Tuesday, January 7, 2014

URL change

Hey everyone -

I'm currently in the process of updating the webpage for the New Year.  Check out www.frostarrowfarm.com for the new version.  Thanks!


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Moving through May

It's a rainy afternoon here and I'm trying to catch up on all sorts of officework, including updating this blog.  My official excuse for the quiet on here of late is that I lost the charger for my camera (no pictures today, sorry) but of course the real reason is just that May - even a rainy, delayed-spring May - is a hectic time in a farmer's life.

But we are making lots of progress out there and things are growing fast!  We had a very chilly mid-May, with a hard frost hitting very late on the 13th, but the tomatoes, cucumbers, and other sensitive plants rode it out successfully under floating row covers (thin white fabric barriers...basically the veggie professional's version of throwing blankets over your tomatoes on cold nights).  Row covers are a key item in the vegetable farmer's arsenal.  Thick ones keep the cold and frost off of sensitive plants, and thin ones are one of the most effective pest control weapons we have, especially as they don't involve spraying anything on the plants.  Drive through the countryside around here in April and May and you'll see them quite often, on small vegetable farms or Amish auction patches. 

The other simple technology we tend to use involves plastic or straw mulches.  Straw mulch is pretty easy to understand and many of you probably use it in your gardens - a thick layer of grass stems to keep water trapped in the soil and stifle weed seed germination.  But straw isn't perfect - it cools the soil off, traps moisture  near the plants, and often contains more weed seeds than it should - so many vegetable growers turn to plastic mulches as well.  Black plastic is commonly used to heat up the soil (good for early tomatoes, peppers, and melons), while white plastic will cool it off (nice for summertime lettuces and greens).  Occasionally growers experiment with a whole rainbow of colors - silver is supposed to deter onion pests, while red allegedly ripens tomatoes more quickly - but black and white are by far the most common.  Just like row covers, you'll see plenty of these if you drive through an area with any vegetable farmers.  More mechanized growers have machines that can lay these plastic sheets on raised beds with a single tractor pass; less capitalized growers, and many Amish families, have to resort to shoveling soil over the sides by hand to keep the plastic in place.  Since I fall under the "less capitalized" group myself, I put a few earlier tomato plantings out on plastic, but resorted to bare soil plantings for many of my summer crops.  Now that June is almost here the soil temperature won't be as much of an issue, and I can mulch as things warm up to keep the weed pressure down.

This week is the official start of the CSA season here at Frost Arrow Farm, so those of you with subscriptions can expect your first boxes soon.  New Cumberland market attenders will be familiar with most of our spring offerings: boxes this week will likely contain lettuce mix, baby spinach, radishes, and kale, with maybe a red romaine lettuce or some aromatic herbs in the mix as well.  In the coming weeks the selection will expand - I saw the first of the garlic scapes peeking out today, so those should be on the list in early June, not to mention the incoming peas and zucchini whose progress I've been eagerly watching.

If you're not in the CSA as of yet, it's not too late!  Let me know if you're interested and I can prorate your share so that you're not paying for any weeks you may be missing.  If you're around New Cumberland on Saturday mornings, feel free to stop by the market too!  It's still small but I see new faces every week, and new vendors are hopping in too as the weeks go by, so hopefully by the end of the year it'll really be hopping.


Friday, May 3, 2013

First Market of the Year!

Tomorrow morning is the first market of the year, both for me and for the brand-new New Cumberland market.  Here's hoping it's good for both parties!

It's been a busy week here and it's been a relief to finally harvest a decent amount of veggies.  Must be that spring is here at last, and the plants are really starting to grow.  Monday I delivered ten boxes of mesclun mix to my wholesaler at Tuscarora.  I was hoping to save a little more of it for later on in the season, but it was getting so big I decided I better harvest it soon.  It's hard to grow mustard plants too late in the season in a high tunnel (it gets too hot for them and they go to seed), but thankfully the outdoor plantings of mesclun are coming on pretty strong and should be ready by next week, and I still had some left over to bring to market tomorrow too.

The big crop for market tomorrow is going to be the wildfire lettuce mix - I'm really excited by how nice it looks, and it's been growing really well all week.  It feels like I spent all day harvesting it, but I have a feeling it'll be the first thing to go tomorrow too.  The radishes look pretty nice too, especially the Easter Egg bunches with their pastel reds, pinks, and purples.  I was a little surprised to see some white radishes mixed into the Easter Egg seed too...they complement the mix well, but they look so much like those tasty little salad turnips that it's a little surprising to find that they're radishes.

