Friday, September 17, 2010

August/September 2010 Newsletter

The dog day doldrums are lifting and there are signs that time indeed passes. No longer the ever-predictable, conk-you-in-the-mug sizzle of summer. The morning glories invite the midday rays that a week ago would have shriveled its silken cups. The patch of sungolds, given the chance to hold their blooms by the cooler night air, come alive like a hundred little suns switched back on. The first yellowing poplar and the red tips lining the understory of a barnside maple tell of a fairer fall all too near. The morning and evening skies are given depth by the darkening of the blue hues and we know there is much gathering to be done and, yes, seeds yet to sow.

The withered squash vines are stripped clean of their impossibly beautiful ornaments. The strange armored bugs that cling to them like members of some medieval butternut cult are swept off their buff skins and stomped in vain attempt to prevent their procreation. The pepper plants, many sprawled out over the ground from the weight of their prodigious growth, will be plucked of their peppers and eaten, sold or canned. Early fall tomatoes will see the same fate, their vines removed and destroyed to check disease. Basil will be gathered until the kitchen drips with sweet, pungeant perfume and pesto will join blueberries, tomato puree and peppers in the freezer. Melon vines, eggplants, legumes and other annual crops will succumb to the mower and the tines, and will return to the soil to feed the organisms that allowed them to grow and bear. Come early October, excepting those sections designated for the fall garden, summer growth will be cleared and tilled to make way for all-important winter rye. The rye will quickly establish itself in the cooler weather, growing alongside volunteer vetch, holding the topsoil through winter’s rains and come Spring its powerful roots will crowd out weeds and aerate the soil until its tops are mowed and integrated as green manure for next year’s bounty. The fall garden will also be “ryed” but not until late winter, and won’t be planted in vegetables until summer, if not left fallow.

As I write in mid-September the fall and summer garden harvest begins to overlap. The earliest greens of fall, arugula are approaching maturity, and in full form - free of flea beetles and their taste for spicy Spring greens. Radishes will be plucked alongside with the potential for some lively salads, something we’ve missed around here. (We made some attempts at growing Summer lettuces, with some limited success growing Jericho Romaine, but, well, the dry heat prevailed.) Surely it won’t be so hot and dry next year. Farmers. Always the eternal optimists…and surely I don’t speak too facetiously.

We’ve been graced with visitors human and animal this August and early September. Let me begin with our feathered friends. Beginning late July we heard the unmistakable sound of bobwhite quail calling nearby. Their calls have continued and remain very close, localized to an area on or near Harmony Ridge. Our neighbor says he hasn’t heard quail around Bowens Road in some twenty years. Their decline in the piedmont has been alarmingly precipitous. Their presence indicates a healthy diversity of flora and habitat necessary to support their survival. Their decline is not surprising considering the widespread use of herbicides and the perpetual mowing of any land not in crop or woods. Quail need a combination of woodlands, brush, grass and croplands. They like the in-between places: fencerows and the brushy sumac and briar stands at the edge of forests. They particularly enjoy seeds, produced in great numbers by sheltering weeds. Anyone that has visited our farm since July knows quail will feel right at home here. I’m also encouraged to find out that quail will spend around 75 percent of their lives within a ½ mile foraging range. This means the covey that we’ve so enjoyed hearing could call Harmony Ridge (and its unkempt beauty) home.

As for those visitors of the human persuasion, we’ve had quite a few of late, some of them quite helpful. In early August, CSA members Keith and Rebecca Ammons brought their nieces (in town from Wisconsin) to help with farm chores. We were able to clear an overgrown vegetable bed that is now supporting beet, carrot and arugula. A few weeks later I got an e-mail from a guy, like me, having two first names, Grant and Doug. Turns out he just moved to the area and wants to spend time helping at the farm. I say O.K! On labor day, a group of special needs folks visited and helped harvest. It was a truly wonderful experience for (I hope) all in attendance. An especially enthusiastic member of the crew, Jeremy, showed up clad in John Deere gear ready to jump on our loaner tractor and till up the bottomland. I would like to thank Christina of Dragonfly Farms for coordinating their visit, as I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Let me speak just a bit more about our fall garden. We left part of our main plot on the hill fallow this summer, finally tilling the rye in early August – by this point a tangled stubble. We were pleased and somewhat surprised at the degree to which the soil beneath had responded to our cover cropping and fall greensand treatment. What was last August near-hardpan clay, is now a red loam, still in need of additional organic matter, but certainly quite workable. So we’ve planted it in fall crop: broccoli, green and red cabbage, kale, beets, onion, carrots, radishes, arugula, spinach, tatsoi, mustard greens, collards and turnips. And soon Chinese cabbage, lettuces and bok choi will be ready for transplanting. I plan on offering fall produce at the downtown Krankies market on Tuesdays. Although, if I had enough interest from customers wanting to purchase produce on-farm, I may just open up shop at Harmony Ridge…I will keep you posted on our plans for fall. Perhaps a Saturday morning farmstand? I should mention also that our last week for CSA shares is fast approaching: we will wrap up our 2010 CSA season Friday, October 1st.

