Recently in gardening
It's been a while. We're in the throes of the most productive time of year at the farm, harvesting tons of heirloom tomatoes and greens (among other things) and preparing for the quickly approaching autumn growing season. We've been hustling to get all of our farm goodies sold and distributed to CSA members but in my scarce free time I've been working on migrating Brooklyn Homesteader over to a new website that is no longer specific to Brooklyn since, well...I no longer live there.
So, as a result I created a page dedicated to the projects I'm working on, including teaching and farm events. The book I have been working on for an eternity will be out soon! Next season, I'll be tackling management of the farm by myself so it should be quite a ride! Please consider adding the new blog (which I've imported most of the content from this site to!) and following me on this crazy journey.
p.s. Big ups to McKenzie over at Oliver and Abraham's for designing my banner and buttons!
The farm has undergone a huge transformation in the past few weeks. Where brown and grey we're the dominant colors, green and fuschia have supplanted them. The trees, grasses and hedgerow shine so brightly you see their negative burned into your eyes when you look away. This is the time where we steadily creep toward plenty. In a short few weeks we'll be up to our eyeballs in zucchini, tomatoes and cucumbers. I'm wringing my hands in anticipation already.
In a little over 2 weeks, our CSA pick-ups begin. If you think my blogging is infrequent now, I'm afraid my dwindling readership may be in for a disappointment. You see, I've learned that you can't be a blogger AND a farmer and excel at both. I'll be checking in as often as I can. I hope you'll be there to receive my transmission!
It's going to be over 80 degrees for the next few days here on the New Jersey farm. The warm temps are much needed, after several weeks of near-freezing nights have slowed our progress in the garden.
Here's some photos from the Seven Arrows this week. As you can see, the late spring hasn't impeded the chickens boom in egg production. Things in that regard are moving quite smoothly. I'll post soon about our progress. It's been hard to sit down at the computer to write lately.
Happy Spring, everyone!
Every day our farm feels more farm-like. We make little changes here and there and after a few weeks of little tweaks we get to enjoy notable progress as we move towards our first growing season here in New Jersey. I've found it very hard to muster the energy to broadcast the daily goings on here at the farm. The truth is, the farm takes up so much of my headspace and time that when I'm not required to think about it, I try to give myself a break. The past year has me spent and I was on the verge of having nothing left to give. Not to my friends, not to my business partners and not to my readers.
I've spent some time talking to Summer, the woman who operates the yoga retreat on the property, about my problem. I mostly felt compelled to share with her my fears about the condition I've allowedmy body to get into. A combination of eating indulgently, stressing, overwork, coffee addiction and too serious a love of good beer had me feeling depleted and ill. Summer recommended I spend a week detoxing, which I did. No coffee, no alcohol, no meat or wheat, no spicy or fatty foods, no sugar. Two days in and I felt noticeably different in body and mind. I became embarrassed that I had abused myself to that degree for so long. I've begun taking private yoga lessons with her a couple times a week to work out the rest of the kinks.
After a few days of this regiment, I had much more energy and clarity. With that burst of vitality I ventured outside to tackle some of the work that needs doing before Spring arrives. It's so close. The days have been warm enough to go jacketless, we've even been able to picnic. I've been prepping garden beds with Summer and Lulha, starting seedlings in the hoop house with Neil and Michael, and dreaming of what it will all look like once the seeds have germinated and the crispy brown and grey of winter has been gently brushed away by spring's bloom. This is the time of year when we all yearn for just a touch of warm sun on our faces. I feel the burden of my heavy clothes intensify on the cusp of spring. The cold night temperatures somehow feel like an insult to all of us warm blooded creatures. Fortunately, we've got only a few more weeks to endure.
I'm taking the last of this mellow time to get back on track. It's so hard to do good work when your body is fighting against you most of the time. A farmer is only as good as their condition, so if I wan't to be worth a damn out there in that field (I do!) I need do the work on myself first.
Blogging has felt like a kind of drudgery for the past few weeks. For me it's felt forced and contrived and I attribute it mostly to the fact that we're kind of stuck in that in-between place that most farmers and gardeners find themselves in this time of year. We've had a few weeks of rest and contemplation about the next growing season and we know Spring is just around the corner. We've got work to do soon and we want to do it, not talk or blog about it. We want the warm sun on our faces and damo soil under out fingernails.
