Thursday, May 27, 2010

Having fun with funghi

What an exciting day today! Drills, hammers, blow torches, and hot wax, the first thing that comes to mind is probably not mushrooms. But that is what we spent the better part of our morning working on, inoculating oak logs with two types of mushrooms, Shiitake and Oyster.

I'll give you the inside scoop on growing mushrooms. First, we soaked the logs in water for 24hrs, then we drilled holes in the log using a drill with a 5/16 inch drill bit. The pattern followed was like the five on a dice with the holes 6 inches apart from each other. Do this pattern on all sides of the log.

Next take the fungus plugs (dowels) and hammer them into the holes. Next, melt some cheese wax (don't know the real term for it off hand) in a pot using a propane torch and spoon the melted wax over the plugs, completely covering the holes. This helps seal off the wound and prevent other fungus or microbial life from getting in there and competing with your spores.

Lise putting wax over the plugs

The logs are then stacked in tepee form in the woods and can be harvested the following year. Your patience will be rewarded with some awesome locally foraged fresh mushrooms!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Garden update: Tomatoes, eggplants, peppers are officially in the ground

A truck filled to the brim with tomato varieties such as Rose de Berne, Green Zebra, Purple Cherokee, Garden Peach, Sun Gold, etc.

Tomatoes, check. Eggplants, check. Peppers, check. Finally our sun loving greenhouse hogging plants are in the ground. It seems like they have been in the greenhouse forever. Not that I mind walking into a cultivated jungle in the morning, but the tomatoes were getting so large they started to flower and fruit. Alas, the weather was not cooperative until last Friday and early this week. We dug trenches to plop our plants in the ground. Marigolds were planted every ten tomato plant to help with pest control. It was very exciting but sad at the same time, not much remained to be put in the ground except for melons and a few succession plantings.

The hot weather was helping the plants big time. Over night things have been doubling in size. When I looked at the garden last week I was skeptical that we would have anything to give our CSA members in two weeks, but just yesterday we snacked on a small radish.

Other than planting we have been trying to keep up with the weeds. We yank and hoe regularly trying to keep them at bay. In aisles between the peas we put down grass clippings to keep the weeds in check. It is one of the farming ironies, half your time is spent trying to grow things, the other half is spent trying to prevent growth.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Tuesday I went to the first CRAFT meeting in Ossining, NY. No, not an arts and craft thingy, CRAFT stands for Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training. Basically, all us farmers-in-training in the Hudson Valley Region get together every couple of weeks to tour a farm, attend a talk, or see a demonstration on a specific topic.

Our kick-off was hosted at Kitchawan Farm, a farm that's been in the family for a century. A very enthusiastic and bubbly host greeted us in a long rain coat and rain boots. The whether was not very cooperative for our farm tour, it was pouring buckets. Lindsey walked us around her garden where she grows organic vegetables, herbs and flowers on a little less than an acre. And she does it all by herself! The farm was a mixture of old and new, retaining the farming aspect but changing the type (from horses to organic veggies). I especially liked the sight of the old white barn with solar panels on the roof. It was truly a thing of beauty.

After our tour we sat underneath a tent and shared a pot luck meal. The table was laid out with fresh bread, cheese, spinach calzones, a bounty of salads, pasta, chili, freshly made iced tea, raw milk, and various deserts. I brought some delicious rhubarb oatmeal bars, if I do say so myself. I ate and socialized with interns from other farms and temporarily forgot how soaked and freezing cold I was. It seems like I have truly found my kindred spirits amongst these farmers-in-training...people who both love to grow, cook, and appreciate good food.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sheep wool for oil spills

Last week we had the very unpleasant task of sorting through urine and poopie soaked wool from untainted wool. We undertook this task not because we wanted to make nautical themed pashmina afghans (sorry, SNL I'm on a Boat,reference there) but because we planned to box the wool up and ship down to the Gulf Coast to soak up all that oil. We also had two volunteers coming to help pack them up and we did not want to expose them to the yucky. This is a task better suited for interns. At least my boss, Dave, helped too. As for why the wool was in such horrendous conditions, it was because the bags were stored underneath rabbit cages!???

