Spring Tulips

Happy spring from the hills of East Haddam, where the shadows are still long, the nights are still cool, and the fog and mist linger for hours after daylight has arrived. It's easy to forget how volatile our spring season is in Connecticut - too cold then too hot then too wet then too dry - but every 12 months like clockwork, April arrives to remind us.

Our greenhouse is bursting at the seams with vital seedlings that are growing daily before our very eyes. They love the cozy incubation of the greenhouse, but tray by tray Elise tells them gently that they're ready for the real world and Rachel loads them up, takes them to the field, and plants them firmly in a row with their colleagues. Seeing all the baby plants learning how to grow, how to fruit and how to flower, under the big sky and ever-changing weather of early spring is so powerful. There is a special moment before weeds, pests, and diseases arrive, before wacko harvests and immeasurable bounty, when farming looks an awful lot like something you can control. Let's enjoy it for just five minutes, shall we?

Aaron is building our movable high tunnel in the south field, the future home of the legendary tomato harvest of 2017 (power of positive thinking, etc?), to be followed quickly by three more tunnels. Rachel and Elise embark on more science experiments every year, turning the greenhouse into a surgery ward where they wield scalpels and knives to graft heirloom tomatoes, and turning their kitchen into a biochemistry lab in order to heat treat seeds to precise temperatures for improved disease resistance.

Elise and Caitlin go on optimistic (but increasingly desperate) ramp scouting missions every spring wondering how it's possible that in our swampy, hilly, shady neighborhood of deep woods and literal fern gullies, there are no ramps. We convince ourselves that around every bend in every stream we will find the center of the universe, green blue ramps spread in a lush carpet as far as the eye can see. But so far, no luck. We must live in some mysterious supernatural ecosystem where normal rules of micro-ecology don't apply, where shady streams lined with skunk cabbage don't lead you straight uphill to luscious meadows of ramps. Torture!

We are learning the logistics of tulip harvest in the way that you can only learn something you've been told a million times once you have to do it yourself. It's true: once they start blooming harvest becomes an hourly countdown. On sunny warm days when you can practically watch them grow, I swear we harvest every three hours. Bringing some inside, we've watched in awe as their colors deepen and flush over the course of many days; more than almost any other flower we grow, they continue to reveal new secrets long after their harvest. Come to our markets over the next few weeks to bring our first ever spring tulip crop home with you, for which we all have Elise to thank. We have singles, doubles, and parrots in unusual varieties -  some deep rich black colors, some with stems as long as your arm, and the most luminous orange glow you've ever seen.

My completely unreasonable dream for this summer is to spend a quiet day every week (haha) sipping tea, wearing a linen dress, and researching for you the cultural, economic, ecological, and political history of each crop we grow one by one - revealing as I go the lurid love triangles, international intrigue, careful manipulations, cultural fads, grunt work, acts of god, and gangsters, yes men, and operatives, that have tugged and coxed each specific crop all the way through the agricultural history of our planet and onto your plates. 

But in lieu of the mythical extra day of my week, or the cosmic pause button, you'll instead have to forgive me for these rambling blog posts that haphazardly provide account of our farm through the season at irregular intervals.  I'll try to keep my straight-faced obsession with the human-made climate apocalypse out of it, and instead will regale you will the charming stories of Ellis's first watermelon and every crazy hot pepper we grow. 

And in the meantime, please come visit us at one of our weekly markets to share in the bounty of our 2017. You can expect our normal insane array of veggies through the season, but first up are greens, lettuce, radishes, leeks, and tulips tulips tulips. Happy spring! 

Black parrot tulips, I mean seriously?!

Black parrot tulips, I mean seriously?!

December

Happy December from Four Root Farm. First, a few orders of business: we have finally joined the 21st century and figured out how to sell our 2017 calendars, notecards, and postcards on our website in time for holiday gift buying! Stay tuned for tote bags, t-shirts, hot pepper posters, and more.

We will be at the Edgewood market on Sunday mornings through December, so come visit if you want to take home pea shoots, carrots, radishes, leeks, raddichio, kale, garlic, hot peppers, or Elise's beautiful wreaths.

With half of our collective FRF heart we are hunkering down for winter, but with the other half we are already looking ahead towards the bright and sunny warmth of spring 2017. So let us know if you want to be on the email list for information about our 2017 market share program and our updated market schedule for next season.

Because we have thought of little else in the past few months, it wouldn't be an honest update on farm activities if we didn't address the recent election. If we spent all summer distracted and agitated by the news, and if we've spent the last few weeks fully despondent in the face of the political horror show unfolding before us, we're now collectively working on finding a vigilant and active holding pattern - one that is sustainable for the foreseeable future. It's amazing how complicated it is to learn how to use terrible anger and outrage without twisting your tender human heart into knots that can't be undone. We are studying history to learn how.

We are thankful for our daily work of growing food, and thankful for whatever power we can find as small business owners to effect change. We're working on balancing our anger and dread with our belief in something better. We're learning how to fight our government in new and urgent and creative ways. We are willfully not retreating into our quiet solitary farmer life. We're finding productive mechanisms of supporting people and organizations. We're showing up and doing the work of being in a community in which a lot of people don't agree with us. We're learning how to grow our own grassroots.

And with that, an itemized accounting of the entire season that has passed since our last blog post:

  • Ongoing construction of the farm's second house was slow and steady;
  • Being outside after 5:15 pm was possible;
  • We got the pick of beautiful storage crops in the basement, before the January realization that only the annoyingly small onions are left to be chopped and diced for cooking;
  • A midday temperature above 55 was common and welcome;
  • Bugs lived outdoors;
  • Beautiful skeletons of plants stood straight and shed crispy dead leaves in the cold wind;
  • Ellis scooted around on his little butt, determined to do a sideways pirate scoot forever in lieu of learning to crawl on all fours;
  • The 2017 seed catalogues started to arrive daily, eliciting a moan and getting stuck, unopened, in a pile in the office; and 
  • The reasonable feeling of being too warm in a sweater but too tired to take it off was common.

