Getting Settled

After a whirlwind move we are finally settling in to our new apartment in Easton, MD. We moved in just over a month ago but its been hard to catch my breath, let alone get into a normal routine. We have been doing lots:

The shipping container arrived with nothing broke and everything stayed exactly where we had put it, we should have won an award for our excellent packing skills. There is no space for my farm equipment at our place so my father has graciously allowed me to temporarily store all things farm related at his workshop.

Setting up the apartment and getting the various odds and ends that we need has taken the most energy. I do not enjoy finding a place for everything, I wish it was like in the movies where you open the box and your things just float on over to their rightful place. Unpacking box after box is in progress, we still have to unpack office stuff and wall decor plus my record collection continues to be confined to wine boxes.

 

With all the unpacking and moving-in paperwork we have not forgotten the fun part, checking out the local sights. Boat rides on the bay, exploring the many tiny towns, tasting the local food, and visiting the Atlantic ocean. It has been great to have my parents as tour guides, cause I don’t know where anything is.

Choptank riverboat

Farm fair

Soft shell crabs

Brigantine beach

Also being away from the east coast for over a decade there are certain things we forgot how much we missed like thunderstorms (seriously we sat on the porch and watched it like it was movie), lightning bugs (they make you believe in fairies), green grass in the summertime (water falls from the sky here), warm nights (no need to wear layers) and of course the option to put Old Bay on everything (Maryland restaurant tables have 3 shakers; salt, pepper, and old bay)

Soft shell calms aka longnecks

So over all everything has been going really well moving into Maryland. I’m just ready to know where everything is and to finish unpacking the last of our boxes.

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Packed Up and Ready to Go

We have downsized, gotten rid of stuff, and consolidated as much as we could. Of course it is surprising how many possessions we actually have.

Everything has been packed and too our surprise the moving container had empty space leftover … to think we could have kept more stuff! But as many people told me, it is so refreshing to part with items we are no longer using. It allows you to have a clean slate for your next adventure.

I’m excited and invigorated for the change, it doesn’t feel like a struggle or even stressful it just feels natural, like a change in the seasons.

We have said our goodbyes to Sonoma, but I never look at goodbyes as final, just until we meet again. We will soon begin our journey across the country by train. You can follow along via instagram!

 

Finding the Harvest

I’ve been spending my days hunting for pumpkins. What started as nice little pumpkin plants in neat straight rows has grown to vines with big green leaves stretching far and wide. It’s hard to walk as every space is either covered in vines or weeds. I watch each step I make so I don’t accidentally crush a perfect pumpkin. Harvest involves a lot of searching under leaves and close examination to see if the various pumpkin varieties are ready to be picked. The process is similar with finding the gourds except they tend to be smaller and easily hidden amongst the weeds. I’m sure from afar I look like a confused chicken moving my head from side to side and quickly pecking at the ground before wandering off in the opposite direction.

Thursday I started to harvest the popcorn but it is a slower process than normal as this field didn’t get weeded, what can I say, I was busy this spring. So the popcorn field is truly a jungle, as I enter I’m not only surrounded by tall cornstalks but six-foot weeds. A couple of steps in and it’s hard to see where you entered. But I just keep moving forward tossing popcorn cobs into my burlap sack. I eventually make it out the other side with a bushel or so of popcorn and lots of scratches.

Dakota Black

Fall is Coming

After our recent heat wave it has been nice to have some days with cool breezes and cloudy skies. But I was still caught off guard by last Thursday’s rain, well more like a heavy mist but water from the sky nevertheless.

This fall weather just seemed so out-of-place, until I remembered that it is September. Signs of autumn are popping up all around the farm; pumpkins ready to harvest, the sun’s angle creating long shadows, dead tomato plants, and shorter days.

It seems like just yesterday I was ordering seeds and making my planting schedule for the season but now I’m starting to think about removing irrigation and putting things away for the winter. Having a seasonal workload was one of the things that drew me to a life a farming. I like how your tasks have a cycle and the work ebbs and flows throughout the year. This just feels natural to me I have more energy in the summer and enjoy taking on more work; in the winter I want to slow down and get cozy reflecting on life.  So as we enjoy the last days of summer filled with tomato sandwiches, I look forward to windy fall days surrounded by pumpkins.

Racing to Harvest

Lately it seems like everyday is a race. A race to pick as many tomatoes as possible before it gets too hot. My race day starts the night before, I load the truck with boxes, pint baskets, snacks, and water. To figure out when to wake up, I look at when tomorrow’s sunrise is, so I can plan to be out in the field as early as I can. Sunrise is getting later and later, right now it’s happening at 6:38am to be exact, that is not much time before 12 noon when it becomes too hot to pick tomatoes (cause nobody wants soft pre-cooked tomatoes). I would like to start harvesting before 6:30 am but as you can imagine harvesting in the dark is hard. So I start harvesting at sunrise and I fill the flats that each fit 12 pint baskets as fast as I can.

Sometimes I have cat supervision

This time of year with the plants aging and the heat wave happening a lot of the fruit that is hanging is split or soft, so it’s a bit like an obstacle course. Cherry tomato harvest in late summer is not as fast as earlier in the season so you really feel the time speeding by as pint baskets slowly fill.