We’ve mixed things up of late, harvesting some different legumes: crowder peas (close relative to the black-eyed pea) and limas. We hope you’ve enjoyed them, particularly the limas, as they require a good four hours of three pairs of hands picking. If our next batch is able to mature in the (somewhat) cooler weather, we will be able to offer more…by request this time.

CSA plus members will be receiving organic apples this week: a mixed bag of just-picked Jonagold, Crispin, Red and Green Delicious and Winesaps from Fairview, NC. For those interested in purchasing extra, they are $2 a Lb. (Limited quantities available.)

They are not unblemished, but are certainly not lacking for flavor.

One of this week’s spotlighted vegetables was okra. Turns out we ran a little short to provide okra to everyone this week. Those not receiving it should expect to see those lovable “ladies fingers” in next week’s share box.

A couple more CSA announcements…if you want extra sweet or hot peppers for cooking, freezing, drying, canning, or stacking into pepper towers please let me know. There is also a load of basil. If you’d like enough for pesto this upcoming week just say the word. And speaking of basil, we will be processing another batch of holy basil tea. If you tried it and liked it and want more I can include a more generous amount in this week’s box.

Lastly, an announcement to all CSA members and “civilians at-large”: I will be e-mailing a weekly “menu” for produce available for purchase on-farm. The menu will be sent out Fridays for pick-up Saturday at a time TBA. If you wish to receive a weekly menu, please let me know.

Thank you all again for your unwavering support and have a splendid weekend.

-K. Isaac Oliver

An early September CSA share / The Ammons family and I.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Newsletter #5: June/July 2010

I hope you all are enjoying the fruits of our labor. We certainly are...almost every night we plan our meals around what's been harvested that day. To be reinvigorated and sustained by the very thing that exhausted you in its creation is somehow incredibly gratifying. Tonight it was a creamy raw zucchini pasta on greens, German Butterball hash, and buttery sweet corn. The mandolined zucchini made a surprisingly full-bodied linguine, the butterballs an almost delicate hash and the corn, well, there's nothing like fresh sweet corn. Yesterday we sampled the butternuts harvested early in July, stuffed with goat's cheese, walnut and carmelized onion. It was quite good, but I'm going to let them cure just a bit longer before passing them (and acorn squash) on to you all.

I believe, especially considering the intense heat and June drought, that the summer harvest has been plentiful. Let's just say drip irrigation saved our collective behinds. (I've pictured here items included in a sample "plus" option mid-July box: zucchini and crookneck squash, heirloom and assorted cherry tomatoes, Jericho romaine lettuce, basil, garlic, charleston bell pepper, chili pepper, hungarian hot wax pepper, diva cucumber, along with organic figs and bread sourced locally. June brought two of my favorite bed buddies into the light, garlic and potatoes, and we continue to pull them from our "root cellar" supply. This week's fingerlings ought to please the most discriminating of potato palates. We've been pleased as well with corn production of late - surpassing our early yields - and expect to harvest it through the month of August. The next round of corn is around 10 ft. tall...we can only hope it bears ears to match.

