Sunday, June 30, 2013

Long Island, Redux

The other morning while taking a brief rest from harvesting I felt overwhelmed. I was on farm to harvest the shallots and that was taking longer than expected and all the while the yield was unremarkable. Overwhelmed with the work in front of me and disappointed with the fruit of my labor, I made a post suggesting that the end of 'distance' farming is at hand. I meant what I said, but I pulled it offline before most of you could read it. I wasn't able to put the energy into writing the full story, and frankly it's really hard to blog and harvest, but I had at least some awareness that I could be misunderstood. 

So to clarify my feelings, some of what makes my farming more difficult is the 6 hours traveling to and from the farm. Just recently I have increased travel time because the barn space offered to me by the Peconic Land Trust is in Southold -on the north prong of the fork! I am extremely grateful for their help and without them I would be trucking my garlic back to Brooklyn, but the distance has added a new cost (two ferry trips each way) and even more time. My frustration is not with them but simply the untenable operability of small time farming on Long Island. 

Facing only so much time in a day, and nearly every day with impending rain recently, I felt a good dose of doubt for the first time. And it's about time! 

Seriously, all my farming neighbors live in the area, go home to hot showers and meals, and are available to accomplish the work over several days whereas I often sleep in my van (miserable in summer), eat whatever's available, get pretty gnarly, and have to have the project done by day's end or potentially lose the crop. I think my attitude has been quite extraordinary given the challenge before me! I would be nuts not to question this practice. 

So is harvest. It comes almost all at once, with very little warning and you must get it done or suffer from rot or mold. It's very wet in Amagansett, more than I ever imagined. Yesterday my hair was wringing moisture out of the constantly blowing air and puddles formed under trees. I am lucky in that I can take off days in summer from school, but with limits. I can't call in because the artichoke isn't fully harvested and its about to rain. 

There is no easy access to the upper barn, requiring climbing and hoisting everything up to the upper step of an 8 foot ladder. Last night I worked into dark building racks for the shallots, the interior of the barn black as night, with only my phone as a source of light. I feverishly laid garlic all over the barn floor because I didn't have time to tie it into bundles on farm. This allowed it to sit until I can return. They need to be labeled, they need to be tied in bundles of ten, the cord needs to be strung, and the bundles  hung on the cord. It is quite warm and humid (wish it wasn't so) in the upper barn so the sweat burns my eyes as I work. 

If I hadn't stopped to think about the work, from 7 am to 9 pm every farm day, even I would not recognize what I am putting into six thousand garlic bulbs and eight thousand shallots. This is not a lot by ordinary farm standards. In other words, I cannot accomplish what I set out to accomplish without a different paradigm. 

So when I talk about 'distance' farming being over, what I mean is that distance itself will probably need to be removed from the production (allowing the market to be at distance). At 14000 plants I am at my limit for what I can do from three hours distance. Any increase will require me to be proximate, to have a barn close, to find help more easily. 

So I'm not done, not even burnt out (my mind has already been on the next planting), but looking at ways I can improve operability given the realities of farm work. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Field Hands

The farm is at the beginning of full summer swing. All around tomatoes and peppers and eggplant are being planted, tractors are buzzing, and I well believe that there is an implement that vacuums up Colorado Potato Beetles. It has been running nonstop. We have been knocking ours into a cup.

The farm isn't much to look at these days. My white clover has become a central strip of billowing mounds of green. Crabgrass is the predominate weed, particularly at the base of each garlic plant. Meanwhile, Smartweed, Lambsquarters, Dogbane, Sorrel, and a variety of unknown grasses grow an inch an hour.

The peas are high, tasty, abundant. We eat what we can.

I was able to finagle a tractor to disc the cut rye and field pea cover crop. It must be done again, but I was happy to get this project moving. This is the field that will be planted in November and I am determined to have it in better shape than the current field. I picked up an additional twenty bags of lime (for a total of sixty 40lb bags) which I hope to get spread this week. Finally, I also picked up my order of 50 pounds Buckwheat seed, which I also hope to get in this week. The Buckwheat will be turned in August.

Betsy has not been to the farm and probably for good reason. When she does come by there will be much weeding to do. I did the general clearing and soil loosening with our small, sharp hoe and she followed with hands and knees. It takes two people about one hour to clear each forty by three foot row. The work is tedious, yet I cannot be too sure at what point you can let the weeds go. If the garlic will be harvested within 10 days and the weeds are below six inches, I leave them, otherwise they must be pulled. Visiting one day a week from mid May through June is hardly enough to keep a field this size weeded. There will need to be a new weeding paradigm next season.

 My farming neighbor brought a flame weeder. While it didn't seem all that productive for row crops, it did make some sense for the rapidly filling Saffron bed. The Crocus are dormant, so I could flame the weeds without harming (I hope) the corms under the ground. The weeds were do moist from all the rain we had been having that torching the row took longer than I thought. Not only that, it appears to me the grasses will be right back in a week or so. Ultimately, flame weeding does not appear to be a productive weeding practice.

Ocean side gin and tonics in classy plastic cups after a long days work completely justified.

