Tuesday, December 9, 2014

2014 season wrap-up...and a little 2015 teaser

I can't believe it's been almost a month since my last post! I promise I haven't let the farm go for the winter, but somehow the things I've been up to just don't seem as, I don't know, sexy as growing plants, harvesting food, and battling pests. Instead, I spend many hours with my butt on a chair, hunched over the computer on my kitchen table, plotting.

But oh, the plots I'm plotting! I can hardly wait to tell you about them. And I will. Soon. I swear.

So what exactly have I been doing? Well, selling at a farmers' market, for one! Since November I've been at People's Farmers' Market in SE Portland, where I was lucky enough to squeak into a space when a vendor dropped out for the winter. I'll admit I don't have quite the variety that some vendors do, but customers and vendors have been very welcoming, and it's a nice way to make a few bucks in the off-season. (If I could just figure out a way to stay warm when the east wind blows, I'll feel completely satisfied!)

Other than that, I've been doing data entry, crunching numbers, and figuring out how my season actually went, in stark mathematics. To use a fairly well-worn saying, which nonetheless counts double here, it was a year of growth for me. First, because I grew a TON of vegetables! Actually, that is a complete understatement because I actually grew more than TWO AND A HALF TONS of vegetables this year. I feel really good about what I was able to accomplish with my part-time schedule, my hand tools, and some well-timed help from my awesome volunteers.

Another way I grew, with somewhat less success, was in the realization that MARKETING IS HARD. It's one thing to be able to grow two and a half tons of vegetables, and another thing entirely to be able to sell them. I had some successes for sure, but high on my list of winter activities will be figuring out new ways to market my crops in the coming year. And with that in mind...

OK, I'm going to spill the (proverbial) beans here after all, and let you in on my plot. For the past month or so I've been sketching out a full vegetable CSA, sized especially for smaller households, which I will be offering next season. I love my preserving and storage crop CSA, and I will definitely continue that next year too. But to be honest, I've missed growing some other things that just don't fit into that business model. Frizzy lettuce heads, prolific summer squash, bright chard, and beautiful kale: I want to have them on my farm! So here goes: a new season of hard work and hopefully even more food.

More details will be coming to my website soon. In the meantime, happy winter!

winter green
the garlic bed, finally mulched

Thursday, November 13, 2014

ice and inspiration

Today the weather took a turn towards winter, showering Gresham with snow followed by freezing rain, and leaving everything covered in a sheet of ice. Meanwhile, the wind continues. So my thoughts naturally have turned towards my garlic, still unmulched in the field. I keep worrying about it, but luckily I'm also reading the fantastic book, Growing Great Garlic, in which the author assures me that my garlic is just fine. In fact, he says, based on his 10 years of fairly scientific investigations, garlic will even keep growing while the ground is frozen and the weather is nasty. He continues:
We're on the verge of another winter now, and I can't help but feel a bit nervous as I gaze across mulched fields lying still and quiet beneath winter skies. I suppose all farmers know the feeling. But I suppose the garlic will survive and flourish again this winter despite all Nature's surprises and all my thoroughly human anxieties. Indeed, I don't seem to be psychologically prepared for real winter yet. But the garlic--it's just ended its period of natural rest and started its season of growth.
Encouraging words, these, and just at the right time. I'm not ready for winter yet, either. But there's something deeply satisfying, even moving, about the idea that the garlic I planted last month is already starting its odyssey towards next summer.

Still, at the first opportunity this weekend you better bet I'll be out there, spreading the mulch.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

last day before the freeze

The wind was intense today. It scoured the tiniest weeds from the soil, knocked out power to the farm, and added wrinkles to my face. Alaska's big storm is on its way to Oregon, and with below-freezing temperatures forecasted for tonight and freezing rain coming by Thursday, I got myself out to the fields to bring in the last of the peppers and stock up on some other possibly frost-sensitive produce, like cabbage.

peppers in November?!
heat for the soup pot!
beautiful Marner cabbages
My plans to mulch the garlic with the gorgeous (and gourmet) straw I bought from Naomi's was thwarted, however, when I realized that any mulch I put down today could end up spread out over the entire farm by tomorrow. So that task was left for a calmer day. At least I got the bales set out along the bed before the ground re-muds itself.

mulching mission: impossible

Lotus garlic already up!
One good way to spend a blustery day is inside. So once I'd done all I could do in the fields, I headed into the barn, where I was finally able to finish the job of shelling Vermont Cranberry, the last of my beans that were taking up space on the barn floor. I still have more beans to shell, but at least those are picked from the plants and neatly stowed in feed bags. I can work on them at home, maybe in front of a movie!

The bean-shelling project is one I've decided to call One Task, Many Tactics. I already posted some pictures of the first method, the Bean Dance, which was the most fun. I've also spent some relaxing days shelling beans by hand while listening to audiobooks. Not the fastest way to get the job done, but it works. Today I finished with a tactic I learned from my neighboring farmer, John. I call it Beating the Beans. (As John noted, maybe there's a reason "threshing" sounds so much like "thrashing.") Basically, it means taking a handful of beans plants and whacking them over and over against the sides of deep wheely cart that John loaned me. For lack of a better name, I'll call it the "box cart."

the work to be done: box cart with beans in the background
the box cart was salvaged from the downtown Meier & Frank!
proper hand grip for thrashing
after the thrash
The first day I tried it, I learned that this tactic is best done while wearing a dust mask and ear plugs. Better equipped today, I got through all the beans, only to realize at the end that because the power was out, I couldn't winnow them with my table top fan as usual. I thought I might try to do it the old-fashioned way, using the wind. Unfortunately, the wind had other ideas. It refused to blow only in one direction, and the higher gusts were fierce enough to blow the beans right out of the bin along with the chaff.

it seemed like a good idea at the time
Luckily, by the end of the day the power was back, and I finished the job with my boring old fan.