We should have a few other neat things on hand, too.  The mint is growing really well, just in time for Kentucky Derby season, and the flower bouquets are starting to come in.  I'll see if I can coax some of our reluctant spinach into harvest by tomorrow morning, too.  Hope to see you there!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Chilly forecasts

Work continues apace at the farm this week as the weather takes a turn again towards wet and cool.  A couple weeks ago Doc insisted that we were in the clear and would stay frost-free for the rest of the spring, but I demurred.  I wish I had been wrong, but forecasters are currently calling for lows of 30 or 31 on Saturday night, so it looks like we're not done with cold just yet.  What does that mean for the farm?

These pea seedlings may look fragile, but the frost won't bother them.
Well, the plants outside should stand up to it fairly well, although I probably won't put in additional transplants in after this morning. (That's fine, it's going to rain all afternoon anyway).  Many people think that a frost will kill all of their vegetables, but that's not true - most greens can survive one fairly handily, including pretty much everything I have outside - mesclun, arugula, lettuce, radishes, bok choy, all should be fine.  Onions and garlic are also no worry, and neither are the peas and potatoes - after all, those are plants that folks will tell you to plant by St. Patrick's day, if you can, or in the parlance of seed catalogs "as soon as the ground can be worked." Obviously a frost won't stop them. But I will take measures to protect them nonetheless, and will likely spend some time Saturday afternoon laying out row covers especially on the newly-transplanted lettuces.

Inside the tunnel it's another story, as there are some susceptible little babies in there.  Tomatoes and peppers will complain bitterly about the cold, as will the basil seedlings.  I've been putting row covers over all of them during the cold nights of March and that provides a lot of protection - so does the greenhouse itself, which keeps out the wind and acts, much like a cloud cover would, to alter the humidity in a way that makes frost less likely.  We'll button the tunnel up tightly early Saturday and just let it hold as much heat as it can - a good watering will help, too, as wet soil holds heat much better than dry soil does.  The greens won't be bothered by the cold, but they'll appreciate the cover and grow faster for it.

We've still got pepper plants inside under lights, too, which I'd like to bring out - but no point doing that too early, now.  Looks like next week we'll start hardening all of those off.  All in all, although the cold weather will slow down lots of things, it should be survivable for most plants.  And the late spring will help us out, too, since the fruit trees are behind schedule.  Last year by this point there were flowers everywhere on those trees - this year, they haven't all opened up yet, so even if we get a hard frost on them I think they'll be a second cohort coming along.

Spring is getting here sooner or later and we'll be here waiting and growing for it!  Look for us at the New Cumberland Community Day market on the 4th of May, and don't forget to sign up for a CSA share if you want one this year!


Friday, April 12, 2013

April showers

Looking at a thoroughly wet day today, so I'm catching up on all sorts of projects.  You're getting a blog post out of one of them!

The farm has been a busy place lately.  Just eight or nine days ago, we had nighttime lows of 22 F - and then the last couple days the daytime highs have been up in the 80s.  With the warm temperature Nature is really starting to take off.  Dandelions are blooming now, trees are budding out, robins are foraging..and the ground dried right out.  So I got to work planting, and the mesclun mix, radishes, lettuce, and arugula I planted just before Easter are germinating pretty well by now.  The peas too, and they're probably up by now - they were germinating but still below the soil when I poked around in there yesterday.  Transplants are starting to go out too, and by now I've already got over five hundred baby lettuces planted outside.  If anything, the ground has gotten too dry lately.  The Easter weekend rain I was expecting was a little disappointing, and then the rain forecast for late last week never really showed up either...so today is the first real soaking rain we've had in over two weeks.  (For that matter, it was mostly snow before that).  So I spent Monday running around getting irrigation equipment set up, trying to hurry the little seedlings along on their way.  It's already been a blessing.

It might have been the late winter, or it might more likely be the way that my income this year is so dependent on growing things, but I feel like this is getting to  be one of the most beautiful springs I can remember.  I've never really been a big fan of the season, honestly.  I mean, I work outdoors, and I'd rather work in nice weather than in the cold and snow, but the season I love the most has always been autumn.  But this year? It just feels like hope, to me, like life and fertility are flowing back into the land.  Every bud on the apples, every lettuce or potato in the ground, is a possibility right now - and the fact that some of those possibilities are going to turn into cash in my pocket doesn't make them less awe-inspiring.  In fact it makes me all the more appreciative.  It has been a long, hungry winter and I for one have never appreciated a spring more.  Let's hope it brings good things, and that today's rain is a forecast (not too much, not too little) of fine weather in the year to come.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Chicken update

A week or two behind schedule, a picture or two of the chickens! Not nearly chick-sized anymore...we got them just before Valentine's Day, so they're about seven weeks old at this point.

