Sunday, December 16, 2012

Simple Greenhouse Innovations: Growing incredible corn, delicious eggs and improving your land


Fifteen foot vibrant stalks of corn, delicious eggs all year round, compost, fertilizer, cheaper feed costs and improvement to the soil in the process?  Too good to be true?  Actually, too good not be done.  Eliot has impressed me with his variety of efficient and sustainable models and this one is definitely at the top of the list.  For agriculture to be sustainable, an ever-evolving relationship with the land must develop.  It has to progress over time through the study of past attempts and future predictions.  I've learned that agriculture is not a perfect science, rather, it is a great scientific experiment and as with all science, it is only as good as the evidence suggests.  A hypothesis waiting to be disproved.  This requires attention to detail, willingness to adjust and simply being there.  Today's cheap and innovative greenhouse solution involves taking one of the summer greenhouses and turning it into a winter resort for pasture raised winter layer hens.  One of the byproducts of this is to simultaneously create...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

High Tunnel Quick Hoops: More quick and inexpensive greenhouse solutions


Fall is in full flush and I can honestly say that I have never see such beauty and color in my life. Maine has lived up to its reputation as the epicenter of fall foliage.  The abundance of reds greens, orange and yellows mixed with everything in between are visible from every vantage point, whether it be a simple drive to work the winter farmers' market or all the way up north to Acadia national park for a hike.  Discussing my plan for a late summer and fall apprenticeship, I was often told how bitter and cold Maine is.  I've learned that winter is only stubborn and harsh on the way out, yet majestic and slow going in.  The ocean, only a light jog away from the farm, takes time to cool down from the summer warmth and equally as long to warm up during the spring or elongated winter as so many Mainers dreadfully refer to it.  Nevertheless, there is always work to be done on the farm and at Four Season Farm, always something new and interesting.  With my intro to farming being in a massive greenhouse, I have grown to love greenhouse technology and the concept behind season extension.  Today we are going to take a...

Monday, October 15, 2012

Low Tunnel Quick Hoops: Minimum expense, maximum efficiency


Before the farm became a part of our reality, before we learned that carrots didn't grow in the back of supermarkets, farming was always something we believed was done in the summer. Nevertheless, it was a cold, snow-filled November morning in 2009 that we decided to set out on a simple task...if we want to learn about food, why not ask some farmers?  Although we believed the growing season must have been nearing its end, we were surprised to learn that this was far from the case.  This curiosity shifted our perception, the earth came alive and so did food.  It became individualized and we began to understand that not all food was the same.  To our surprise and enjoyment, it turns out there is a huge amount of food that can be grown all year round and some that even surpasses its summer counterpart.  Looks can be deceiving and while winter carrots may look like summer carrots, when you taste them you might think they are completely different vegetables.  Today we are going to look at the simple innovation and advantage of...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Dried Black Peppermint Tea: Saving a little summer


Curiosity and the desire to learn originally led Matt and I to the farm each weekend and since making the leap out of the corporate environment and into the agricultural industry these feelings continue to be my driving force.  Finishing the day and realizing that I've learned something new, something I find useful to living a good life is an incredible feeling.  It's not everyday, but it's a lot closer to it than I've ever felt before.  Sometimes the list of new projects I want to try exceeds the amount of time I think I have, but then surprisingly enough the motivation, the tools and the spark of energy come together and it's important to take advantage of those moments when possible.  I have been diving into a lot of different food related activities lately from preserving to fermenting.  What I keep learning is that most tasks are not that hard or at least not impossible, but require persistance.  Whether it's the passion to achieve something or the curiosity to try something new, the action of doing will offer an opportunity to learn and enhance with each attempt.  To generalize, doing things myself instead of simply purchasing them.  This requires the time to analyze, deconstruct and finally rebuild whether it be a product, a recipe or even a structure.  With the famous and colorful...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Organic vs. Conventional Food and Proposition 37: A Vote For National Food Safety


“When we began this project, we thought that there would likely be some findings that would support the superiority of organics over conventional food,” said Dr. Dena Bravata, a senior affiliate with Stanford’s Center for Health Policy and the senior author of the paper, which appears in Tuesday’s issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine. “I think we were definitely surprised.”

This is how my Labor Day started, reading the New York Times article entitled "Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce."  I read with intrigue and an open mind to see all that I had learned over the last few years flipped upside down.  Fortunately, the article does everything but cast doubt on the advantages of organics over conventional foods.   

