by Abbey Daniel
So you have may noticed that last week brought with it our first real dose of summer weather. And wow, was Mother Nature anything but nonchalant about her sudden change in the seasons. On Monday and Tuesday this novel warmth was exciting and rare, the first chance to wear tank tops, bathe myself in sunscreen, and get a healthy dose of Vitamin D into my system. The end of Tuesday (and two days of mid-80s highs) brought with it a delightful dip into the pond on the property. The pond is quickly becoming one of my favorite spots on the farm. Spring fed and peaceful, the word gratifying hardly does it justice. The top foot of water heats up all day long from the bright, intense sun and so is warm and pleasant, while the water below, untouched by the sun’s rays, stays refreshingly chilled.
By Wednesday, we were starting to feel the oppressive nature of the heat, and by Friday, with highs in the 90s, we observed its ability to fog our minds a bit. Even the task of seeding, normally very relaxing and easy on the body, became a tiring, grinding undertaking—I tried to keep my eyes from drooping in the thick, muggy air, and to maintain a degree of alertness and focus to place tiny basil seeds into their wells.
As a relatively new farmer, I often like to ponder and reflect on how farming allows me to be much more keenly aware of the natural world, and in particular, its effect on me. As a student on the research scientist path before entering the farming world, I spent the majority of my time indoors. Therefore, the winter season was cold but not inhibitive because I spent my hours in heated libraries and dorm rooms. The humid Ohio summers, although certainly sweatier than anything I had ever experienced in the New Mexico arid desert, was still spent in long pants and a sweatshirt in the lab because constant cold forced air was required to remove potentially toxic fumes from the workspaces. It wasn’t until I began farming that I came to fully realize the manner in which the biting cold in the winter and early spring can bring frozen tears to your eyes, or how the hot summer air so wet you suspect you could cut it with a knife feels like it adds 20 pounds to your daily movements. However, I have also come to appreciate fervidly the changing of the seasons. The beginning of the new season brings an end to the aspects I dislike of the previous, and gives me approximately nine months to once again crave just the season I may have come to tire of.
And so, being present in this frame of mind, I see how the oppressive hot of last week in turn brought on the full swing of strawberry season, the true kick off to summer time and a most tasty interval on the farm. I celebrated our delicious new crop by making a strawberry-rhubarb crumble-top pie (recipe at the end). I highly suggest making one, as it is relatively quick and easy, and the tartness of the rhubarb blends scrumptiously with the sweetness of the strawberries! Topped with some vanilla ice cream or simply eaten plain, you’re in for a treat; I sure was!
As the day drew to a close we pruned and strung up cucumbers in the tunnels. We discovered an exciting surprise: the cucumber plants have started producing fruit! Still in the their small stages, we have some time yet before they will be big enough to harvest. It was then, seeing the cucumber tendrils making delicate curling patterns at the top of each plant, that I had a surprising gratitude for the dreaded, taxing, humid heat of the Eastern Pennsylvania summers. I was able to appreciate how the heat brought to me bright red, sweet strawberries, the simple grace of cucumber tendrils, and blissful post-work swims in a cool spring fed pond.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble Pie
Adapted from Land O’ Lakes Crumb Top Rhubarb Pie: http://www.landolakes.com/recipe/17417/crumb-top-rhubarb-pie
1 cup flour
⅛ teaspoon salt
⅓ cup cold water
3-4 TBSP cold butter
1 ¼ cup sugar (part brown part granulated)
⅓ cup flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
5 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup chopped strawberries
½ cup flour
⅔ cup sugar
½ cup cold butter
Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
Crust: store bought or make it yourself;
For homemade crust:
Combine 1 cup flour and salt in bowl; cut in 1/3 cup cold butter with pastry blender or fork until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in enough water with fork just until flour is moistened.
Shape dough into ball; flatten slightly. Roll out on lightly floured surface into 12-inch circle. Fold into quarters. Place dough into 9-inch pie pan; unfold, pressing firmly against bottom and sides. Trim crust to 1/2 inch from edge of pan. Crimp or flute edge. Set aside.
Combine all filling ingredients except rhubarb and strawberries in bowl. Add rhubarb and strawberries; toss until well coated. Spoon into prepared crust. Set aside.
