Downsizing

This month I have been busy downsizing and getting rid of stuff. I’m amazed at how much stuff both at the farm and in the house, I have accumulated over the past dozen years. I mean I’m not surprise I come from a long line of pack rats (just one side of the family tree not both 😉) As I have been going through my possessions and unearthing things I didn’t even know I had, I was surprise by how quickly I realize that I didn’t need it or even want it anymore. I kinda thought it might be emotional or traumatic but it was so easy to decide that an object was ready to move on.

Beginning of the second day of our garage sale. Now most of this stuff is long gone.

Now I’m no minimalist, I’m still keeping a bunch of stuff. But early on in the downsizing process I had decide that I would only keep things with sentimental value or in regards to the farm, tools and supplies that I had regularly used within the last two years. There has been a few tricky items where it has been tough to decide, do we keep them or do we let them go, the deciding factor is how much of the limited 830 cubic feet of space will that tricky item take up? We are using one moving container to go cross country and everything that wants to enjoy a Maryland lifestyle has gotta fit in that container.

Since I like to research concepts to figure out the “best” way to do something. I spent quite some time on youtube watching video after video of packing tips. With this newly acquired knowledge, I’ve been packing up breakables in lots and lots of packing paper. As well as securely boxing up winter clothes and shoes. We still have about 4 weeks until our actual move day so right now the focus is on packing up stuff we definitely won’t need anytime soon.

Nothing is left at my farm and the house is pretty empty too. It feels like a throwback to college days cause I’m using milk crates as side tables and a few wine boxes as a nightstand. My garage has become the staging ground for the big move with a tape outline of the container space, which is slowly filling with boxes and farm equipment.

 

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Spring Work

Spring is here … or maybe summer I’m actually wearing shorts as I type this, hello 80 degree weather. This spring my workload looks a little different. I’m not sweating it out in the greenhouse but staring it out, at the computer screen.

I have been developing client’s 2018 crop plans, which involves meeting with them to discuss their vision for their farm or garden as well as determining their must haves, when it comes to produce harvest. After the meeting I spend time with spreadsheets calculating their seed and plant need, I figure out their seed and transplant order, then create their planting schedule, and draw up their crop map. All of this gives each of my clients a detailed plan of what to buy, how to prepare, when to plant, and an estimated date for their first harvest of each of their crops.

I have also completed my taxes … yay. Like most people preparing one’s taxes is a drag. But this year it went a lot quicker because I did I really good job of keeping up on my bookkeeping during the 2017 growing season. And I don’t naturally think “Oh, lets enter invoices instead of watching another episode of <insert favorite TV show>”. So to make sure I recorded my sales, expenses, and deductions in a timely manner, I created a daily habits tracker which included bookkeeping. When I completed the task I rewarded myself with a sticker … that’s right a sticker! Hey, what works to motivate preschoolers also works for 30-somethings.

With spring weather comes the urge for spring cleaning. I have sorted through my seed bins removing expired seeds and cataloging the remaining packets. I have been purging random farm supplies that I have been keeping for years even though I have not used them years. I have even taken the time to try to organize my office getting rid of old papers and filing others away, so I can actually find them when I need them. Even though I’m not busy mowing and tilling my field, there is something about spring that just motivates you to get ready and prepare for the coming year.

Get Outside

Since I’m not farming this year I have realized that I’m spending a lot of time inside. Working on the computer, reading books, organizing farm supplies, and other random indoor activities. This sedentary work is not new I have always spent plenty of time indoors during February. But the difference this year is I don’t have the farm work to force me to go outside. This might seem like a no-brainer but I just didn’t realize that without my normal farm work, I would not be automatically getting fresh air and exercise.

reflection pond

Quarryhill Botanical Garden

My close friends know I don’t consider myself an “outdoorsy person” never doing an activity that requires physical effort unless the farm required it, I would never join a gym or make time to go exercise. But between all the computer work and this ridiculously sunny warm weather we have been having, my body has been aching to get outside and move around. So recently I started listening to the demands of my body and making time to go outside for long walks and even a few hikes. I’m still not gonna join a gym but I have begun to schedule exercise into my week.

sonoma valley

Overlooking Sonoma Valley

Tomato Pollination

The tomato field is starting to shape up. I have weeded six of the twelve tomato rows and so far I have been able to trellis four rows. The plants are pretty big covered in yellow flowers and many have green fruit.

Black Cherry tomato variety

I even found a few random ripe, Esterina cherry tomatoes, these tiny golden tomatoes are sweet even this early in the season. So yeah I’m a bit behind but since this happens every year, I’m not stressing … too much.

As I have been spending lots of time up close and personal with the tomato plants I have not only been happy with the health and vigor of the plants but also really pleased with the pollination. That’s in thanks to the bumblebees that have been buzzing and hanging on the tomato flowers. Although tomato plants are self-fertile, the flowers must be vibrated by wind or bees in order to release pollen for fertilization. Because of the shape of the tomato flower honey bees cannot get the pollen, so it’s up to the mighty bumblebee to get the job done.

