Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Nate started the day with an announcement at morning meeting that our kale is ready to harvest. It has been a long time coming, but we've made it: a huge bowl of Red Russian, Winter Bor, and Tuscan kale is sitting on our counter.

Today, for the first time in what feels like weeks, it rained. Our newly planted tomatoes, cukes (some of which we lost to the extremely dry conditions under the remay), eggplant, and squash are deeply grateful, and so am I.

The kale we put in the ground a month ago is gorgeous: big, vigorous, and healthy. It has been a long wait, but harvest season is finally here, and with my two hands, I've taken our first harvest directly from the soil.

I've had other local vegetables this spring - spinach from the Farmer's Market, asparagus and rhubarb, chives, mint and oregano from our garden. But there is something extraordinary about the first harvest directly from the earth, from a plant I seeded in a tray and put into the ground with my own hands. This harvest is the true beginning.

Dinner will be exceptional tonight: black-eyed peas and greens, and greens. And not just any greens, but hour-out-of-the ground greens, spectacular Maggie's Farm greens, first of the season greens. Greens to be grateful for.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Brick Oven Experiments

After an intense and sudden thunderstorm drove us inside on Saturday night, after only two delicious brick-oven pizzas, we decided to fire it up again yesterday to make some bread.

We had mixed results. Being slightly overzealous, we made too big of a fire, so the oven was almost 500 degrees when we finally put our bread in. Too hot. Within twenty minutes, the tops and sides of our three loaves had blackened to a crisp, and when we took them out two hours later, we had to break them apart with a knife. "It's like a geode," Will remarked, and it was: a rock-solid crust protecting a soft, slightly undercooked and strangely textured inside that only vaguely resembled bread.

Undaunted, we decided to try again. The oven had cooled down significantly, but was still hot - 350 degrees. I went inside and whipped up some biscuits. Fifteen minutes later, Will and I were sitting at the picnic table in the golden evening sunlight, eating perhaps the most delicious biscuits I have ever tasted. The texture was truly extraordinary: crisp, golden brown crusts, and the lightest, fluffiest, most airy insides you can image. They broke apart in our hands, and warm out of the brick oven with butter and jam and a pot of peppermint tea - well, it was worth the failure of the bread for such incredibly delicate and delicious biscuits.

Inspired by our success with the biscuits, I decided to try cooking a pot of beans overnight. I threw some white beans, garlic, salt and pepper, and rosemary in a deep cast iron, covered in with water, and put it in the oven. It was about 300 degrees when I went to bed. Will added more water at 9, and again at 1:30 (he was up anyway to check the sheep), and when I went out there this morning at 6 - a perfect pot of beans. The oven thermometer was reading 240. Though the top layer of beans was slightly browned, and the garlic charred, the experiment was a success. With almost no effort on our part, we had thick, delicious, slow-cooked white bean soup for breakfast, and there is plenty left over for lunch.

The oven is still at about 200 degrees, and Will is currently cooking cornbread. Despite a thunderstorm and three loaves of unrecognizable bread, I can't wait to fire up the oven again. I'm looking forward to a summer of delicious brick-oven delights: pizza, bread, biscuits, roasted tomatoes, black beans, chili, maybe even a pie! The possibilities are endless.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Apple Blossoms

Everyone Loves Grass

Farm Updates

It's been a while, and a lot has changed on the farm. It is high spring now, and every day, summer, with its promise of hard work and bushels of fresh vegetables, gets a little closer.

Joining our cows on pasture is our flock of nine ewes and their lambs, as well as Ruby and April, our two draft horses. Everyone is thrilled to be on the grass. The lambs are making full use of all the space by prancing round and round the pasture and perfecting their midair leaps. They are also discovering the delights of grass, and I often go out there to find them nibbling on pieces almost as long as they are. They are prone to get lost in it, as well, especially in the heat of the afternoon when they curl up in tufts of sedge and clover to stay cool.

The mamas are happy too, and everyone seems to love the new sheep shelter we built for them. A simple dome of tin roofing on wheels makes it easy to move, and there's enough room for most of the sheep to get some relief from the midday heat.