Combine flour and sugar in bowl; cut in cold butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle mixture over rhubarb. Cover edge of crust with 2-inch strip aluminum foil. Bake 50-60 minutes or until topping is golden brown and filling bubbles around edges. Remove aluminum foil during last 10 minutes, if desired.
by Abbey Daniel
It is the third week of May and we frequently say now, “Look, it’s a farm, it’s a real farm.” In the last 8 weeks since I started the 2016 season with Annie and Sean as their new Assistant Manager, we have seeded countless flats of lettuce and spinach, beets and Bok Choy. We have seeded, then potted up, then potted up again, and finally planted out what seems like endless tomatoes. These once small and seemingly fragile ‘maters are now the big guys and gals of the farm and are showing signs of their first tiny fruits. The peppers are getting bigger every day in our new greenhouses. They reside alongside their smaller, more fragile friends, the cucumbers, and now eggplant as well.
Last week we had the first dry and briefly warm and sunny days in quite some time. The unremitting rain that brought in the month of May made field work and general spring farm tasks a little more challenging—such work had to be completed with rain suits donned and mud splashes as our most prominent fashion patterns. To honor such an exciting recent respite in the rain, we laid down a new experimental kind of weed deterrent…paper mulch! This planting paper comes on rolls and boasts an ability to reduce weeds while being completely natural and biodegradable. We loaded many rolls up on the wagon of the tractor and began to unroll them in what will be our solanaceous field (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant). The material was curious; strong, yet clearly more delicate than thick and almost indestructible landscape fabric, but stretchy and flexible, almost like cloth. Best of all, one side of the paper is pink and the other, lavender. At lunch as we stared out at the fields, we admired how pretty the paper mulch looks from afar, a block of alternating pink and purple hues, separated by dark reddish brown earth pathways.
We planted out all our peppers and eggplant into this experimental new planting material and seeded clover in the pathways.
To finish out the first day of that warmer week, we took advantage yet again of the dry conditions and weeded…everything we could get our hands and hoes on. We weeded the onions, the lettuces, the spinach, the carrots, and the beets. We used collinear hoes, and wheel hoes, and, at times, our hands when certain thick clumps of chickweed proved relentlessly stubborn. Due to the still-damp soils, shortly after passing the wheel hoes through the pathways, I noticed the beauty that was unfolding. I was seeing the contrast between the lighter un-hoed soils, the darker, freshly uncovered damp earth, and the rich dark and light greens of the lettuces, spinach, and beets. Even weeding brings a certain kind of joy.
Finally, as the day came to a close, we checked on our sheep friends. Our final two expecting ewes gave birth during the past week, one to a ram lamb and the other a single ewe lamb. The births of the season have mostly been happy and healthy. We did however, have one lamb, whom we nicknamed Brown Tips for his brown-tipped ears, that needed to be bottle fed for a week and another big single ram lamb, Rhubarb, who was having some serious misgivings about leaving his mama’s warm, familiar belly. In the end, he needed a little pull to make his way into the world, but is now, arguably, one of the cutest of the bunch.
Within a week or two, our fully blossomed strawberries will begin heavily yielding sweet fruits (which we can finally add to the rhubarb we've been harvesting). Summer will soon be swiftly upon us to bring another season of good food and good memories.
Summer: not a season for sitting and writing. So I'm catching up now to share stories of our 2015 season, starting with the most momentous one. Thanks to Aimee Harmon, farmer friend and photographer at Pop Wedding for asking me to write! And thanks to Aimee and Andrew for all these photos.
A few weeks before our wedding, one of my friends told me with a wild laugh, “you’re absolutely nuts, getting married in the middle of the season!” We are produce farmers and during “the season” we can be expected to have perpetually dirty fingernails, perpetually moving limbs as we sling vegetables and tend them, and brains full to the maximum with details of harvest lists, planting schedules, delivery routes, market preparations and the like. No room for anything else but the work, eating the harvest and a bit of sleep. We knew we were nuts but we also knew that this beautiful 79 acre farm we rent for home and work would be at its absolute finest in deep summer with flowers blooming and warm nights for our crew of campers. Our harvest would be at its maximum so we could divert lots of delicious veggies to the wedding feast and the pond would be sure to be full of splashing and giggling, reunions and romances.
And our expectations, mostly the hopeful ones, came to pass. It was a glorious full moon, hot but not scorching, blue-skies weekend. Loads of farm-work and minimal sleep and proof of a method to our madness. Family began to arrive for rehearsal dinner just as we finished our Friday harvest and pack. We set up in the giant white tent between our home and fields and enjoyed a buffet smorgasbord with out of town travelers followed by an incredible session of henna for bride, groom and select family members and a sweet bonfire where the uncles and cousins led the singing. Sean and I were awake late, hovering over the heat of the bonfire to dry our henna, then woke up together pre-dawn to pack the truck full of vegetables and send our assistant manager to market. I got busy harvesting flowers and tucking them in the cooler and as the sun rose higher was joined by a group of incredible friends, picking and catching up amidst the rows.