To address the overflow of tomatoes (and lettuce before that) Holly and I have been attending the Krankies Farmer's Market downtown. It's been a gratifying experience and a terrific way to interface with other farmers and the community. We have not been in a couple weeks and it looks as though we won't be returning until possibly fall. Our harvest, while ample, is not so much to justify our presence there for the next couple months...more importantly, we would never risk shortchanging our CSA members by selling an excess of produce. The amount we've brought to market has been carefully calculated so as to avoid overselling. I mention this because some farm CSAs have been accused of doing this to make a few extra bucks, and I wish to be steadfast in our commitment to our shareholders. We've thoroughly enjoyed serving you all (so far) and I hope you all have relished the experience as well. It is truly an amazing feeling to do what you love and have a community at your back, particularly one benefitting directly, and on such a basic level. I can hardly begin to count my thank-you's to you all for helping our family build something so important to us...

Before I get trapped in the sap, I would like to discuss some cultural adjustments I'd like to make for next year's main season. First off, tomatoes. We'd like to provide them June through September, and while we will continue to include them in our shares this season, production has been tapering off. We've provided around 3 Lbs plus cherries every week since mid-June. This will drop off steadily until our late-planted tomatoes produce in earnest. Next year we will better space the plantings to better ensure a plentiful supply through the end of the summer. We will also plant more root crops and succession plant them to extend and (hopefully) increase our harvest of carrots, beets, potatoes, onions and garlic. Most of these have gone directly from the ground to your shareboxes, with smaller amounts going to storage. While I'm sure you all have tasted and appreciated the wonderful richness that is a new potato or onion, it's nice to save a bunch to divy out as time passes. As for beets, I don't necessarily plan to store them (though I do appreciate a good pickled ginger beet), but I would like to have plenty of them come June and July of '11.

I should talk a bit about peppers. First off, we will grow a different variety of main-crop bell pepper next year. The mini-belles you've received are California Wonders - we've wondered why they're not larger. While they're extremely prolific, they've also been strangely small...I believe we received the wrong seed. (It couldn't be our fault.) Thankfully we grew other varieties, and of all the sweets, the Flamingos have greatly outperformed the other varieties. (They're the pale yellow to orange variety in the boxes this week.) As for hot peppers, they're ridiculously productive, as usual. We mixed hungarian wax (pale yellow/orange), jalapeno (smaller green or red) and chilipeno peppers in the boxes this week with a recipe for stuffing them, although there are many ways to prepare them. (Thanks, Nancy, for the sample jar of hot pepper jam - superb.)
Another item you all have received lately are royal burgundy beans. They're to be treated like green beans, though I find the flavor somehow better - maybe it's a trick played by the novelty of them. Your kids will marvel at how they turn from purple to green on the skillet. I'm interested to hear any ideas on preparing them, as we've not had time to experiment much since harvesting. I find garlic and butter go well with most anything!

This morning we harvested watermelons and cantaloupes. It turned out quite a few watermelons were hiding amidst the vines, and we pulled more than expected. We will be passing on some of these modest melons on to you all this week. As for the cantaloupes, let's just say we swallowed the evidence. There will be more ripening in a few weeks or so, hopefully they will resist rot better than those we fished out of the straw this morning.

So a couple of reminders...please try and return all used containers (clamshells, egg cartons, etc.). Please let me know if you need particular herbs for your boxes as I will be happy to provide them. Right now we have genovese, thai and red basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, dill, mint, lemon balm, sage and chives. Also, we will be drying some batches of tulsi (or holy basil) tea. We've grown quite a bit of it to dry for the tea we drink daily. It has many health benefits, lowering blood pressure and regulating metabolism. I will be happy to provide a sample to anyone requesting it.

Once thank you all for your continued support. Farewell and goodnight.

-K. Isaac Oliver

I leave you with a few photos.

(1) Red Rubin Basil
(2) Cosmos
(3) Clover. One of the many weeds calling our garden home.
(4) Hairy Vetch and a Monarch.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Newsletter #4: May 2010

What could a farmer relish more than a string of rainy days, for his vines to swell, his gait to soften and his mind to wander, burying the debris of to-dos in the bliss of blankets and blankness. It is one of the great pleasures of farming to take a respite when Nature suggests it prudent. And rest has never felt so prudent. It is easy to live inside a to-do list, to order your existence around an illusion of tidy efficiency. It is one thing to continually “achieve” completion but quite another to achieve the clarity of knowing nothing is complete and to be O.K. with imperfection. It is enough to know that if you act according to your truth, your every action is complete.

