chunk of lemon.  So far, eh, I don't know, it's not terrible, it kinda just tastes like really weak watery kombucha.  It's not sweet at all because the crystals eat up the sugar during fermentation.  I'd like to try flavoring it with different stuff to see if I can't make it more palatable.  Maybe brew some with the grape or cherry juice we canned last year, try and make some kind of probiotic italian soda kinda thing.  Who knows!  All I do know is that it grows like crazy.  Seriously.  That black line is where the crystals came up to yesterday, all the ones above that line where made in LESS THAN 24 HOURS.  At least I'll have lots of crystals to experiment with?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Oh by the way...

So I just realized I never actually properly introduced myself.  Hay internets!  I'm Meg, I'm 23, and I farm in Grants Pass, Oregon.  As a former east coast cat I went to, and eventually dropped out of, a state school in western NY.  I spent a little under a year working as an au pair abroad in both New Zealand and Austria.  I was so miserable in Austria though that I returned home early and embarked on a drive cross country with a dear dear friend, a) because road trips are rad and b) because we're both food justice peeps and we wanted to go farm in the magical year-round-planting wonderland that is California.

The whole trip was ridiculously awesome.  I will now forever be in love with campfires, Texas, and doing yoga in the aisles of gulf coast Walmarts.   

After winter break was over and my friend had to go back to NY, I staid on in California and wwoofed at a small scale raw dairy for about a month.  I then worked my way up to Oregon, visited friends in Portland, and eventually found my way to ANOTHER raw milk dairy/natural meat ranch in Junction City where I wwoofed for about 2 months.
It was while I was with the Deck's that I started talking to Lori and got accepted for a full season farming internship with her at Blackberry Lane.  I started at the end of April last year and I've been here ever since.  The internship was generally about 5 days a week 7-8 hours a day with some weekends.  I was the only full season intern though we had other interns at different times all through out the summer.  We all lived in the house with Lori and her husband Michael, were fed extremely well, and were given a weekly stipend.  We were hands on with pretty much every aspect of the farm operation from seeding to harvesting to composting to canning to selling at market to making deliveries for restaurants etc.  We all got on extremely well and we just kind of fell into a really comfortable family-like rhythm.  Towards the end of the season Lori approached me, she said that she was going to be taking the '10 season off and that she needed a break from farming, and she asked if I would be interested in managing the property myself.  I could continue to live with them as I had been and wouldn't have to worry about rent or food, and we worked out a monthly lease agreement to cover the cost of utilities for running the farm, like for irrigation and the heating of the greenhouse etc.  And now here I am, still chillin with my west coast fam, managing the farm that just months ago I was an intern at.  Sometimes I literally sit here and wonder, how the fuck did this happen.  I have no idea.  All I know is that I am extremely god damn lucky.  Cause see, that's the kicker with farming.  If you want to farm, you need land and you need money.  Which are two things that most people in there 20s who are interested in farming don't have, or at least they don't have enough of them.  So this is my chance to do this without selling my soul to a mortgage or a super scary expensive lease agreement.  I don't have to have a "regular" job.  I just get to farm and try to make money with what I grow.  And who knows maybe I'll even make it work.

So.  This, is a very rough, very quick, totally-not-to-scale view of the farm:

The kitchen garden has a pretty nice herb garden and some greens and lettuces, right field is spring and early summer crop (I just planted radishes, peas, and chard), back field is where most of the overwintering stuff is (all the broccoli, leeks, and 6 inch tall brussell sprouts) as well as our asparagus crowns, and left field  is were the main summer crop will go.  We also have a wide range of berries and fruit and nut trees interspersed around the property; strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, black currants, concord grapes, satsuma plums, italian plums, red and golden delicious apples, cherry trees, walnut and hazelnut trees, and a baby peach tree that produces exactly one peach a year.  It's not a big place, I think the entire property including the house is about 2 acres, if that, and I'd like to keep at least a 1/4 acre in production at all times.  That might not seem like a lot, but for me working alone, I think it'll be plenty.  There's so much more that I want to write about this place but I'm tired and it's late and I feel like I'm rambling.  SO, I think that's it for tonight, but if you found this totally incoherent, or I didn't address something you were interested in, or you just like asking questions, feel free to ask away and I'll try and post again in a couple days!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Before and After

Two weeks ago:


Everything in the potting shed has literally just been vomiting green everywhere it's fabulous.  Some of my arugula and lettuces are almost ready to plant, they just have to get a tiiiiiny bit bigger. 

