Thursday, April 30, 2009

Buds, Blossoms, and Babies: Late April at Maggie's

Maple buds.

White birch catkins and little leaves.

Beautiful blooms.

Fennel and lettuce.

Just-watered bok choy.

Little peppers.

Summer squash.


Baby cucumbers.

A Morning in the Garden

The morning's activities included: apple tree grafting (using both a slip graft and a cleft graft), drying chives in our solar drier, putting up a pea trellis, spraying down used seed flats, digging a new perennial bed along the horse fence where we're going to put grapes we're propagating from pruning clippings, saying hello to the newest calf down the road, Poncho (Pride's baby), and generally enjoying being out in the farm sunshine on such a stunning day.

Trays lined up in the sun to dry.
Drying chives.
Beautiful chives!
Cleft graft, sealed with beeswax.
Poncho, about 20 minutes after we was born.

Spring Hoeing

We hoed our early brassicas yesterday. It was a perfect afternoon, warm, but not too hot, clear and sunny, a little breeze, birches and a few maples budding out already, tinting the field-edges with the sweetest lightest green. We hoed six or seven 370-ish foot beds of cabbage, kale, collards, and broccoli. I don't know what it is about hoeing, but it is one of my favorite things to do in the whole world. I could spend all day out in the field with a hoe, alone or with a friend, moving down the field in a pattern that's a dance, killing weeds, breathing in the geen scents of early summer. There's something sacred about the feel of the long handle in my hands, the deep rhythm of it, the sound of the blade scuffling thorugh soil, the easy, familiar movement of it, bed after bed after bed.

I spent the second half of the afternon using how to use the disc and the chiesel plow on our big John Deere. It was neat to drag a big implement through the field, lossening the soil and incoporating last year's cover crop. But though I'm glad to learn how to operate tractors, sitting up on top of the John Deere, the chisel plow tunneling behind me, the bue sky overhead - it simply isn't the same. Some people love it, but not me. Every day, I'm realizing how much I love doing things - as much as possible - on a hand scale. I love having my feet on the earth and a simple, effective tool in my hands. I love being able to hear my breath and the breath of the woods around me. I love listening to the sounds of dirt aganist metal and watching the light change on the young plants as clouds move across the sky. I love using my muscles, feeling the ache in my calves and shoulders and upper arms, falling into the rhythm of constant movement, my step in sync with my hoe, never having to stop walking as I slide my blade around each plant.

Hoeing is one of the most basic acts of farming. It reminds me to pay attention, it reminds me why I love growing vegetabes, and it reminds me that it is the details I love most - the color of the sky, the thin lines of green in the field, a sharp blad. When it comes down to it, this is why I've chosen a life of farming. Just because I love this, this blessedly simple act, this walking up and down a field of young brassicas with a hoe in my hands.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I used to be in the habit of reading a book of poetry every month or so. I've been lax about it since last summer, and the other night I realized how much I miss reading new poems. So I decided to pick something up. After spreading eight books of poetry out on my floor and looking at each one, I chose Rilke, one of my favorite poets, who seems especially appropriate to read in the spring and early summer. I'm working my way through the fairy thick Selected Poetry, edited and translated by Stephen Mitchell. Though I'm not usually a fan of compilations, and much prefer to read whole works written by the poet, it is the only book of Rilke I have that I haven't read, so I'm giving it a shot. I'm about fifteen pages into it, and here's my favorite poem so far:


The sky puts on the darkening blue coat
held for it by a row of ancient trees;
you watch: and the lands grow distant in your sight,
one journeying to heaven, one that falls;

and leave you, not at home in either one,
not quite so still and dark as the darkened houses,
not calling to eternity with the passion
of what becomes a start each night, and rises

and leave you (inexpressibly to unravel)
your life, with its immensity and fear,
so that, now bounded, now immesurable,
it is alternatley stone in you and star.

Grazing Season

The cows jumped the fence this weekend.

