Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Nate started the day with an announcement at morning meeting that our kale is ready to harvest. It has been a long time coming, but we've made it: a huge bowl of Red Russian, Winter Bor, and Tuscan kale is sitting on our counter.

Today, for the first time in what feels like weeks, it rained. Our newly planted tomatoes, cukes (some of which we lost to the extremely dry conditions under the remay), eggplant, and squash are deeply grateful, and so am I.

The kale we put in the ground a month ago is gorgeous: big, vigorous, and healthy. It has been a long wait, but harvest season is finally here, and with my two hands, I've taken our first harvest directly from the soil.

I've had other local vegetables this spring - spinach from the Farmer's Market, asparagus and rhubarb, chives, mint and oregano from our garden. But there is something extraordinary about the first harvest directly from the earth, from a plant I seeded in a tray and put into the ground with my own hands. This harvest is the true beginning.

Dinner will be exceptional tonight: black-eyed peas and greens, and greens. And not just any greens, but hour-out-of-the ground greens, spectacular Maggie's Farm greens, first of the season greens. Greens to be grateful for.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Brick Oven Experiments

After an intense and sudden thunderstorm drove us inside on Saturday night, after only two delicious brick-oven pizzas, we decided to fire it up again yesterday to make some bread.

We had mixed results. Being slightly overzealous, we made too big of a fire, so the oven was almost 500 degrees when we finally put our bread in. Too hot. Within twenty minutes, the tops and sides of our three loaves had blackened to a crisp, and when we took them out two hours later, we had to break them apart with a knife. "It's like a geode," Will remarked, and it was: a rock-solid crust protecting a soft, slightly undercooked and strangely textured inside that only vaguely resembled bread.

Undaunted, we decided to try again. The oven had cooled down significantly, but was still hot - 350 degrees. I went inside and whipped up some biscuits. Fifteen minutes later, Will and I were sitting at the picnic table in the golden evening sunlight, eating perhaps the most delicious biscuits I have ever tasted. The texture was truly extraordinary: crisp, golden brown crusts, and the lightest, fluffiest, most airy insides you can image. They broke apart in our hands, and warm out of the brick oven with butter and jam and a pot of peppermint tea - well, it was worth the failure of the bread for such incredibly delicate and delicious biscuits.

Inspired by our success with the biscuits, I decided to try cooking a pot of beans overnight. I threw some white beans, garlic, salt and pepper, and rosemary in a deep cast iron, covered in with water, and put it in the oven. It was about 300 degrees when I went to bed. Will added more water at 9, and again at 1:30 (he was up anyway to check the sheep), and when I went out there this morning at 6 - a perfect pot of beans. The oven thermometer was reading 240. Though the top layer of beans was slightly browned, and the garlic charred, the experiment was a success. With almost no effort on our part, we had thick, delicious, slow-cooked white bean soup for breakfast, and there is plenty left over for lunch.

The oven is still at about 200 degrees, and Will is currently cooking cornbread. Despite a thunderstorm and three loaves of unrecognizable bread, I can't wait to fire up the oven again. I'm looking forward to a summer of delicious brick-oven delights: pizza, bread, biscuits, roasted tomatoes, black beans, chili, maybe even a pie! The possibilities are endless.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Apple Blossoms

Everyone Loves Grass

Farm Updates

It's been a while, and a lot has changed on the farm. It is high spring now, and every day, summer, with its promise of hard work and bushels of fresh vegetables, gets a little closer.

Joining our cows on pasture is our flock of nine ewes and their lambs, as well as Ruby and April, our two draft horses. Everyone is thrilled to be on the grass. The lambs are making full use of all the space by prancing round and round the pasture and perfecting their midair leaps. They are also discovering the delights of grass, and I often go out there to find them nibbling on pieces almost as long as they are. They are prone to get lost in it, as well, especially in the heat of the afternoon when they curl up in tufts of sedge and clover to stay cool.

The mamas are happy too, and everyone seems to love the new sheep shelter we built for them. A simple dome of tin roofing on wheels makes it easy to move, and there's enough room for most of the sheep to get some relief from the midday heat.