It's frustrating at times because we want to continue sharing everything that's happening here, but the reality of being a farmer/blogger is becoming clear. At some point you have to choose one or the other to focus most of your attention on.
Some things will be changing around here. There are plenty of blogs out there with daily content being added and we aspire to be that sort of prolific blog as well, but since this farm has become our first priority, that will be challenging and not always possible. I personally have had to rethink my strategy because I cannot find myself behind a computer for the length of time I am accustomed to. Lives are literally at stake daily. We need to be present mentally and physically, if only to provide damage control.
For farm information, you'll want to look to our posts at Seven Arrows East. The content will likely contain useful information alongside personal anecdotes. We're also contributing to The Anchor, an Asbury Park based culture blog. We're contemplating what to do with Brooklyn Homesteader. We're ready to move on, so now we've got the complicated task of figuring out what to do with it. We cannot depend on other people to post content with regularity. So, a name change is on the horizon and with it a slight shift in focus. More on that soon.
So are you guys ready for Spring or what? Renewal and verdure are on the horizon, y'all!
Shazaam! It's a winter update comin' straight at you!
You can peep updates at our new farm website homestead.sevenarrowseast.com.
But here's a ctrl-c,ctrl-v for you BH blog diehards:
Not long ago, we looked down across the site of our future vegetable garden plot and thought, "How on earth are we going to get this sod tilled up before it freezes solid?" Luckily, with a little help from our friends and neighbours (namely, Tim, who lent us his walk-behind rotary tiller), we managed to turn over more than a half-acre of thick pasture in a matter of days.
But tillage is only the first step in developing land for sustainable, organic agriculture. Next, we'd need to think about amendments, cover cropping, mulching, and weed surpression, all before we even got to planting.
Our soil is a sandy clay, naturally light on the rich dark humus we plan to build over time as we farm organically; a good amount of humus is essential to big, healthy vegetables. Toward the base of the sloped plot is a band of poor drainage that makes for thick sucking mud after a period of even moderate rain. So, in order to successfully grow good food in just a matter of months without relying on toxic chemical fertilizers and heavy-machinery, we've got to put on our creative farmer overalls.
To increase soil humus - that healthy black goodness - we're adding years worth of composted leaf litter, collected from trees right here on the property. Mulch, essential for maintaining adequate moisture levels and buffering temperatures, is applied in the form of mucked-out bedding from our critter houses. Goat, rabbit, chicken, and duck bedding act as both mulch and slow-release fertilizer; over the winter, precipitation, microbes, and creepy-crawlies will pull nutrients from the manure-soaked straw into the soil, so that by spring the left-over dried bedding can be pulled back like a bedsheet, uncovering healthy, active soil below.
To improve drainage, which is essential to keeping our crops from drowning in the muck pit mid-field, we're adding sand from higher points on the property, especially the stuff right below our leaf-mold pile, where small stripes of clay have soaked in nutrient over time. We're also layering in composted horse manure from our new friends at Lancaster Equestrian, and composted spent grain from our old friends at Carton Brewing.
Speaking of friends down the road, we also just met a neighbor who let us take (not only let us, but helped us load and then unload) some old cedar fencing he'd pulled down to use as siding on our animal houses.
We've got our work cut out for us, but we're happy as clams about it. Farm life is not for everyone, but when it's for you, it's just about all you care about in the world.
I try to keep it posi around here, especially because by all accounts we're living the life. We've got a sweet little place near the sea, overlooking a beautiful estuary. We get to eat great food that we had a hand in producing. We get to do what we love for a living. All good things, I'm sure you will agree.
But there's this other thing going on lately at the farm that really burns my biscuit. I know I shouldn't get too worked up over it but I just can't help it. It's a thing I can't imagine ever doing myself. It's the unannounced farm visit. Unfamiliar folks showing up with no notice at our place of work, which just happens to double as our home. It's been happening often lately and I really need to talk about it because it seems like there is a contingent of folks out there who don't understand why this is uncool.