So we boxed up all the good stuff and on Monday we drove the dozen plus boxes to the post office. I could tell the cashier was inwardly groaning when he saw three of us bringing in all the boxes and at the same time was curious about their contents. Eventually he said "you guys moving or something?" No, I answered, we are sending wool down to the Gulf Coast to help soak up the oil spill. Then, they will take the wool back to some lab and inoculate it with some type of fungus which will eat up the oil. The grand total to ship the boxes was well over $200. I asked jokingly if we should just send the bill to BP. The cashier said we were doing more for the oil spill then they were.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sheep Shearing Day

I don't particularly care for sheep. I love to eat lamb and I like the idea of using the wool to make warm articles of clothing (although I cannot knit). But the rank just above chickens and rabbits on my preffered animal scale. They are a bunch nervous Nellys. You can't pet them because they'll bolt. Plus, they make such pathetic noises. Imagine what noise Barry White would make as a sheep, not sexy baritone like but hungover and smoked too much cigarettes like. But I will admit, they look like little fluffy clouds in the orchard where they have been happily lazing about the past two weeks. I always want to go and take a nap on them (they would make an excellent pillow.) That is, until they were stripped of their coat last Saturday.

Sheep shearing day started off with sheep chasing day. Part of the entertainment included watching a few people, myself included, running around trying to coral ten sheep into the holding area in the barn. Leave one tiny gap and the sheep will run right through it. Ken, the Glynwood farm director, changed the game plan and organized ten of us into a circle. We slowly walked towards the sheep, stopping when they started in the direction that we wanted them to go. If you close in on them too fast or run towards them they panic and bolt. It took a few minutes but finally we got the sheep into the pen. Ken and Mary, a former intern, took care of the hard part, shearing the sheep. There is a certain technique involved in getting them into the position so you can shear them. Ken explained "You have to put just the right amount of pressure to get the sheep to stop struggling so you can shear them, too light and they think they have a chance to get away. Too much and you wind up getting exhausted and loosening your grip on them, and they run away." After one sheep was sheared a little girl watching exclaimed, "the sheep is naked!"

Aside from watching the sheep spectacle, children of all ages could join in a range of activities led by Lise, assistant gardener, Dayna and Nicole, both garden interns. In one area sheep wool was spread out on the ground and kids were shown how to spin wool. Some made bracelets or a necklaces for themselves while others just enjoyed touching the wool and rolling around in it. Had I been allowed, I would have done the latter. The butter making was a real crowd-pleaser. The recipe is surprisingly simple: Fill a glass jar a 1/4 of the way with heavy whipping cream, put the lid on and shake for 10 minutes. When the mixture starts to turn yellowish, pour off the liquid (buttermilk, which can be used in pancakes) and the leftover is butter.

For the garden fans, Nicole and I led two tours of the greenhouse and garden. The visitors entered the greenhouse and were greeted by a sea of green plants. The benches housed over 20 varieties of tomatoes, including many heirlooms varieties measuring a foot tall, four varieties of eggplants, and 8 varieties of hot and sweet peppers. In the garden we pointed out the early signs of life, the various shades and shapes of green, from the beets, lettuce, spinach, scallions, radishes, carrots, turnips, and peas. I loved sharing all the information about the garden and hearing people say, "how did you learn all of this?" Hard to believe I learned it all on the job, and it's only been three months.

At one point I gave my friend a backstage tour of the barn and wound up giving unofficial tours 20 moms, dads, and kids of the bottle babies and piggies. A man walked into the barn with his Australian sheep dog and was walking right up to the pigs with it. I would have told him off (or rather, politely told him to leave his dog outside) but I was too distracted with everyone in the barn. It was a good thing I didn't say anything, it turns out that guy was Actor Paul Bettany, Actress Jennifer Connelley's husband.

When the event was over a bunch of the G-wood crew hopped in our cars and drove to Germantown for a hippy party extraordinaire at Fog and Thistle farm. We set up tents in their fields and danced to our hearts content in their barn.