In our descending winter season we now have: 

  • Rachel and Elise settling into Rachel's recently completed house;
  • Going inside at 4:50 pm, when the sun quickly and unceremoniously sets behind bare trees;
  • Kale and collards and leeks picked in the cold mornings are roasted with garlic by evening;
  • The funky storage crops getting funkier by the day;
  • Colder and colder nights;
  • The last of the bugs, realizing our house is cozier than the frosty bushes outside, migrating indoors for winter; 
  • Digging dahlia tubers and planting bulbs and heaping the compost pile mountain-high with dead plants;
  • Ellis tottling and walking around in the wet composting leaves looking for something edible or something dangerous;
  • Taking a quick peek inside just one catalogue to see what new seed stock they have to offer for next year, and suddenly 25 minutes go by without knowing; and
  • The fire crackles day and night. We know we wont take our sweaters off until spring.

Okra is Delicious, I Now Realize, and I'm Sorry (A guest post by Aaron)

Okra is one of my favorite plants on the farm right now. It has a dramatic look about it, standing out among the overgrown and weedy beds of late summer, tall and spiky with beautiful yellow and red flowers that come and go each day. The plants are (knock on wood) healthy and vigorous, and I suspect that if you had the time to watch you’d be able to see the fruit growing before your eyes; we pick every two days, and I think maybe we really should be harvesting daily given the speed at which they grow. 

As much as I like growing it, however, I’ve only cooked with okra once or twice, maybe only eaten it a time or two beyond that, and when people at the market ask me what I do with it I often mumble something about well, I don’t really like okra that much…

Incidentally, here is an obnoxious thing that I often think (and occasionally say out loud) when someone tells me they don’t like a certain vegetable (especially eggplants): “well, that’s probably just because you have never had it cooked properly.” 

So, I took it as a bit of an admonition when flipping through one of my favorite cookbooks the other day, Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni, I came across the introduction to her recipe for Stir-fried Okra, which reads: 

If there is one vegetable that is grossly misunderstood and underrated it is okra. It can be truly delicious if properly cooked. In my intermediate-level cooking classes, I always include an okra preparation. This inevitably elicits dismay and not a little disgust from the students. They picture the overcooked, bland stewed okra in a slimy sauce that they have tasted so often. Sliminess results when cut okra comes in contact with water. In Indian cooking, particularly North Indian, okra is never cooked with water. The North Indian technique, which is just about perfect, calls for stir-frying okra in oil. After this explanation and a little persuasion, my students reluctantly give in, probably just to satisfy their curiosity. But when the dish is finally made and sampled, they are delightfully surprised and sorry to have missed out on such a delicacy all these years. 

Fair enough. Having had a trusted source call me out on my hypocrisy, I decided to give her recipe a try. It turned out to be incredibly simple, basically just a simple saute, with two important caveats. In order to avoid the sliminess caused by contact with water, Sahni explains, one should “always remember two things when cooking okra: Dry the washed okra thoroughly before cutting it. Salt it only after it is fully cooked, as salt will cause the okra to sweat.”

This was so good that I didn't remember to take a picture until after I'd already eaten most of it. 

This was so good that I didn't remember to take a picture until after I'd already eaten most of it. 

She was completely right. The dish was delicious. I was indeed both delightfully surprised and sorry for the years I have wasted okra-less. Please, check out the recipe over in the Veggie Pages, and don’t forget that even the weirdest and slimiest vegetables among us deserve a second chance!  

July Rolls Into August

Here's the honest truth, straight from my desk overlooking the overgrown gardens on July 26th: I've been avoiding this blog. There is a rhythm to our yearly farming life that is comforting and seasonal and heavenly, but also makes me feel discouraged, like I've said it all before. Yes, it's July, yes the tomatoes are starting to turn tantalizing shades of pale red and orange, yes the eggplants are sizing up, yes ten billion more zinnias open their cheerful faces to the sky everyday. We feel deep gratitude for every new crop, every new taste, and every new harvest. Ellis ate his first tomato yesterday and gave us the biggest smile of wonder and joy - the acidic juice dripping down his chin was exactly as delicious as I told him it would be, way back in the snowy winter of his infancy. We've discovered that an ear of corn is the worlds best teething toy, and that he loves a cool dip in the pond as much as any of us do on a hot day.

But, again more honest truth, we're also feeling pretty worn down and distracted by the news these days, and that's a big part of why I've been avoiding more regular updates about our seasonal bounty. It would be easy for us - safely nestled on our little isolated patch of land, in our little rural town, in our liberal little northern state - to lose touch with the terrifying, painful, unthinkable things happening in our country's political system and justice system right now. But we can't and won't and don't want to, so instead we find ourselves sitting around the dinner table reading the news late every evening, after long dusty sweaty days of harvest and field work, and asking each other - How can this be happening? Can he really do that? What happens next? What can we do? 

If the answers were to be found in the deep heart of a beautiful head of lettuce, or if the bees could tell us where to go and how to help, we'd be in good shape. But without fortune telling vegetables, all of this is just to say: I'm sorry the blog has been neglected this summer. I place one third of the blame on healthy summer chaos on the farm, one third on the adorable nine month old farmer that distracts us all with his happy singing, and one third on our attention being held hostage by the news. 

Here's some reporting from this month on the farm:

  • A parched and rainless June has silently slid into a parched and rainless July. August is, ahem, coming up, and the forecasts look unrelentingly sunny and dry and hot. Our irrigation system is getting a run for its money.
  • We've had regular visits from a drone that photographs our fields as part of a study about the use of different aerial imagery analytics for small farmers. Drones!
  • Rachel's house is almost done! The small team of builders has been up there every day all summer, and now that drywall is up, flooring is down, and tiles are ordered, the end is in sight.

As for what we're eating, most meals consist of a few handfuls of whatever was picked that day, maybe sauted with garlic and olive oil and miso, maybe drizzled with my go-to curry vinaigrette, maybe thrown on the grill, maybe eaten straight out of the bowl. But, for those who are more recipe-inclined, I've also added a few new favorites to the veggie pages, including Heidi Swanson's gribiche (hint: it's fancy potato salad!).  