Organic farming challenges any illusion of stasis in life. Change reigns supreme…you ride the wave or get swept out by the tide. Tidy as you may try to be, growth will continue, and growth can hurt, like weeding a hundred-foot row of onions. Weeds are like emotions – kill them off in one fell swoop (with, say, Roundup) and those that survive will regenerate into uber-weeds, peskier than ever. Bury an unwanted emotion or trauma, and the hurt becomes a complex of hurt, increasingly more potent. Somehow hand-weeding is more like “dealing” or “talking it out”. Satisfying? Not necessarily. But it sure is easier to sift and manage the buggers before they spread unchecked. I think you catch my drift.

Besides weeding and psychobabbling, we are still planting. Some crops are best succession planted so the harvest is spread out. Its better having just enough sweet corn to eat (or to sell) for a month than to have a lot all at once, so we are trying to extend our projected harvests of most crops to achieve a sort of drawn-out smorgasbord. In addition to planting, we are considering trellising the many green trails leading every which way. I say considering because there is a long way to go in this department. Tomatoes, Pole Beans and Cucumbers are the first to come to mind…they grow best upright. And if there any hope of winning the battle of the weeds, much straw will be spread.

Early heat and the miracle of drip irrigation, mixed with a bit of sweat on the brow and eventual rain has brought on a flush of growth: sugar snap peas and sugar beets are ripe and sweet fennel is near. Potatoes and garlic are blooming, meaning June harvests a possibility. We began eating cherry tomatoes here and there last week, though we don’t expect to get a proper harvest until it heats up once again. All you CSA members can expect more lettuce for as long as we can fend off the hot, hot weather and broccoli for at least another week (to be followed by cabbages). I hope all you “Plus” members enjoyed the all-natural strawberries provided by Ken Vanhoy of Rail Fence Farm in Kernersville. They were perhaps the finest I’ve tasted. The eggs are compliments of Christina Nazarro of Dragonfly Farm in Pfafftown and Donna Dunlap of Pinnacle. The eggs will be mainstays of the “Plus” program.

I’m sure some of you are wondering why some of the lettuce and broccoli you have been receiving are not like your standard grocery fare. Commercially grown vegetables are typically varieties bred for two characteristics: shelf life and uniformity of appearance. These characteristics come at the expense of taste and character. The lettuces you have been eating are rarely found in markets because they are tender: they wilt and thus quickly shed the illusion of freshness. (Grocery chains are not so much interested in freshness but the appearance of it.) The same goes for broccoli. You all have been receiving (mainly) heirloom, or open-pollinated varieties that have not been hybridized for shelf-life or uniformity. Heirloom broccoli can grow limp quickly, as it is meant to be eaten right out of the garden. Tenderness is a quality in vegetables, like meat, that lends itself to palatability and downright tastiness. Essentially the flavor has been bred out of so many commercial vegetables. Perhaps that is why a child that won't eat salads will change their mind after eating delicate Bibb Buttercrunch or rosy Rouge D’hiver. (Such was the case with a certain CSA member.)

Heirloom plants are those whose characteristics have not been hybridized over time; the seeds have been harvested and handed down over generations, so that when they are planted they are true-to-type. Preserving this tradition helps preserve the diversity of edibles that have colored our culinary and cultural history. Many of the crops we grow at Harmony Ridge are raised from heirloom seed stock. This is why our vegetables have character.

I’ve been pleased with the ease with which the CSA deliveries have been conducted thus far. I would like to thank you all for being as prompt as possible. I have been quite lenient in these first two weeks as far as providing special arrangements for those unable to attend the designated delivery times. However, I cannot guarantee that this will always be the case due to time limitations. If you are unable to attend, please have a friend pick up your basket for you. However, I am a reasonable man, and sometimes a back-up plan is necessary. Any baskets that go unaccounted for I will leave on the front porch of our barn inside a cooler through the weekend. Those that go unclaimed will be donated to my kitchen.