In another new development, our ram, Lincoln, is out with the cows on pasture, and thriving. We got Lincoln this fall, to replace Rammy, our old ram, who we had to put down due to arthritis and other ailments in November. He did his job, but then he started butting us, and because we needed to be in their with the sheep during lambing, we had to separate him from the sheep. We put him down in the lower barn, and he stayed there, alone, for most of the winter. It was extremely sad, as he is very friendly (despite his butting tendencies) and loves company and attention. It was pretty sad to have to go in there to feed him, and listen to him crying from the upper barn all day.

Now that our cows are out on pasture, we decided to put Lincoln with them to see if we could keep him with them all summer. It is working! Lincoln, no longer alone, is thriving. He's made friends with the calves, and seems to understand his place with the herd. When we take down the fence to move the cows from paddock to paddock, he goes with them without hesitation. (Although instead of stepping over the fence lines on the ground, as they cows do, Lincoln jumps about two feet in the air, clearing the fencing by a very wide margin.) It is great to see him so happy. The cows, who are about four times as big as he is, are definatley showing him who's boss, so hopefully they'll help with the butting problem as well.

We've been doing a lot of work int the home garden. Our peas are looking great, the beets are up, and I spent one whole afternoon last week renovating our herb spiral. We've got sage, oregano, mint, chives, and thyme coming up, along with a healthy-looking patch of rhubarb, and we're putting in many more herbs this week, including marjoram, chamomile, savory, and lavender.

I've discovered I adore gardening. The rhythm is entirely different from that of working 300-foot beds in the fields. We do everything by hand, from turning the beds with a fork and a rake, to seeding, weeding, and spreading compost. It is very quiet. I like being close to the soil, on my hands and knees most of the time. There's something soothing about the simplicity of it. I shake a handful of seeds into my hand, scatter them into a furrow I made with the side of a hoe, cover them up, and in a week or so, they germinate. I do love the scale of small-scale agriculture; there is something wonderful about a field of tomatoes or winter squash. But I'm realizing I also love - perhaps even more - and at least as much, the familiarity of gardening. It's more intimate. Slower. It doesn't take much to grow a garden - a fork, a rake, a wheelbarrow, a couple packets of seeds, and you're good to go. The plants do all the work. I love watching the miracle happen.

In other spring news, we switched to our summer schedule last week. Chores start at 6:30 in the morning, the workday runs form 8:30 to 5:30, and chores are over at 6:30 in the evening. It is getting lighter earlier every day, and I'm finding I'm content to work from sunrise to sunset. I get up at 5, and by 6, when the sun is already golden on the horizon, I'm ready to be out filling water buckets and doing cow fencing. The past few days I've found myself working till 6:30 or 7 - taking down fencing in the golden evening light or hand weeding a bed of peas under slate spring skies threatening thunder. I love the way it feels to be outside for the entire day, and the way it feels to come in with sore muscles after a day of work.

The vetch in some of our fields is almost knee high, as is our garlic Our orchard is blossoming, and everywhere you walk, especially on windy days like today, the air is scented with apple blossoms. The leaves are popping, our onions are thriving, and we've got a whole lot in the ground. Not only our spring brassicas, but our first seedings of lettuce, radishes, turnips, and arugula for our the CSA, beets, carrots, and parsnips, potatoes, and our first seeding of sweet corn.

I went to the Farmer's Market in Amherst yesterday, and came home with a bagful of greens: spinach, lettuce, turnips, and rhubarb. To celebrate spring, Will and I fired up our brick oven for the first time this season. It took about six hours for it to get to 500 degrees, and for dinner we had brick-oven pizza with our own asparagus, spinach, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, and fresh chives from the garden. I made a rhubarb pie - the first of many - and even though a thunderstorm blew onto the farm just as we were starting to cook the pizza, we were not deterred. The pizza was delicious, the pie was perfect, and despite the rain, it was a perfect way to start what promises to be a wonderful season at Maggie's Farm.