May Showers

Master grafters, hard at work.

Spring has sprung in fits and starts here on the farm and, as during every change of season, it feels both like it snuck up on us and like it's been a long time coming. After some decidedly summery temperatures, the weather circled back on itself last week and we had a few cold nights and windy, rainy, chilly days. But the greens are getting greener by the day, and as the trees fill in, the ferns grow inches an hour, and the pond gets shadier and murkier, I think it's time to confidently declare the arrival of spring.  

Each year, early May brings on our annual vaguely hysterical mix of excitement and panic that marks the first long days planting seedlings in the fields, as we see the next six months stretching out before us in organized 100' rows. The first markets in Madison and Edgewood Park have come and gone, and it has been great to catch up with all of our regular customers - we hope that they are as happy to see us as we are to see them after a long dark winter. 

This spring has been different, however, because our glorious new greenhouse has finally come to life! Each spring in recent memory has been defined by rented greenhouse space that is much too small and much too far and much too hard to calibrate. But this year, thank god, that annual hussle is over for us. Over the winter we built a greenhouse on the farm, nestled between the pond and the fields - it's big enough, warm enough, has running water, and is powered in part by a geothermal system that stores warm air for cool nights. We do a grateful little dance every time we hear the heater automatically come on to keep our seedlings happy through another chilly evening.

Thanks to the warmth and coziness of our new greenhouse, we've been able to grow many, many more seedlings than we have in years past. So not only are we bringing lots of delicious varieties of plants to our markets, we're also hosting two on-farm plant sales to welcome our neighbors and friends to the farm and to stock their gardens with organic seedlings. The first plant sale was last weekend and it was a wonderful success - the second is this coming Sunday, May 15th, from 12 pm - 6 pm. Don't miss it!

And, finally, this wouldn't be a FRF blog post without a shout out to our favorite little six-month-old baby root. He has quite the appetite (ahem, understatement) and has been voraciously and enthusiastically enjoying our first harvests right alongside us. Among the many foods he has tried and loved, kale, pea shoots, potatoes, spinach, and over-wintered carrots rank high on his list of favorites. Disclaimer, though, in defense of all food on earth that we didn't grow here on the farm: he eats everything. Literally. 

The greenhouse, filling up and very organized.

Last weekend's plant sale. Join us this Sunday for another round of delicious pizza and plenty of seedlings for your garden!

The cutest and most wiggly sandbag on earth. 

No sleep 'til November

I hate to admit that you probably could have predicted this, but it’s now August 18th and somehow all of July and half of August vanished before our eyes without a proper blog post. The punishing pace of August harvest has been hot and heavy, and our market schedule gives our weekly rhythm a certain… shall we say… chaotic tempo. My beloved sister left the farm a few weeks ago to move on to the next exciting chapter in her life (San Diego with her boyfriend, where she’ll grow avocados and citrus year round and we’ll live vicariously through her), so we’re back down to 3.5 farmers. With the invaluable help of our favorite neighbors/blueberry pickers, plus one very wonderful Papa Berg (who helps us with our Sunday market every single week like clockwork), we’re barely keeping our heads above water within our five market weekly routine. Each market rush (Thursday, Friday, Saturday x 2, Sunday) is barely over before the harvest for the next one ramps up again.   

Not that we’re complaining. Our harvests have been prolific and delicious, and we’re so thankful for the productivity of our land in our first high season on our new farmstead. 500 pounds of eggplants a week leaves us slightly concerned about the structural integrity of our barn floor, but late summer veggies are officially upon us – and so, in order to abide by our strict LLC bylaws, we eat a minimum of one tomato sandwich per person per day. Hot peppers are starting to build heat, tomatoes are rolling in, and tomatillos, okra, and Mexican sour gherkins are the little unusual mysteries that our most adventurous customers bring home with them every week.  

We’ve had what feels like an abnormal number of 1,000 degree days, but probably isn’t. When we want to get whiny about our desire to jump forward to sweater weather and snow and a slower pace, we try to remind ourselves and each other about how much we look forward to this steamy and fast-paced season each winter. At no other times of year are the fruits of our labor so literal, so immediate, so present, or so delicious. And the tomato sandwiches really help with the weariness. There’s nothing more nourishing.

Now, for some photos:

In case you're wondering what 450 pounds of eggplants look like, here it is.

In case you're wondering what 450 pounds of eggplants look like, here it is.

Mexican sour gherkins, the surprise hit of 2015!

Mexican sour gherkins, the surprise hit of 2015!

Turns out the rumors are true! Tomato hornworms glow under blacklight, so this is our new preferred picking method - out after dark, hunting by flashlight, squishing under our boots. 

Turns out the rumors are true! Tomato hornworms glow under blacklight, so this is our new preferred picking method - out after dark, hunting by flashlight, squishing under our boots. 

PS – What’s a tomato sandwich, you ask? Good question! A tomato sandwich is very simple and very strict: it’s a slice of bread, then mayo, then a THICK (half inch minimum) slice of a juicy heirloom tomato, then a little sprinkle of salt and pepper. Nothing more and nothing less. If you’re doing it the way my father taught me was the only way, the bread is required to be a fat slice of white Italian bread from the Columbus Bakery in downtown Syracuse. But, assuming you don’t live in Syracuse, another type of flaky, crusty, chewy Italian bread will have to do.

(If it has basil on it? Sounds delicious, but not a tomato sandwich. What about a little cheese? Yes, we also like cheese with our tomatoes sometimes, but sorry, it’s not a tomato sandwich.)

A Fruitful June

Among the many chaotic, productive, and wonderful things developing on the farm right now, the weather is one thing that seems to be settling into a rhythm. We’ve had some nice rain, some cool nights, some hot and sunny days. After a May that felt like desert August, June has felt much more like June.