In another new development, our ram, Lincoln, is out with the cows on pasture, and thriving. We got Lincoln this fall, to replace Rammy, our old ram, who we had to put down due to arthritis and other ailments in November. He did his job, but then he started butting us, and because we needed to be in their with the sheep during lambing, we had to separate him from the sheep. We put him down in the lower barn, and he stayed there, alone, for most of the winter. It was extremely sad, as he is very friendly (despite his butting tendencies) and loves company and attention. It was pretty sad to have to go in there to feed him, and listen to him crying from the upper barn all day.

Now that our cows are out on pasture, we decided to put Lincoln with them to see if we could keep him with them all summer. It is working! Lincoln, no longer alone, is thriving. He's made friends with the calves, and seems to understand his place with the herd. When we take down the fence to move the cows from paddock to paddock, he goes with them without hesitation. (Although instead of stepping over the fence lines on the ground, as they cows do, Lincoln jumps about two feet in the air, clearing the fencing by a very wide margin.) It is great to see him so happy. The cows, who are about four times as big as he is, are definatley showing him who's boss, so hopefully they'll help with the butting problem as well.

We've been doing a lot of work int the home garden. Our peas are looking great, the beets are up, and I spent one whole afternoon last week renovating our herb spiral. We've got sage, oregano, mint, chives, and thyme coming up, along with a healthy-looking patch of rhubarb, and we're putting in many more herbs this week, including marjoram, chamomile, savory, and lavender.

I've discovered I adore gardening. The rhythm is entirely different from that of working 300-foot beds in the fields. We do everything by hand, from turning the beds with a fork and a rake, to seeding, weeding, and spreading compost. It is very quiet. I like being close to the soil, on my hands and knees most of the time. There's something soothing about the simplicity of it. I shake a handful of seeds into my hand, scatter them into a furrow I made with the side of a hoe, cover them up, and in a week or so, they germinate. I do love the scale of small-scale agriculture; there is something wonderful about a field of tomatoes or winter squash. But I'm realizing I also love - perhaps even more - and at least as much, the familiarity of gardening. It's more intimate. Slower. It doesn't take much to grow a garden - a fork, a rake, a wheelbarrow, a couple packets of seeds, and you're good to go. The plants do all the work. I love watching the miracle happen.

In other spring news, we switched to our summer schedule last week. Chores start at 6:30 in the morning, the workday runs form 8:30 to 5:30, and chores are over at 6:30 in the evening. It is getting lighter earlier every day, and I'm finding I'm content to work from sunrise to sunset. I get up at 5, and by 6, when the sun is already golden on the horizon, I'm ready to be out filling water buckets and doing cow fencing. The past few days I've found myself working till 6:30 or 7 - taking down fencing in the golden evening light or hand weeding a bed of peas under slate spring skies threatening thunder. I love the way it feels to be outside for the entire day, and the way it feels to come in with sore muscles after a day of work.

The vetch in some of our fields is almost knee high, as is our garlic Our orchard is blossoming, and everywhere you walk, especially on windy days like today, the air is scented with apple blossoms. The leaves are popping, our onions are thriving, and we've got a whole lot in the ground. Not only our spring brassicas, but our first seedings of lettuce, radishes, turnips, and arugula for our the CSA, beets, carrots, and parsnips, potatoes, and our first seeding of sweet corn.

I went to the Farmer's Market in Amherst yesterday, and came home with a bagful of greens: spinach, lettuce, turnips, and rhubarb. To celebrate spring, Will and I fired up our brick oven for the first time this season. It took about six hours for it to get to 500 degrees, and for dinner we had brick-oven pizza with our own asparagus, spinach, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, and fresh chives from the garden. I made a rhubarb pie - the first of many - and even though a thunderstorm blew onto the farm just as we were starting to cook the pizza, we were not deterred. The pizza was delicious, the pie was perfect, and despite the rain, it was a perfect way to start what promises to be a wonderful season at Maggie's Farm.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Buds, Blossoms, and Babies: Late April at Maggie's

Maple buds.

White birch catkins and little leaves.

Beautiful blooms.

Fennel and lettuce.

Just-watered bok choy.

Little peppers.

Summer squash.


Baby cucumbers.

A Morning in the Garden

The morning's activities included: apple tree grafting (using both a slip graft and a cleft graft), drying chives in our solar drier, putting up a pea trellis, spraying down used seed flats, digging a new perennial bed along the horse fence where we're going to put grapes we're propagating from pruning clippings, saying hello to the newest calf down the road, Poncho (Pride's baby), and generally enjoying being out in the farm sunshine on such a stunning day.