Work hard on the farm and party hard on the farm..another lesson in my agricultural education.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Flame weeders and Anna Lappé

On any given day, I never really know what is going to be strapped to my back. One day its a tank containing fish emulsion (aka fish-a-ria) that I use to foliar feed our plants in the ground. The next day its a propane tank with a hose that extends into a long cilindrical nozzle that shoots out a big blue flame. What is the latter for? Flame weeding. We essentially burn the weeds with a backpack version of a blow torch. I am no pyro, but it is pretty exciting to use such a dangerous tool to exact revenge on stubborn weeds. Although on the day that I tried using it the wind was pretty breezy and I feared that it would shift the blue flame my way (and light my Crocs on fire.)

Pig Castration
We had a surprisingly slow week in the garden, because the weather was not cooperating with us half of the time, so I spent some time working with the livestock crew. I had the honor of holding four male piglets, not at the same time of course, while someone else castrated them. ( I absolutely love the piggies and castrating is not a fun job, but sometimes you just gotta suck it up buttercup!) I had to hold all four legs in my two hands while resting his back on my stomach so I could expose the testis, all while he was squirming and squealing. I think my ears were ringing a bit after wards.

Anna Lappé
I have been frantically trying to read Diet for a Hot Planet in the past week in preparation for her talk on Thursday at Glynwood (being the good pupil that I am) but only made it half way. Her talk was good and engaging and basically a summary of the main message in the book. Anna mentioned how at one of her talks her book was described as a gloom sandwich. Which part was the bread (bad news or good news) Anna wasn't sure. But her book is all about providing the facts to empower you to make a difference. I appreciate that in a book. I need the good, bad, and the ugly but I also need to feel inspired. So far, I am at the gloom sandwich part of the book, I'll let you know how the rest of it goes.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Good moms are a treasure, no matter what species they are

It's mothers day today, and although I don't have any children, I somehow wound up with two kids. We now have a second bottle baby goat named Shrimp Salad (I did not come up with that name.) This morning I went to feed Shrimp Salad and Lady, the other bottle baby who we weaned a month ago, was vigorously licking the droplets on the outside of the bottle as the other kid suckled on the tit. It was adorable. Now I have two shadows in the barn that follow me around everywhere.
Shrimp Salad trying to suck on my face

As I fed the animals and checked on everyone in the barn I reflected on how some animals, just like humans, make better mothers than others. For instance, both Lady and Shrimp Salads moms abandoned them, obviously not a good mom. But then I see a goat mother continuing to nurse her two big and active boys even as she becomes anorexic looking. Or, I will see the moms curled up with her babies when it's cold outside or calling to them in the fields to make sure they are close by. As for pigs, you have the awful sow who rolls over her piglets, but then you have the sows who do not move for days, neither eating or drinking, so her babies can feed. And just try picking up a squealing piglet. You will hear a half-roar-half-grunting bark emanating from big mama, throw in some foaming at the mouth and it makes for a hair raising sight.

Not all mothers are born with maternal instincts but some were just made to have children. I have been very fortunate to have two wonderful mothers in my life, my step mother and my mother-in-law. A great mother is loving, nurturing, and someone whom you aspire to model your life after. They have never rejected me, no matter what I've done, never tried to smother or snuff me out, and they would do anything to make sure I was warm and fed. What more could someone ask for?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Eat, Work, Sleep, repeat.

Ten hour days started this week, a fact I knew before signing up for the internship, and yet I applied anyways. This is unprecedented in my long and varied work history because I typically balk at anything over 4o hrs, especially without overtime pay. I am not confessing to you that I have no work ethic, but rather nothing I have done in the past could hold my attention for more than 8hrs a day. I would either be bored or super stressed out and couldn't wait to punch out at 5 o'clock. So why are things different this time around? That is a good question.

Because I badly wanted to learn about, and experience, sustainable farming in action there are certain realities that I confronted before I started working. The season dictates your hours. You don't just get to put in an 8 hr day, in fact 10 hrs may seem fairly lenient, you take advantage of as much daylight as you possibly can. When I picked tomatoes in Australia I worked 12hours a day, six days a week. Farming, which is romanticized to the extreme, is hard work. It is monotonous, and you labor in all weather conditions, you are bent over, and crouching and crawling on your hands and knees. When the day is over you eat and enjoy the 3.5 hours you have until bed time.

And repeat.

