Saturday, April 17, 2010
Monday, April 12, 2010
Thursday, April 8, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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: