Caitlin has been hard at work developing our flower plantings and expanding options for fresh cut bouquets. Here are a few photos of our favorite arrangements from 2014, taken down on the bouquet station after work on Friday all season long.
From seed we sow the promise of fulfilment. A hope, a wish and a belief that we harness the capacity to transform inertia into sustenance all around us.
These tomato flats were mere sprigs when our friend Mark Musick took this photo of Caitlin sometime during May. But on Friday we hauled-in a small pickup bed worth of lush heirloom fruits, the kind that end up on your chin and your shirt and your smile as you eat them, savoring summer flavors and the notion that we indeed can make an impact on our world.
Saturated summer twilight rakes across the farm around 9PM. It is a fabulous time to slowly take a walk, maybe turning on an evening sprinkler, closing-in the chickens, or just getting out of the house to enjoy a cool moment touched by breeze. Whatever the urge, it often takes me past the flowers, looming spikes and unadulterated umbels. Pillars of beauty and beacons of pollination. The flowers are on now, unfolding their muted tones daily. They make me smile.
One again in 2014, we found ourselves waiting through spring for the ground to dry out enough to prepare beds and get our potatoes planted. And, once again, the day arrived on May 1st to finally trench and bury seeds. The first step was tilling, which we did with our landlord’s small Kubota tractor. In an effort to contain soil-borne disease, we are refraining from moving tools between each of the three leased sites we are farming this year. One setback of this is that we wouldn’t have the luxury of attaching our handy furrower to the BCS walk-behind tiller in order to mechanically dig trenches for the potato seed.
With the help of Nathan Levenson, our new — and first, and wonderful — intern, we revved our own engines up and dug 600 row feet of 12-inch deep trenches with shovels, on a lovely 80 – degree Mayday.Next came preparing the potato seed iteslf. We planted about half saved seed, set aside from last-year’s crops of Ozette and Rose Finn Apple fingerling potatoes, and half new seed ordered from Ronniger Potato Farm, a small seed company from Colorado. Some of the seed potato is small enough to plant entire potatoes individually. The larger potatoes we cut into chunks, leaving at least 3 eyes to set sprouts for each of the seeded spudlings. You can see that our potatoes were starting to set significant sprouts already, after a long spring of storage. This is not ideal, but not horrible, either. Had we more time and increased focus, we would have “chitted” them, as described in a blog from High Mowing Seeds, available here.When all 600 feet of spuds were placed, we covered them with most of the dirt that was dug for the ditches. The rest, we’ll hoe over the spuds’ sprouts when it is time for their first hilling — a few weeks from now.
Potatoes are delicious, nutritious, store all winter and are a joy to grow. We love them!
Hopefully, you will, too.
Overwintered sprouting broccoli is an ephemeral and fleeting gift. Long, tender stalks are sweet from winter’s frosts and offer a much needed changeup from starchy storage crops that dominate our off-season diet on the farm. Most years the vulnerable broccoli plants survive through immured months of short days and freezing spells, but it is not unusual for the Pacific Northwest to deliver robust enough periods of cold to kill our sprouting broccoli before it ramps up to offer harvestable quantities in spring. That uncertainty makes it all the more special.
This winter was a cold one for sure, with at least a couple rounds of clear, cold periods that offered daily high temperatures reaching into the mid-twenties for weeks at a time. Half of our purple sprouting broccoli was protected in a low-tunnel and survived the cold; the remaining bed was devoured in the field by hungry deer.
What we ate was as delicious as we’d hoped for. Reminiscent of asparagus, the skinny stalks shine on the plate and in the tummy when sautéed lightly in olive oil. What we sold did not last long in the farmstand — it seems the purple broccoli has a cultish and attentive following of ravenous admirers who stripped our shelves bare as soon as we could fill them up with those precious few bags.