The NYT article goes on to state important findings from the Stanford Study:

"Organic produce, as expected, was much less likely to retain traces of pesticides."

"Organic chicken and pork were less likely to be contaminated by antibiotic-resistant bacteria."

"The study also found that organic milk contained more omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered beneficial for the heart."

"The organic produce also contained more compounds known as phenols, believed to help prevent cancer, than conventional produce."

"Over all, the Stanford researchers concluded that 38 percent of conventional produce tested in the studies contained detectable residues, compared with 7 percent for the organic produce. (Even produce grown organically can be tainted by pesticides wafting over from a neighboring field or during processing and transport.) 

Finally, if you haven't had enough reason to further your understanding of the importance of organic, sustainable, chemical-free food

"They also noted a couple of studies that showed that children who ate organic produce had fewer pesticide traces in their urine."

So where is the doubt of the advantages or organic produce that this clearly incorrectly titled article states?  More importantly, why are the Stanford doctors defending these "doubts?"  The article claims that they didn't find a significant nutritional difference between the two growing methods, yet in the final paragraph it lists a study on organic strawberries that was not included in Stanford's study showing that organic strawberries had higher levels of vitamin C than their conventional counterparts.

Even more interesting to me is the lack of widespread discussion on the recent french study that concluded that mice were significantly more at risk for early death and deadly organ tumors when exposed to Genetically Modified Organisms (or GMOs as they are more commonly known) such as Monsanto's GMO corn which can be found in most processed foods and animal feed in America.  Funny enough, when these products were originally released to the global public, a 90-day study was performed by Monsanto to prove that the GMOs had no negative effects on lab rats.  Mind-blowing when you compare that study with the 2 year study Conducted by French scientists.  According to other sources, French agricultural and health officials have ordered the National Agency for Health Safety (ANSES) to probe into these studies to see if France should refuse these Monsanto seeds and feeds into France, something we should be thinking about as well.  This highly processed and chemical food may be cheap in the short term, but when we are all paying for it years later through sickness and extremely high healthcare bills it won't seem so cheap. 

So to summarize, there are a few stories here, but they all connect:

A.  Stanford recently released a study comparing the benefits of organic vs conventional food supposedly "casting doubt" on organics advantages although the information released seems to prove otherwise.  
B.  Organic foods legally cannot be 100% organic if they contain GMO or have animals fed GMO products, which is found in most of the conventional processed foods and animal feed in the USA.

C.  French scientists recently released a 2 year study concluding that lab rats fed Monsanto GMO corn or simply having exposure to agriculturally accepted amounts of Roundup pesticide in their diet were significantly more likely to experience early death and development of turmors and organ damage.  The same percentage that American humans eat in their diet.

Where is the doubt that organic is less advantageous than conventional?  It actually seems that everything is pointing towards organic and best practice agriculture over the overfunded, over-subsidized  under-tested conventional GMO products that make up an outrageous majority of the food available in this country.  GMO's are used and found in most conventional meat, processed foods and pesticides are used in almost all conventional produce operations, so almost everything not local or labeled organic at your supermarket.

If you are interested in learning more about this or California's Prop 37 vote coming up in November to label all foods that contain GMOs take a look at the articles below.  They are short and all the information is clear and easy to see:

genetically modiļ¬ed maize

Enjoy and eat safe, vote with your dollars and tell anyone you know in Cali to vote yes on prop 37 or please dispute my claims in the comments section below.  I'm always curious to see the opposing view.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Saving Tomato Seeds...Natures Version


Last year I shared what I had learned about saving tomato seeds, a relatively easy yet technical process.  By selecting your favorite tomatoes based on flavor, size, shape, disease resistance, etc, you can continue to regrow and pass them on from season to season.  This year I witnessed the natural process without plucking a tomato off the vine.  To simplify the steps involved in saving tomato seeds,...

Thursday, September 6, 2012

What Did You Do Today? Mulching cucumbers and spring tomato preparation all in one.