Our family and friends spread table cloths, arranged tables, arranged flowers, set up hand-painted signs, and enjoyed the pond. Sean and I stole away to chat cross-legged in the shade with our dear friend and celebrant of our ceremony and then took a walk into the woods to polish our vows. My sister, mother, aunt and close friends gathered in my messy bedroom (no time to clean!) to help me transition from sweaty harvest mode to bride, to soothe my nerves, to weave lavender into the wool on my hand-made dress (thank you!) after I burst into tears from the intensity and joy of it all. And then the loving scene (probably aided by the scent of lavender) made our photographer also shed some tears and excuse himself.
Friends smudged wedding guests with sage smoke and ushered them through a home-made archway and past the vegetable field. While Sean and his parents stationed themselves in the woods by the ceremony site, my parents, sister and our wild and costumed pack of flower children walked along the upper edge of the herb garden and hid behind the hedgerow, waiting to hear our young violinist play our cue. The ceremony is a blur, but our tears flowed freely even as we spoke our vows as loudly as we could and laughed at our celebrant’s jokes and our unintentional ones. Family led the music, the hand-fasting with Norwegian lace and then everyone furiously showered us in a monsoon of marigold petals: our benediction as a married couple. A couple wild women jumped in full dress into the pond. Our brothers leapt on the 1949 cub tractor and got to work moving chairs and being farm champions.
And then, the party. If you ask us, we remember mostly falling happily into embracing everyone we saw. And dancing! Loud, rowdy, hard-driving bluegrass that inspired a rager of a dance party. And eating enough to know the food was out of this world, in between hugging. Home-raised sausage, fingerling potatoes, beets and plums, farm salads, a gazillions homemade pies, woah! And listening to more kind words about us and feeling speechless but brimming with gratitude as we addressed the handsome and loving gathering. Precious, bright, and brief. A big bloom of joy before autumn came, our chance to gather our far-flung loved ones. A witnessing of our union in the midst of the growing plants and animals and earth that gives us life and work and hope.
What a gentle end to the season, days so soft and mild and encouraging of lush greens and continuing growth.
Some friends of mine reported on tomato plants still yielding fruit in the warmer climate of downtown Philadelphia.
We have been able to continue grazing our 9 sheep on stockpiled pasture, then on a patch of rich green vetch and rye cover crop, now on the fall brassica field with intersown oats.
In walks I've noticed some plants bursting into bloom or at least flirting with bud break - forsythia, lilac, cherries. This extended fall has us musing about future fall plantings, how we might try to extend our season and gamble for warmer growing Novembers and Decembers. These plots and schemes will be aided by the soon arrival of the kit for our new high tunnels. We have ordered 2 small movable high tunnels, meant to create protected, dry and hot conditions for summer crops like peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and ginger. They will also protect fall and winter crops as we explore growing in the "Persephone" season, the winter half of the year when the sunlight is under 10 hours per day and only the hardy plants are invited to try their luck.
The phrase Persephone season comes from a grower inspirational to us, Eliot Coleman, who farms the ruggedly chilly Main landscape all through the winter and has discovered some simple secrets to bounty in the most brutal of cold times. Persephone is the daughter of Demeter, goddess of grains and crops in Greek Mythology. The story goes that one day Hades steals young Persephone away because she is so beautiful, taking her to the underworld away from her sweet mother's sunshine-filled world. Demeter's grief brings darkness and winter to the land. Crops die, people are hungry, days are short and cold. Persephone is able finally to return to her mother after many months and her mother's joy brings sunny, warm spring. Because she has eaten food in the underworld however, she must return each year to be Hades' queen for several months and the world must experience winter. People learn to store their crops, to prepare for winter and lean times and darker days.
Has Demeter made a special deal this year to gain us more green and warmth? Is this a sign of winters to come? No sure answers are to be found, but we do hope the proper cold for winter hibernation will arrive eventually, even as the light strengthens and lengthens.
