Spring is supposedly around the corner but all of this rain is making us feel somewhat water-logged. Regardless, we’re pushing on and have begun seeding our first trays. We’ve already planted over 10,000 seeds and they are starting to pop! It’s nice to see some signs of life again.
That being said, we need a field crew to help us plant, care for, and harvest this future bounty. Our Field Crew is instrumental in growing all annual and perennial crops including planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting. This is a part-time seasonal position, 6 hours per day Monday through Thursday with occasional weekend work. The work schedule may extend into Friday, depending on the needs of the farm. The full job description is here.
These positions (we’re hiring two) are ideal for someone with at least one season’s experience in market vegetable production. As a bonus, compensation includes farm-fresh produce and eggs, when available. So if you want to work hard and eat well, then this is the place for you.
As we put together the CSA boxes each week it feels like a small victory, moreso this season than any other. It was yet another week of no precip and high temps. We are starting to better understand the plight of farmers in California.
The promise of rain this week was just a tease so we continued to diligently rotate our watering in hopes that our efforts are enough to keep things alive. That said, we knocked out a pretty good box this week.
There was a brief discussion on whether putting snow, snap, and shelling peas along with beans would be too much for our large boxes but in the end we decided that it was all going in. That’s what the CSA is for: to showcase the best of what we have for the week.
So there you have it, Week 3’s box:
Leafy green butter lettuce
Pretty purplette onions
Sweet savoy cabbage
A preponderance of peas: snow, snap and shelling
Tender yellow wax beans
Beautiful broccoli (seriously, it’s the best tasting variety that we grow)
This year we are also trying to strike a better balance between farm and fun so amidst all the heat and weekend fire drills, we managed to sneak in a little time at the local fair for Father’s Day. Hope you’re finding some fun ways to beat the heat too!
We have survived two seasons of farming and here we are, ready for round three. Our CSA kicked off last week and I think it was our best first box yet. There’s always a lot of anticipation for that first box since you never really know what things will look like until they are harvested and cleaned up. Will we have enough stuff to fill it? Will the CSA members like it? Did we include enough variety?
Given the drought-like conditions that we are experiencing, I think we feel pretty good about what we delivered: red beets, carrots, flashy troutback lettuce (a farm fave), strawberries, broccoli or romanesco, and lacinato kale or chard. The large boxes also had cardoon (see below for a pic), asparagus, green butter lettuce, frisee, and snap peas. The first day of the season is never perfect but our team really pulled together and we were on the road pretty much on schedule.
So, now let’s talk about this weather we’ve been having. Gorgeous, sunny, hot days. 80-90 degree days in May and June in the Pacific Northwest, say what? Great for going to the beach, not super great for early season farming. We count on the spring rain to help get our plantings established and without it, let’s just say that it’s been a little rough on those tender seedlings. It is what it is, so we’re making the best of it. On the other hand, the stuff in the greenhouses looks terrific. We may have tomatoes earlier than ever before – yay!
Over the last few months we’ve been quite pleased to be selling our products through Farmstr until they announced that they would be closing their doors at the end of the month. Sad times. In the wake of their announcement we hustled and have just opened our webstore to provide some continuity for our Farmstr customers, as well as our CSA members. We’re stoked that the Essential Baking Company has agreed to allow us to begin making deliveries to their Wallingford Café! This means that in addition to our eggs, the produce that we have available will be posted in our webstore and available for pick up at a few locations for much of the year. Check it out and while you’re at it, take a look at our re-vamped website. We hope you like it!
Who doesn’t love strawberries? When we polled our CSA members last year on which items they enjoyed the most (and least), the overwhelming majority said, “more strawberries!” Okay, I added the exclamation point for emphasis but I imagine that most people are pretty excited about a perfectly ripened strawberry. I know I am.
Imagine our surprise and delight to find that our strawberries are early this year. We couldn’t have been more pleased with our ever-bearing strawberries last year. So. Delicious. This year our June-bearing plants are set to deliver so we’ll have more than twice the amount of strawberries available. Add to this, the 1,400 new plants that were recently planted and that just adds up to strawberries galore. Maybe we’ll set a record for the number of weeks that our CSA members receive strawberries in their boxes.
Here is a little timeline of this year’s strawberries:
Mid-April: Jonathan took advantage of a sunny day and cleaned up the strawberry beds while Caia supervised.
May 11th: strawberry blossoms.
May 19th: A proliferation of green strawberries.
May 24th: Some very happy children eating their weight in strawberries.
There are lots of ways to build a mobile chicken coop. A quick tour of photos online shows everything from coop designs that are simple, glorified boxes to those worthy of Dwell magazine. We may not win any design awards but I think ours turned out quite nicely.
We chose the semi-DIY route. Our friend and neighbor Bob generously let us have an old office trailer. It had clearly seen better days but gave us an excellent starting point. Our man Ross deserves a big shout out for transforming the dilapidated trailer into a lovely home for our chickens. Well done Ross!
For years I have pestered Jonathan about getting chickens in the city. His response was always “if we had more space, we could have chickens.” That day has come. No convincing needed. It’s obvious that chickens should be an integral part of our operations because when you farm without chemicals, chicken poop is a plant’s best friend.
I’ve always loved the image of pastured animals made popular by Joel Salatin via Michael Pollan in the Omnivore’s Dilemma. You have cows grazing (and pooping) in a field, followed by chickens who scratch up the cow pies and add their own poop. When the animals have eaten down the grasses, you move them to a fresh field and restart the process. Why use machines and burn diesel (and time) to tend the fields when animals can help control the grasses and weeds, and contribute to soil fertility at the same time? It’s a beautiful cycle that seems like a no-brainer for small farmers like us.