A few other things swimming around my head…recipes are meant to be kept. You may either leave the plastic attached to the basket to be reused or keep it – it’s up to you. Any containers, particularly berry quart boxes or egg cartons may be left inside the previous week’s basket to be reused. The lettuce, as you may know will keep outside the fridge as long as the root ball remains moist. It will keep in the fridge just as well. If the leaves are removed from the plant, they may be preserved per the instructions for storing greens provided by my mom, Wendy. I hope you all have been enjoying her recipes. I would like to thank her for all the hard work she’s put into providing these and for making each week’s delivery less like a plain, old crate of vegetables and more like a neatly wrapped present.

Which leads me to an outpouring of gratitude. There are some family members whose gracious help has egregiously gone unmentioned. My Dad, Kevin, and grandfather, Dale, are the foremost in my mind, as they have given much time and effort not only to help out with the many farm chores but to help shape the man I am. As many of you know, my Dad works full-time in a high-stress position and still manages to be here almost every day putting in his very best. Dale and my grandma Betty helped shape my desire to live an honest life on a farm as I spent many-a-summer on their small farm in Ohio as a youth. At almost 80 years old, Dale has a work ethic like no one I know: when he visits, I can scarce keep up with him. Much of the wood we have stockpiled for next winter was cut by him (and my Dad). I would also like to thank my “Uncle” Phil of PA. He handled our BCS walk-behind tractor like a champ. Thanks also to Mark O’Neil, a good friend of the family from St. Louis. He helped me accomplish in a couple hours what would have taken me an entire day. Thanks also to my wife, Holly, who has provided much needed moral support.

I look forward to seeing you all later this week for our third round of CSA deliveries. As indicated, you all can expect a little more variety this week: beets and sugar snap peas in addition to broccoli, herbs, spring onions and lettuces. To recap our revised weekly delivery schedule:

Thursday, on-farm, between 5 and 7 PM. 3835 Bowens Rd., Tobaccoville, 27050.

Fridays at New Planet Yoga between 10:30 and 11 AM

And then at my parents’ house between 11:45 AM and 1:15 PM. If any of you need to change your usual pick-up locale please let me know. Once again, I ask you to please stick to a weekly routine so your share winds up in the right place. Oh, and don’t forget to bring last week’s empty crate!

I wish you all a salubrious week.

K. Isaac Oliver


Harmony Ridge Farms

P.S. To any of you wishing to join our CSA or know of anyone interested, I have begun a waiting list. We may open up more shares for purchase in the near future.

I leave you all with some more pictures from the farm…

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ken Vanhoy's Strawberries

Wanted to share this...Ken grows the strawberries all you "plus" members received last week. He's a good man. Growing all-natural strawberries is no easy task.!/notes/krankies-farmers-market/strawberry-fields-forever-ken-vanhoys-quest-for-pesticide-free-strawberries/121138874574077

Monday, April 12, 2010


Here is an ad I created...just thought I'd share.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Newsletter #3: April 2010

Spring in the Piedmont: the welcoming buds of maple, then the tumble of cherry blossoms and shock of redbud, a brief taste of the swelter to follow, then back again…the blooms of the dogwood remind you it’s only April.

Where I sit, the creek bottom crackles with sound at daybreak – one song overlapping the next and I reckon our language inferior. The scent of so much growth is sweet as the rot beneath. The balm in the air is heady and uplifting. But how long can such sweetness last?

The organic farmer must be in tune with cycles, the needs of plants according to these cycles and accepting of change, be it for good or otherwise. And this in-tuneness is mostly learned. Sometimes the hard way. He plants a row of cabbage early on – known to be one of the hardiest of crops – a cold night, barely 32, leaves the row mottled and bitten by frost. Cabbage is hardy, yes, but must be hardened (that is, slowly acclimatized to life outside the greenhouse) if it is to thrive. He knew this intellectually, but until he felt the pain of losing something he’d labored for that knowledge was only information. Impatience was not solely responsible for this loss. Muleheadedness had something to do with it. This fall he’ll scatter some cabbage seeds and hope for the best. (This is a hypothetical farmer we are speaking of, by the way.)