The one exception to our seasonal June weather was a wild storm that barreled through the countryside last week, with huge wind and deafening rain that left many trees down in our area and some of our neighbors without power or internet. Though the plants in the field were battered and wind-blown, and though we had to repair a small section of the brand new blueberry trellis, we were otherwise spared any major damage. We suspect that the low pressure system carried with it some weird energy though, because the rest of last week was spent fixing broken things - among them the air conditioner that keeps our cooler at 42 degrees (thanks Provider Farm for allowing us to throw some stuff in your cooler while we got it fixed!).

As you know if you’ve read our blog in the past, my amazing Gucker family rarely shows up without an adventurous and vaguely scary plan to build something or take something down, and last weekend was no exception. The weekend’s agenda was to cut down the giant dead spruce tree that has leaning precariously out over the uphill corner of the house since we bought it, because the last thing we need is a tree falling on the most ancient corner of our ancient house. So, with absolute calm and competence, my brother strapped on his rock climbing harness and climbed the tree, cutting it down limb by limb. Once he had reached the top and found a good place to cut the trunk, he tied off his rope just below the cut line and chopped off the top third with my dad on the ground pulling it in the direction we wanted it to fall (away from the house!). It was a very impressive feat that they, of course, made look easy. The photos really say it all, but just to reiterate, my brother is a total badass. Then my equally badass sister and stepmother burned the entire tree in a giant bonfire, killing an inconceivable number of nasty caterpillars along the way. In the pouring rain. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we’d be lost without you, Guckers. Thank you!

And then, at the end of the weekend, the most amazing thing happened. Lindsay, my all star farmer sister, STAYED HERE. And is staying here until the end of July! Having her here for part of the summer is invaluable to the farm, and such an amazing gift to me. Long summer days with my sister is the stuff that dreams are made of.

In recent weeks we’ve been blessed with an unexpected and delicious surprise. Our fruit trees and bushes have absolutely exploded with ripe fruit with an intensity we could not have predicted. Our low expectations for how productive they were going to be were mediated by their craggly limbs and old age (some of the trees were planted in the 1950s!) but boy were we wrong. The mulberry tree is covered in so many ripe mulberries that we don’t even worry about sharing with the birds, the concord grape vines are laden with tiny green grapes, and the wild black raspberries are ripening daily. Our 70 mature blueberry bushes have started to ripen the first few unbelievably delicious blueberries, which we have downright refused to share. Pretty soon we’ll be overwhelmed with so many blueberries that we will be ready to bring them to market and leave them on neighbors doorsteps, but for now we’re hoarding them all for ourselves. Besides turning our fingers and teeth blue eating them fresh by the quart, we’ve also achieved the ultimate luxury in celebration of Elise’s 30th birthday: blueberry pie. In June. With our very own organic blueberries. It may have been the most delicious pie we’ve ever eaten.

All that being said, our cherry tree deserves special mention. When we started to notice that the spindly old tree was covered in giant rainier cherries, and that they were turning red and tasted absolutely delicious, we were eager to share them with our beloved next door neighbors who grew up on our property. But when we excitedly told Peggy that the cherries had started ripening, she was shocked – apparently that tree has only produced fruit one other year since it was planted 40 years ago. It’s a mystery, but her working theory is that her parents are dancing around the orchard on the spring breezes, happy to see us setting down roots on their ancient farmstead. With full hearts we will gratefully accept the blessing, and are honored to be the recipients of such a delicious and positive omen about the years to come.

On Droughts and Wishing For Rain

In the three weeks since our last post the landscape of our farm has changed so much. It’s a totally different place, almost unrecognizable. We waited and waited for spring to come, and it seemed like we might wait forever, but then the season exploded overnight and we woke up to a green and verdant wonderland. Now that the trees are lush and thick with leaves the farm feels like the secluded and protected spot that we fell in love with way back in September of last year.  When you’re up in the field, far from the road and deep in the woods, it’s easy to imagine that you’re the only person on earth.

The azalea bushes around the house have been blooming in otherworldly florescent shades of pink and red that glow in the moonlight. The pond is murky and dark under the heavy shade of the surrounding trees, which lean out over the water and gaze at their own reflections in the still water. On a warm and still evening the peeper frogs are so deafening that we have to close the windows in order to hear each other talk. We’ve eaten asparagus every day for the last three weeks (not an exaggeration, actually), and our meals are getting greener and greener as the harvests start their rapid acceleration towards summer. 

It would all be totally dreamy and wonderful if we hadn’t also been saddled with a bizarre spring drought that left us without a single drop of water for 27 days straight. The forecast called for rain a few days ago and we awoke in the morning to the tiniest little precipitation event – it stopped after raining a measly 0.1 inches, and we were so disappointed. We’d been counting on that rain! But then! After a foggy and humid day with no suggestion of what was to come, an unexpected thunderstorm rolled in just before bed and it torrentially rained for a delicious half hour. Hallelujah. We’ll need more where that came from, but it’s a great start.

Because of the season and the weather, activity on the farm has been 100% focused on two things – planting and irrigation, tasks of equal priority but conflicting needs. The timing of planting seedlings out in the field has been a delicate balancing act between when they want to leave their trays and when they’re big enough to not die in the unseasonably hot dusty midday sun. The challenge of irrigation has been making do with the infrastructure that we’ve got until our grant funding comes through to dig an irrigation well. Poor Aaron has had to rig up an increasingly complicated series of systems for getting water all the way from the house well to the furthest corner of the field as we’ve gotten increasingly desperate. On any given day he can be found moving pumps, rerouting hoses, refilling gas tanks, running extension cords, checking pressure – all in the service of keeping our baby plants alive until the rain arrives. Good thing he’s a problem solving genius.

All that being said, it’s been a very productive few weeks – the bees are filling their brood boxes, the tomato tunnels are assembled with the tomatoes all snuggled up inside, the flowers, cucurbits, and potatoes are in the field, our markets are starting up, and the perennial garden is full of seedlings. Peppers, eggplants, and another round of greens are getting planted this week before the (supposed) rain on the horizon. No rest for the weary. 