And just for reference, here's a first-week picture from back in February:

That's the same bird (creatively known to us as "Whitey") as in the first picture up above.  So they've definitely sized up plenty of times over.  We really wanted to get them outside by this point in the year, but the weather has been so cold this spring that their move has been delayed for weeks.  According to our electric bill (as good a source as any, I guess), this March had an average temperature 11 degrees colder than March 2012.  So it is a slow spring.....guess that's Ohio wants to put the groundhog on trial.

Other than that, the slow spring is worrying but not necessarily horrible.  I did find a few tomatoes out in the greenhouse this morning with some frost damage on them, so we'll lose a few more tonight when it dips down into the low twenties again.  There should be enough extras to make up for it, though...most of them seem to be hanging in there.  And after tonight, the weather looks good for a ways on out!  By next Tuesday nighttime temps are supposed to be up in the forties and we should be well on our way into our delayed-but-inevitable spring.  And I'll be putting more crops in the ground (outside even!) - lettuce and potatoes - once this chilly night releases its grip on us.  Not just we  humans, but those chickens, are getting anxious to get out in the sun again.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Dreaming of tomatoes

March can be a difficult month.  You generally get a couple days early on that feel like May - warm, perfect days, not too windy, where you can walk around in your shirtsleeves - and your mind starts to get ahead of you.  In my minds' eye I had the whole month planned out two weeks ago, getting some rototilling done not only in the high tunnel but out in the field, where I would have peas and potatoes in by now, not to mention a second round of spinach, lettuce, and mesclun to complement the ones inside.  At one point I even called my potato supplier, a little worried that I wouldn't get my delivery in time for this imaginary planting.

Well, as you know, it hasn't been an issue.  Since our beautiful early-March weekend, we have seen several days of thick wet snow and a persistent failure of thermometers to climb up out of the twenties overnight.  Most days, even when it's nominally in the low forties, the wind blows so hard that it's hardly picnic weather.  Crops are growing in the high tunnel, especially when it gets at all sunny outside...but the ground is still cold, wet, and stuck somewhere in that gelatinous state between frozen and muddy.  Potato planting is not yet a concern.

And so, on such days, I can at least head downstairs and check out the tomatoes.  I love tomatoes, as I imagine you do too.  Everyone loves fresh tomatoes.  As a kid I never liked them on sandwiches or salads - I still tend to avoid them unless I know their source - but I eventually figured out that it's not the tomatoes' fault.  Its just that fast food chains go in for the "moist cardboard" type of tomato, so they can supply us year-round.  In-season tomatoes are a totally different plant, and of all of them - of all the tomato magic out there, the heirlooms, the grafts, the esoteric pruning and trellising techniques - the Sungold Cherry Tomato has a special place all its own.

Parents know that finicky children will eat sungolds like candy, popping them into their mouth one after another.  This is almost always enough...a pint or two of fresh-picked sungolds will disappear this way in most families' homes overnight.  We all know that tomatoes are 'technically a fruit' (the media are still surprised by this, though - they all write it as if it was discovered yesterday), but with sungolds there is never any doubt.  People treat them as a berry.

Only once have I really had to do anything with these delicious summer treats besides eat them raw.  Last year, a friend of mine managed a farm in central PA with such ferocious efficiency that he grew far more of many crops than he could market.  I stopped in to visit him and he shoveled produce at me - bushels of cucumbers, boxes full of potatoes, barrels of kale, buckets of sungolds.  Imagine a five-gallon bucket full of cherry tomatoes and you'll get the idea.  So we started figuring out what to do with them.  They make great ketchup (so naturally sweet you don't need to add any sugar).  Dried in a food dehydrator, they turn into a bite-sized burst of tomato flavor perfectly sized to add to a late-winter dish.  You can do almost anything to them that you can to a normal tomato - just don't end up in a recipe where you have to peel them!

I've been thinking of this bounty lately when I check out my seedling tomatoes, because there are a lot of sungolds down there.  I planned on having enough to pretty much fill the greenhouse this summer, and enough to sell some at market to interested customers.  I hope we have some interested customers, because they have germinated at nearly 100% efficiency.  I would estimate that over five hundred plants are growing away by this point -  not all of my tomatoes, mind you, just five hundred plus Sungold cherry tomatoes.  They're wonderful to see on a snowy, windy day.  They smell like tomatoes already.  I hope you're as excited as I am!  But if not we'll be enjoying our ketchup again this winter.