There Will be Snacks There Will

This is a great post (complete with photos)  from Jessie. Last year she was a volunteer on the farm. This year we plan to pay her for some hours. That this post’s title references one of my favorite songs about the apocalypse makes a good thing even better.

Sure, it’s winter, but we’re busy planning and preparing the farm for the imminent growing season. (We’ll be flush with seedlings soon!) I started working on the farm last May. I met Mike and Gheda more than ten years ago and our lives lead us down different but occasionally convergent paths. I am very glad to know them and I am perhaps even more glad that they have started the farm. It has been a joy to come by every week and spend time with my friends and young Milo and work on the farm. A slightly back tweaking and at times a sweaty joy, but an absolute joy nonetheless.

I also got to meet and work alongside other interesting and kind people. They were funny as well, which is a bonus when you’re looking at crates of shallots that need to get in the ground or rows upon rows of tomatoes that need harvesting.

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2012 – Off and Running

This week we seeded out our first 600 plants for the 2012 season. We started kale, lettuce, pac choi, broccoli, bunch onion and broccoli rabb which we will transplant to the field (under low-hoops) in mid-March. For the last couple months, I had been feeling a lot of nervous energy and apprehension about the new season. But after a couple hours in the grow room, playing with soil and seeds, I’m feeling relieved and energized for the new year. I remember why we do this and am exited for another big season.

Tomatoes

I’m convinced that every year we’ll mess something up horribly. For us, this year, it was tomatoes. Boy we blew it! Way back in February, for inexplicable reasons, we started three-times more tomato plants than we needed. This meant we spent 3x  more time and 3x more energy than we should have. This inane effort left us with more tomatoes than our nursery could accommodate. So a lot of plants died and the others suffered mightily, growing leggy and lean due to over crowding. Then, due to hassles with out new land in Gunbarrel, we were very late planting them out.  We were still planting in July, more than a month after when we should have finished. What’s more we didn’t want to waste the extra plants we’d started so we spent a bunch more time transplanting more tomatoes to the filed than we’d ever need. This was another big mistake.  Overall it was a total disaster. Thankfully, now 6-8 weeks after other growers, we finally have tomatoes to bring to market. Tomatoes should have been a major crop for us and maybe they still will be. But regardless, I know that  because of our mistakes they won’t be anything like they could have been, C’est la Via. Live and learn. Sometimes I think that learning to farm is about making a full measure of mistakes. And I take solace knowing we won’t make these particular mistakes again.

Kale Smoothies

All season our Farmers’ Market customers have been talking about kale smoothies. They’re all in love with them. So, on their recommendation, we started making our own simple version and boy they’re right! Kale smoothies are fantastic! Definitely among the easiest and tastiest way to eat a lot of wonderfully nutrient dense kale. Now we have kale for breakfast.We share them as a family and our three year old son loves them. He can’t get enough.

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Seeders


If there’s one thing I’m not it’s a pitchman. That said, I’ve been using our seeders a lot lately and boy do I love our seeders! They’ve transformed the most painfully-tedious job in the garden into a quick and efficient joy. Most cheap seeders do little more than dump seed in a straight line. In contrast, we run two precision seeders on our tiny farm. They are a bit more expensive but they are very worth it as they reduce both wasted seed and time spent thinning.

Our first unit is a four-row precision seeder we bought from Johnny’s Select Seeds. It’s a great little tool that we use for lettuce, spinach, arugula, radish, turnips, pelleted carrot and sometimes beets. The seeder runs on a axle, drilled to accept different size seed. By sliding the axle back and forth between the drive wheels, one can select the hole size appropriate for the desired seed. We fill all four hoppers to “carpet seed” our cut and come again greens. We fill the first and third hoppers to seed our root veggies. Either way, the seeder drops a predictable amount of seed with uniform spacing. We’ve had very good luck with this seeder.

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Multicropping The Urban Farm

This year we’re multicropping the 1/4 acre garden plot at our home in downtown Longmont, Colorado. That’s to say we are growing multiple crops on the land within a single growing season. Our goal is to plant all the beds two or three times this year. And now, with spring arugula and spinach done, were laying in our second plantings.  Multicropping complicates rotations and puts a lot of pressure on the land. But we have no choice. It’s something we have to do at Longmont this year.

