Oh, Dear, Deer, Dear…

Such prescience…just hours ago I spoke to our dear neighbor, Luis, and told him that if it would only rain, I could go inside and work on another blog. Within 2 hours, the skies clouded up and we got a sprinkle or two of much needed rain. Despite piles of other paperwork in my office, this is a bit more fun to work on!

We have been so busy here it is hard to know where to start. Luckily, my photos are in chronological order, so I guess that is a good way to tell the story of the last several weeks. I’m still astonished when I think that the end of June is near – where did it go?

June for us started with the annual fawning of the next generation of neighborhood deer. If we didn’t have our new deer fence in place, this story would certainly have had a different tone and perhaps a different outcome as well. It is well known that we have a family of deer on the north and south side of the property. So it was no surprise that just as has happened before, we woke up one day in the the first week of June to espy a tiny, newly born, baby deer deposited just out side of our bedroom window. It was so small and fragile, legs still all akimbo. IMG_3804.JPGAs I have stated before, the mother often will leave her young for a bit in order to off gas her smell. It was a fairly warm day for this so we wondered how long the little guy could manage without some attention. It was sweet to see the mother come back to let the fawn nurse for a bit.  IMG_3735This seemed to satisfy the babe for a bit and make it a bit more attuned to the world. IMG_3723Mother and child continued their presence for days and are still seen in repose as well as scampering about. The good news is that all of this ‘scampering’ is outside of the new fencing so even though they are enjoying the roses in front, we are seeing no deer damage in the orchard or fields. IMG_2632.JPGOf course this doesn’t mean we are immune to any chewing and nibbling on our plants. For instance, here is a mighty tomato caterpillar that marched its way through one of the cherry tomato plants recently until he found a sudden end. IMG_4067.JPGThe tomatoes are otherwise doing well and responding to our staking method of tying taut strings every 6-8″ high along the rows of plants between the large posts to support their weight.  This training method seems to keep the plants well supported and vertically trained. We have high hopes for lots of tomatoes this year!IMG_4098.JPGThe chickens are celebrating their first birthday this week (they hatched June 27th last year) and we managed to find the time (and energy) on a recent cool day to do a renovation of the chicken coop. This just means that we spruced up their digs by transferring all the interior coop sand to the exterior and added all new and fresh sand to the interior. This entailed a lot of heavy sand transporting (860lbs new sand to replace the old…oh, my back!) but it was worth the effort! We washed down all the surfaces and the chicks were cautiously amazed by their new digs when we re-opened the door for them.IMG_4039Their antics never cease to entertain me as they can’t wait for the greens that I give them each day and will pounce on the box from Schnucks before I can distribute the goods!IMG_3997The bees are quite busy making honey for us…some colonies more than others but I can’t complain too much. I recently added the 4th honey super to the first swarm colony and Dave managed to snap a photo of me barely able to reach up to put the top cover on this tall stack of boxes! Our anticipation of a healthy honey harvest is palpable! IMG_2639.JPGThe blueberry harvest that started in early June is now in full swing. I have harvested nearly 110 pounds of fruit so far and our subscribers are enjoying the benefits. It takes me hours and hours of berry picking every day but I do not mind a bit except for my nearly permanently stained fingers. These digits have been washed but still stained!IMG_4033.jpg We decided to purchase brand new containers from a local restaurant supply store to convey the goods to our customers and I’m so pleased with this method. We have one refrigerator entirely full of berries, berries berries, in both pint and quart containers.! IMG_3995.JPGAs I have mentioned in the past, our 5 varieties ripen in succession so it is good to know that at least two varieties are still no where near ripe at this point which tells me I have another month of berry picking!

We continue to harvest many other items. The radishes and turnips are done for the spring and will not reappear until the fall but we still have lettuces coming in along with an assortment of lovely peppers of every size and color. I finally pulled the trigger on the garlic last week and harvested the lot all in one day. (Perhaps just a few of the keenest of readers’ eyes will note my purple attire: representing my Amherst College Crew shirt whilst sporting Kate’s Williams College Volley Ball hat! A fun bow to Coach Fran!)IMG_4076.JPGSo, from the field, the garlic goes to the barn and rests on a massive screen form to cure for a week.  IMG_4084But I could not resist when making dinner last night and asked Dave to grab some fresh garlic for the pizza. Smaller in size than I would like but oh so perfectly delish when peeled and chopped. We will offer fresh garlic to our customers next week and hope they will appreciate the difference that we are providing!IMG_4101.JPGSpeaking of garlic and other goodies, here is a simple way that we put our produce to work at dinner time for a yummy, savory side dish. I sauté some onions and jalapeno in butter until soft for 5 minutes or so…IMG_3982.JPG and then add minced garlic…here is my stash from LAST YEAR! IMG_3984.JPGSauté until soft and then add 1 pound of orzo. IMG_3772.JPGLet the orzo brown in the pan for a few minutes, absorbing the butter as it turns a light golden brown. Add 3/4 cup dry white wine followed by 3.5 cups chicken broth and let simmer on stove top until liquid has been absorbed and the orzo is tender…about 15 minutes.  IMG_3985Stir in 1 cup grated cheese such as Parmesan but feel free to experiment with the cheese! IMG_3986.JPGI then add greens…this can be pea pods, spinach or Swiss Chard, your choice. Here is our spinach going into the pan.IMG_3987Which cooks down very quickly to subsume into this delightful side dish! Experiment and enjoy…you can’t go wrong!IMG_3988.JPG One of our dear farm subscribers, Janet Lange, gave us a lovely collection of chicken print postcards. Thank you for this, Janet!IMG_3619.jpgSo we passed them along as we wrote postcards (from the chickens!)  to the neighboring boys who went off to summer camp. We had a couple of cute responses which we tucked into the farm file for our memories!