Late April

This spring, our first on new land, feels especially energizing because we’re learning and developing new things every day. In addition to our regular spring tasks – endless bed prep and endless seeding in the greenhouse – we’ve also learned how to prune our prolific 40-year-old blueberry bushes (thanks to the patient teachings of our next door neighbor, who grew up in our house and has pruned the blueberries for decades), how to effectively use our new BCS tractor, and how to establish and care for our new bee hives. It seems only fitting to be undertaking so many new projects on our new farm, and we’re proud to announce our recent organic certification from Baystate Organic Certifiers. You can read a more detailed explanation of our growing practices here, but we’re very excited to finally be certified organic!

After what felt like a deep and endless winter, spring has been announcing her arrival in lots of creative ways lately. We have been eagerly expecting the budding of our magnolia tree, the blooming of the daffodils, and the sprouting of our rhubarb patch, but we didn’t know to expect the raging thunderstorm we got last week that pummeled us with driving rain and bitter cold winds for 24 hours. We all woke up in the middle of the night to bright lightening and deafening thunder, and wondered if it was raining inside the house (it wasn’t, thank god). By the time it finally stopped we had gotten 2.5 INCHES of rain. That’s a lot of rain, even for an August thunderstorm, let alone in mid April. Of course the storm hit us the day after I’d gotten our first two beehives set up, and I spent the evening of the storm outside in yellow rubber rain gear trying to shelter the hives from the rain and wind, certain that all 20,000 bees were going to die. Bees are resilient though - over the course of last week they completely recovered and are happily getting their combs established while they wait for the pollen to come in.

With the patient and tireless help of our #1 favorite tractor guy, Jon Hubbard, we have plowed and harrowed one of our two fields. Elise feels superstitious about even so much as saying the work ‘rock’ (what if they are hiding? what if they all sneak in one night while we’re sleeping?!), but I will say that so far we’re very happy with what we’ve uncovered. It seems that our southern field is composed of nice deep topsoil and a completely manageable number of rocks. PHEW.

We are very lucky to have an amazingly talented artist and architect friend, Tessa Kelly (her etsy shop is here), who carves the most beautiful stamps by hand – we were so delighted when she agreed to carve our new logo for use on all our signage. She used sketches of a baby kale leaf that we gave her in a bag of salad mix last year as the inspiration for the leaf on our new logo, and we love it. Thanks Tessa!

Spring Drags Her Feet

This may seem obvious in hindsight but, as it happens, the coldest February in recent memory was not a charming time to move to a house that was built 168 years before the start of the Civil War. There was a blizzard on the day that we packed and drove the truck full of everything we own to our new home, and then blizzards every day after that for weeks. Literally one hour after we finished unpacking the truck, a cast iron radiator exploded and flooded an entire room of the house with steaming black water. Later that week our entire heating system predictably froze as the temperatures flirted with fifteen below, and we had to pay a plumber great sums of money to come rescue us from certain death. The snow came off the roof and piled high, blocking some of the windows. Even once the heating system was back up and running and our woodstove was installed, we struggled to keep the oldest part of the house (our bedrooms) above 40 degrees. Then, as we desperately scrambled to stay warm, our contractor had an epic meltdown and we were left with half a bathroom, no kitchen, and no contractor. It’s been a long six weeks. 

But as the weather has slowly started to turn around (ever so painfully slowly), as the days have slowly started to lengthen, and as we’ve slowly made progress on rebuilding our kitchen and bathroom, things are starting to look up. We go back to the photos of the house before we started the renovation and realize that we have made real progress.  A few patches of snowdrops have bloomed around the house, there is a family of ducks living on the recently-iceless pond, and the skunk cabbage are sprouting their alien heads everywhere in the bog across the street. Last night, for the first time this season and seemingly all at once, the peepers were out in full force – music to our cold winter ears.  I think we can now safely say that we survived until spring, and by next winter we’ll be ready. 

IMG_6983.JPG

Though spring is really dragging her feet, we’re also already in the midst of the familiar full scale spring ramp-up in outdoor activity. All of a sudden the to-do list is a mile long, and is especially daunting because we’re establishing much of our infrastructure from scratch this season on our new land. Now that the ground is starting to thaw, we have to rebuild our high tunnels, plan for our new irrigation system, and rebuild our cooler. The heated greenhouse, though, is already overflowing with trays – thousands of baby seedlings are thousands of little promises about what’s to come, and we whisper gentle and encouraging words to them daily.

Watching the snow melt during this unseasonably late winter has been a great way for us to observe our new microclimate in East Haddam. We still have patches of dry crusty hard-packed snow around the fields, and we’ve estimated that we’re going to be at least two weeks behind the season we were accustomed to in Woodbridge. We’re turning over the fields in the next two weeks so that we can start the long process of making new beds from scratch, and are excited to finally see what we’ve got under there. Thank goodness we already have the toasty high tunnel packed with spring greens and carrots and hakurei turnips for our early markets. Counting the days!

AND we have one other very exciting ACRE announcement! Last weekend, after months of grueling training throughout the entire brutal winter, our very own Rachel ran her first marathon in celebration of her 30th birthday. We are very proud of her totally baller time (3:54:58!) and of the fact that she was the 17th woman to finish the race. What an amazing way to kick off the season!

January - Four Root Farm

First of all, the big announcement! We named our new farm!

It's been quite a process to try to find a name that we feel connected to, that is about us and what we're building, and that equally describes our connection to our new place and to each other. I would be lying if I told you we had a list with anything less than literally one hundred options on it. Many of them are puns (if you've ever met Rachel Berg, you'll know what I mean), many of them are names of things we like to eat, and an embarrassing number of them are related to Friday Night Lights. We've been circling our top choices for the last few weeks, and have finally landed on a name that resonates deeply with us.

Welcome to the world, FOUR ROOT FARM. We're happy that you were born.

It seems like it's been both an impossibly long time and an impossibly brief blink since we became farm owners! It's actually been five weeks, but it feels like it's been five days - five immeasurably long days during which we've aged five years minimum. I think we're still getting over the fact that we did, in fact, sign on the dotted line to buy our farm, yet it somehow also feels like it has been ours forever. Suffice it to say, the joy and wonder haven't worn off. 