Weeding, a plague to farmers and their families for centuries.  There are many sides in the war on weeds and although the spectrum ranges from those who choose to leave their weeds be and others who choose to spray highly toxic chemicals, there is always an investment of time and energy into this inevitable battle.  While there is no one "right" way of taking on weeds, some methods offer more benefits than just simply suppressing weed growth.  Some techniques actually...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Soil Block Party: The basics of propagation without the plastic


For the last year I've spent my time working in a greenhouse at Stone Barns, persistent in my desire to learn and understand that complex space and all that went with it, I didn't take time venturing into other places on the farm.  I honed in on a specific set of skills that helped me dig deep into my initial understanding of farming.  One of the gratifying parts of working at Four Season Farm is the variety and range of tasks I have had the opportunity to participate in.  Everyone is involved with every aspect on the farm.   In the two weeks I've been here, I've had the opportunity to work on many projects ranging from standard vegetable harvests for markets and restaurants to rare tasks such as roof building for the new chicken slaughter house.  The philosophy involves everyone being able to do anything on the farm when it's needed most.  The skills and concepts come from Eliot Coleman's methods, which he has been perfecting for decades (over forty years and going strong) and his wife Barbara Damrosch, who has been a leading voice in horticulture since the 1970's. Our development and understanding of these methods come through the experience of working, but also by clearly explaining the information and guiding others as we work.  The beauty of this layered teaching method is that information is shared through necessity, which helps develop an understanding of the why.  Skills are taught and directly applied under the pressure of a "real life" situation i.e. restaurants need their weekly orders filled and delivered, market stands need to be filled, customers are waiting for freshly cut herbs, weeds are growing out of control and transplants and seeds need to go in the ground.  There's no orientation week or handbook that preps us on the inner workings of a farm, you drop your stuff off in your little room above the wood shop and dive right in.  One of the rolls I've been wanting more exposure to is...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Rhizome Clones: The proliferation of a low bush blueberry plant


One of the most interesting facts I've learned about low bush blueberries is the extension of each plant.  To my surprise, in a 10 acre field there may only be about 10 blueberry plants in total.  Through their wide reaching network of rhizomes, each plant continuously produces thousands of stems underground that sprout up little branches producing the vegetative growth and eventually plump clusters of berries.  Any growth coming from the same set of rhizomes is called a clone. Think about it sort of like an underground tree, there is one main stem that branches off into all these little green leafy plants that eventually produce incredible fruit.

In the 15 acres of fields that we raked and picked blueberries, it was interesting to see how different the berries could taste from different sections.  All different weeds growing, insects and animals inhabiting, all affect the growth and flavor of each berry.  The flavor could range dramtically from sweet to tart, hints of earth etc.  No matter where I've encountered good food or drinks, it is always from a source with incredibly good soil.  Good Food is definitely good dirt.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Wild Maine Blueberries: The King of Fruits


The journey continues and after a short stint back home, in Manhattan, I've set sail for coastal Maine, home of wild blueberries and about 80% of America's blueberry production.  While on my way to work at Four Season Farm, home of farmer/writer/lecturer Eliot Coleman and his wife Barbara Damrosch, a twist of fate led me to another farm which happened to be literally next door from Four Season called Blue Sky Farm, a wild blueberry farm run by two incredible people, Costas Christ and his wife Sally.  There I spent two weeks learning and working, picking and processing blueberries.  Maine, an incredible state, which also happens to be home of my first farm travelling experience working with the Seaweed man in 2010.  I had no idea that Maine, or "vacationland" as it is appropriately nicknamed, could offer such breathtaking beauty.  I choose the term breathtaking in-particular because of the way the views and lifestyle force you to stop and stare even of only for one long deep breath. The way I've been describing it is a glimpse into what America once was, treelined, nature full of life everywhere you look, sit, touch, smell, hear and fertility. Endless unobstructed skylines.  I can't tell you the last time I saw a building over two stories.  I'm 30 minutes from the nearest store and it's not really an issue.  Looking up has a completely different meaning out here, instead of admiring the beautiful architectural designs that paint Manhattan's every corner, here it's trees, wildlife, plants of all varieties and gorgeous skies.  I've embarked on another incredibly valuable and awe-inspiring trip through the...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pic of the week


Sail away

Friday, July 27, 2012

Rooftop Greenhouses in Manhattan: The journey is the reward


After finishing up at Stone Barns in June, I was facing a 2 month gap before I was slated to head up north to work Four Seasons Farm in Maine, home of Eliot Coleman, Barbara Damrosch and their crew.   During a conversation and rooftop tour with Manhattan restauranteur Eli Zabar, I learned of his excitement regarding a new greenhouse project he was looking to build on one of his Vinegar Factory rooftops here in New York City  I had just spend a lot of time working in a unique and massive greenhouse up in Westchester, but I had yet to develop a greenhouse of my own.  Nevertheless, a little bit of faith from Eli and problem solving, for the last 8 weeks, I have been creating and developing...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Transplanting Beets: Proof

Here you can see the transplanted beets are standing back up straight and tall. Still amazed that even after disrupting the taproot, the beets manage to survive.

