On The Farm

Mondays our core crew of eight have the day off, and our part time workers come in to help Tom or I with the harvesting that needs to be done. Cucumbers and squash, and soon tomatoes, need to be picked every other day. So a big thanks to Aaron and Paul for coming in on a hot humid holiday to harvest almost 500 cucumbers and over 300 pounds of summer squash. That’s a lot of bending over to pick- up, down, up, down- quite an ab workout!

Aaron and Paul loading the squash harvest.

Things at the farm have been on the drier side lately. We did get a whopper of a storm on Sunday evening- a quick downpour brought an inch of rain in less then 20 minutes. Unfortunately, the wind also blew like crazy, coming from mutiple directions, and racing through our sweet corn planting. It looks like a small twister went through the field, leaving the corn plants blown horizontal, many snapped in half. We’ll just have to cross our fingers that most will still bear ears.

You can rest assured that when it doesn’t rain (and even when it does), our irrigation manager Brian Smyth is on the job. Brian works with Tom on a daily basis to keep all the crops watered and spends a lot of time fertilizing through our drip irrigation system with organically approved amendments like fish, sea minerals and seaweed. Brian can often be seen heading out into the fields with his bucket of tools- setting up drip tape, fixing leaks, moving irrigation pipes, and monitoring what needs to be turned off, and what goes on next. It’s no small job! The green house tomatoes in particular never get rained on unless we irrigate them, which protects them from disease and other problems that can occur with irregular watering, like blossom end rot.

Brian fertigating the greenhouse tomatoes.

Speaking of tomatoes, we are so close! The cool nights that are so wonderful for sleeping have delayed the ripening of the tomatoes a bit, at least as compared to last year. But it won’t be long! And those heirlooms we talked so much about? Well, the fruit set is looking amazing! I see a BLT in my future!

Sweet red tomatoes on the left, and heirloom tomatoes on the right.

Photos and text by Tricia Borneman, Blooming Glen farmer and co-owner. (Photos of tomatoes by Jana Smart)

Last week on the farm the focus was tackling six 200 foot long beds of carrots that were engulfed in weeds (each bed contains three lines, which adds up to 3600 feet of carrots, but who’s counting?!). In farmer speak, we call it “thinning”, making space for the carrots to grow to full size by pulling out any growing tightly together. We thin them to about 2-3 inches apart, and since we got to the job a little later then we would have liked, we all enjoyed some tasty micro-carrots as a result of our labor. The process requires a lot of time on your hands and knees, time to listen to your I-Pod, get introspective with your fellow farmers, or wonder how those giant farms in California manage hundreds of acres of carrots (lots of equipment!). Carrots are probably one of the most labor intensive crops on the farm, and the main reason we don’t grow that many of them, despite how deliciously sweet and earthy they taste.

Carrot Thinning

When we weren’t thinning carrots, we were harvesting cucumbers. This spring and early summer, we have seen a lot of bug pressure, especially from the Colorado potato beetle. But this season, thanks to our consistent use of those large white floating row covers, we have been lucky when it comes to the striped cucumber beetle, our arch nemesis. We plant numerous rotations of all our cucurbits (squash, melons, cucumbers), and use lots of row covers, hoping to keep those pesky bugs at bay. They can pretty quickly decimate the plants, but with the combined efforts of our crew wrestling with those row covers, and keeping the plants covered until flowering, we are seeing great results. We even decided to wash all those cucumbers in our barrel washer, as doing a thousand by hand seemed too daunting of a task!

Jess washing cucumbers in the barrel washer.