In preparation for transplanting, and because I'd like to start direct seeding some radishes, chard and peas, AND because it was 70 and sunny, I spent pretty much the whole day weeding.  Which normally would be eh, but IT WAS SO SO SO NICE OUT OMG.  Like so nice that I'm pretty sure I'm a little bit sunburnt.  Ugh it was PERFECT.  The only problem was that it had been raining a lot the last week and the ground wasn't as dry as it needed to be for me to bring out the rototiller, so I was pretty much stuck just hand-weeding.  Which is fine, I prefer to hand-weed most of the time anyway, but considering there hasn't been any serious weeding done since like, I don't know, October?  Things are a little messy out there. 

Most of the raised beds in Right Field are like the one behind me in that picture, they were amended with compost back in October/November and mulched with newspaper and rice straw.  This is pretty effective at keeping weeds at bay, and makes spring planting a lot easier.  What I'm working on cleaning up though are the rows that had our root veg and over wintering stuff.  Almost all of which died or rotted in the ground.  Though after hearing from other farmers, and seeing the lackluster offerings at the early farmers market, that seemed to be a common complaint this winter.  We have leeks, scallions, a handful of turnips, collards, some slug eaten bok choi and maybe a dozen carrots.  Most of our celeriac and our fennel bit the dust, probably because of that one straight week of hard frost we had and our parsnips and rutabaga just never did much of anything.  So now comes the fun part, trying to rip it all out of the ground without taking all of that lovingly composted dirt with it.  I also need to clean up the walkways between the rows, and THAT is what I want the rototiller for.  The walkways are completely overrun with clover, chokeweed, and clumps of nut grass that are seriously approaching shrub status.  I tried taking a pitchfork to one today and lets just say that if I tried to clear them all that way we'd be harvesting pumpkins before they were all finished.

My tomatoes seem to be puttering along alright.  Some of them have literally just shot up and taken off:

While others....seem to be having some difficulties...

You can't really see it in the picture but there ARE some things growing there, they're just REALLY FUCKING TINY.  And not so healthy looking.  Upon close inspection it looks like some of them had been committing seed suicide, where in the seed jacket never fully comes off the germinated seed stunting it's growth and eventually killing it.  I'm kind of hoping that the super sprouted amazing tomatoes are just over achievers and that the other ones will catch up, but just in case I started germinating some back-up seeds indoors.  You know, the same way you did in third grade when you got to grow bean plants in science class.  Damp paper towels!

Michael thought the sign was hilarious.  But hey, it's REALLY easy to forget that something is up there (that's how I killed my kombucha.)  Especially something so flat!  So the sign was both a reminder to myself to water the damn thing and a reminder to everyone not to throw anything else up there. 

All in all today was an awesomely productive day.  I got to enjoy the weather, start some clean up, stare at my seed starts and try willing them to grow with my mind, and I even got some of the broccoli from out back blanched and vacu-sealed for the freezer.

Delicious!  Here's hoping the weather holds, the ground drys up a bit and later this week I can play with the rototiller!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Hausfrau day because it's too god dang cold

Holy shit it's COLD.  Like frigid winds and temperatures below freezing cold.  Like there's no way in hell I'm actually going to do anything outside cold.  Ugh, at least there's no snow.  Fortunately, all my babies are stayin' strong.  The ones in the potting shed kinda have to fend for themselves, but all my delicate warm weather stuff is in the greenhouse, and that has a little electric heater that keeps everything from turning into potting soil popsicles.  So in general I've been doing a lot of cooking and baking and indoor planning stuff.  Lori and I spent like two days doing nothing but baking lasagna and making pasta.  Lori works part time at this super cute kitchen store downtown, and as part of a First Friday event they said they would pay us to make a whole ton of lasagna and hand out samples so they could show off their pasta roller.  We've done a couple of these things before for them, we made tarts, horderves for wine tastings, and I've helped serve other peoples culinary works.