There have been a few setbacks. Much of these setbacks may be filed under the heading: “Mistakes made due to bad timing”. (Farming, like music, is all about timing in tune with atmosphere.) Transplanting before a long string of warm, sunny days, tilling ground not quite dry enough and transplanting too near midday are a few examples. Thus far these hard lessons have come outside the greenhouse, where growth has been steady and strong. In an attempt to offset any errors we might make come Spring we started planting early in the greenhouse, following these plantings with a second or third wave through February and March. Ironically, the first wave and every wave thereafter has grown like crazy, and therein has laid the source of most “mistakes made due to bad timing”. There’s been simply too many healthy plants to transfer outside on too few ideal planting days. But we just keep plugging and planting and plenty are thriving. We have been fortunate these 90-some days didn’t send our greens to the dreaded bolt. But there are many good days to come and no “snaps” in sight. So with the accumulated wisdom of a challenging winter and early Spring under my belt, I’ll stride ahead knowing there’s no real need to rush growth, as it happens organically all the time.

As I mull over all that’s been accomplished thus far I can almost marvel at the progress we’ve made since taking off in early fall (with a little help from our friends). First off, most all the infrastructure is in place – the barn lacks only some interior detail work (you can see the finished exterior), the irrigation system is piped in and being stretched from bed to bed and the greenhouse supporting a diversity of plant life. Much of the cover crop has been turned into the soil and amendments added – lime, compost and fertilizer. An ample number of broccoli, lettuce, chard, beet and cabbage (yes, cabbage) plants have acclimated to life outdoors. The alliums (onions, leeks and garlic ) are growing just as well as the weeds that love to accompany them. The radish, snap pea, mustard and arugula seeds we sowed outdoors are growing nicely also. We’re on the brink of seeing the spuds sprout. And it looks like we’ll have some early tomatoes in May if we can coax the bees to get busy.

To our delight, we’ve had great success growing greenhouse lettuces despite the recent heat. Some we planted directly into bags of McEnroe potting soil and others we planted in raised beds atop tables using homemade potting soil. We produced a soil blend in our compost tumbler using aged horse manure, peat moss, vermiculite, greensand and rock phosphate. Once mixed, the soil as transferred to tables topped with chicken wire and synthetic burlap. Our trial batch of lettuce is full grown and tender as can be. Barring any setbacks, we will offer early lettuce to our CSA members by the end of April for pickup at the farm. (I’ll let you all know as soon as they are available.)

We’ve been busy planting edible perennials as well: asparagus, rhubarb, horseradish, blackberry, raspberry and elderberry all went into beds situated near our section of Mill Creek. Fig trees and rosemary grown from cuttings are rooting and vegging out in the greenhouse. There are even little figs! It looks like it will be fall before we can plant many fruit trees – peaches, plums and apples are part of the (very fluid) orchard plan, in addition to some natives such as persimmons and pawpaws. Any advice on what fruits and varieties grow best here is welcome.

In the last few weeks we’ve been lucky to have some volunteer farmhands at the time when we need it most. A couple friends of mine, Kalin Griffin and Michelle Verville, as well as my Mom, Wendy, and wife, Holly, have devoted some of their valuable time to help with some chores around the farm. Michelle is a professional horticulturist and orchard scout from Michigan who is interested in starting a small CSA in her home state and wanted to experience our operation. She provided some valuable organic pest control and greenhousing advice for which I’m most grateful. Thanks Kalin, Holly, Michelle and Mom for all your hard work! We are always open to having an extra hand around…I believe the experience can be educational and fun. Learn practical skills and get a work out in!

Our 2010 CSA is almost full. There are only 3 shares available for purchase. The particulars of our program are covered in the March newsletter posted here: If you are interested in being a part of our charter membership please act fast! Some folks have told us to sign them up: your payment in full reserves your family’s share in our farm. Contact me, Isaac, at or call 336.922.5611 for payment information.

By request, we have decided to offer home delivery as part of the CSA program. Applicants must live within or very near Winston-Salem or within 10 miles of Tobaccoville. Home delivery is $100 for the entire harvest season (May-October) delivered directly to your front door. Delivery will occur on Fridays, as will our share drop-offs.

CSA shares will be available Friday mornings at three locations: (1) Harmony Ridge Farms, 3835 Bowens Rd., Tobaccoville, NC, 27050, (2) New Planet Yoga, 1150 Burke St., Winston-Salem, 27101 (between Burke Street Pizza and Price Davis Florist). Parking is behind the building. And (3) my parents’ front porch (Kevin and Wendy Oliver): 3620 Rosebriar Circle, Winston-Salem, 27106. Specific times for drop-offs and home delivery will soon be determined. If anyone absolutely cannot pickup Fridays, we can talk.