This week’s recipe from Jana will feature some fresh ideas for cucumbers. I had always heard about people putting cucumbers in their water for a refreshing summer beverage, but had never tried it myself. Then on one of those hot days last week, I came across a delicious and simple recipe for “Cucumber Limeade” in the Fresh Times, the weekly newsletter of the Food Trust’s Farmers Markets. Lindsay Lidge, wife of the Philly baseball player Brad Lidge, and a regular at our stand at the Headhouse Farmers Market, does a wonderful seasonal recipe each week. You can check out the Cucumber Limeade recipe here: http://www.thefoodtrust.org/php/TeamUp/go/?p=391

Photos and text by Tricia Borneman, Blooming Glen farmer and co-owner. (Carrot photos by Jana Smart)

Last week was a first here at Blooming Glen Farm. The soaring heat plummeted, the sky darkened and 3/4 inch hail fell on our fields. After racing around closing greenhouses to protect them from the wind, we ran for cover, amazed as the grass became covered in the white marbles. After our intitial shock wore off, we anxiously assesed the damage. The swiss chard looks a bit holier then usual, as does some of the head lettuce, but for the most part everything looks like it will recover, or outgrow the damage.

The spring crops have had a tough go at it. First they had to endure a long cold wet spring, many of them going into unfavorable conditions and muddy ground. Then as soon as the rain stopped, the temperature soared into the upper 90’s and those greens that so love the cool weather either sagged from the soggy conditions, like the arugula and radishes, or quickly bolted, sending up flower tops. Rows of bok choy, tatsoi, and chinese cabbage have yellow flowers sprouting from their centers, rendering them bitter and unpickable. 

After a wonderful flush of sweet deliciousness, the strawberries have gone as quickly as they came, but that seems to be the norm for the fragile fruit. Now we enjoy another week of the candy sweet sugar snap peas, and look forward to tasty string beans.

Baby green beans

The summer crops have enjoyed the burst of heat, and summer squash makes its first appearance in the harvest this week.

Now the focus on the farm switches to crop maintenance jobs like weeding. Our crew of 10 moves around the farm tackling hot spots and clearing crops of weeds with just our hands as tools. CSA volunteers have helped us get a jump on things as well.  Thank you! Every bit helps!

After a spring crop is harvested and the field is empty, ideally it is planted into a cover crop. One example is buckwheat, a short season annual that’s useful for weed suppression. It is also a scavenger of phosphorus and calcium and mineralizes rock phosphate, making these nutrients available for later crops. Residue from the succulent buckwheat plants decomposes quickly. Parasitic wasps, ladybugs, and hoverflies are beneficial insects that are attracted to buckwheat.

Close-up of a buckwheat flower and field in bloom

Photos and text by Tricia Borneman, Blooming Glen farmer and co-owner.

Harvest has begun! The first CSA pick-up was last week and we are in full swing at the farmers’ markets. The strawberries are super sweet and the sugar snap peas are fattening up and ready for picking.

The first bounty of the season!

The wet spring has quickly turned into extreme heat and dry weather, despite the official start of summer still a few weeks away.  We are finishing up gettting the last of our big plantings into the ground. The potatoes, both regular and sweet, are in, and the two big fields of tomatoes were finally planted, all by hand, since the plants were so large.

Farmer Tom surveys the tomato field.

More beans get transplanted- both green beans and edamame.

Farmer Cindy drives Jill and Kate on the transplanter.

Tomorrow we transplant the winter squash and more melons, and then we can focus on weeding (…and harvesting, and trellising, oh, and definitely some more planting!).

Coming up this week at the markets and in the CSA share is fennel. The bulb is a wonderful addition to lots of dinner dishes, but don’t forget to use those stalks too. After a long day in the sun, we like to cool off with a refreshing iced beverage, and what fun to use a fennel stalk as a straw, for just a hint of licorice flavor! Stay cool!!

Whether it's a minty mojito, or an ice water, enjoy it with a fennel straw!

Photos and text by Tricia Borneman, Blooming Glen farmer and co-owner.

On one of the few sunny days last week, on a stroll through the fields of cover crop in bloom, we were surrounded by the steady hum of honey bees buzzing from flower top to flower top.

Honey Bees in the crimson clover.

The sugar snap peas are climbing their trellis, and the first rotation is in bloom.

Sugar Snap Peas

The Discovery Garden is receiving lots of attention this spring, and both the perennial and annual herbs are flourishing.

Cilantro goes into a raised bed.

The garlic crop, planted last fall and typically harvested in the beginning of July, is sizing up nicely.