One one hand, I get it. People are excited to have a farm so close to home. They don't often see goats, chickens and dogs that live harmoniously with both goats and chickens in their day-to-day life. They assume that we, as farmers, are here all of the time anyway, so what's the harm in a surprise visit? They want to support the farm, and maybe offer to help. They are doing a good thing!
Let me explain what I see from my perspective:
Firstly, we are regular people that like to venture from the farm every now and again. We have a system in place that ensures that we can leave for an hour or so for lunch or to run errands, and when we return, things are as we left them. When a random person just shows up, that can all go to shit very quickly. What if someone, upon realizing we are not around, decides to give themselves a tour of the farm and say, falls in the pond or trips on fallen branches or god forbid, gets bitten by one of our dogs who are trained to deflect strange people and animals? What happens then? They get angry and decide to get litigious with us or the property owners? (We have a good lawyer and you'd be trespassing so don't even try it.) They get seriously injured? Or, what's more likely, they come to their own uninformed conclusions about how our farm operates without getting a proper guided tour from us.
The idea of any of these things happening makes me incredibly uncomfortable. This is our business and our home, and while we certainly like to promote transparency in our farm practice and way of life, it doesn't disqualify us from having privacy and being treated like any other person. I wouldn't just show up to anyone's house unannounced, except for maybe my grandmother because she likes those sort of visits and well, she's my Grandma. I'm allowed to do that.
Additionally, we're working! If we had to stop every time someone just "dropped in", we'd never get anything done. We already barely make a living. Try not to make things harder on us.
To be clear, we absolutely love having visitors. We enjoy having interactions with new people, especially when they are excited about our farm. We love talking about these things and sharing our experiences. We especially want our CSA members to feel like they can come see what we're up to and get involved if they feel so inclined. I feel like most farmers in our position feel the same way. We WANT to engage people. We don't get to go out and socialize as much as we used to, so it's nice to have some face time with people.
But for those of you who didn't get it before, I hope you get it now. Do not show up to a farm unannounced, ever. It's rude. It's presumptuous. It's disruptive to the people who live and work there. We have signs posted stating the property is private for a reason. You can be supportive without letting your excitement cause you to lose touch with your manners. All you have to do is send us an email or pick up the phone and call to schedule a time that is best for both parties. We truly hope that you do. Then, when you show up at the agreed upon time, we will be better prepared to receive you, and you'll have a more enjoyable experience for it.
When a child enters the equation of a farm, especially one that isn't yours, you find yourself explaining the function of the place in different terms than you might use for an adult. One would think the terms would be simplified so that a young mind can easily grasp at what you are showing them, but in fact something about explaining a farm to a child feels more complicated.You are essentially responsible for delivering to them what I would consider to be a distilled version of the cycle of life and death and rebirth. Only, the more you explain, the more questions arise. Why do we eat certain animals and leave others to live? How do we know when to plant a seed and when to pull up an exhausted plant from the soil? Why do our dogs live outside when most other dogs live with people? How do you get a goat to make milk?
For a younger child, like Lulha, the daughter of the new on-staff yogi at Seven Arrows, there is a line that one must be careful not to cross. Some topics are easy enough to broach without fear of undermining someone's parenting philosophy, like the conversations about why our dogs live outside. But in regards to matters of life and death, how much truth is too much at once? How do you decide what is appropriate to share with a young, malleable person, dear readers?
The only answer I have that makes sense to me is to live the most honest and authentic way I know how to. I can only hope that somewhere along the way, the answers to the questions bubbling up from that young mind can be resolved through observation and an open heart. When there are questions I am unsure are appropriate for me to answer, I simply won't. After all, I still don't have all the right answers. Lulha and I are on the same path. We're all just trying to see where we fit into it all. I haven't discovered that for completely for myself yet, I'm just catching the trail. But, maybe this kiddo and I can help each other along in some way. Time will tell one way or another. One thing is for certain though, I welcome the perspective of a person still so new to the world. It keeps me reminded of my newness, too.
And they live on our street. Neighbors! 29 more shares to go...let's go, let's go!
If you live in the Navesink River region in Monmouth County, NJ and are interested in finding out more about our CSA, click HERE!