I drove back from a weekend in Boston and saw the cows out on pasture. They aren't scheduled to go out for another week or so, so I was a bit curious. Turns out every last one of them, at 9 pm on Saturday night, hopped over the fence from their dank, muddy, manure heavy winter housing. They saw the grass getting greener by the day, and decided it was time. Luckily, we had already set up the fencing for their first paddock, so it was easy for the folks on weekend chores to herd them into there.

Still, Olivier wasn't planning to put them out for another week at least, so it throws a definite kink in our grazing plan.

This is the kind of thing that happens on a farm. Cows know springtime even more intimately than we do, and they make their own decisions.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Nighttime Chicken Train

We moved our pullets this week. Chickens are known as chicks until they develop feathers and grow their wings out, pullets until they start laying, and hens for the rest of their lives. We ordered ours in January, and they've been living in our smallest chicken coop next to the home garden. They outgrew the heat lamp and cramped space long ago, and have been free-ranging over the sleeping garden and lawn for the past few weeks. On Thursday, we decided it was time to move them to their new home, our chicken tractor, or mobile chicken coop. We hitch this up to the tractor, and can pull it anywhere we want. This summer, the chickens will be out on pasture, gobbling up delicious grubs and worms, pecking at cow patties, and fertilizing our fields. We'll move them every couple days. For now, their new place of residence is down past the barn, in a swampy, muddy area the pigs just vacated. They seem to like their new home just fine.

Moving chickens is a delicate affair. They are fast, and nearly impossible to catch, so the best way to do it is to wait until evening, after they have gone to roost. Chickens naturally go to roost at sunset, which is convient for us, because all we have to do is wait for them to go inside, and then close the coop door. In order to move them, we pulled their new mobile home up alongside their old coop and waited for sunset. Once the last chicken had gone inside, we started. About eight of us lined up outside the coop. Olivier went inside and started handing us chickens. We tucked one under each arm, carried them the twenty feet to the new coop, and deposited them inside. With eight of us, it only took about twenty minutes to move sixty birds from one coop to another. Alone, it would have taken an hour at least.

We stayed quiet in order to keep the birds calm. It was a cool evening, spring-scented, the ground still wet from recent rain, the first stars twinkling in the sky. Eight of us moved softly, chickens tucked under our arms, not much noise other than the occasional chicken squabble, our laughter, and farm stories.

There is nothing scared or extraordinary about moving chickens. Like most everything else I love about farming, it is the simplicity of it that stays with me, the warmth of a chicken tucked under my arm, the camaraderie, the softness of the night and the way it smelled, the shuffling sounds of chickens getting used to their new home. It might not have been extraordinary, but I can't think of a better way to pass a half hour on a star-sprinkled, sweet-smelling spring evening.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Present

My future has been very present in my mind, lately. Business planning class, next fall's hoped for cross-country trip, next season and where I will live, what farm I'll call home, if I'll be able to find an acre of my own. For the first time in my life, at the end of this year, I feel like I'll be ready to walk out into the world into some kind of semi-settled life, with a plan for future years. I'm done with moving around for a while, jumping from job to job, apprenticeship to apprenticeship, adventure to adventure. I'm ready for something a little more solidified, and I'm stating to have a pretty clear idea of what that might look like.

It's hard not to spend all my free time and energy devoted to the cause of next year. The perfect job, the perfect little piece of leased land, countless ideas for growing basil and sungolds, raising sheep, getting a dairy cow. Fitting all the things I want into my long-term plans for my future. And while planning and dreaming is good, in balance, lately I've become overwhelmed by the endless possibilities and uncertainties that lie ahead of me.