Also in June, Nancy left Dave in charge of the farm as she escaped for a weekend of fun and frivolity at at family wedding in Boston, Massachusetts. It was great to see the cousins and enjoy the festivities of Lindsay Jackson’s wedding to Jon Wood who is a Boston Fire Fighter. How cute to see one of the nephews drive an antique fire truck down the aisle! IMG_3885.jpgSuch a wonderful wedding in every way… I was glad to get away to join in the fun. IMG_3840.JPGBut of course, no post is complete without a Coulter sighting…he is growing like a weed and enjoying his summer with lots of pool time… IMG_3954as well as hunting down every nearby construction site! Here he is, much to his delight, with a local bobcat!IMG_4085Hard to believe that it was a mere 3 years ago that we celebrated Kate and Jason’s wedding here at the farm. Such a nice reminder to watch this sweet video of the special day again! https://vimeo.com/104181393. Happy Anniversary Kate and Jason!

Farmer’s Market…Meat Market…Our Legacies?

We have had an exciting week at the farm for several reasons. Today we introduced our egg subscribers to the first of our farm produce on a retail basis. Of course over the years we have gladly shared various surpluses with friends and family and even sold some of our honey to eager neighbors but we never quite got comfortable putting out the farm stand and setting a price on our raw efforts from the fields until now…(of course my jams, honey, pickles, granola, etc. are always for sale, year round at the Artery!)

There would be no better way to open the doors than to offer the goods to our wonderful group of dedicated egg customers. We have been harvesting modest amounts from our fields for the last couple of weeks but yesterday we picked enough radishes, turnips and garlic scapes to offer them up this morning for sale.  As you have heard here before, lots of work goes into the planting, weeding, watering and care for these plants but a lot goes into washing and prepping for sale as well. So yesterday we brought in trays and trays of veggies.IMG_3679.JPG That we then washed, sorted and cleaned up before weighing and bundling by the pound. IMG_3684.JPGIMG_3683.JPGWe then need to properly store them before and during the sales time. Thank goodness for all the refrigerators, sinks and counter-tops that we have for this effort. Of course at sales time, a warm morning meant we had our trays on ice on the screened porch. IMG_3688.JPGWe did research on pricing according to a range of sources including CSA prices as well as local stores and made sure we were not over charging. I hope everyone found they got a good deal and will enjoy the first batch of weekly summer fruits and veggies.

As a good example for all, Kate collected her bounty the night before and sent this photo of her impromptu dinner creation with the turnips, garlic scapes and eggs (she added bacon of course…you can never lose with a bit of bacon!) I showed the photo to our customers this morning…maybe I’ll get her recipe and add it to the egg subscription cookbook. She said the turnip ‘coins’ were like butter and the garlic scapes tasted like tender green beans! Good job, thank you, Kate!IMG_3686I hope everyone enjoys their first taste of what is to come. Speaking of that, I had a bit of a shock yesterday when I looked at the blueberries and realized they were coming along very fast and were already blue! This, of course doesn’t mean they are ripe yet but we will be picking very, very soon, a task that takes hours each day and continues from early June until August but is worth the effort!!

The next big excitement was getting more of the fields planted now that the rain is under control. Dave installed the giant tomato posts again this year while I planted 34 tomato plants – 4 varieties – including the famously reintroduced Rutgers 250 tomato variety in celebration of 250 years of Rutgers University in New Jersey. We had read this story in the NYTimes last year found here but were unable to get a hold of this variety until now. Here is the fascinating story behind this tomato from the Rutgers perspective. I’m sure Dave’s grandfather (the original Sauerhoff family ‘Gramps’) sold these tomatoes up and down the south shore of New Jersey and eastern shore of Maryland as part of his business in the fruit and vegetable supply business.

