May 2011

This farm has an amazing labor force comprised of close to 60 worker shares.  A worker share is a member who chooses to work 4 hours each week in exchange for a vegetable share.  This farm began the worker share program 16 years ago.  For the first 5 years of the farm’s existence all of the work was done by family members (David, myself and our three children) and worker shares.  It wasn’t until we were delivering 500 shares that we hired our first employee.  Today with 1300 shares our labor force is comprised of 60 worker shares, 5 family members, 3 employees and a seasonal crew of 8-10 workers.    Many of our worker shares return year after year and each year we also have a whole group of new ones.  The worker share orientation is a season kick-off for worker shares and their families.  For the past many years we have planted sweet potato slips at the orientation.  Last Sunday, with threat of storms, we planted 2500 sweet potato slips with worker shares.  A sweet potato slip is a plant that grows off of a sweet potato, is pulled off the sweet potato and is then planted into the ground so more sweet potatoes can grow.  We ordered our sweet potato slips fromTennessee this season and were thankful when they arrived.  The worker shares learned all about the sweet potato slip, how to plant it, how it puts on sweet potatoes and all other fun sweet potato facts.  We spent a lovely hour and a half planting.  The sky got dark, the rain never came to our field and we got 2500 plants into the ground. 


Penelope, our worker Chris's daughter, overseeing the sweet potato planting


David and worker share crew planting sweet potatoes into plastic mulch


Last time I wrote it was 87, now I will talk about 27. I woke up at 3 am Monday, went downstairs and checked the remote thermometer readout – 27 degrees. Burr. I went back to bed and I laid there wondering how the tomatoes were doing in the Colossal. (Our hoophouse with heat and with plastic). Had the side walls closed when they were supposed to? Was the heater kicking in? Was there enough LP in the tank? After 10 minutes of wondering all of this I figured there was only one way to know. So out I went in my fleece nighty and winter shearling boots. Lucky it was 3:30 am and all of the neighbors were sleeping. The side walls on the Colossal were closed, the heat had just kicked on and it was a cozy 39 degrees in there. I checked the LP tank, 40% full. The tomatoes were happy so therefore so was I. Next stop, the greenhouse. The heat was running and the transplants were cozy at 50 degrees. Next the hoophouse, I didn’t walk down there because I had put a double layer of row cover over the salad mix and was thankful I had. I stood in the yard and looked up at the full moon. It was so bright I could see my shadow. There were stars in the sky and no wind. Total beauty. The dog was sleeping in the yard wondering why I was out prowling. I told her because it was so beautiful out and then I went back to bed.

Salad mix - warm and frost-free under row cover in the hoophouse

Monday morning, 6am.  Still 27 degrees.  What month is this anyway?  We waited until 9:00 to harvest the spinach, because at 7:30 it was frozen.  As I drove to our field across the valley at 7:15, the marsh grasses glistened with ice.  All I could do was admire their glowing beauty.  It’s not often I get to see cat tails and marsh marigolds coated in ice.  The day warmed up beautifully.

The serene beauty of the farm on a perfect spring day

Wednesday – Transplanting corn, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and lettuce.  It was a grey, windless, misty day.  Absolutely perfect for transplanting!!  Truly.   We judge a nice day by how the vegetables will like it.  Vegetable transplants hate hot, sunny windy days.  It stresses them out, therefore stresses us out.  Even though transplants get water sprayed on them as they are being transplanted, we often have to irrigate transplants that have the misfortune of being transplanted on a day that is perfect beach weather.  So a nice, cloudy day is absolutely perfect. 

Who’s transplanting sweet corn? It looks like Eric has a helper, Nasta the dog.


“Move over Deb, I want to plant my sweet corn”


Shanna the dog thinks the water is coming out of the transplanter just for her. It’s really coming out for the corn transplants, but she didn’t believe us.