So back to the present. Yesterday it rained hard nearly all afternoon. We were in the greenhouse, seeding our first squash and cukes of the year, and pricking out tomatoes. The rain was so loud banging on the sides of the greenhouse we couldn't hear each other talk. Our brassicas and onions are in the ground, our scallions and leeks and first lettuce planting in the cold frames, and our greenhouse is now full of tomatoes, squash, peppers, eggplants, and seed potatoes. The rain was hard and sweet, drenching our new transplants with much-needed water. It was good for me, too. A heavy spring rain, loud and soaking. The peepers were out singing strong last night, and while I don't presume to know what makes them sing so joyfully and beautifully, I can only imagine they were offering up their thanks for rain. I made a simple dinner of couscous, onions, garlic, potatoes, vegetable broth, pine nuts, cheddar. While the grey rain streaked down the windows, I ate a bowl of steaming couscous stew with Motor curled up on my lap.

Another lamb was born yesterday, after another difficult birth. Her mama, Wendy, was not interested in her, and it took a while for her to let the lamb suckle, but now they are both doing great, though the lamb, little Phoenix, is still tiny. Last night I went out to sit with them before bed. The lambs are growing fast; it is amazing how much they've changed in the month they've been alive. It was cold and raw yesterday, but the evening was warm, and the barn smelled of rain and hay, and the darkness was calming, and the peepers were singing, and I know all the lambs by name, by the markings on their faces, the color of their coats, the way they jump and bounce, the length of their legs.

I'm calling a moratorium on plans for the future. There are too many details in the present that need my attention: the scent of wool in the rain, little Athena nibbling my pants, the silence of the house at 5:30 in the morning, the fog hanging thick in the pastures, the array of well-sharpened hoes we oiled yesterday, the muscles in the backs of legs strengthening as I shovel dark, rich compost onto the garden.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Memories of Farms I've Loved: Land's Sake

Pie at the farm stand at 7 am - apple, raspberry, rhubarb, blueberry; tomato baseball in late August at Miriam Street; planting squash in early May in the late afternoon, the day a perfect spring blue; countless delicious potluck lunches of astounding variety; the classic farm lunch: tomato-basil-mozzarella sandwiches, made possible by the jugs of olive oil and balsamic at the stand, Erik's bread and cheese runs, and our own unbeatable tomatoes and basil; eating Aunt Ruby's tomatoes like apples in the fields; Sundays in late fall; teatime with Johanna, Emily and Eliza; taking down tomato stakes; harvesting potatoes (and making up silly songs about the gory of banana fingerlings); cleaning onions and garlic under sharp fall skies; spinach, mustard greens, and baby kale under tunnels of remay in late November; tractor lessons; the stand piled high with winter squash, onions, potatoes, and greens; high tomato season; washing kale veined with silver in cold water under high blue October skies; the familiar harvest board; massive July harvests of beans and peas and greens and beets and carrots, lettuce and arugula, radishes, turnips, and eggplant; taste-testing six varieties of corn every morning in August; afternoons alone in the back fields, hoeing onions, deadheading zinnias, hand weeding carrots; the family of wild turkeys; two quarts of berries a day during strawberry season; sunlight on the torch sunflowers and dianthus in the front garden; knowing a place and being known by it.

Early Morning

At five in the morning, it is still dark when I climb down my ladder. There's a pink streak on the horizon, and birds are already singing. My routine is always the same. I come into the silent kitchen, boil water for tea, sit down at the wooden table, and write.

There is something sacred about the between-time, the transition from night into day, this dusky, quiet hour before the house and the world are quite awake. I love being awake to watch the day brighten before my eyes. The color of the sky changes and slowly the shapes of trees appear out of darkness. The sun rises over the fields behind the kitchen, and since I write facing west, the first I see of it is the reflection of light on the birches across the road, all of them bathed in a glowing orange-gold. That's when I put down my pen, take my mug of tea, and go stand by the backdoor to watch the light slide up over the trees and spill into the fields and the house.

On days like today, misty and grey, there is no sunrise. Just a gentle lightening of the shades of grey, the deep blues and blacks slowly fading into white, the day opening softly before me. The house is absolutely still. I walk slowly and quietly, so as not to disturb the magic of the hour. I do my best writing now, at dawn, in the space between yesterday and today, these before-breakfast hours free of responsibilities and obligations.