Although this is probably not too practical in a typical growing setting, I think it shows that every production is different and being able to understand the plants we are working with allows us to be creative and adjust as needed.  To me farming is an...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Transplanting Beets: It can be done


Wow, my mind is blown, that's all I can say. Here I was thinking you could never transplant root veggies like beets and I've been proven wrong. Not only have we transplanted these tiny baby beets, but we did it more...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Greenhouse Growing: Extend Your Season

Unintentionally I've fallen into something that I find incredibly interesting and innovative. A few years ago we went to a farm to ask a few questions and find out what food was and how it was grown. It was November and our impatience to wait until the spring growing season left us with an incredible opportunity to learn and work with season extension.

Normally when we think of farming we think of the summer, but with a few tweaks, there's an unbelievable amount of food that can be grown all year round.

One incredible advantage of greenhouse growing is the head start or end of season extension we get just by adding some greenhouse cover protection like polyethylene covers.

I've recently taken on a temporary project helping with the Eli Zabar's Vinegar Factory rooftop greenhouses on the upper east side of Manhattan. Here the tomato season starts in may when the typical outdoor season isn't until July or August. Tomatoes on May 14th, what a beautiful thing and they'll produce right through the fall.

Now when I say innovative I don't necessarily mean groundbreaking fr humanity, just those of us who have never thought about growing food I the "offseason" months or growing food at all for that matter. One of the big reasons I continued to farm after Matt left for Miami and when I recently left Stone Barns has everything to do with the fact the there are some many new and interesting topics and questions that keep popping up.

I unintentionally found an incredible greenhouse 2 1/2 years ago and I intentionally continue to keep finding them and hopefully building them and using them.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Summer Snacks: Spring Guacamole on Seaweed Sheets


My time at Stone Barns has come to a close and while I'm in this grace period between farm jobs, I figure if I can't farm at least I can eat.  It's amazing how having this week off has been so strange.  After a year of straight working it's an odd feeling not to have a project connected with my everyday.  It's been an interesting experience recreating an identity after such a long period of connection.  Nevertheless, I still can't get the good food off my mind and I remembered as I was leaving the greenhouse for the last time I noticed the deep leafy greens of our cilantro plants standing up straight and strong.  Whenever I see cilantro my first thought is guacamole, but with no tomatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, or onions in season it just didn't seem to fit.  This is when I decided to put together a spring guacamole a simple concept.  I needed something with flavor and something with crunch to supplement the ingredients not yet available.   Clearly this wasn't going to be a fully local meal considering we aren't growing avocados here in the Northeast, but if I could use the majority of my ingredients from the area and only a couple from out of region, I feel that's a step in a good direction.  So using some

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Jamming: Preserving our abundant summer fruit crop


The summer is approaching yet somehow I'm in a jamming class preparing for the winter. There is no end to the creativity and ingenuity I continue to find on the farm. Stone barns has been such an incredible resource, not just for farming, but for the skill and craft of cooking and using these magnificent plants in so many different and mysterious ways. From tinctures to teas and scones to herb-infused jams these plants offer such a variety of uses. I find it fascinating how much there is to do, but even moreso how little...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hoop Dreams: Hoop Houses for Summer Field Tomatoes

This season a portion of the field tomatoes will be placed under these easy to put together hoop houses. The hoops are made from aluminum channel, steel poles and polyethylene covers which should last around 5 years.

The idea is to compare tomato yield and health during the summer seasons for tomatoes in the hoops and those that aren't.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Growing Strawberries, fruits and organic fertilizing


Outside of regular watering and weeding, we always add a little bit of kelp to our soils before planting anything.  Additionally, this time I got a chance to use another sea-based, natural, organic fertilizer called fish emulsion, which is made from fish oils and left over fish parts.  "There is no waste, only potential" and just as compost takes the leftover nutrients and energy in food waste and turns it into fuel for soil microbiology, fish emulsion is a byproduct of fish waste that becomes nutrients for the strawberry plant.  Although we only use a very small amount of this natural fertilizer and dilute it in water, the effects were great.  The key to our addition of fish emulsion was to add it in while the plant was young and in a vegetative state.  The fish emulsion we use is of the NPK ratio 5-1-1.