Once the day has become too hot for picking, I go inside to start sorting the tomatoes removing damaged fruit and mixing the colors. By the time this is finished it’s time to prep for tomorrow and load the truck with supplies. It may be a race but it won’t last forever.

Enjoying the Seasons

The tomatoes are still the star of the farm, requiring my full attention most every day.

But across the field a successor is lurking in the weeds. The pumpkins are growing well, the vines are curling up the tall weed stalks and sticking out past the edges of the field. I’ve even spotted a few orange ones already. There is also gourds and winter squash keeping the pumpkins company.

It is hard to think about autumn during the hot sunny weather of August but we are less than a month away from the fall equinox. The seasons move along at a quick pace, so make sure to take time to enjoy what tasty produce is currently at the farmers’ market, take a moment to soak up the warm weather, take a minute to watch bees buzzing from flower to flower, and take a deep breath of the summer’s afternoon breeze.

Before you know it juicy tomatoes will only be a memory and we will be pulling on our rain boots and cozy sweaters.

Being Present

What can I say, I’ve just be picking tomatoes since we last spoke. It’s true my days are measured by how many flats of this tomato variety or that tomato variety I have harvested.

I shuffle through the tomato rows quietly bobbing up and down as I pick tomatoes. I sometimes listen to music but I find more enjoyment just listening to what is going on around me. The rumble of tractors in nearby vineyards. The cooing of mourning doves flying into the trees. The dull roar of the trucks going down the road. The quail signalling to each other from the bushes. The screech of the red-tail hawk soaring overhead. The rustle of leaves as a lizard runs away.

A dragonfly resting on a tomato stake

I delight in being aware of my surroundings, present in what is going on. I find that I need this time and space to get away from noise. To eliminate the digital audio distractions that fill most of my day from car radio, to my smart phone, the videos on my computer, or the movies watched at night. Just being outside, in the world unconnected is important for me.

Me and Tomatoes

Have I mention how much I like tomatoes, well I guess love is a better word. As a farmer I truly believe you must enjoy what you grow both in the field and in the kitchen.

I feel a connection with tomatoes, like I get what they want and need as a plant. From seed to harvest I understand how to make them happy allowing them to do what I want, which is abundant fruit production. Now you may think that because I’m a farmer and a “green thumb” that I connect with any crop and all plants produce for me … that’s not true, I don’t know what salad greens want and most flowers don’t grow for me.

So with tomatoes I feel a synergy, in the field I know the plant just wants to grow big and leafy. So I space out the tomatoes’ deep watering stressing the plant to focus its energy on root development. Then when the fruits begin to ripen I turn off the irrigation to encourage more ripe tomatoes. Well the plants have received that message because the field is bursting with tomatoes waiting to be picked. I’ve been harvesting as much as I possibly can, taking loads to the farmers markets and dropping off flats upon flats to the wholesaler. And of course many tomatoes end up in my kitchen. I think my favorite way to serve tomatoes is via a simple tomato sandwich; just toast, mayo, and thickly sliced tomatoes. But I’m also cooking them up in every form I can think of sauce, curry, pasta, pico de gallo, everything’s better with tomatoes.

Tomatoes and More Tomatoes

I’m at the farm almost every single day just harvesting, and harvesting and harvesting tomatoes. Big ones, small ones, red ones, yellow ones, pink ones, purple ones, and multi-colored ones. The plants are healthy and happy so they are just constantly loaded with tomatoes.

To keep myself engaged in the harvest I try to make it, a bit of a game. With cherry tomatoes depending on the size I can fill a flat which is 12 baskets in about 20 minutes. The heirloom tomatoes are so big this year that I can fill a flat which weights about 10 pounds, just from one plant. So that takes like five minutes, if I don’t get tangled in the weeds that seem to be protecting the tomatoes.

After I fill a certain amount of flats I let myself sit in the shade, drink water, and sometimes enjoy a cookie or two. When working for yourself, you occasionally have to figure out ways to trick yourself into being more productive than you actually feel like being. Even with all this harvesting I’m so excited to have an endless supply of tomatoes because that means I can eat as many tomato sandwiches as my heart desires.

Whoa Those Are Big

Thursday as I began harvesting for Friday’s farmers market my focus was on cherry tomatoes. I had my day planned out; spend the morning harvesting cherry tomatoes, box up cherry tomatoes for the wholesaler, prep cherry tomatoes for the farmers market. Then in the afternoon get the truck loaded with seedlings and drop off the cherry tomato wholesale order on the way home.

Well as I finished harvesting all the cherry tomatoes I needed for the wholesaler, I was getting ready to harvest more cherry tomatoes for the farmers market when I spotted something big and bright pink a few rows over in the sprawling vine-y jungle that is the heirloom tomato patch. I walked over thinking I had found a lone heirloom tomato ripe before the rest. But as I picked up that big beautiful pink tomato I saw that the vines were covered with ripe tomatoes. And these tomatoes are huge, most of them are a solid pound with many leaning towards two pounds.

That puppy weights 1.5 pounds

So I ditched the pint baskets for big boxes and started harvesting heirloom tomatoes. They were so big they quickly filled the boxes and I started to realize I might not have enough room in the truck for everything now that I had heirloom tomatoes in the mix. With limited truck space and time speeding by, I opted to only harvest a few cherry tomatoes for the farmers market because the heirloom tomatoes have arrived and they are large and in charge.

Tomatoes at the market