Now that the weeding is done we move onto harvesting over the next three weeks. We've already harvested the Turban and Asiatic varieties. The shallots are completely ready and have been for at least a week (I was waiting for them to lodge -it never happened). They will be harvested this coming Thursday or Friday.  After those will be the Artichoke strains.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Farm Camp

This was our farm camp, not far from the town of Montauk or the farm. We tried to keep things simple, after all, this was a work trip.

It's truly nice, however, when you have warm showers and toilets, cleaned every day, at your work camp.

And of course, there was also the ocean and sandy beach.

After the first night of camping it is inevitable that we will rise early, before sunrise, and jump at the chance to see the sights by first light.

To the west southwest.

To the east, north east.

Lathyrus japonicus, Beach Pea.

And of course, Beach Rose, Rosa rugosa, in abundance.


Monday morning. The first task of the week was to find florists in the Hamptons who may be interested in our Allium Ampeloprasum (ahem, Elephant garlic) scapes. The garlic scape sales weren't too hot, so it was worth trying a non-culinary approach to selling these more robust flower stalks. We clipped a bunch, put them in a water jug, and drove from florist to florist. We made one sale, to a florist named Alejandra in East Hampton. I was somewhat surprised by rejection of these stems, especially at the florist with the spare, sculptural aesthetic who's main concern was stems smelling of garlic (they do not) in a hot room (well, maybe a little bit). We gave him our samples and called it a day because we had another task to tackle -find a barn in the area that we could rent to cure the garlic. That turned to out less successful than the our florist hunt. We did, however, get to introduce ourselves to many of the farmers in the area and that has value.

We made some lunch and headed to the Parrish Art Museum, of which I'd always known, yet had never visited when it was at the former site, and thought it was high time to do so.

The Birch and Aspen leaves tap dance in the constant breeze.

A storm brewed to our north. 

Which put on impressive clouds at the beach by the time of our return.

But it cleared up and we climbed into the tent just after sundown. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Allium Ampeloprasum

So who wouldn't want these? What florist wouldn't see their appeal? Most of them, apparently. We had one Hamptons' florist buy fifty stems, but all the others wouldn't bite. What do you think?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Garden

Before we left for "farm week," I wondered whether or not we would miss the lilies. As it turns out, not at all. You can see one blooming in the far back, but they've waited for us to return. Before we left, I deadheaded the Salvia and Dame's Rocket and they are in bloom once again. The Dicentra eximia blooms effortlessly and the Geranium 'Johnson's' has exploded with new growth and flowers.

Overall I am fairly impressed with how the side yard turned out this season (knocking on nearby Zelkova). Each plant has been spaced decently and so far no one has come in to trounce anything! The path stones are nearly covered by rapidly spreading Sedum and Potentilla indica. The pots have been filled by Betsy with annuals (some which over-wintered). The Gaura and Russian Sage have been successfully transplanted from the front yard which is now only part sun-shade. The lilies survived transplant.

Although this one is too short for the competing Solidago and Asters.

It's quite the bountiful garden. Echinacea and Gaura are in bloom, as well as the self-seeding Borage and Alyssum. The native Liatris is about to bloom and the Sedum has been blooming pink for two weeks now.

Meanwhile in the front yard my grandmother's tea has its best year for blooming yet. There are several buds about to open not two weeks after the first flush of many more has ended. The 'Knockout' rose that I hacked back late and hard has made its comeback, all the while the generally sun loving perennials struggle if they are unlucky enough to now find themselves in the shade of a Zelkova. The front yard is now due for a major, new reality, overhaul.

This oddity in the front yard, under the 'New Dawn' climber and growing through the dwarf spirea, has made an appearance during the Allium sphaerocephalon bloom. These are usually very much magenta-purple, but this one has bloomed all green-yellow. Peculiar.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Monday, June 17, 2013

Barnstorming Florists

Today we had two simple tasks -find a barn and find a florist willing to buy my elephant garlic, Allium ampeloprasum, scapes. They're much meatier than typical garlic scapes and they curve less too. Most are still covered in spathe, some opening to reveal green and purple, and about two feet long. 

We found a florist in East Hampton willing to take on 50 stems, but of the six we visited she was the only brave soul. The florist with the spare, sculptural aesthetic in South Hampton was so sure he didn't want them that I decided to give him our lot of samples just for the trying. He was worried they would smell like onions in a hot room or at least that was the reason he gave for passing. I didn't realize we were up against convention at high end florists, but so it is. 

As for barns, well, we handed out lots of cards to guys in front of piles-o-barns. Most said they were maxed out and then sent us down the road to see another farmer. We will be harvesting our first two varieties this week and they're going to have to go into the now cramped (shared) studio if I don't receive any calls over the next two or three days. 

We'll watch the weather closely, because we've had nearly nine inches of rain in the last week which isn't very good for harvest. I would like to harvest the day we leave camp, driving the bulbs in the evening to Brooklyn, but if rain is likely I will need to pull them and drive them back before our stay is up. 