Trays lined up in the sun to dry.
Drying chives.
Beautiful chives!
Cleft graft, sealed with beeswax.
Poncho, about 20 minutes after we was born.

Spring Hoeing

We hoed our early brassicas yesterday. It was a perfect afternoon, warm, but not too hot, clear and sunny, a little breeze, birches and a few maples budding out already, tinting the field-edges with the sweetest lightest green. We hoed six or seven 370-ish foot beds of cabbage, kale, collards, and broccoli. I don't know what it is about hoeing, but it is one of my favorite things to do in the whole world. I could spend all day out in the field with a hoe, alone or with a friend, moving down the field in a pattern that's a dance, killing weeds, breathing in the geen scents of early summer. There's something sacred about the feel of the long handle in my hands, the deep rhythm of it, the sound of the blade scuffling thorugh soil, the easy, familiar movement of it, bed after bed after bed.

I spent the second half of the afternon using how to use the disc and the chiesel plow on our big John Deere. It was neat to drag a big implement through the field, lossening the soil and incoporating last year's cover crop. But though I'm glad to learn how to operate tractors, sitting up on top of the John Deere, the chisel plow tunneling behind me, the bue sky overhead - it simply isn't the same. Some people love it, but not me. Every day, I'm realizing how much I love doing things - as much as possible - on a hand scale. I love having my feet on the earth and a simple, effective tool in my hands. I love being able to hear my breath and the breath of the woods around me. I love listening to the sounds of dirt aganist metal and watching the light change on the young plants as clouds move across the sky. I love using my muscles, feeling the ache in my calves and shoulders and upper arms, falling into the rhythm of constant movement, my step in sync with my hoe, never having to stop walking as I slide my blade around each plant.

Hoeing is one of the most basic acts of farming. It reminds me to pay attention, it reminds me why I love growing vegetabes, and it reminds me that it is the details I love most - the color of the sky, the thin lines of green in the field, a sharp blad. When it comes down to it, this is why I've chosen a life of farming. Just because I love this, this blessedly simple act, this walking up and down a field of young brassicas with a hoe in my hands.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I used to be in the habit of reading a book of poetry every month or so. I've been lax about it since last summer, and the other night I realized how much I miss reading new poems. So I decided to pick something up. After spreading eight books of poetry out on my floor and looking at each one, I chose Rilke, one of my favorite poets, who seems especially appropriate to read in the spring and early summer. I'm working my way through the fairy thick Selected Poetry, edited and translated by Stephen Mitchell. Though I'm not usually a fan of compilations, and much prefer to read whole works written by the poet, it is the only book of Rilke I have that I haven't read, so I'm giving it a shot. I'm about fifteen pages into it, and here's my favorite poem so far:


The sky puts on the darkening blue coat
held for it by a row of ancient trees;
you watch: and the lands grow distant in your sight,
one journeying to heaven, one that falls;

and leave you, not at home in either one,
not quite so still and dark as the darkened houses,
not calling to eternity with the passion
of what becomes a start each night, and rises

and leave you (inexpressibly to unravel)
your life, with its immensity and fear,
so that, now bounded, now immesurable,
it is alternatley stone in you and star.

Grazing Season

The cows jumped the fence this weekend.

I drove back from a weekend in Boston and saw the cows out on pasture. They aren't scheduled to go out for another week or so, so I was a bit curious. Turns out every last one of them, at 9 pm on Saturday night, hopped over the fence from their dank, muddy, manure heavy winter housing. They saw the grass getting greener by the day, and decided it was time. Luckily, we had already set up the fencing for their first paddock, so it was easy for the folks on weekend chores to herd them into there.

Still, Olivier wasn't planning to put them out for another week at least, so it throws a definite kink in our grazing plan.

This is the kind of thing that happens on a farm. Cows know springtime even more intimately than we do, and they make their own decisions.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Nighttime Chicken Train

We moved our pullets this week. Chickens are known as chicks until they develop feathers and grow their wings out, pullets until they start laying, and hens for the rest of their lives. We ordered ours in January, and they've been living in our smallest chicken coop next to the home garden. They outgrew the heat lamp and cramped space long ago, and have been free-ranging over the sleeping garden and lawn for the past few weeks. On Thursday, we decided it was time to move them to their new home, our chicken tractor, or mobile chicken coop. We hitch this up to the tractor, and can pull it anywhere we want. This summer, the chickens will be out on pasture, gobbling up delicious grubs and worms, pecking at cow patties, and fertilizing our fields. We'll move them every couple days. For now, their new place of residence is down past the barn, in a swampy, muddy area the pigs just vacated. They seem to like their new home just fine.