We are in the final stretch of preparing to order our seeds for 2016. And we are excited to announce that CSA shares for 2016 are now available, with a few changes to our CSA set up. Instead of our boxed share of the past, our members will pick up their shares on the farm from a market-style set up. Crops will be presented for members to select and there will be much more choice. We will still keep our Fox Box and Lion's Share designations for larger and smaller size shares. Fox Box members will get to select 6-8 items depending on the week and Lion's Share members will pick 9-12. We will also be planting a pick-your-own herb and flower garden adjacent to our pack shed, a dream we've had for a while!!! We hope you will join us this season and we welcome a visit so you can learn more about Broad Wing Farm. Happy Solstice & may your holiday be full of light and love.
Dear Vegetable Lovers,
Today is the spring equinox, no matter how the snow may swirl around. We must temper our spring activities according to the spirit of the weather, the frozen ground and wet field. Yet there is also a strict unwavering sun schedule and we obey its strengthening urges to seed our first spring crops in our warm nursery.
We began seeding plants on the 27th of February and, despite temperatures being below seasonal norms, we have turned on our mini-propane heater a mere three times and burned less than 3 gallons of propane. Though this 1970’s solar greenhouse has space limitations, we are gladly working with them because of the benefits of such a tight, efficient space with so much solar mass. This year along with our black water barrels radiating the sun’s heat back at night, we have a levee of potting soil bags under our nursery tables. Electric heat mats help us to germinate the seeds. Walking into the nursery, you enter a dense tropical forest of boc choy, kales, spinach, beets, lettuce, peas, broccoli, scallions, tomatoes and more.
Lately I have been wondering ....when does germination truly happen? By the time you see the sprout – like a loop of green thread poking above the soil, poised to unfold – the plant has been busy for a good while rooting and preparing to burst into the sunlight. The first many hours, the quiet seeds that we count on so much are drinking deeply, their first water and warmth bringing all their waiting cells to life. The seed swells generously and then bursts open. I admit that I have been stealing looks at some of our seeds as I wonder and wait, especially the sugar snap peas, which are fun to dig up and check on. The first couple days they looked increasingly swollen and then I could distinguish a white bump which was the root waiting to break out and hungrily tap into the soil. The force of these germinating seeds could break glass if you put too many in a jar with some water and put the cap on.
A few mornings ago bringing water to the sheep, I heard the raucous honking of geese. Quickly I realized it wasn’t just a small fly-over V of Canada geese, but instead a whole woven-together sky-filling flock of snow geese. They were silver and glittering and looked more like fish with flashing scales as they reflected rays of the rising sun that weren’t yet touching the farm. These shining silver threads flowed noisily across the sky and it was hard to believe the sight.
Black wing-tips and white bodies, these visitors do not linger with us, but they pass through on their way to summer nesting grounds in the tundra as the sun strengthens. Some of the geese we see flying over may be headed for Greenland! They fill up resevoirs and lakes for a few days on their layovers and sometimes grain fields (where they can be destructive as locusts once in a while, snapping up the green shoots of winter wheat or rye).
And this brings me to phenology, a word for the calendar of nature, the relationship between when birds migrate and flowers bloom. I recently learned about a citizen science project where people all over the country can report on their local happenings, and was grateful to hear a conversation about the importance of watching all these indicators. It is something that many of us do without thinking too much about it, but it could be a lifetime study. And you will find that the keen birdwatchers and botanists (many farmers are these…) have very detailed mental bird and plant calendars. If you’re curious for a little more: https://www.usanpn.org/about/why-phenology
Here are some of my recent noticings ….Add your own!!
-The rattling of woodpeckers in the morning
-The distinct okra-leeee of red winged blackbirds
-The presence of robins, as though they’d always been there, on the emerging bare ground before today’s snow. Each robin claiming its own patch of earth and hopping around.
-Spring Aconite – a brilliant yellow flower – in full bloom in the mid-March sunshine, an early pollen food source for bees. And snow drops blooming as well!
-The color of willow branches turning more yellow as the buds swell and become visible. Maples, too.
-Grass greening up and beginning to grow– and the day I really noticed the green returning we had multiple escapes by one of our sheep who couldn’t resist exploring the forage options!!
-Geese flying over at night…we hear their honking and sometimes when they fly low, their wing beats
-A day of insects! One of our first sunny, warm afternoons I saw flies and insects that I didn’t identify, but the miracle was little winged creatures flying around.
Enjoy this temporary snowy magic! Spring rains, blooms, mud, and greens are soon to come.
We are thrilled to have three pigs on our farm this year! They are a produce farmers best friend, relishing vegetable waste as a delicacy. During these cold nights, they bed down deeply in straw and sleep in until hunger or direct sunlight awaken them. Sometimes all that can be seen in the morning is a gently heaving pile of straw and no sign of the pigs buried beneath.