The changing of the light. Enough time to wake up slowly and fully, to ease into the morning. The company of creatures who don't speak: an orange cat, birds singing in all the trees. It is a great blessing, and a luxury, in these sweet dawn hours before chores, to witness the simple miracle of another day creeping into the world.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


This is my future...what do you think?

In our six-week agricultural business planning class, I've been hard at work trying to solidify and clarify my dreams and plans for the future into a compelling, articulate, and practical form (i.e. a business plan). Here's the business description. Does it make you want to come to the Open Hearth for a delicious, welcoming, joyful dinner of roasted asparagus, white bean soup with ramps, and a springy green salad? (You can tell it's the middle of April and I'm pining for the end of May...)

Good Folk Farm and Open Hearth is a small, inter-sufficient community farm and open kitchen that provides public meals several times a week for our local community. Our nourishing, seasonal meals feature our own farm-grown produce, milk and eggs, and meat, grains and dry beans from local farmers. We have no menu; meals are severed family style and change depending on the season. At the core of our philosophy is the promise that everyone will be welcomed to our table, regardless of ability to pay monetarily. We believe that sustainable economies are local, diverse, and support the needs of all community members. To that end, we accept a wide range of payment, including work trades, specific skills, money, goods and services, and volunteer time. We strive not only to provide real food and real nourishment for our community, but to instill a sense of wonder and gratitude in all who eat at our table and to reawaken each other to the importance of our connection to the natural world. Through the simple, meaningful daily practices of farming, cooking, and sharing meals, we act as a catalyst for community-driven social and environmental change.

The Open Hearth is community space. We are open Wednesday through Friday, 7-5, and weekends from 10-5. We serve family-style dinners and lunches three days a week, brunch on Saturdays, and host an open soup and bread potluck every Sunday afternoon. Between sit-down meals, the kitchen is open for self-serve seasonal food: fresh bread and baked goods, soup, salads, and sandwiches, hot beverages and of course, desserts. The Open Hearth is a great place to enjoy a cup of locally-grown peppermint tea and a carrot muffin, meet with friends (or meet new ones), enjoy the sunshine on the porch, or settle in with a book and a bowl of tomato soup. Throughout the year, we host a wide variety of events: skill workshops in anything from food preservation and home cheese-making to planning accessible gardens, dance parties, book groups, lectures and concerts, cooking classes, farm tours and community work days.

Our farm is located on ten beautiful acres, and the land is the center of everything we do. We grow and preserve 100% of the produce we serve in our kitchen, as well as enough to support the small community of adults who work at Good Folk. Though we are not certified, we farm using organic practices, without any chemical inputs. Our dairy cow and small herd of dairy goats provide us with all of our milk, homemade yogurt, and fresh cheese. We raise a small flock of grass-fed Icelandic sheep for meat and fiber, and keep laying hens, which happily follow our cows through the pasture. Our land supports a diverse range of wildlife, native and cultivated plants, perennial fruits, and domestic animals. We envision a dynamic farming system that is self-sustaining, reliant on our neighbor farmers, business-owners and craftspeople, and beneficial to our land and community. Year round, we do everything we can to rejuvenate, rather than wear down, our soil. From planting cover crops and making our own compost, to sustainably managing our woodlot, baking our own bread and sharing meals with anyone who chances by our farm, we are actively creating the kind of world in which we want to live.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Common Farm Things

I love the weight of common farm things - hay bales, a sack of pig feed tossed over my shoulder, April's harness jingling as I carry it from the barn to the make-shift hitching post. I love the way the weight of two water buckets slides up the muscles of my arms like a living thing. I love the solid weight of a good forkful of hay, a full basket of still-warm eggs, dark soil turned with a garden fork, a wheelbarrow full of manure. The milk pail, a full bucket of tomatoes, the warmth of a chicken tucked under my arm. A handful of broccoli seeds, a 3-day old lamb, a flat of onions.