So we started a flock of egg-laying hens. By “egg-people” standards, it’s a small flock of about 200 birds; heritage varieties such as Rhode Island Red, Barred Plymouth Rock, and Buff Orpington. We also adopted a half dozen White Rock chickens from our farm hand Ross. They needed some room to roam so we happily found a spot for them to scratch and peck to their hearts’ content.
Just as luck would have it, our day-old chicks arrived during the sub-freezing weather at the beginning of December. We lost a few during the first couple of weeks but the remainder of the flock has held on strong. It’s been amazing to see them grow from tiny fuzzy chicks into nearly full-grown adults in just a matter of months. In a few weeks, we’ll have eggs galore. I can hardly wait.
They are strangely charismatic in a way I didn’t expect. When you approach them, some go running off in a million directions or just ignore you, but others are curious. They’ll come right up to check you out. Then, you get to look that chicken right in the eye and for a minute there’s a silent exchange. You realize that she’s more than just a bird. She is a steward of our land and a provider of food. I feel sad for the chickens who are treated like commodities.
But let’s not end on a low note. Here are a few pictures of our happy hens.
It was a good great first season. I didn’t have as much time to blog about the experience as I would have liked; although, I probably wrote a dozen or more posts in my head that didn’t materialize for the world to read. There’s always next year. Which also happened to be my working mantra for much of the season.
More cucumbers, strawberries, peas, and carrots? There’s always next year.
I really should have done more canning and freezing. I’ll be more organized next year.
Darn it, I made some mistakes in preparing the bees for the winter. Next year will be different.
We should have planted more of this, less of that, started earlier/later, done things differently, blogged more, done more research, laughed at ourselves more, soaked up the warm starry nights and reflected in amazement that our beautiful fields fed more than 70 households in any given week. That’s all going on the To Do list for next year.
I still pause when I realize that “we did it.” We, non-farmers, became farmers overnight – not fully appreciating all of the challenges that would be thrown our way. But week after week we managed to fill those CSA boxes, deliver them, and fill our wholesale orders. It certainly wasn’t perfect. Mistakes were made, as some would say, but nothing insurmountable and certainly nothing that we can’t correct next year.
On the other hand, everything was perfect.
We accomplished most of our objectives, the vast majority of our CSA members were satisfied, our children ate copious amounts of vegetables, and we got our foot in the door with some local restaurants. It affirms our crazy decision to become farmers when a celebrated local chef says that our onions are the cleanest and best he’s ever seen from a local farm. It’s exciting to get emails from chefs asking to purchase all of our broccoli, all the beets, the whole crop of brussels sprouts, all the chard, ALL OF IT. We’re still waiting for someone to request all of the cabbage, which is pretty much the last crop standing after the recent weeks of freezing temps. One can hope.
With this season still petering out, our sights are already set on next year. Since we’ve mastered the vegetables (kidding, ha!) it’s time to move on to animals. Two cows, 200 195 chicks, and three hives of bees are now permanent residents at Skylight Farms. Five barn cats will arrive later this week to form our rodent control team. What could possibly go wrong with so many animals in our care, a growing customer base, and two toddlers to take care of?
Our season definitely hit its crescendo over the last couple of weeks. It’s the beginning of September and we’re still harvesting luscious, mouth-watering strawberries, tomatoes, and melon. Sadly, those days are coming to an end. Somewhat abruptly too, I’m afraid.
A couple of weeks ago, we could barely keep up with the tomatoes and were scrambling to figure out ways to sell them. It was exciting to see the new varieties ripening each week: blush, black krim, brandywine, arbason, cherry, and belstar. Even more exciting to taste them, straight off the vine. I’ve never been a tomato-lover but these beauties converted me. Some were bursting with so much juice and sugar that they were literally exploding in the greenhouse.
And now, two entire rows of tomatoes in our field – 400 feet – are looking like a sorry mess. They came down with late season blight, which spread almost overnight. In an effort to save the greenhouse tomatoes and control the disease, all of the field tomato vines have been cut down. I cringe every time I walk past them. The gnarled vines are starting to turn black and the carpet of cherry tomatoes on the ground just makes me sad.
Likewise, the perfume-y, sugary-sweet melons that we’ve enjoyed daily for the last few weeks are afflicted by powdery mildew. In an effort to save them, the crew harvested almost 300 melons in a day. (So if you’re reading this and want a melon, call me.) Looking down the row where the melons have been discarded, it’s complete melon destruction. Melons are littered everywhere, over-ripe, split open, and swarming with flies. Not exactly the idyllic farm scene of just a few weeks ago.
On the bright side, many have tried and failed to grow both tomatoes and melons on this side of the Cascades but we managed to produce hundreds, nay thousands, of pounds of spectacular fruit. The kind that makes you swoon and shed tears of joy because it’s Just. That. Good.
Ah, to be an organic farmer. There’s only so much you can do to combat diseases. This is why organic, heirloom tomatoes cost $7 per pound.
Then again there’s nothing you can do to prevent Mother Nature from sticking her nose into your business. Take, for example, the 80 foot tree that decided to come crashing down across our driveway on Tuesday night, smashing through our fence and taking out some kale and strawberries. As if that weren’t inconvenient enough, the tree also knocked out the power, phone, and DSL service on the night before our CSA deliveries. Thankfully, Snohomish PUD was out in a jiffy and had the power restored by the wee hours of the morning.
When this kind of stuff gets me down, I like to look at the gallery of photos that I’ve compiled thus far into our season. It’s a good reminder that we’ve grown some incredible stuff, despite our recent losses. Do seasoned farmers just get used to this kind of stuff? I hope that I never get so hardened that I stop wincing at the sight of spoiled tomatoes lying scattered in the field.