All fertilizers have an NPK ratio, which is the percentage of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K), which are some of the major nutrients that effect plant development.

When a plant is young, it's first instinct is to produce vegetative growth, nodes, leaves, stems etc.  Once the plant matures, it will look to change course by removing energy from leaf production and start focusing on taking all that energy to flower and eventually reproduce.  Just like a child, we want to provide the right nutrients for the young plants to develop it's basic structures and as it gets older, it will begin to develop more strength and stability to stand on its own.  To stimulate this early vegetative growth we want to help the plant by adding Nitrogen (5% in the ratio stated above).  Plants use Nitrogen to fuel the photosynthetic process and increase green matter, i.e. more leaf and stem to eventually produce fruit.  When the plant matures and there is a trigger of enough light and heat during the day in the late spring and summer, we want to make sure we don't keep feeding the plant Nitrogen.  Instead of using Nitrogen to produce more leaves, if the plant is slightly stressed out and not be over coddled with fertilizers and nutrients it will begin to transform and choose to flower and fruit instead.  Although this may seem counterintuitive it is an important and often overlooked concept for fruit production.  A little stress and trust can go a long way with a plant.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Beginning to Understand Strawberries: Another Perfect Flower


It was back in October when it all started.  Heading into the winter months, when all thoughts on the farm were shifting towards vegetation, a time of calm, internalizing for both plants and farmers.  The fruiting highs of the summer and early fall had come to a close and it was time to let the land rest, but in the greenhouse we were already planning for the next spring.  There is something incredible about this greenhouse's ability to control the environment just enough to allow us to observe plants that might otherwise be locked up by the winter cold.  In the Stone Barns greenhouse, we have no interest in drastically creating micro climates that encourage massive inputs of energy.  Fossil fuels are minimally used only to keep temperatures above freezing, which generally only happens in the coldest winter nights.  During the day, the sun's rays are enough to keep the house in the 50's, sometimes even higher.  We weren't trying to force fruiting summer plants to produce in the winter, rather transplanting strawberries allowed me to observe the incremental metamorphosis a strawberry plant experiences on its way to fruit production.  First the growth of the...

Friday, April 27, 2012

Cross-pollinating Peas: F1


There it is, our first crossed pea pod.  Sweet, green Oregon Giant snow pea crossed with the purple, Caruthers shell pea.  Now our first generation, or F1 as it is called, has been created from two separate parent pea plants.  This pea pod above has seeds with genes from the green pea and some genes from the purple pea parent.  Once this pod swells, we will remove the peas and seed them to see the next generation, F2.   By selecting for the pea characteristics we want from each generation by F4 or F5, we should have what we're looking for.

Follow the story of the Stone Barns Center purple pea project here:

Introduction to the purple pea project
Update 1
Update 2

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Purple Pea Flowers: Cross Pollinating With Purple Peas


It's getting dangerously close to the end of my second apprenticeship here at Stone Barns Center.  I have seen and worked on incredible projects from my first days with Matt as a green volunteer, still believing that carrots grew in the back of a supermarket, to the Captain handing me the keys to the greenhouse back in December.  Relationships with the space, the plants, myself and others. Exploring internally, emotionally pushing myself through false walls and expanding into a capacity I never realized I had both physically and mentally.  This journey has been one of unlearning and learning, hiding from demons and slaying them face to face.  I hold each one of these experiences close to my heart.  Experimenting with these beautiful pea varieties has definitely been one of the more all-encompassing learning experiences on the farm.  I propagated them, built the trellis, transplanted them and have watched them grow.  Over the last few weeks, they finally began to flower and that means it's time for us to cross pollinate the two purple varieties (Caruthers pea and Sugar Magnolia pea) with the green Oregon Giant snow pea. In this process, we select a host or female flower, which will remain attached to the plant we would like to produce a seed pod.  The male flower will be plucked off of another plant and used solely for its pollen.  Peas have what is known as a "perfect flower" which means it has...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Turnips Timing: How choosing when to sow turnip seeds can change everything