Thanks again to all of you that have supported our farm CSA. Our gratitude goes out to Jeff Holderfield and crew for building an awesome barn as well as Gene Renegar of Triad Turf for helping us set-up an effective irrigation system. Thanks also to Meghan Prior of New Planet Yoga, who has graciously allowed us to use her lot for share drop-offs. And a special thanks to everyone that has provided words of encouragement (and prayers!) Wishing you all a merry April!


K. Isaac Oliver


Harmony Ridge Farms

My Dad, Kevin, behind our favorite machine: the BCS tiller:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

March 2010: Newsletter and CSA Info

Yes, strange as it seems the fairer season is only seventeen days off. I almost can't remember the trees in their clothes. Their gnarled, naked bodies are getting old. But soon enough they'll be donning their budded underthings and somehow be reborn. Full-on green-garbed modesty will usher in summer and these wet, white fields will be a distant memory. Interesting how the seasons facilitate forgetfulness, and help us get on with our lives. I appreciate the changes after my time in Washington state, where the seasons are pared down to two: the wet, dark one and the too-short dry one. This winter may have been a long one in here in North Carolina, but we have so much to look forward to.

Not the least of which is home-grown goodness! Our greenhouse is growing more lush by the day. The broccoli is already dwarving the four-inch pots they’ve been transplanted into. We got a little overexcited and planted them a bit early back in January. They’re eagerly awaiting their day outside the plastic.

It looks as though we may have the window we need to plant outside by Sunday or Monday if the ground has a chance to dry out. Onions, leeks, kale, beets and some hardier greens will be planted out, followed by a few peach, plum and fig trees later in the week. Lettuces will go out around late-March under row covers to keep temperatures up a bit at night and deter deer.
I had the chance this past weekend to work some of the beds that will soon be planted, incorporating lime, Harmony fertilizer and compost with our BCS walking tractor. It is a wonderfully versatile contraption, great for intensively working smaller plots. The planting beds are getting nice and fluffy.

The barn is coming along nicely as well. The siding, roof and insulation are installed. In addition, we are now heating our house and greenhouse with wood, as the water stove is up and running. Moreover, the well is irrigating our greenhouse, so I now have time to do other things besides water plants. Like plan for our first CSA…

I suppose you all are wondering what our CSA will be. First off, we will have 20 families (or individuals) sign up for the program. After the initial 20 members confirm their membership a waiting list will be formed. Those topping the list will be given an opportunity to sign up if another member withdraws. Here’s what a subscriber can expect to enjoy:

• 22 weeks of fresh, naturally grown vegetables and herbs grown here, by us for you. The season will run from the week of Mother’s Day (May 9th) to the first week of October.
• The weight of the weekly basket will be between 4-8 Lbs depending on the season.
• The opportunity to help out and learn basic skills on the farm (if so
• A contribution to the local community and ecosystem by supporting a (near) carbon-neutral, low-waste and chemical-free food production system. The health of our water and soil is of utmost importance to us.
• Close proximity to Winston-Salem. We are 3 miles Northwest of Winston-Salem off Reynolda Rd. Scheduled visits are welcome.
• An annual member farm tour/barbeque.
• The peace of mind of knowing the source of your family’s food.

We have valued the above benefits at $650, to be paid upfront. (This works out to less than $30 per week.) Payment received prior to the harvest season ensures your place as a member and ensures we have the resources we need to provide you with the most vibrant and varied produce possible. Please contact me to see the latest 2010 Harvest Calendar.
Harmony Ridge will also offer a ‘Plus’ program. ‘Plus’ members will receive all of the above listed benefits in addition to the following:

• Locally sourced (really) free-range, vegetarian-fed eggs
• Locally sourced pesticide-free honey
• Locally sourced, seasonally available fruits and berries. All fruits will be as naturally grown as we can find.
• Potted herbs for trying on your greenthumbs at home.

We have priced the “CSA Plus” at $875. The added cost of the “Plus” program figures in the logistics of sourcing, including the time we spend picking fruit and traveling to acquire these goodies.