Moving chickens is a delicate affair. They are fast, and nearly impossible to catch, so the best way to do it is to wait until evening, after they have gone to roost. Chickens naturally go to roost at sunset, which is convient for us, because all we have to do is wait for them to go inside, and then close the coop door. In order to move them, we pulled their new mobile home up alongside their old coop and waited for sunset. Once the last chicken had gone inside, we started. About eight of us lined up outside the coop. Olivier went inside and started handing us chickens. We tucked one under each arm, carried them the twenty feet to the new coop, and deposited them inside. With eight of us, it only took about twenty minutes to move sixty birds from one coop to another. Alone, it would have taken an hour at least.

We stayed quiet in order to keep the birds calm. It was a cool evening, spring-scented, the ground still wet from recent rain, the first stars twinkling in the sky. Eight of us moved softly, chickens tucked under our arms, not much noise other than the occasional chicken squabble, our laughter, and farm stories.

There is nothing scared or extraordinary about moving chickens. Like most everything else I love about farming, it is the simplicity of it that stays with me, the warmth of a chicken tucked under my arm, the camaraderie, the softness of the night and the way it smelled, the shuffling sounds of chickens getting used to their new home. It might not have been extraordinary, but I can't think of a better way to pass a half hour on a star-sprinkled, sweet-smelling spring evening.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Present

My future has been very present in my mind, lately. Business planning class, next fall's hoped for cross-country trip, next season and where I will live, what farm I'll call home, if I'll be able to find an acre of my own. For the first time in my life, at the end of this year, I feel like I'll be ready to walk out into the world into some kind of semi-settled life, with a plan for future years. I'm done with moving around for a while, jumping from job to job, apprenticeship to apprenticeship, adventure to adventure. I'm ready for something a little more solidified, and I'm stating to have a pretty clear idea of what that might look like.

It's hard not to spend all my free time and energy devoted to the cause of next year. The perfect job, the perfect little piece of leased land, countless ideas for growing basil and sungolds, raising sheep, getting a dairy cow. Fitting all the things I want into my long-term plans for my future. And while planning and dreaming is good, in balance, lately I've become overwhelmed by the endless possibilities and uncertainties that lie ahead of me.

So back to the present. Yesterday it rained hard nearly all afternoon. We were in the greenhouse, seeding our first squash and cukes of the year, and pricking out tomatoes. The rain was so loud banging on the sides of the greenhouse we couldn't hear each other talk. Our brassicas and onions are in the ground, our scallions and leeks and first lettuce planting in the cold frames, and our greenhouse is now full of tomatoes, squash, peppers, eggplants, and seed potatoes. The rain was hard and sweet, drenching our new transplants with much-needed water. It was good for me, too. A heavy spring rain, loud and soaking. The peepers were out singing strong last night, and while I don't presume to know what makes them sing so joyfully and beautifully, I can only imagine they were offering up their thanks for rain. I made a simple dinner of couscous, onions, garlic, potatoes, vegetable broth, pine nuts, cheddar. While the grey rain streaked down the windows, I ate a bowl of steaming couscous stew with Motor curled up on my lap.

Another lamb was born yesterday, after another difficult birth. Her mama, Wendy, was not interested in her, and it took a while for her to let the lamb suckle, but now they are both doing great, though the lamb, little Phoenix, is still tiny. Last night I went out to sit with them before bed. The lambs are growing fast; it is amazing how much they've changed in the month they've been alive. It was cold and raw yesterday, but the evening was warm, and the barn smelled of rain and hay, and the darkness was calming, and the peepers were singing, and I know all the lambs by name, by the markings on their faces, the color of their coats, the way they jump and bounce, the length of their legs.

I'm calling a moratorium on plans for the future. There are too many details in the present that need my attention: the scent of wool in the rain, little Athena nibbling my pants, the silence of the house at 5:30 in the morning, the fog hanging thick in the pastures, the array of well-sharpened hoes we oiled yesterday, the muscles in the backs of legs strengthening as I shovel dark, rich compost onto the garden.