Tomorrow we weed, clearing out the crocus bed, picking Colorado potato beetle nymphs from the potatoes, weeding the few onions that have survived my ill-timed planting. We have tons of pea greens thanks to that absurd quantity of rain last week. They're succulent, nutty, and just delicious, but my neighboring farmer said those I gave him didn't move at his weekly markets because no one knows what to do with them. 

Eat them? People tend to be followers and you have to show people how to cook and eat, otherwise they will pass on these apparently exotic offerings. Maybe I'll go with him to his market and see if I can drum up some interest. 

To relax afterward we stopped into the Parrish Art Museum. I've never been and they have some interesting new digs. Long, like a stretched longhouse or potato barn, the building stands like a sculpture in a meadow. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Cat Shit And Beer Bottles

Must make the best fertilizer. Things grow here in the side yard like mad. I can hardly control them. 

We're leaving for ocean camping soon and it looks like we'll miss only some of the lilies (unless the pickers come round). Meanwhile we'll be tending to the garlic farm while we camp. I've harvested the first of the Beach Farm's garlic, a Turban, on the small side because I didn't fertilize the Beach Farm this spring. They do have great color this year. Their harvest means that the Amagansett farm's early variety will be ready soon. I'll be blogging mobile for the next week -so please excuse the left-justified, fuzzy images.

Friday, June 14, 2013

After The Rains

I could hardly sleep knowing I would be rising at 3:30 in the morning. It didn't help that the upstairs tenants were noisy as always. So, when I awoke at 2:58 am, I got out of bed and readied myself for the drive to the farm. Brooklyn is unsavory at four on a Sunday morning. Still so many people up, yet those who rise early are also about. There is more traffic on the highways than one imagines at that hour. I could relax, however, by the time I made it to Nassau County, and then the road was nearly empty by central Suffolk County, before this part of the Earth rolled into the visible rays of the sun.

Driving through the Hamptons was also a quite hospitable at 5:30 in the morning. Every place I usually turn to for breakfast was still closed on a Sunday morning, but thankfully the chatty, vibrant ladies of Hampton Coffee were open for business before 6 am. And, for those interested, their restroom was spotless.

All was covered in early morning dew.

Hard not to notice the elephant garlic scapes as they rocket to the sky.

The plan is to market these to local florists. Any florists in the house? At what stage are they most appealing -open, closed, half-way?

Generally the field looked better than I imagined given the report from my farming neighbor stating that my field was a pond. The surface water had 24 hours to drain since the last of the rain, and all had from the cultivated rows.

The weeds and the clover cover I planted had grown as expected in the three days since my last visit. Everything, but the garlic, was significantly taller.

At the edge of this year's plot the water still stood.

At the northern extent of my field the water was a few inches deep and the weeds acclimated to the soggy soil made themselves known. I slogged through the mow cut, hardly making it as my boots sunk ankle deep in the mire. I then crossed to the adjacent lower field that had recently been cultivated. A real nightmire.

The field had received nearly 5 inches of rain in 24 hours. That's nearly a month and a half's worth in one-forty-fifth the time. But that doesn't make it any less of a problem for growing a crop that generally accepts dry soil conditions. I can only hope that this soggy condition doesn't exacerbate this spring's growing problems.  I'm also not sure that I can make use of the northern third of my field for garlic. I'll have to work with the Trust to find an equitable solution, possibly drier land.

Checking on flood damage was only one reason to head to the farm. The reason I left so early was to be able to harvest garlic scapes to deliver to my neighboring farm for this week's farmers' market. He needed them by 7 am, and as luck would have it, we both arrived at the gate at exactly the same moment. Unfortunately he had a hard time selling them. Apparently there isn't much taste for the garlic vegetable in the Hamptons. I hope he has better luck at his Thursday market. I also cut 5 pounds (250 scapes) for shipment to the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture kitchen. Scape season will be on for another 3 weeks and I hope I can sell more, lest they become compost.

Scape cutting was finished by 8 am, so the remainder of the day belonged to weeding punctuated by breaks designed to alternate from my weeding posture. I walked to the edge of the field and I spotted a remnant of an old plot. Evidently used for growing herbs, it had chamomile flowers, culinary sage, thyme, bronze fennel, and some purple lettuce.

I also discovered this bed of strawberries.

I bumped into a turtle crossing the road. They are such funny and cute creatures.

And I noticed peas growing in the wheat.

Unfortunately, the East Coast just endured yet another bout of heavy rains, only two days since the passing of the last event. The field in Amagansett received 2 inches of rain on top of the five of Friday. Hudson Clove has been socked with all kinds of difficulties this season, but most can be tackled throughh better soil preparation, including grading and amending to compensate for wet soil. After harvest I will be able to concentrate on the good work of preparing the land for next season. Proper liming, adding gypsum, compost, turning under the summer buckwheat crop, contouring for better drainage. That's about all I can do without moving to another field. With luck I will be able to plant some of my garlic in November, but it's too soon to tell. Although I planned to do this to increase my yields and acclimate the planting stock, I may have to buy a significant portion of my planting stock this season to make up for losses. This practice will greatly add to my costs and at some point becomes a deal breaker.