Here's what we've been up to: 

House renovations have been inching along, slow and steady. We've uncovered 323 years of little mysteries as we've peeled back the many layers of our ancient house, but nothing that was too much more dramatic than we were expecting. Tree trunks for floor joists, hand-wrought nails that predate modern wire nails or cut nails, almost a century's worth of mouse-bedding in the kitchen ceiling. In some places the exterior walls didn't even have an air cavity, let alone studs. The horror. We found a stash of empty seed packets from the 1950s in the kitchen ceiling - apparently even our resident mice are farmers! Not yet found: the elusive right angle. There's got to be one somewhere, right? 

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We spent New Years eve on the farm with almost all of our siblings and their partners (fun fact: A, C, R, & E are all oldest siblings, and we have eight younger siblings among us), which was a peaceful and joyous way to usher in our first year on the new land. We made a big bonfire, used tarps for bathroom walls, and drank spiked hot cocoa to stay warm. My brother built a barely-structural bridge over barely-frozen ice so that we could colonize our island before the new year, which we did. No one fell in. 

Crop planning is in high gear. The dining room table has been piled high with stacks of seed catalogues for weeks as we plan our 2015 season (spoiler alert: hold your horses, but we're going to be back with our same insane variety next season, and have settled somewhere around 200 vegetable varieties and 150 flower varieties). There are many spreadsheets. Mapping new fields from scratch has been both refreshing and overwhelming for the same reason - starting on brand new, wide open, fallow fields allows us to experiment with new systems and try new techniques, but also means that we'll be living with (or suffering through revising) our decisions for a long time to come. 

Crop planning an entire farm in four days ain't pretty, but it's fun.

Crop planning an entire farm in four days ain't pretty, but it's fun.


2015 CSA registration is open and filling up fast, so click over here for more information about how to sign up!

We Bought a Farm

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WE BOUGHT A FARM??! After a taxing six months of searching, and an even more taxing two months of paperwork, we're now on the other side (the fun side!) of the biggest commitment we've ever made to each other and to our business. It brings us immeasurable joy to be able to say: we now own a 13 acre farm in East Haddam, Connecticut. On paper it belongs to us, and in our hearts we belong to it. We're pinching ourselves.

 

WHERE WE WERE

Over the last few years Aaron, Caitlin, and Rachel have had the invaluable opportunity to grow the beginnings of our business on land that we didn't own, and that was very, very inexpensive to rent. While we'll always be thankful for the first three debt-free years we had at Darling Farm, we outgrew it quickly and there wasn't enough acreage to bring Elise to the team. We were incomplete without her, and we needed space to grow. Farming on ambiguously public land, and not being together every day, took its toll on us.

A year ago today we were just four farmers and best friends with the crazy idea that it is possible (that it must be possible) to build a small-scale organic vegetable farm that is both sustainable and profitable on land that we ourselves own. The idea gained momentum slowly as we realized how strongly we each believed in our shared vision, and in each other. We let the idea build, talked about it, kept farming, educated ourselves, had doubts. Deciding to enter the real estate market was daunting - with no idea what we could afford, or if we could afford anything, or who we could trust, or what we needed, we were nervous and fragile. We dipped our toes in, nervously looked at the first property, lost momentum. It took practice, but we got the hang of it.

We looked everywhere, we obsessively trolled real estate listings, we fell in love over and over again. We peered inside of ourselves to look for what we wanted, we aligned and realigned our priorities, weighing countless variables against each other and against our options. We got really good at Connecticut town geography. We made impossible spreadsheets, trying to quantify and qualify the intangible feeling of each place. We had the world’s most patient real estate agent (thank you, Georgia - we owe you) who was willing to drop everything and drive all over the state of Connecticut at a moments notice when we thought we’d found the one. She never once told us we were crazy. We looked at almost 20 farms over the course of six months (in the middle of the summer season, when the last thing in the universe we had was time to take an afternoon off and drive three hours round-trip to see a farm). Of those 20 there were four that we seriously considered. Of those four one was too small, one was too suburban, and one was way, way too expensive. (We bought the fourth one.)

Every new visit took it out of us. It was exhausting to imagine every alternative future – would we be happy and fulfilled here? Would this particular piece of land support the type of operation we’re going to create? Each one of us felt emotional about something different, everyone projected different things onto the same property, and sometimes it felt like we were getting further from knowing what we needed. We talked and talked and talked ourselves in circles.

Here’s what we knew: We needed a minimum of five acres of flat open field with moderately healthy soil and a manageable number of rocks. We needed quiet. We needed some impossible combination of productive existing infrastructure and a blank slate on which to draw our perfect farm. We needed reasonable proximity to New Haven, to our loyal customers, and to our beloved market. We needed an old farmhouse that spoke to the architect among us. We needed zoning that would allow for the construction of two more houses in the near future, without being located in the middle of a suburban development market. We needed some woods, big trees for shade and shelter, and plenty of room for perennial gardens. We needed space to experiment and space to play.

We also knew that we loved each other as family, that no one of us could do it without the other three, and that we all shared a common vision of what we wanted for our farm.

Here’s what we didn't know: Would we know it when we saw it?

We did. Though I can't offer any empirical evidence of this, I think we knew it the moment we stepped out of the car. Two days after we visited we heard that were other people interested, and decided over the course of a five minute freak-out that we were going to make an offer. It was that easy. 

 

WHERE WE ARE

Famous last words. That easy decision has been followed by three months of grueling paperwork and daily bureaucratic hoop-jumping, an administrative black hole that we were completely sucked into. Turns out that buying a 322 year old house is a lot harder than buying a new house, and that buying property with four people is way more than twice as complicated as buying property as a married unit. We've got more lawyers, LLCs, and operating agreements than might seem possible. We've learned legal terminology that we hope to quickly forget. No shit, we have executed contracts that enabled us to execute other contracts. We spent two weeks writing a 30-page business plan in excruciating detail to get our loans approved, which they were. We tested the soils, took an auger to the fields, and made educated guesses about rockiness and drainage. We survived a house inspection that lasted five hours during which we poked and prodded at every crumbling wall and every loose floorboard. We considered "it's going to be a lot of work, but the toilet flushes and it's probably not going to fall over anytime soon" to be an enthusiastic thumbs up. 

