2015

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. 

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. 

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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!