What’s a farm crew to do when it’s 87 degrees and humid and it’s only May 10th?  Harvest watercress!!  Watercress grows in spring fed waterways.  We have one such waterway just down the hill from the greenhouse.   The harvest is a challenge and a true test of creativity.  Streams where watercress grows typically have very soft, mucky bottoms, at least ours does.  One step into the water and down you sink, water above your rubber boot, rubber boot stuck in the muck.  So we have had to become creative over the years and figure out just how to reach the beautiful watercress without getting pitifully stuck.  

On Tuesday afternoon we stacked four wooden pallets into the back of the pick up truck and headed down the hill.  We strategically placed them into the water so we could stand on them and reach the cress.  Of course when all of the cress within reach was harvested we needed to move the pallet, without stepping in the water.  We were doing OK and having a bit of fun figuring it out.  But as it became more and more tiring ejecting pallets from gooey muck and relocating them to areas where there was more gooeyness we decided to try other options.  Jonnah headed to the greenhouse to get the large plastic tub we use to hold soil when we are planting flats.  It became a small boat just right for the job.  Barb took two black harvest crates, placed one on top of cut watercress, stood in it and had a perfect position, of course until she could reach no more, then took another crate, put it in front of the one she was in and stepped into that one.  It worked perfectly.  Eric, Chris and Deb continued to flip flop pallets around.  Shanna, the dog, just stood in the water watching whatever it is dogs watch in the water.  When we felt satisfied that all good watercress was successfully harvested we loaded all muddy objects back into the pick up truck, carefully placed clean crates of watercress along side the pallets and headed back to the packing shed.  I don’t think there could have been a better harvest job for an 87 degree day.    

Jonnah in her "boat"


Barb balancing in her crates


Eric, Jonnah, and Deb harvesting watercress while balancing on pallets


Is Chris hovering on top of the water?


It hasn’t rained yet this week!   This means we have been able to get all of the planned and backlogged field work done.  We knew we were going to have to hit the ground running when it stopped raining and the fields finally were dry enough to plant, and run we did.  And of course we began harvest this week for our first Spring Share.  Monday morning brought the first day of harvest.  It had gotten down to 27 degrees during the evening so harvest had to be delayed until the greens thawed.  When the crew went down to the hoophouse (without plastic, so it really wasn’t a hoophouse, but an outside field) the greens were all frozen.  Greens can freeze and thaw and be fine.  Actually the freezing is what brings out the sweetness, so we expect the spinach to be very sweet.  We can’t harvest frozen greens so we all turned around and went to the greenhouse to plant sweet corn and wait until the greens thawed.  There is always some job to do.  We finished the corn planting job and then headed back to the hoophouse to harvest spinach, salad mix, saute mix, arugula and radishes.

Seeding sweet corn into flats, one kernel at a time


Harvesting spring share greens in hoophouse

After lunch we went to the woods to harvest ramps.  This is a spring ritual that everyone looks forward to.  The quiet, cool peacefulness of the forest is enchanting.   The only green growth on the forest floor are the ramps.  The only sound is a few birds chirping.   We work in silence as we dig the clumps of ramps and separate each bulb from the cluster.  We sit on the cool, leaf covered forest floor.  We work quickly but enjoy every minute.  Then with the same ritual that we began the harvest, we fill the crates with ramps, walk up the path and load them into the pick up truck.  

Ramp harvest


Walking out of woods with ramps

The next few days stayed extremely busy as we transplanted 13,500  leeks.  We did this on Tuesday, and Tuesday was cold.  But for seven hours, four people squeezed onto the back of an old, uncomfortable planter and placed one leek at a time between rotating disks.
The potato planting began on Wednesday and continued until it was to dark to see.  The job got finished this morning.
Wednesday afternoon we headed to the Colossal (another hoophouse, this one with plastic!) to harvest lettuce heads and bok choy.  The sorrel and chives are perrenials growing in one of our fields; they got harvested Tuesday morning.  After harvesting the vegetables, they all needed to be washed and many of them bagged.  It was a long week (oh yea and it was only Wednesday!).  We packed the Spring Shares this morning and now will head into town to deliver them.  What a joyful culmination of the week’s work (oh yea, three days).  Tomorrow we have oodles more to do, but today we will enjoy driving around in our trucks bringing the fruits of our labor to you. 