To assure your place in our CSA please email me at or call 336.922.5611 to arrange payment. You are welcome to see our operation before signing on.
A few more notes on the CSA deliveries. We will set our weekly drop-off locations once we know where our members are located. The two delivery locales will be strategically placed to ensure convenience for each member. Members will also have the option of picking up their produce at the farm in Tobaccoville. Those located outside the immediate Winston-Salem area will, however, be asked to travel to one of our drop-off spots. If you cannot meet on a delivery date, please arrange to have your share collected, otherwise we will donate it.

I’m sure there are some details I left out. Please direct any questions to me, Isaac.

Thank you all for your support. We are tremendously grateful for this opportunity to serve our community.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Rising Above the Muck and Snow

An old German saying goes: If the winter is warm, the farmer will be poor. (Yes! Us farmers will be raking it in this year) Of course the old German farmers also said, "If the rooster crows on the manure pile, the weather will change." Tell me who keeps an eye on a manure pile before daybreak.
Yes, it's cold and it's wet. What to do - go inside! The greenhouse, that is. On a sunny day, it's a solid 80 degrees under plastic. Our barn contractor, Jeff, thought I'd gone off the wagon when he caught me sowing cabbage seeds shirtless on Monday. But hey, might as well soak up the rays we've got.
Some of our first seedlings of the year have emerged: broccoli, leeks, cabbages, and various greens including arugula and swiss chard. I've recently moved all our flats to "the big house" now that we have the power of propane on our side. Soon our primary heat source, the wood-burning water stove (pictured left being miraculously lifted by Tony Ball) will be powered up. Tony installed the behemoth; we're just waiting on Duke Power to run us a line. Jeff Holderfeld (standing right of Tony) has designed and is building a beautiful barn. We are quite impressed with the progress that he and his crew have made. I've included pictures documenting the progress below the article. Thanks Jeff!

The use of our irrigation system also hinges on Duke power. (I'm hoping someone that reads this wields some power at Duke.) The lines and pump are installed, just waiting to go to work for us. On a sunny day I'm practically camped out in the greenhouse with a backpack sprayer strapped to my back. The soil surface drys out pretty quick when it's so warm, which could prolong seedling germination. So I water. It's kind of like babysitting but without the whining. Another reason I enjoy working with plants. Just kidding - about the kids.

I'm putting the polish on the first newsletter. All of you that have expressed interest should receive it in the next day or two. If you or a friend are not already on the listserve and would like to be please let me know at Also, we are open to any requests regarding seed purchase. If there's a unique edible you'd like us to grow, we'll do our best (within reason). We'll have a harvest calendar posted soon as well, so those of you wishing to purchase produce will know what we'll have available and when.
Thanks you all for your support and encouragement. Hang in there, Spring is just around the corner. Ha!

"The Grove" pictured pre-barn.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Photos 11.09 - 1.10

December/Early January Happenings

I thought I'd drop a note to all you hanging on pins and needles waiting to find out more. Is that how the expression goes? I doubt it. Anyway, as any of you know that have gone outside lately, it's cold. The blueberries got planted over the course of a whirlwind Saturday in early December. Since then they've been hammered by frigid temps and bone-chilling wind. I do believe the roots were given ample time to establish though, and thus should weather the snap. Progress otherwise has been slow but steady. The greenhouse tables are up and waiting to grow something (as pictured above). Greenhouse production will begin around mid-February. Our irrigation and heat systems are in the making. The heater situated above the door will be an auxiliary heater powered by propane. Our main heat source will be a 1000 gallon wood-burning water boiler which will heat our home, greenhouse and barn. If all goes as planned, this will allow us to grow in the greenhouse all winter long next year, effectively making us a four-season farm. And fossil-fuel free! So we've been thinning out some unhealthy trees in our woodlot for future fuel. In the process, we were able to establish two more planting beds along the forest's edge for raspberry and elderberry production.
We are continuing the soil-building process on our fields and will be turning over an additional quarter of an acre of botttomland for added vegetable production space. (As soon as the ground thaws and clear skies give us the window we need.)
I'm in the process of gathering e-mails for our listserve. I'll be sending out e-newsletters and CSA info beginning February. If you're interested in receiving communications please drop me a note at Thanks and happy gardening!