But this was by far the best, rolling pasta is WAY too much fun.  And it tastes soooo much better.  I was literally just eating the ends of the raw dough that we had cut off when trimming the noodles. 

 All together we made four full sized lasagnas (two vegi, two meat) and one small one for us.  We used over 6 pounds of mozzarella, a gallon of ricotta, two dozen eggs and a little more than a sack of flour.

The vegetarian ones were easily the best.  We had a leek/mushroom/kale lasagna with a blue cheese cream sauce and a winter squash/mushroom/caramelized onion lasagna with a parmesan cream sauce.  Notice the common theme of cream sauce, I mean come on now, those weak beef bolognese sauces on the meat lasagnas didn't stand a chance.  But then again, I'm kind of a sucker for a good white lasagna so maybe I'm biased.  That and it was the first time in a long time I had cooked with grocery store ground beef (the kitchen store bought all our ingredients.)  I'd kinda forgotten how when you cook it it disintegrates into little granules, so that it has both the color and shape of sandy gravel.  Like something you'd put in the bottom of a fish tank.  I was not pleased.  When I make a meat sauce, I want a MEAT sauce, like with actual identifiable chunks of meat.  I mean you wouldn't have been able to tell we'd put two pounds of beef into this thing unless you'd strained it through a sieve.  Ugh, totally weak. 

All in all though it was fun times and good eats and I definitely want to make more pasta.  Maybe get some fun roller attachments so we can make penne and gnocchi and other fun shapes.  Lori figures if we make pasta like once every two weeks or so, and make enough to dry and save, eventually we'll have a big enough store that we won't have to buy pasta anymore.  Which would be AWESOME.  But anyway, hopefully the weather will warm up again in the next couple days and I can actually write something garden related!

Thursday, March 4, 2010


I was watering all my summer starts today when I noticed two tiny little green heads poking out of the potting soil. It's always such a good feeling whenever something starts to germinate, because when ever I start a flat there's always a nagging little fear in the back of my mind that somehow I'll screw it up or the seeds will be defective and I'll have a massive crop failure. So, YAY!

It's also just frustrating because tomatoes take FOR-EV-ER to grow. Those little sprouts over there? If I'm lucky I'll be able to start picking from them in early August but probably won't get a serious harvest until about mid to late August, so, all in all they need to grow for close to 6 god dang months. And then you only get to eat them fresh off the vine for like two, maybe three months because the plants keel over at the first sign of frost. But OH. MY. GOD. IT IS SO WORTH IT. I just keep imagining fresh tomato caprese with homemade mozzarella and going, ugggggggghhhh why isn't it summer yeeetttt.

I'm also excited because those first little tomatoes are actually my all-time favorite tomato variety ever. They're called Paul Robeson, which is a Russian heirloom variety that originated in Siberia and they are effing delicious. It's named after the African-American actor/singer/pre-Civil Rights activist of the same name. After he traveled to the USSR to perform he fell in love with the place and OH BOY did the USSR ever love him back. He fiercely defended their brand of socialism, to the point of being a Stalin-apologist. Which is, you know, really not so great, but he did do some amazing peace-activism, and worked to bring an end to Jim Crow and even went to the United Nations and charged the US with genocide for failing to stop all the lynchings that were taking place. I, and I'm sure many others, had never heard of him before thanks to good ol' McCarthyism (his music/movies lost distribution, his passport was revoked, he was under FBI surveillance for decades and was, quite literally, erased from history books.) Thank goodness some little old Russian farmer remembered. Who knew you could be schooled by a tomato?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In which my winter garden laughs at me.

I don't think it got above 50 today. Bah. I've totally wimped out when it comes to the whole "cold weather" thing since leaving NY. Anything below 45 has me grumbling and trying to find excuses to stay indoors. But I managed to get out for a bit and work on cleaning up the herb garden. (Some) things seem to be growing back nicely. The chives are awesome right now, and everything but the parsley and the sage seem to be coming back full force. I think watching stuff grow out of something that for all intents and purposes looks dead is just too cool. Baby tarragon yeah!