Regular readers may know we are working two pieces of land this season. The first is the urban 1/4 acre. The second is a two acre parcel in Gunbarrel, Colorado; about twenty minutes from our home. It sounds fantastic and we are very grateful but it’s not perfect. The problem is that we have a very serious weed issues at Gunbarrel that prevent us from direct seeding there. We’re okay transplanting that land because the transplants, being relatively large when they go in, have a leg up on the weeds. But when we seed directly the weeds rise ahead of the crops and shade them out. We can’t even hand weed the seeded bed because the disruptions caused by weeding are enough to foil germination. Continue reading Multicropping The Urban Farm

First Carrots

Well, the first beets and carrots of the year are in and I’m pleased to say we were among the first farms to have them (We were the second farm at the Longmont Farmers’ Market by a week and the first farm at the Louisville Farmers’ Market). This is great news for us because demand is huge and we’re almost the only game at market.

This year, to get carrots so early we seeded on March 17th , irrigated with drip and covered the rows with heavy weight row cover. We were also very lucky. The spring was long and cool, yielding great early season crops. But the farm year is young, let’s hope our luck continues.

Transplanting with the Tiny Tractor

I love our tiny tractor. Sure it’s tippy and I’ve often worried about rolling it, but it makes almost all our farm tasks much, much easier. We’ve spent the last couple weeks frantically transplanting our summer crops and the tractor has helped a bunch. When transplanting we run the irrigation as much as we can, turning the rows into a big, muddy mess. Then we fill the tractor’s bucket with water (and amend it with an organic kelp extract for many crops) and submerge the trays of transplants. We leave them in the drink until they stop bubbling, meaning that all the little air pockets in the transplant soil have been hydrated. In our experience, transplants shock and suffer when put in too dry a soil. Our goal is to get everything fully soaked and to ease the plants into their new homes in the field.

So far we have 600 tomatoes, 120 cucumbers, 120 pumpkins, 50 assorted squash and 50 melon plants in. We have a long way to go (and are a full month behind), but the field are stating to look good and that gives me hope.

Kale: The Bones

Here are a couple pictures of kale I share mostly because I enjoy pictures of kale but also because kale, in a lot of ways, is the foundation of our farm.The best advice I can give folks wanting to farm on tiny plots, in close quarters, is to grow kale. Looking at it in a “yield per sq-ft” sort of way, nothing beats kale. A single planting can be harvested from April all the way though to November with almost no tending. Just don’t harvest it too aggressively and top dress it with compost a few times through the season. Kale plants grow tall and will shade out most weeds so you don’t even need to worry about cultivation.

We grow four, 50-foot long beds of kale and harvest two per week on alternating weeks. This has provided us enough to support two farmers markets (we’ve pulled as much as 30 lbs/week from our two bed harvest). It’s not the most popular crop at market but it definitely has it’s fans and if you grow good kale they will be loyal and shop your whole stand. At least that’s been our experience.

Spring Frittata with Storage Onion, Over-Wintered Spinach and Duck Egg

“Finches and sparrows build nests in my chimney with remains of the small flightless birds that you failed to protect.”

Andrew Bird – Spare Ohs

Two days after we made this yummy frittata the fox came. He ate all our ducks and one of our chickens. The fox: I feel like I know him. I see him all the time. He prances under streetlights when I go for a run. He sprints across the street, in front of my truck when I’m coming home from work. The fox lives in a burrow under the railroad tracks a block or so from here. He stalks the neighborhood. And he’s taken our birds before. We’ve lost at least three other chickens to the fox. He comes at night and kills birds. Not that I blame him. It’s his nature, we know that and we’re the ones who’ve failed to protect the birds.

Obviously, we didn’t know we were going to lose our ducks when we made this frittata. But, in retrospect, having considered all the special things we could have done with our last ever duck eggs, I’m glad we made this recipe. It was the perfect “bridge” recipe, bringing together the last few seasons on our tiny farm. We used storage onion grown last fall, spinach tended over the winter and fresh duck eggs from this spring. Continue reading Spring Frittata with Storage Onion, Over-Wintered Spinach and Duck Egg