Pssst…while Dave’s grandfather was selling shiny fruits and veggies on the east coast, this is what my family was doing…sending cattle to the meat market! My paternal grandmother, Sohpie Graupner is not the lady on the far right, but isn’t this lady just grand? I can relate to her! This is one of my favorite photos. My paternal grandparents did have a cattle farm in western Missouri which I visited often as a child and so these large steers are not that foreign to me as you might imagine.

Graupner Beef!I’m sure we will report on this tomato success and all varieties and their production. Here are the results of our joint effort in the tomato patch. Below you see our very own Stonehenge of sorts…8 foot tall posts planted in the field to supply support…a favorite spot for owls to perch at night with a view of potential prey! The rows of tomatoes get reinforced with a string method of tying along the rows from posts to post which are located every 12 feet. We found this to be a very effective method of securing the plants over time rather than individual tomato cages. IMG_3639We added landscape cloth this year to help keep the weeds at bay. We bought large rolls of the the ‘good stuff’ at a local supply house as well a box of 1000 anchors to pin the cloth in place. I hope not to be griping as much about weeds this year but they have loved the excessive rain more than anything!!!IMG_3638.JPGThe bees are continuing to be a source of educational entertainment for me. I had an opportunity to take some photos (not an easy task when wearing heavy gloves and other protective gear) of the life cycle of the bees. I know, I know, not everyone is as wild about the bees as I am but seeing the evidence of their very intricate life cycle is so fascinating to me and I’m thrilled to get to share it when I can. So I opened up the hive body of one of the nucleus colonies that we acquired this spring and this is what I found. IMG_3611.JPGThe photo above shows a hexagonal grid of wax comb that the bees are ‘drawing out’ (from the base of the foundation upwards – meaning perpendicular to the flat foundation) to eventually hold a nascent bee in the cell structure. But, look closely at the bottom of the black ‘spaces’…and you will find a very narrow white line in the center of it. This little line is the egg that the queen has laid in the cell. It is deposited by the queen into a cell that has been previously supplied with a bit of nectar to both feed it and help it adhere to the spot. This egg hatches after 3 days and becomes a larvae.  That is what you see in this next photo of another section of the frame I was able to photograph. IMG_3607In this photo, you can see various stages of larvae developing. They look like little white ‘C’ shaped worms or grubs…some smaller than others. They continue to be fed nectar during this stage for 5 more days by nurse bees whose only job is to care for the survival of the future brood until they are finally capped with a papery substance until they hatch. If the bees were wanting to make a queen bee out of an egg, they would need to start feeding that egg a super food called Royal Jelly within the first 2 days of the egg being laid. Since the queens are larger in size, they also (in addition to continuing with the steroid food regimen) would build her a roomier cell, called a queen cell to accommodate her grand physique. Sometimes this queen cell is built first and then an egg intentionally laid for the role of the queen. Here is a photo of a throng of bees covering a sea of capped brood cells…waiting for their new workers to emerge. IMG_3617In anticipation of all the honey we hope to be harvesting in the next weeks/months, I have patiently waited for the company from which I order my glass jars to offer their once a year free shipping deal. Glass is heavy and expensive to ship so this is a big deal to me! I ordered 30 cases (360 jars) from them and for the first time in 4 years I received one case that had breakage. I immediately contacted them about this and they very kindly said they would send a replacement case for free. Wouldn’t you know, this is how the replacement case arrived!!! Perhaps the label on the front was read as “Break Me” rather than “Fragile Glass” to the company doing the delivering??? Actually, the jars were in tack despite the rough handling of the box. IMG_3682Thank goodness the overwhelming rain has stopped for now and we have been able to play catch up in the fields and orchard. The grass needs cutting every day it seems and Dave let me try my hand at the zero turn mower for a while since we can tag team if needed with him using the mower on the tractor while I zip around with the crazy hand controlled machine of the Z-turn! I lament mowing down the white clover though since the bees love it and we allow it to flourish in the back for their delight. We cut it in patches so that they always have some available to them in one corner or another. IMG_3670.JPGThe bees have also loved several varieties of Salvia which have flourished among the peonies in front… IMG_3294as well as in several new beds of pollinator friendly flowers on the north side as well as in the rear terrace bed. I enjoy receiving starts of plants from friends and gladly entertained this special one pictured below from a beekeeper who was sharing this specimens from the back of his truck at our last club meeting. It is a banana tree…not exactly contextual in my non-tropical garden space, but amusing to watch as it unfolds from its winter dormancy. I am told it will have tiny ‘bananas’ after it blooms, so it should fit in with our orchard, right? IMG_3690Where was our best little helper during all of this? Coulter was at the lake visiting with his PawPaw Bill for the Memorial Day weekend. He loved the boat ride but could not stay awake for long! IMG_3596 I find myself in the same situation these days…too tired from our efforts but happy all the same.