Stiff-neck Garlic

And on one of the many rainy days last week, the blackberry plants went into their raised bed, above the soggy ground. Something to look forward to next season!

Before the next round of rain came, the aisles in the flower field were mulched with straw to prevent weeds growing in this pick-your-own patch over the summer. The flowers will all be planted by hand.

Jana and David roll a round bale of straw mulch.

And as the tomato plants continue to wait in the cold frame for the fields to be dry and tillable, growing bigger and bushier in their pots, a mama robin takes advantage of the dry cozy spot. Now that certainly tells you these plants have been sitting here for too long!

Yet another rainy, cool week ahead. This is the season not only of rebirth and growth, but of cultivating patience. I love this quote from Wendell Berry: “Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyous though you have considered all the facts.”

Photos and text by Tricia Borneman, Blooming Glen farmer and co-owner. (Photo of Tricia by Tom Murtha)

Well folks, the rain is back again and it looks like it is going to be another wet week, a fact that makes us all feel good about this last weeks big planting push. The farm is looking like, well, a farm!–with fields and rows filled with shades of green, purple, and red. Here are just a few of the things in the ground.

We planted 2 rotations of Sweet Summer Corn!

Sets of soon-to-be cherry tomatoes

Edamame is in!

Beautiful beets and swiss chard!

So what do we do with ourselves while its raining cats and dogs?

Glad you asked!

If you remember those tomato grafts we have been going on-and-on about, you might be interested in knowing about the next step of that process. Now that the grafted plants are in the ground, the trellising and pruning begins.  Up to this point the tomato plants have been through quite a bit (with all the slicing and whatnot). Now the plants get a chance to be pampered and loved by the farmers, as we spend a lot of careful hours clipping them upright onto trellising twine and pruning them into shape. This process is repeated several times throughout the plant’s life. We do this to increase productivity and fruit quality and to make for easy harvesting in the greenhouse.

David doing the first round of trellising

There are still lots and lots of plants to get in the ground, so we are keeping an eye on the rain gauge, shuffling our planting chart around, and praying the storms will be kind to Blooming Glen Farm.

This spring has been a test of our faith as farmers, as we are continuously reminded of the elements beyond our control. When we feel a bit overwhelmed by it all, we often turn to our fellow community of farmers for inspiration and understanding, and we surf their news and blog posts to see how they are faring with the weather. We were particularly moved by the words of the Brownback family at Spiral Path Farm in Perry County, Pa, as they reflected on postponing their first CSA distribution for only the second time in 18 years. You can click here to read their news flash on the Spiral Path Farm website, and their pertinent musings on the faith of a farmer.

This soupy, soggy spring has not been so kind to our planting schedule.  So you better bet when that sun comes out and the ground dries we here at Blooming Glen Farm will be planting! And this past week, that is exactly what we did–sunup to sundown. In the ground: whole fields of potatoes and onions, summer squash and cucumbers, parsley, carrots, green beans, and more rotations of lettuce.

Farmer Tom even squeezed in some weed management on the cultivating tractor.

Tom on Cultivating Tractor

It seems the plants are also enjoying the respite from rain and cloud-cover.  The strawberry plants are loaded down with blossoms and fast on their way to flushing some sweet, beautiful berries. CSA: Get your u-pickin’ fingers ready!! And as soon as we have some ripe red fruit, you’ll be seeing our booth at the farmers markets in Wrightstown, Collegeville and Philadelphia.

Strawberry blossoms

Strawberry Field

Greenhouses were also prepped and filled with those tomato grafts we have been talking so much about.

Grafted Tomatoes

Those of you who volunteered a few weeks ago might remember that field of spring onions we planted. Well here is a before-and-after shot of all that hard work!

Spring Onions

We have another busy week ahead of us and we will be prepping the fields to plant a whole other medley of crops. Edamame and more onions and potatoes, corn, celeriac, celery, blackberries and flowers are on the horizon!