So, where is it? The new farm is on a narrow winding road high up in the hills of East Haddam - northeast of New Haven, southeast of Hartford, and a half hour from anywhere. It's 13 acres of quiet field in the middle of deep woods, and has been fallow, though well-loved, for years. We have a small shady pond with a tiny island, an old orchard of overgrown apple trees and grape vines and blueberry bushes, an ancient but watertight barn, and two big, flat fields separated by the most beautiful tree line.  It's not perfect, but it's perfect for us. 

There are three USGS survey markers set into rocks on the perimeter of the fields, which we've taken as a point of pride because it means our family farm will always be on the map of our national geology. We've found evidence (yes, poop evidence) that we might have a black bear living nearby – she’ll be our spirit animal and we'll give her a powerful and reverent name.

The farmhouse, which was originally built in 1693 and has been added onto many times, is rambling and does not include a single right angle, has minimal insulation (if any), and still has all of the original plaster walls. It has settled dramatically away from the original brick fireplace foundation, and the floors pitch at precarious angles, but by some miracle the joists are still passable and sound. It will be a lifetime's worth of work to maintain, but we're up for it - it's easy to love, and it's the perfect adventure for a modern architect that can't stand modern houses.

And so here we are, proud and thankful owners of the little piece of planet earth on which we found exactly what we needed most. As four equal partners we each own exactly one quarter of the land and one quarter of the business, which is a fundamental principle of our business model. Though we are scaling up a little from this past year, we're only scaling up a little, and we will continue to refine our ability to grow a healthy crop of uniquely diverse and unusual vegetables. Our mission has been and will always be to increase the diversity of what people eat, and to practice a model of farming that is healthy for the environment, for the soil, for the economy, for the community, for the consumer, and for the farmer. We will honor the land by listening carefully for what it needs over decades and will employ only resilient, responsive, and restorative practices. We will honor each other’s strengths and take maximum joy from growing food. We will build a business that sustains us. We will cherish every season.

But first we have a barn floor to replace, a pond to dredge, irrigation and fencing to build, a kitchen to renovate, an orchard to bring back to life, and fields to plow - all before March, when next season's seedlings spring to life. Check back here for our recording of this whole insane process, step by step. 

We're optimistic, terrified, and totally overwhelmed. We couldn't be more excited. 

Stay tuned,

Aaron, Caitlin, Rachel, and Elise

 

Let us know if you want to be on the mailing list for updates in January about our 2015 CSA. We'll be doing a few New Haven drop-offs, and we'll be at our regular Edgewood market spot on Sundays. The rest of our market schedule is still in the works, but we'll keep you posted here and on Facebook. 

Hot Pepper Madness

We’ve been woefully unable to make time for our blog recently, and all of a sudden we woke up and found October knocking at our door. No excuses, of course, but our primary blogger has been traveling a lot for her other other other job, and our farmers have been distracted by ambitious fall harvests and the logistical black hole of some exciting new developments for our farm.

It’s really shocking how quickly September vanished before our eyes, with both unseasonably cold and unseasonably warm stretches and a magnificent colorful burst of foliage in the last couple of days. It’s already a busy blur in our rearview mirror. Slippers are coming out, the last glorious tomato sandwich of the season has been eaten, and firewood is being prepped. The geese remind us every evening which direction they’re headed, and which season is coming. We thank the cool evenings for our explosion of spicy salad mix.

Without much time to settle in and write a proper account of our September, we did want to check in with one exciting milestone in our effort to become farmers with deep CT roots. Check our first-prize winning, best in show, giant ribbon worthy, hot pepper collection from the Durham fair. We're so proud.

That's right. BEST.

That's right. BEST.


Heirlooms

It's been a woefully long two weeks since I've updated the blog, and I'm sorry! We've been, ahem, busy (putting it mildly) but that's not an excuse. We're back!

It's pretty wild and alarming to feel these unseasonably cool breezy nights and (it hits at odd moments, all of a sudden) realize that this summer, like all others, will end. Though I suppose we feel this way every summer, this one feels like it's vanishing particularly quickly even though every day is impossibly full and long.

The cool nights have been really slowing down our tomato ripening, and we are blessed with every tomato disease in the book, but we still managed to harvest 250 beautiful pounds of heirlooms, hybrids, and cherries this weekend. 250 pounds of tomatoes is basically a truckload, in case you need a sense of scale. 

Also, in case you're wondering, YES we may have eaten these goldies for five out of the last six meals! It's August, what are we supposed to do?! Send us to tomato jail if you want, we're not sorry.

These are my goldies, my babies, my absolute favorites. They are unspeakably sweet and juicy and glamorous, and weigh as much as two pounds each! 

These are my goldies, my babies, my absolute favorites. They are unspeakably sweet and juicy and glamorous, and weigh as much as two pounds each! 




Beneficial Mummies and Denise

This week we became the proud farmer parents to a few hundred new beneficial parasitic wasp mummies, and a cargo van! It was a big, entomological, busy busy busy week on the farm.   

First of all, the pediobius foveolatus were called in as reinforcements in our battle against the mexican bean beetle infestation in our green beans. They are a beneficial parasitic wasp larvae that have mummified mexican bean beetles before they are delivered - through the mail (our mailman loves us). Once delivered, they emerge through the shell of the beetle mummies and head out into our green bean rows to mummify new prey.

If I'm being totally honest, beneficial parasitic pest management is one of my favorite things about being a totally sustainable and pesticide-free farm. We really love and honor the good insects around here, and all that they can do to help us. W'd be nothing without them. 

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Thanks to Aaron and Rachel's endless patience for Craigslist trolling, we are the proud new parents to a 2000 Ford Econoline delivery van! She came complete with metallic shag seat covers, a custom silver paint job, 140,000 miles, and what my father tells me are very sporty wheels. Her name is Denise, and she's already graduated to her farm plates. 