Saturday at Maggie's

I woke up at 7 am, my room, blessed with an east-facing window, flooded with sunlight. These days sleeping till 7 seems late; my body won't let me sleep any later than 8 or so. It's the best rhythm I've ever been on. I get up at 5, with the first glimmer of light. The sun doesn't rise until just before six, but the sky is dusky already at 5, and the pale shapes of trees are visible out my window. It's nothing like waking up in the winter in complete, silent darkness. I'm in bed by 8:30, usually, and I sleep a solid eight hours. I love this rhythm. I'm full of energy all day long and exhausted enough to sleep well at day's end. I feel intimately connected to the sunlight, the morning and evening sounds of animals, the flow of the day through the farm in a way I never have before.

The house is quiet at 7. I make my morning pot of hot water, honey, and lemon juice. We don't have an electric tea kettle at the farm, and one thing I've come to love is the ritual of actually boiling water on the stove. Every morning here begins the same way - filling the kettle, waiting for the steam to rise and the whistle to sing through the house, using the red dishtowel that always hangs on the stove to pour hot water into the waiting pot. This morning, I made fried eggs on sprouted wheat bagels (delicious) and took everything outside to eat on the stone steps in the perennial garden behind the kitchen. I shared my breakfast with copious amounts of sunlight, the morning scuffling of chickens, and the farm's first spring flowers.
The day quickly turned into one of those misty, gray spring days, damp clouds hanging in the sky, rain spattering the fields. Motor and I decided it would be best spent on the couch. I read, Motor napped.
Several chapters and many pleasant cat-dreams later, I decided it was time to do some baking. Slow, lazy weekend days beg for the scent of cinnamon and honey, or buttery biscuits, or fresh bread. After a week without it during Passover, I have been reveling in bread for the past few days, and enjoying my share of bagels, home-baked cookies (oatmeal honey) and, this afternoon, applesauce-spice cake with maple-cream glaze.
While the cake baked (and the house was gratifyingly perfumed with the smell of applesauce, nutmeg, cloves, and toasty pecans), I swept the kitchen floor. I adore simple, rhythmic handwork - shelling peas, shucking corn, washing dishes, grooming horses, sweeping. I don't know what it is about the particular motion of sweeping, but it brings out the silence of the kitchen, and somehow deepens the stillness of the afternoon.

The afternoon passed much like the morning. A piece of spicy, maple-flavored applesauce cake, a glass of raw milk from Chase Hill Farm (the coolest farm we've visited this year), and many delightful pages of Bujold's newest book.

Stella made a delcious pot of lentil soup with carrots, onions, tomatoes and potatoes for dinner. Which was exaclty what I wanted: hardy, warming, and delicious. Now it's time to check on the sheep and shut the chickens in, and I'll still have a few solid hours to read before my bedtime.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Walk Through the Greenhouse in Mid-April

Our seed potatoes came. We won't be planting them for a few weeks, so for now they are living in the greenhouse. Soon they'll sprout, and then we'll cut them into pieces and put them in the ground.

Dill...and what looks like some Toscana kale. How did that get there?

More potted herbs. This is one of my favorite tables in the greenhouse - about ten pots full of dill, cilantro, parsley, thyme and oregano, all of them studded with volunteer (or accidental) brassicas.

Parsley and scallions.

Napa cabbage and lettuce.

Scallions and parsley again. The parsley looks so good I want to eat it right now, but I'll be patient and wait until it's of a more appropriate size.

We put our onions in the ground today (almost a half acre - our first big transplant of the season) and our brassicas are in the cold frames, so the greenhouse is realitivly empty. Our big planting of tomatoes is germinating on heat mats, along with the peppers and eggplant. Keeping them company are these lush, green flats of parsley, scallions, and letuce, as well as fennel, radicchio, celeriac, leeks, bok choy, assorted flowers for the home garden, and herbs. The greenhouse is a good place to be right now.