Bumblebees move too fast to be easily captured in a photo

My Style

Every farmer has a style, so every farm has a different look. Farmers don’t just layout their fields differently but they maintain their crops differently. I for one ignore weeding, for as long as I can. It is not just because weeding is very boring, which it is. But I start the season by focusing my energy on getting everything planted. Once all the crops are in the ground I switch gears to maintaining the crops. Which of course means the crops that were planted earlier are typically thickly covered with weeds by this time.

After weeding the two tomato rows on the right

This week I was in my cherry tomato rows, which were the first crops to get planted in the field, removing two foot tall weeds. The cherry tomato plants seems to breathe a sigh of relief once the weeds were gone, they are getting big and need the space to continue growing.

Popcorn after cultivation

My farmer friend even let me borrow her tractor to cultivate the popcorn field. This removed the weeds on the sides of the cornstalk but I will still have to go in with hand tools to weed close between each plant.

Just a Bit More Planting

The field is almost completely planted. The corn is about six-inches tall.

Most of the dried beans have sent up stalks with two bright green leaves. The pumpkins should be germinating soon. And the tomatoes still need to be staked. The last few beds will be seeded with winter squash, this year I will be growing six different varieties. I’m also planning to do a late planting of tomatoes which I will probably start harvesting at the same time as the winter squash.

A heirloom bean variety known as Saturday Night Special

The greenhouse has been staying pretty full as I’ve been seeding fall and winter crops like brussel sprouts and broccoli. But don’t stress there is still time to get your favorite summer seedlings like basil, cucumbers, and melons. I’ve been busy in the cool mornings potting up lots of seedlings perfect for filling backyard gardens in June.

Everything is Growing

Crops love these long sunny days. The tomatoes are bright green and getting taller every time I turn around. I really need to get the stakes up so I can start trellising them. If this tomato season is anything like last year’s I should have some ripe tomatoes to taste in a month’s time.

The popcorn germinated fast, it went from a tiny green shoot just barely poking above the soil to two stalky leaves waving in the wind in like 3 days time. I was so amazed at the speed that I had to do a double take at my calendar to make sure I was reading the date correctly. I hope the popcorn continues to grow fast because the weeds have germinated too and I’d like the cornstalks to shade out the weeds so I have less wheel-hoe work to do.

Notice the tiny weeds next to the corn seedling

I’ve already done a few passes on the tomato rows with the wheel-hoe. It seems we have a transition from the planting phase of the season to the weeding phase, not this farmer’s favorite but I’m trying do a bit of weeding each day so at least the weeds don’t get as tall as me.

Seeding Popcorn

Now that all my tomatoes are planted, a quarter of an acre in total, I’ve moved my attention to another part of the field. The popcorn part of the field! I grow a total of a half an acre of heirloom popcorn. The field has been prepped and the beds have been made. So earlier this week I direct seeded 11 beds of Dakota Black (my personal fav) which works out to be about a quarter of an acre.

The rest of the beds will be seeded with Pennsylvania Dutch Butter and Smoke Signals (a new variety for me). After all the popcorn is seeded I have to cover each row with drip tape to provide irrigation, thats about 8,100 feet worth! Laying out drip tape can take some time but once the water is turned on the popcorn should germinate quite quickly.

I can’t forget about the tomatoes for too long as they are growing pretty fast and will need to be trellis soon. Trellising my tomatoes involves putting a series of t-post and stakes in line with the plants then weaving baling twine between them to hold the sprawling tomato vines up. Oh and the tomatoes need to weeded very soon too.

Wheel hoe in action

 

Tomatoes Are In

With all this sunny weather, I’m finally getting the tomatoes in the ground. Last Tuesday I transplanted 650 cherry tomatoes and later in the week I transplanted 370 heirloom tomato seedlings. I still have another hundred or so to get in the ground but I feel much more relaxed now that the tomatoes are out of their cramped seedlings trays and spreading their roots out in the field.

In the spring with the return of sunshine and warm temperatures as a farmer you feel the need to hurry up and get everything done. The little voice in your head is telling you that you’re late and if you don’t get all your tasks completed right away your crops won’t grow and then you won’t have anything to harvest and your farm will be ruined. But you must be careful because all that rushing around can not only cause stress but you could easily injure yourself, farming is a dangerous occupation. To quiet that nagging little voice in my head, I look back at previous year’s records to see that I always eventually, get everything planted, things do grow, there is a harvest and everything turns out fine.

An entire quarter of an acre planted in tomatoes

Waiting

This spring is a bit of waiting game, it feels like you are at the starting line, standing by for the race that is the growing season to begin. You are focused and ready to run but you get jittery as you wait for the starting pistol to be fired. I know there is a lot of work to be done in the field and I just want to get started but the weather is in charge of this race.

Stormy weather makes for a wet field that can’t be worked without ruining the soil structure and forming bricks. Clear cold April nights still allow frost to easily show up. So I stand on the sidelines with my trays of tomatoes which are waiting to go into the ground.

While I wait I continue starting seeds in the greenhouse and potting up seedlings to get them ready to take to the market. I know the rush of planting will start soon but my list of tasks to complete, continues to grow longer as I wait.