As we continue on into the early spring we begin to analyze the last of our winter decisions in the greenhouse.  This is a key moment, soon we will be back into our high season production and the increase in work is dramatic.  The time of growth and development of each plant will transition from weeks to mere hours.  Back in early February, we seeded a bed of mixed mustards.  It was not only the most beautiful bed I've worked with, but also the most unique in it's practicality.  We seeded the slower growing 'Hakurei' turnips with the fast-paced Ruby Streaks micro mustard green, both in the same plant family Brassicaceae.  Ruby streaks was cut out first leaving 6 evenly spaced rows of turnips to grow in and produce delicious and round turnip roots as pictured above.  This planting could not have come out any better.  It is almost a joke for me to try and explain how good it feels to set out on an unknown path for the first time and find a result as gratifying as this.  The boost in confidence is incredible and the growth and knowledge from the experiment is truly satisfying.  But what may be the most interesting finding from this turnip test is the comparison to...

Monday, March 26, 2012

Pic of the Week: Oregon Giant Snow Pea


Our first Oregon giant snow peas.  The warmth in the propogation space makes all the difference as our one pea plant has already started to produce flowers and seeds.  Sweet, tender and delicious as advertised.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pea update


This weekend we truly welcomed in spring with the first 12 hour day of sunlight.  The movement and pace on the farm is changing.  The work days grow longer and I've started to finally feel how connected farming is to nature.  My schedule is very much a product of the sun, the moon and the earth, among other factors.  It was not all that long ago, I was fighting to get in my last transplants or soil bed preparations finished by a 4:30pm sunset and now it's 6:00pm before I know it and the sun is still hanging around long enough to let me get in my last tasks and still have time to sit and enjoy the greenhouse peacefulness.  The added heat and light increase the thirst of not just the plants, but the farmers as well.  Watering has increased more than twice as long in minutes per day and days per week and I've also noticed my water intake increase.  Distant memories of last summer pop into my head, it seemed as though we watered all day every day then, but in the winter, I found myself at times going a week or two without watering at all.  Earlier in the week, we discussed the increasing amount of bolting.  In many cases, the bolting is a sign that we will have to remove the remaining winter crops from the ground and prepare for the new wave of seedlings being brushed onto the soil.  For some plants, this surge is just what we've been waiting for.  Our pea experiment is prime for action as we've noticed a few of our stray plants starting to flower.  Last time we spoke about peas, I had just finished building my first trellis and we discussed the genetics experiment where we will be attempting to cross a purple podded pea with a sweet, tender green snow pea with the goal of developing a purple tender snow pea similar to the green Oregon Giant snow pea we love, but in order to begin, we need the peas to flower.  Interestingly enough...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Winter Pickin': How sunlight affects flavor


With the winter nearing its end, many changes have taken place on the farm.  The fields and terrace gardens have thawed and been plowed, the greenhouse reemay has finally been taken down and new life is starting to emerge all around us.  Spring is near or should I say, spring is here.  As we take our last cuts of this beautiful rainbow...

Friday, March 9, 2012

Pic of the Week



Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Blurriness to Clarity: Take another look


Why is it that when we are introduced to something new we may struggle to see its individuality?  When I first came to the greenhouse all the plants looked the same, all the weeds looked the same.  It was difficult to do anything but generalize them all as plants and not go any further simply because their individual identities were not yet a part of my reality.  As I have spent countless hours learning, working and caring for them while respectfully battling weeds fighting for their fair share of sun and soil nutrients, I have come to see them all as individuals.  All unique in their own right, fighting communally, but wielding their specific strengths in an attempt to thrive.  It's funny to me because I can think back and apply this to many situations I have entered when at first everything looked like a blur, but by continuing to dig deeper and learn more, the uniqueness, individuality and originality always seems to shine through over time.  They say that first impressions are most important, but so many relationships whether plant, human, career etc all evolve over time.  Perception is a funny thing.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pic of the Week


Salad spinning all through the winter in the Greenhouse.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

I Think We Need A Little Space


As discussed earlier in the week, our goal was to use the slower growing turnip roots to our advantage by inter-seeding 6 rows of the quicker growing and stunning Ruby Streaks mustard green.  In slightly over a month, as expected, both mustard varieties began to display their true leaves and we were ready to harvest and provide space to the mini turnips that were just getting underway.  Our beautiful plan was executed to perfection and in a matter of minutes we had harvested out the rows of deep purple whole plants leaving only strips of green and brown behind.  Not only was this a great way to get more growth from a potentially empty space, but...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