Most of my winter garden though is somewhat lackluster. Pathetic even. To be fair the whole thing was a bit of an after thought and everything had been planted around October/Novemberish which is really late. So while I wasn't exactly surprised that all my chard died and that my brussel sprouts are only 6 inches tall, it was still kind of disappointing. Wanh wah.

As you can see, everything is miniscule, we got the starts for free from our neighbors (like literally hop the fence and you're there neighbors) at Greenleaf because they had closed for the season but still had some nursery starts to get rid off. So the woman who was wwoofing here at the time and I went over with our garden cart and loaded up on goodies to take back and plant. All in all we had three rows of various types of cabbage, two rows brussel sprouts, one row rainbow chard, and four rows of head broccoli. And really the broccoli (which is what's under the hoops) is about the only thing that's actually done something.

We keep them under the plastic because the broccoli head is super susceptible to mold; if it's left out in the rain it will literally soak up the water like a sponge and then proceed to get gross and mildewy and rotten. But it's a serious pain in the ass, because when it's not raining and all warm and sunny like, it can get really hot under the plastic which is also bad for the plant. SO, basically I spend a lot of time running out to the back field to either put on or take off that dang piece of plastic, sometimes multiple times a day (it's times like that when the Grants Pass motto "It's The Climate!" feels particularly eye-roll worthy.)

Other than the head broccoli I'm also trying an experiment with some sprouting broccoli. We grew purple sprouting broccoli last year and it's pretty awesome. Instead of just growing one main giant head and a few smaller baby heads, sprouting broccoli is basically a bush that just puts out tons of individual broccoli florets. And technically it's a perennial (though most people plant them as annuals) so supposedly if you just leave them in the ground all year and you have mild enough winters, they have the potential to grow back in the spring. And that right there is the experiment part. I honestly had no idea if that would work here, but instead of ripping them out I just trimmed them back and hoped for the best. As of right now it seems to be a bit of a mixed bag, some of them seem to be growing back alright:

But sadly, most of them still look like this:

Double wanh wah.

Oh well, it's a learning curve, and even if I'm effing up half the time doesn't that also mean that I'm awesomely right half the time too? I'm kind of oddly at peace with those odds. Bring it on spring!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My first real blog that doesn't involve LiveJournal?

Season is slowly but surely starting up again. The last couple weeks have been (relatively) warm and sunny and the daffodils and forsythia are all prematurely blooming. But I'm waiting, hawk-eyed, for that dreaded last frost...winter is SO not done with us yet. I'm just hoping that when it finally does leave it doesn't take out all my itty bitty baby plants with it. I've been weeding like crazy, trying to make the garden look at least moderately presentable, and when the rain hits I hide out in the potting shed where I've been seeding all my spring and summer veg. I'm hoping that this here little blog will not only function as a way to track my planting schedule/calender but that it will also be a way for people to see what it is exactly that I do! It's really not all that exciting but maybe it'll help demystify backyard farming a bit :)

What I have seeded so far:More...

  • 2 flat leeks
  • 2 flats fennel
  • 1 flat scallions
  • 2 flats arugula
  • 2 flats lettuce - 1 Rogue Romain, 1 Butterhead

  • San Marzano - 22
  • Black Plum - 22
  • Red Cherry - 10
  • Sungold - 9
  • Isis Candy Cherry - 10
  • Chocolate Cherry - 9
  • Paul Robeson - 25
  • Mary Robinson - 25
  • Beefsteak - 15
  • Copia -24
  • Red Zebra - 16
  • Flame/Hillbilly - 32
  • Pineapple - 24
  • Carbon - 29
  • Brandywine - 15
  • Pink Pondarosa - 5
  • Hatch - 25
  • Jalapeno - 15
  • Cayenne - 15
  • Ancho/Poblano - 15
  • Anaheim - 10
  • Habanero - 5
  • Holy Mole - 5
  • Pepperonicini - 5
  • Snap Peas - 72
  • Snow Peas - 72
  • Parsley - 36
  • Oregano - 12
  • Thyme - 12
  • Marjoram - 12
  • Sage - 12
  • Kale - 24
  • 2nd Succession Lettuce - 1 flat Rogue Romaine, 1 flat Butterhead