But that is why I am doing this internship, to have the authentic experience. I don't want to play farmer for a day. To be a part of the hard-working-farmers-club you need dirt under your nails, ripped cuticles, uneven tan lines, the bedtime of a 12 year old, and a wicked sense of humor. I think I may be ready to join the club.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Real Horsepower

What a week. It started off cold and wet, verging on downright freezing by Wednesday, but then slowly the temperature crept back up to the 70s by Friday. We tried to hide in the greenhouse as much as possible, transplanting and starting seedlings. Then we decided to clean out our seed storage area. Hundreds of dried Thai chilis, very pretty and ornamental, were lying on trays and on the floor. As we swept them up we inhaled a dust far worse than sniffing black pepper. A cacophony of sneezes could be heard around the room, like we were doing a round robin. We found dried lemon basil and lemon verbena leaves on drying racks, which I bagged up to bring home for a supper flavorful tea.

Tuesday we were still looking for tasks to do because of the rain we dare not step into the garden (and compact our soil). So, we played around with our big sprayer, which we pull through the garden with a tractor, trying to get it to work. This sprayer is NOT for chemicals, but for fish emulsion. Working on the farm has given me the ability to tolerate, sort of, all kinds of nasty smells. This smell in particular is akin to dead fish washed up on the shore baking in 90F sun for a few weeks. Fortunately, Dana is a real trooper and was the one to clean out the gunk. For the rest of the day we would get whiffs of fish coming from her.

On Wednesday we cleaned out the backpack sprayers and hand pump, so we could dole out fish emulsion to our plants also called foliar feeding. They love all the nitrogen and other goodies in there. The backpack sprayers really do make us look like the Ghostbusters. A definite perk. We did two rounds of spraying this week, the last application had an addition of boron. Boron is a restricted substance in Organic practices, meaning that you must have a proven soil deficiency in order to use it because it is made my synthetic means. We use it because it helps activate silica which in turn makes more Calcium available to plants.

Thursday I learned how to use a draft horse in the garden. Dave, head gardener, decided to dust off his draft horse, named Maggie, and get her into the field. She hadn't been in the garden since last June so we wanted to get her back into the swing of things. Dave put on her gear (I cannot for the life of me remember all the different parts of the horse equipment)and we hooked up the cultivator. The cultivator kind of looks like a chisel plow but is more shallow, it has four long and rounded implements that remind me of a back scratcher, used to loosen the soil and kill any weed seeds.
Dave held onto the reins and asked if I wanted to hold on to the handles of the cultivator. Sure, no problem I said. We ambled slowly over to the field. Dave gave Maggie the cue to start walking and she took off on a brisk trot. Piece of cake. Then as we turned around the corner she took off like a sling shot, I am holding on to the handles and immediately start running or face the consequences of a face full of dirt. "Jesus Christ" I exclaimed. I was not prepared for that, and my foot wear of choice, Crocs, are not really suited for running on clumps of dirt. In fact, I probably shouldn't be wearing them at all in the garden, but I wanted something waterproof and comfy, and rubber boots make me sweat too much. "Don't worry" Dave said, "she is just getting used to being back in the field again." The next few rounds went fine, but I braced myself every time we went around the corner, prepared to sprint at a moments notice.

We circled the field a few times and loosened the soil quite nicely. Maggie was pretty worn out but she did a great job. The field was then ready for the furrower. This awkward implement is used dig up trenches for our potatoes. The one line I did with the furrower was super crooked because I found it really hard to push.

Friday was potato planting day! Dave brought his little four year old girl in the garden to help us plant. She was very good at spacing the potatoes a foot apart. We put in over 200lbs of potatoes of five varieties. We put early, mid and late season potato varieties in so we could harvest them at different times throughout the season.

In the afternoon I had fun with the Bobcat. I got to turn the compost pile in the horse area. Only this time they took off the door in the cab, free air conditioning, which allowed manure to fly in my face if the wind was blowing my direction or I forgot to tilt the bucket down. Aside from that little bit of shit flying my way, I was really starting to get the hang of it.

I guess that's another thing I have built up a tolerance to, excrement and bodily fluids. A horse sneezed snot all over me Friday and I helped pull the sack of a newborn goat that morning. Hey, if this is not a free crash course in parenting, I don't know what is.