You Scratch My Back, I'll Scratch Yours: Cultivation tools


On the farm, as in life, sometimes it is the simplest solutions or most subtle changes that make all the difference, but in order to get to a level of understanding that allows for this type of creative thinking, we must first understand the basics of whatever it is we are trying to accomplish.  Air, sun and water are the most quintessential elements required for plants to survive.  Although there are many other factors that contribute to the life of a plant, without these three basic needs, there is no life.  One of the main functions of a greenhouse is to reduce the variables involved in growing.  While we can control much of the quantities and qualities of air, light and water, we are still left to contend with some of the inevitable issues that abound when attempting to create such a controlled growing environment, especially in the winter when the greenhouse creates a cool, moist environment.   One of the biggest challenges that we face by creating this cool, moist environment is the development of moss and fungal pathogens.  As we discussed last week, herbal tea remedies such as chamomile sprays can truly help reduce the spread of these issues, but this is only one piece to the equation.  In addition to the tea spray, we can offer more assistance in this fight by simply cultivating the top layer of soil both in the beds and pathways.  This scratching of the soil surface is a tiny adjustment, but can offer huge benefits such as

Friday, February 17, 2012

Now the Fun Begins: Practicality meet Creativity


The decrease in sunlight and heat during the winter season creates some interesting relationships in the greenhouse.  Although all growth slows down, some plants are much more sensitive to these climatic changes than others.  By observing these growing patterns over time, we must adjust our seeding patterns to increase the ecological and economic efficiency of the greenhouse.  Each week The Captain and I get together and sort through a list of all the open soil beds that were prepped and rested for at least a week; these are beds that are ready to be seeded.  In order to keep a lively and healthy soil system we maintain a rigorous crop rotation that ensures we never seed the same plant family in the same soil bed twice in a row.  Once a plant family like a lettuce (Compositae) has its final harvest, we move on to a new plant family which may include a carrot (Umbelliferae) or a spinach (Chenopod) for example.   To be doubly sure that no pests or pathogens can multiply or develop colonies in the soil, we make sure to rotate in at least 3 other plant families before we go back to a lettuce.  One complete cycle may look like this:  1st a carrot, 2nd a spinach, 3rd arugula and once all three of those crops have been seeded and harvested respectively we can start thinking about planting another bed of lettuce.  With 7 different plant families and plenty of diversity, this rotation offers a lot of options.  In winter the amount of weekly open beds is somewhere in the 4 to 6 range, in summer it's generally up in the 12+ range, so a major difference here.  When deciding what to plant, we take many factors and people into consideration.  The amount of sunlight, the phase of the moon we are in and the phase of the moon we are approaching, the rate of the seed's germination and growth, the plant family, the restaurants that we want to sell to and the market we want to be prepared for.  Each of these factors help us determine what and when we should seed.  After many years of observing and experiencing, The Captain has a great understanding of how we can proseed (too easy) most efficiently.  So here in January and February we know that certain vegetables such as...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

From the Garden to the Garden: Chamomile tea an all-natural, chemical-free solution to prevent fungal development


One of the beautiful things about working on a farm focused on sustainable, regenerative agriculture is the emphasis on the living system.  The plants we grow are only as strong as the soil they grow in and in-turn depend on the thriving ecosystem of microbiology found in the soil as well as the added nutrients used to increase soil vitality.  This provides a strong base from which plants thrive and produce healthy, delicious food.  Understanding that, we are focused first and foremost on buildling the strongest and healthiest soil possible.  During Fall, Winter and Spring transitions, many people become more susceptible to disease and I've noticed that the soil also faces these same challenges.  Unlike my ENT who likes to just hand me a bunch of antibiotics and walk out the door, The Captain uses some very effective old school methods of boosting the soil's immune system and this way there is no need to toss relatively new chemical solutions at an age old problem that has already created it's own solutions long ago.  The best part is so many of these all-natural solutions are found right in our own backyard.  Although the soil we are working in at Stone Barns has a healthy base of organic matter through compost and other natural soil amendments like Kelp, every fall and winter season there seems to be an onset of fungal and moss issues as the humidity and cool weather combine to be a haven for these infestations.  In order to counteract this, we use a number of all natural solutions, one of which is chamomile which can be found growing all summer in the terrace garden.  This comes in handy, not only for hot tea on cold winter nights, but as a great...