And so is the field. We planted what Nate hopes will be between 1500-2000 pounds of storange onions, as well as sweet onions and bunching onions. It was a glorious, warm spring day, the sky deep blue, the pastures greening up, the soil warm and comforting on my bare feet. Halelujah for the beginning of the season of long days outdoors, planting, weeding, hoeing, harvesting, for sun late into the evening and the never-ending, always satisfying work of hands.

A Towering Pile of 'Farmer's Gold'

This isn't nearly all the manure our cows have made for us this winter, but it's a good portion of it. Right now it is sitting in the sun, cooking - next year it'll be lush orchard grass and red clover (which will be digested by one of nature's most miraculous creatures, the ruminant, and turn into beef), beautiful marbled purple eggplants and fingerling potatoes, and gorgeous stands of oats and peas (which provide our fields with free nitrogen and keep the soil healthy over the winter).

This is one of the things I love most about farming - this constant, seasonal cycling of waste and nutrients, this simple process that ties each growing, living thing on the farm to everything else, this endless web of connection, this magical transformation.

April sunshine is glorious.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Perhaps the most indispensable tool on a farm (an impossible choice - a sharp pocket knife, the ubiquitous 5-gallon bucket, a pair of sturdy rubber boots, a screwdriver, can you choose?), forks come in many shapes. This afternoon, before we returned to fixing the tongue on the chicken tractor, we sat in the sun with Olivier and talked about the various kinds.

Pitchforks refer to any kind of fork used for moving, scooping, and throwing material (hay, manure, gravel, compost, etc.) The two most commonly used kind of pitchfork are the hay fork, and the manure fork.

The manure fork usually has between 5-8 (and sometimes more) closely spaced tines, which makes it the perfect tool for scooping up manure, compost, and matted bedding.The hay fork usually has only 3 (and sometimes 2) widely spaced tines. This makes it easy to hoist it into a pile of lose hay and gather up a large amount in one forkful. The hay balances on the tines; any more would create too much resistance, and the fork wouldn't easily slide into the pile and catch the hay.
Then there are garden forks, which refer to any fork used to dig and turn soil. These forks are not for lifting. Their short, flat tines (usually 4) work like a shovel. Garden forks are the ideal tool for turning beds, incorporating compost, and digging holes.


Pigs are not my favorite animal, but it has been a pleasure taking care of our piglets this week. We got them at about five weeks, and by now they are almost two months old. They are getting bigger by the day. They (lucky pigs!) get to live in this sturdy, handmade A-frame, where I find all seven of them curled up in the back corner every morning. We built the A-frame with two pieces of corrugated metal roofing, screwed to three pieces of wood (you can just see the bottom one poking out on the left.) The entire back wall can be unscrewed in one piece and the two sides separated, so we can move the pigs relatively easily.

I would probably be curled up with my litter-mates, too, if I were a pig, because even though the days have been gorgeous and sunny, it's been cold enough to freeze their water every night. That's one of the reasons rubber boots are so essential. A few stomps and their water is free and clear. (Although even though we change it three times a day, it never stays clean. Pigs love sticking their faces in the mud!)Pigs love rooting. They've only been in this enclosure a little more than a week, and they've already uprooted all the grass. We're using them to reclaim this area. it is very wet, and full of shrubs and brush. As the pigs move down the strip, tearing everything out, we'll be able to much better manage the (hopefully) field. Later in the summer, we're going to fence them into a big section of scrubby woods at the end of one of our big pastures. Having them in there will help clear up some of the debris. Farmers are using pigs, and their innate love of sticking their face in the dirt, in some pretty cool ways.Eating, of course, is a very serious business with pigs, and just about anything will do. Which is convient for us, because, sharing a house with ten other people, Tupperware of beans, roasted root vegetables, and leftover mac n' cheese inevitably get forgotten in the back of the fridge and are discovered weeks later covered in mold. Luckily, we live on a farm, where practically nothing is wasted. The pigs eat up every last kitchen scrap we toss at them, and next fall, the new students will be eating bacon for breakfast.