She came into our lives in the nick of time, as they say. It's hard to imagine how we ever made it to market without her.

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Looking west from the Upper Field at sunset a few nights ago...

Looking west from the Upper Field at sunset a few nights ago...

In my opinion, though, looking east was even more magnificent. The light reflecting off the outhouse and trees was luminous and fleeting - this pink glow only lasted for 90 seconds before we fell into night.

In my opinion, though, looking east was even more magnificent. The light reflecting off the outhouse and trees was luminous and fleeting - this pink glow only lasted for 90 seconds before we fell into night.

Hots hots hots, growing fast.

Hots hots hots, growing fast.

Look. at. this. flower. I'm generally not zinnias' number one fan, but seriously. 

Look. at. this. flower. I'm generally not zinnias' number one fan, but seriously. 

We're proud to be the featured farm on the CT Grown website this month! CT Grown is an important and useful website where consumers can go to find local produce in their area - check them out, use the resources on the website, and read our profile!

Mid July

When I asked Aaron for a recap of this week on the farm from his perspective, he said simply "can't, too tired." This may have something to do with the fact that we may have driven to New Jersey and back last night to hear Jay-Z and Beyonce in concert and weren't in bed until 2 am (this goes without saying, but it was amazing), but it's also been a very very busy week on the farm.  We started harvesting carrots, cukes, green beans, squash, leeks, and onions, attended three markets between Thursday and today, and had many serious meetings about the exciting next moves for our farm.  We're eating squash blossoms and roasted green beans daily. And summer squash, by the pound.

We're full and grateful. Here are some photos from this past week around the farm:

While we toil away on all sorts of chaotic July tasks, the tomatoes grow quietly and steadily, laying in wait, getting ready to ripen. We're SO ready.

While we toil away on all sorts of chaotic July tasks, the tomatoes grow quietly and steadily, laying in wait, getting ready to ripen. We're SO ready.

The nigella are blooming, delicate and spiky and mysterious.

The nigella are blooming, delicate and spiky and mysterious.

My all time favorite color of snap dragon - I've got two plants out there making me these beautiful stems. To die for, if you ask me.

My all time favorite color of snap dragon - I've got two plants out there making me these beautiful stems. To die for, if you ask me.

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Picklers and Salt + Pepper cucumbers

Picklers and Salt + Pepper cucumbers

A harsh reality of farming without pesticides: when the eggplants get overrun with Colorado Potato Beetles, the only thing to do is slowly walk the rows and systematically smush them with dirty fingers.

A harsh reality of farming without pesticides: when the eggplants get overrun with Colorado Potato Beetles, the only thing to do is slowly walk the rows and systematically smush them with dirty fingers.

Luckily, the eggplants continue to grow strong and healthy through some significant bug pressure. We grow 'em tough.

Luckily, the eggplants continue to grow strong and healthy through some significant bug pressure. We grow 'em tough.

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The Four Market Week

It's been quite a week here at DF, and we're going to bed shortly (hopefully before dark!) - we know that next week will be just as crazy as last week, but Sunday evenings offer us a rare moment to sit quietly and breathe slowly. Before bed though, some photos from around the farm from the past few days!

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Look, we even make time for fun! This was a watermelon eating contest in honor of Elise's birthday - each contestant got half a watermelon, a butter knife, and five minutes. Your melon was weighed before and after. Suffice it to say, people were pretty juicy by the end, but the birthday girl was victorious - with a whopping 1.86 pounds!

Look, we even make time for fun! This was a watermelon eating contest in honor of Elise's birthday - each contestant got half a watermelon, a butter knife, and five minutes. Your melon was weighed before and after. Suffice it to say, people were pretty juicy by the end, but the birthday girl was victorious - with a whopping 1.86 pounds!

Summer squash has arrived! We planted 8 Balls, Flying Saucers, Saffrons, Zephyrs, and Patty Pans in addition to the standard zucchini and yellow squash because... they're awesome?

Summer squash has arrived! We planted 8 Balls, Flying Saucers, Saffrons, Zephyrs, and Patty Pans in addition to the standard zucchini and yellow squash because... they're awesome?

Flying saucers landing everywhere!

Flying saucers landing everywhere!

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Sometimes we get so preoccupied by the output that we forget to look around and appreciate the whole complicated machine. We're thankful.

Sometimes we get so preoccupied by the output that we forget to look around and appreciate the whole complicated machine. We're thankful.

Summer blooms.

Summer blooms.

Summer Solstice

Here's hoping that the summer solstice finds you well! The longest day of the year was yesterday, and we made sure to savor all fifteen hours and six minutes of sun. The veggies are enjoying the long hot days, growing fast and healthy, and we've finally worked out the majority of our market schedule for the summer. Click through to our markets page for updated details. 

It was a sweltering and misty 80 degrees by 7 am last week.

We're ramping up into the breakneck pace of high summer - harvesting summer crops as quickly as we can plant fall ones, going to countless markets, and hardly ever sitting still. This is the time of year when a pint of strawberries, a fistful of arugula, and a few peas is a totally legitimate dinner and a shower at the end of a sweaty day starts to seem increasingly optional. We're grateful for the warm evening breeze, the swarms of dragonflies that circle the barn hunting mosquitos, and cold beer.

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In the fields, the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants are settling into their new earthly beds and, despite some suspicious deer munching, are getting bushy and full and fat - just how we like them. Summer squash is about a week out - prepare yourself. We're growing all sorts of weird varieties for you this year. 

Our very own TomatoLand.


Yes, let's consider it a late June miracle... CAULIFLOWER! We could hardly believe it ourselves, but it's true. Cauliflower was the very first thing we planted outside in mid-March, and our eagerness has been rewarded a thousand-fold in the form of little, tender, delicious heads of cauliflower in June. And they said it couldn't be done! If there's one thing to remember about the team over here at DF it's this: we love love LOVE cauliflower. 

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More new pictures, posted here.