Harvesting lettuce heads in the Colossal


Saturday was a particularly windy day.    The plastic roof was covering the ‘harden-off area’, the plants were protected; it was so windy that we didn’t risk rolling the plastic sides up because the wind might just carry the plastic away.  That had happened several weeks ago, so we have been watchful.  I stood inside with the plants and felt confident all would be OK. Then I walked to the hoophouse where much of the Spring Share greens are growing.  It looked so beautiful.  I took pictures so I could show you the food before we begin the harvest on Monday.

Beds of greens in the hoophouse 10am Saturday

Three beds of salad greens 10am Saturday

 All seemed to be fine, although there was wind, the hoophouse plastic didn’t seem to be blowing around too much.   I needed to run an errand so left the farm for an hour and when I returned this is what I saw.

Hoophouse stripped of plastic covering 11am Saturday

Hoophouse stucture completely exposed

Side wall of hoophouse ripped out of its foundation

David wrangling whipping hoophouse plastic into submission

Devastated hoophouse structure avoids any damage to spinach beds

My heart raced.  Ten minutes after I had taken the beautiful  pictures of the salad beds a tremendous gust of wind came and ripped off the plastic, sheered the hardware holding metal bars in place, lifted up an end wall, and skewed rafters.  The beds of greens were still beautiful.  Without the protection of the plastic roof and walls we could only hope for no hard rains or hail.  There was a frost predicted last night so David, Jesse and I row covered the beds of lettuce to protect the tender leaves from the elements.  The other greens in the hoophouse are hardy enough to take a night of frost.  Harvest began this morning.  It’s a funny thing, farming and being at the mercy of Mother Nature.  One minute we have plants growing in a peaceful, protected shelter of a hoophouse, the next moment they are not.   I visited them this morning before harvest and they still looked beautiful.
Exposed greens made it safely through the weekend

This has been one interesting spring, to say the least.  As farmers, we expect to roll with the weather, and roll we do.  We intently listen to forecasts and watch radar.  I don’t have to tell any of you that this has been a particularly cool, if not cold, spring.   As I sit here and look out of my window towards the tree covered hills of the Town of Vermont, I can’t even see that faint spring green, it’s all still grey.   We start most of our vegetable plants in our greenhouse and then when they are about a week from being transplanted into the fields we move them into  the ‘harden-off area’, an unheated space where they can feel the wind, direct sun and cooler temperatures.  We have a retractable plastic roof so we can expose them to the elements and cover them in the evening or if the weather is harsh.

Harden-off area all closed up

Peas on trailer waiting to be transplanted

The greenhouse and harden-off area have both been bursting with fullness as plants have had to wait to get transplanted into the field.  We continue to start new plants in the greenhouse, on schedule, but can’t move plants into the field on schedule.  We have way more in there than planned and have become very creative with space.  We patiently wait until we can get the plants out to the fields.  Even if the weather is nice, the ground has to be dry enough for us to drive our tractors and till and transplant.  Last Monday was a window of opportunity.  About 2:00 pm the ground was dry enough (it hadn’t been dry enough in the morning).  We headed out to the fields with 2300 lettuce transplants, 3450 escarole transplants, 6530 broccoli transplants, 3450 scallion transplants and 6335 pearl onion transplants!  David was in one tractor tilling the beds; Jesse was driving another tractor, pulling the mechanical transplanter.  Chris, Deb and Eric sat on the mechanical transplanter putting transplant after transplant into rotating cups that dropped them into the ground.

Deb, Eric and Chris transplanting escarole on mechanical transplanter

Newly transplanted scallions and lettuce

At 5:30 Jonnah and I joined the crew and walked through the planted beds, tucking in any plants that had the misfortune of laying on their side or were otherwise buried.  The momentum was intense, perhaps urgent.  We worked until 7:45, got every last transplant in the ground. It started raining 15 minutes later.  We did it.  Repeat…that was one week ago.  We have the same situation in the greenhouse and hoophouse again, they are both overflowing with plants waiting to get into the fields.  We see tomorrow as another window.

Written by Barb