Since the first day of spring on March 20th, we have received an astounding 11.5 inches of rain here at the farm (not counting today’s rainfall, which is headed our way this afternoon). 9.5 inches of that rain came in April alone. Looking at a weather graph of the month reads like a heart monitor- up, down, up, down. Pretty steadily all month it has been three days of rain, one or two dry, and then more rain. Over our six seasons here in Blooming Glen, it is the rainiest spring we can remember.

A common sight at the farm: a full rain gauge and puddles.

What does all that rain mean for us? Well, besides a few more grey hairs on our heads, we are a few weeks behind on planting. The windows of dry days may seem like gorgeous planting weather, but our clay soil fields are holding on to that rain like a sponge. I was at a wedding a few weekends ago, and it was a torrential downpour outside, the wind was howling- it was just coming down in buckets. And a woman said to me, “Well, all that rain is good for the crops, right?”

Actually, the problem is, we can’t get into the fields to plant the crops. We need a week of no rain, so our soggy, muddy fields can dry out and be plowed, beds made, and tractors out there for planting.

What does this mean for the CSA?  Well, we are looking at starting a week or two later than usual- hopefully the week of June 7th. But don’t worry- it’s a long season, and we’ll make up for it over the long haul!

“On the farm, the foul lines aren’t marked and nature doesn’t play by a rule book. There are no winners and losers and the game is never finished.” David Mas Masumoto, Epitaph for a Peach

What better way to celebrate Earth Day than with a delivery from our friends John and Andy of Bucks County Freedom Fuel. Here at Blooming Glen Farm we are proud of the fact that our tractors run on biodiesel. And not just any biodiesel, but locally made biodiesel. How lucky are we to have this amazing resource in our own backyard! Thanks guys!!

The fuel, the delivery and we’re off!

Bucks County Freedom Fuel collects 250 gallons of used vegetable fryer oil a week from over 40 local restaurants, hospital kitchens and community college cafeterias.

From French Fries to Biodiesel.

The used cooking oil from places like Bravo Pizza in Perkasie, Villa Capri in Doylestown and Los Sarapes in Chalfont is recycled into biodiesel, an actual biodegradable diesel substitute that requires no engine modification on our part.  Check out this YouTube video clip by The Raw Seed TV Show for an interview with Andy Rumbold as he describes the process in more depth.

And to top it all off, Andy’s wife Dorinda takes the vegetable glycerin, a byproduct of the process of converting the used cooking oil to biodiesel, and turns it into Wash Tyme soap. Now that’s recycling!

You can join Bucks County Freedom Fuel on Saturday, May 21 from 9am-2pm at 4095 Ferry Road in Doylestown for a community recycling event to support local charities. Bring used cooking oil and get free soap! Check out Bucks County Freedom Fuel’s website for more details and information.

Farmers at BGF got to try their hand at some plant “surgery” this week as our young tomato plants were lined up to go through the delicate grafting process. Grafting of woody plants, like fruit trees, has been popular for centuries but the cultivation of grafted vegetable plants is a fairly new practice, originating in the late 1920’s in Japan and Korea where they began grafting watermelon plants onto squash rootstock. (In case you are wondering, this is not genetic modification!)

Basically, we are selecting two kinds of tomato plants–one for its delicious fruits (the heirloom variety), the other for its vigor and resistance to root-born disease (the “rootstock”)–and then fusing them together through the grafting process, so that we have a plant that possesses the favorable qualities of both plants.

The top of the rootstock is cut-off, leaving only the stem and the roots. It is then grafted onto the “scion” (the plant we want to fruit).

It looks a little something like this…

The Setup

The Incision

The Graft

After this process, the plants get to hang out and heal for a week in a warm humid environment before the final incision is made and the scion’s roots are completely pulled out and the “exchange” is made.

Studies have shown that grafted tomato plants have a 50% higher yield than non-grafted tomato plants. Not a bad way to increase production, without having to put up more greenhouses.

If you want to learn more about tomato grafting and see some live action footage, check out this technical video from a Vermont tomato grower. (Warning: If caught watching this video, you will be labeled a serious farm nerd!)