These pigs come to us from Great Bend Farm in Port Clinton and they are offspring of Tamworth and Old Spot parents. Both breeds are known for hardiness, good mothering, and good foraging ability. They thrive in outdoor production, but do not perform as well in confinement.
We don't have designs to become major pork producers, but we are glad to be able to raise a few hogs in a setting with plenty of fresh air, leaf litter rich in good microorganisms and vegetables to eat along with a grain mix. This environment helps these animals stay healthy and happy.
An extreme contrast to the lifestyle of our pigs is the confinement operations where most of the pork in the country is raised. Big news in the agricultural world since its first appearance in the states in May 2013 is the spread of a virus called PED, or Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea, through confinement operations. This virus is often fatal for suckling piglets who contract it and can cause significant set-backs for older pigs. The industry has seen some huge losses and there is no doubt that part of the rapid spread is due to the sheer quantity and density of pigs in confinement operations and the transportation of pigs across large distances, operation to operation.
Our farm exists within no magic bubble -- there is no way to prevent all health risks to our animals. But we know that the manner in which we raise our livestock contributes significantly to their well-being and resiliency for the duration of their lives.
Saturday we planted sweet potatoes right before storms that brought us half an inch of rain. I had gotten the slips from a farm west of us near Ephrata where they propagate sweet potatoes in large wooden boxes on the floor of their green houses.
The sweet potato tubers are placed on a layer of potting soil and then covered just barely with soil & a thin layer of vermiculite to hold extra moisture. As they sprout and make slips, the Martins add a thicker layer of potting soil to encourage the slips to grow more roots.
I picked over one thousand slips with Mrs. Martin while her husband and son were planting watermelons in the field using their team of percheron horses to pull the wagon carrying transplants.
We made mini-hills in our garden before planting because these taters prefer a warm soil that drains well. Planting accomplished before lunch time as the thunderclouds filled the sky holding the first drink of rain for these new transplants.
This has been a momentous week! Wednesday evening found us digging drainage ditches in a downpour rerouting the water that threatened to expose the fragile roots of our young transplants and carry away seeds recently sown.
During the deluge three new additions to our farm were peacefully grazing in the north pasture. They are australian lowline cattle raised by our wonderful neighbors (http://www.bblowlines.com/) They have a more compact frame than most beef cattle and are more efficient converters of pasture to meat. Sean is setting up paddocks and a water system so we can move them & several more around our pasture during the season.
Thursday morning dawned calm and warm and we had the pleasure of doing the first market harvest! On the menu: baby boc choy, red russian and curly kale, dandelion greens, and green garlic. We sold our harvest along with herb and vegetable transplants raised from seed.
After market we sat down to eat our first home grown boc choy and green garlic sauteed...yum!
Yesterday we added to our menagerie and brought home 6 sheep to establish a flock of hair sheep crosses and work on mowing our grass. Hair sheep shed instead of requiring shearing of their wool. These sheep have several different blood lines, but a good portion of Katahdin (a variety of hair sheep). They have been learning the electric fence and grazing steadily..
The lioness quality of March has shown herself in the harsh cold and flirtation with winter. Yet tender beginnings are all around, as well as some more dramatic ones.
Yellow-flowered winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) began to bloom all around our house in early March. This Eurasian flower can provide some of the first food for bees waking from winter slumber.
Our garlic is beginning to show green sprouts reaching for the sunlight through its heavy mulch.
Our flock of 15 red hens are laying beautiful, rich-yolked eggs and are beginning to truly enjoy the pasture, especially the common chickweed that thrives even in cold weather.
We've been spreading manure from our neighbors cattle and enjoying the frozen mornings because it allows us to drive on the field without compacting the soil.
And it was finally was dry enough to break ground for the first time yesterday, using a 2 bottom International Harvest No. 8 "little genius" plow rescued from a pile of implements and a tangle of vines. With some repairs and carefully applied hammer blows it is serviceable once again.
Stay tuned! The farm is transforming rapidly and we will soon be planting.
This Sunday March 9th we will lead a casual Tree ID Walk along the field edges and through the woods at the farm. We will examine buds, bark and use smell , touch and our other senses to get acquainted with these gentle giants. The buds are swelling in preparation for spring blooming and unfurling and this is a great time to meet the trees so you can watch them transform in spring!
Free & open event but.....
Please contact us to tell us you are coming: we have limited space available. Thanks!