Unfortunately, the harvest period was short and already has come to an end. We planted a variety (Rudolph, from Osborne Seed) that puts up all of its bounty rather early rather than taking its time to provide side shoots for the taking deeper into spring. The good news is that purple sprouting broccoli is just the harbinger of things to come. We’re on to salad now, and nettles and spinach and braising mix and all the leafy greens that color our plates and fortify our souls through these enlivened and ever more productive days….
It is late September and the to-do list around here grows seemingly longer every day. Weed, harvest, prepare beds for winter cover cropping, harvest, market, harvest, make compost, harvest, remove irrigation hoses from the field, harvest….
You get the idea.
But every year at this time we also stop the gears from turning for a moment everywhere else on the farm. During that last spell of warm, dry days in September the dried beans must get harvested and threshed, or removed from their pods, before the inevitable transition occurs into drizzly, cool and gray off-season conditions more familiar in the Pacific Northwest.
Farms that grow grains on a larger scale than ours have the room, and cash flow, to utilize big machinery for the harvest and processing of their dry-seeded crops. Combines don’t make any sense for us, though, and intermediary, appropriate technology is hard to find in this day and age of industrialized agriculture.
So, we harvest and process our beans the old-fashioned way, by hand, with a great deal of help from as many people as we can find.
Vashon Island is bestowed with a number of small, diversified vegetable farms, many of which hire season-long apprentices. The Vashon Island Growers Association organizes a series of workshops each growing season for these apprentices, as well as other interested community members, where participants gather monthly on different farms for instruction about a specific topic of interest, followed by a short work party. We at Island Meadow Farm don’t have the luxury of full-time staff, but still participate each year in the workshop series. This time around we stumbled upon a good idea for the event; small-scale dried bean production.
We learned in 2011 that the best method for us to use when harvesting our plants was to snip them just above the level of the soil. That way, dirt and rocks held in place by the plants’ roots do not become incorporated with the beans during threshing. That season, we collected the plants on tarps and beat them with sticks to force the beans out of their pods.
Last year, we decided to experiment with another approach to threshing. Holding two or three plants together, we thrashed them around inside a clean 50 gallon barrel. It worked well, and felt more effective for us than the flailing with sticks, but was still relatively slow and certainly felt tiring to the arms.
Motivated to streamline the process, we continued researching how other farms bring in their dry-seeded crops. One great set of ideas emerged on the High Mowing Seeds blog about seed saving.
After harvesting a bed’s worth of plants onto a clean tarp, we folded the tarp up and jumped on it. Then, we drove our small pickup back and forth on the tarp to further crush the dried bean pods, forcing the beans from their shells.
Our plants still had a significant number of green leaves on them come harvest day, which inhibited our ability to get all the beans out of their pods just by jumping and driving on the tarp. So we sat together and picked the remaining beans out by hand. This step was slow, bringing the “bean burrito” method into a pace equivocal to the barrel banging approach. But plucking beans out of pods on a sunny September afternoon with friends and community members was pleasant, to say the least. In the end we harvested over 150 pounds of heirloom dried beans.
The beans are an important crop for us.
Primarily, they are incredible to eat — far surpassing in both texture and flavor typical supermarket beans. The beans also save well, and we can sell remaining stores during spring of the following season when other food crops are still scarce and start-up cash is sorely needed. We are the only farm selling dried beans at our local farmers market, offering us a unique niche product. They are also a high-protein crop on this vegetable farm, serving as a great accompaniment to the veggies and poultry that are our focus here. Finally, we love both growing the beans and connecting with our friends to get them out of the field.
We grow a handful of varieties, inculding Tiger’s Eye, Jacob’s Cattle, King of the Early, and Ireland Creek Annie (which are in the photo up top). Kenearly Yellow Eye were new to us this year.
We still need to winnow the beans, pouring them back-and-forth from bin to bin in front of a fan in order to clean away any remaining leaf and plant material. Now that the beans are inside and safely stored, though, this final step in the process can occur at a more leisurely pace.
There is still a long list of projects to get done this fall on the farm, but now that the beans are in it feels like we can work around the rain. Bring it on.