Tuesday, April 14, 2015

On to the next chapter

By now many of our followers have probably heard that New Minglewood Farm has ceased operations. Tammara and I had been contemplating this decision for quite some time, but made it official at the end of last year's growing season and started to let people know in early January. We we're overwhelmed by the kind words and support from so many of our long-time customers. It really hit home how much we and our vegetables were appreciated. We can't thank you all enough.

The reasons for shutting down the farm are many, but for the most part we are viewing this as a positive change in our lives and are looking forward to the next chapter. Farming is hard... I probably don't have to explain that to anyone. Physically, mentally, economically,and emotionally it all takes a toll. After sixteen seasons, those tolls added up to a point where we didn't want to pay them any more. Basically, we were tired and burned out. Rather than continue down this path, we decided to make a change and stop complaining.

I have decided to pursue a career as an organic farm inspector. We were a certified organic farm for 13 years (we needed three years of documented organic production before we were eligible for certification). We have always been dedicated to the program and believe it is valuable to both the consumer and producer. While we did not have to be certified, it ultimately made us better farmers. There is a series of training workshops offered by the International Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA) that prepares attendees to inspect farms for organic certification. Then there is an apprenticeship period with a certifying agency, such as NOFA-NY, to complete your training. You are then qualified as a private contractor to inspect farms for any number of certifying agencies.

The first of the training sessions is in a few weeks in North Carolina, near Ashville. It will be an intense week of study, but I am looking forward to learning new things and leap-frogging to some real springtime weather. Since I will be so close to the Smoky Mountains, Tammara will meet me after the course and we will go backpacking in the National Park! This kind of trip is also a big motivator to making a change in our lives. We are not getting any younger and we want to hike, canoe, and travel while we are still physically up to it.

Tammara continues her work at the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, where she ironically oversees a program to accredit or certify land trusts. She is looking forward to being free of the added duties that the farm put on her every spring and being able to enjoy a bit more free time.

At this point, we plan to stay living on the farm and hold on to most the equipment for awhile. We love Greenwich and don't really want to move anytime soon. Nonetheless, if a buyer appeared that wanted to continue the farm and buy the whole set-up as a turn-key operation, we could be persuaded to sell, if the price was right...

So, for now we are planning a big garden for ourselves and looking forward to lazy weekends. I enjoy writing these posts, so I will plan to make occasional updates as a way to keep in touch. Thanks again to all our supporters - May your days be sunny and your salad bowls always full.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Season's End

Our beautiful summer days have finally given way to the chilly winds and wet gray days of mid-autumn. We are well on our way to "stick" season, that much maligned period between early autumn foliage and white winter days, when all the trees turn to sticks. But, we certainly can't complain, as this has turned out to be one of the most pleasant growing seasons that I can recall. We had more than our fair share of sunny mild days, with just enough rain to keep thing growing along. The crops responded well to the conditions and rewarded us with an over-abundance of just about every vegetable that we grow.

We managed to sneak by unscathed from the first light touches of frost earlier in October, but last Monday night nailed us with a low temperature of 25 degrees. Most of our frost sensitive crops like tomatoes and peppers have been done for a few weeks, so damage to crops was minimal, but it did clearly mark an end to our growing season.

It's hard to believe that this Saturday's farmer's market will be our last of the season. The Saratoga market will continue on inside throughout the winter, but we will be enjoying hibernation and spending Saturday mornings by the wood stove. The season seems to have flown by, but on the other hand, those early markets where we were selling hundreds of tomato plants seems like a life-time ago.

Despite the recent crappy weather, we still have lots of beautiful produce to bring to market. The cool weather brings out the sweetness in most of the late season crops like kale and spinach, so now is the best time of year to eat those foods.

We also have lost of Swiss chard, Savoy cabbage, baby boc choi, fennel, escarole, frisee, and stir-fry greens. Still lots of potatoes too; and they're on sale. Remember that potatoes store well if kept in a cool and dark spot, so stock up now. It's a great time of year for stew. If you are in the area, we hope to see you at the market. Thanks for a great season!

Swiss chard

Savoy cabbage

Nicest frisee I ever grew!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Total Double Rainbow

Total double rainbow over  Minglewood

It's been a total double rainbow of a season. If you're a fan of hot, humid and sultry weather, this has not been the summer for you. If you prefer cool nights and mild sunny days, however, what a summer it has been. You really could not ask for better growing conditions for a vegetable farm. We have continued to have modest amounts of rain, but have avoided any major deluges from the passing storms. With our heavy soils, that retain moisture for so long, this is ideal. We have only had two short spells when we had to irrigate at all.

The fine growing conditions have led to an abundance of all the crops. Just about everything we grow on the farm is available right now - the bounty is a bit overwhelming. It's been a real challenge just to fit everything on the truck to get it to market, especially with all the heavy crops coming in like tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, and Canary melons.

Brandywine tomatoes
 It's been a few years since we have had a good tomato crop, but this is shaping up to be one of the best. The plants have over topped their six foot stakes and we have had to start tying them up to the hoop house frames so that they don't fall over and break. In the past couple of weeks we have seen the appearance of the first foliar diseases on the plants, but this does not seem to be affecting their productivity. They were a little slow to start producing, but in the last week everything seems to be ripening all at once. In one week we picked over 900 pounds - we're staring to run out of places to put them all.

We are growing many of our favorite varieties from past years including: Brandywine, Black Krim, Copia, Earl of Edgecombe, Eva Purple, Costoluto Genovese, and Green Zebra. In addition we've added a few new ones to try. Our favorite is called Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye. This is a cross of old heirloom varieties bred to create a "new heirloom". It's a dark tomato, like a Black Krim, but has the striping like a Green Zebra. Best of all is the taste and texture, both of which are excellent.

Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye tomato
Mini-heirloom tomatoes

Copia tomato

The recent cool nights have benefited the production of cool weather crops such as kale, broccoli raab, and cabbage. We're real excited about the kale crop, which is the best I've ever had. We are growing a variety called Rainbow Kale, which is a cross between Lacinato (dinosaur) kale and Red Russian kale. Mostly it looks like the dark green and bumpy leaves of Lacinato, but then there are also a random smattering of unusual mixed characteristic types through the patch. This new variety seems to combine the best features of each parent, the great sweet taste of Lacinato and the productivity of the Red Russian. Be sure to try some this fall - Eat More Kale!

Rainbow kale

The Saratoga Farmer's Market has been hopping with all the Saratoga summer activities in full swing. Be sure to stop by on Saturdays, 9 to 1. Hope your summer is full of double rainbows, at least as good as this one!  www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQSNhk5ICTI

Sunday, June 29, 2014

No Minglewood Blues So Far

Dare I say, this is proving to be one of the nicest growing seasons in recent memory. From a cool and late start to the spring, we have progressed to a beautiful and mild late spring and early summer. While some strong storms and heavy rains have passed though the area, we have fortunately missed the worst of them. With modest amounts of rain each week and sunny, dry days in between, the crops have been growing quite well. What a difference from last season, where we basically drowned in the continual June and July rains.

The excellent growing conditions have produced a lettuce glut here on the farm. It has grown so fast and large, there is no way our sales can keep up with the growth. I have had to skip over whole weeks of plantings to harvest lettuce that is not too big or past its prime. This is a bit sad, but at least the local food pantries have been well stocked with beautiful organic salad!  

I am sure growth will slow down as the summer heats up, but it's nice to have an abundance while it lasts.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
Other crops have been preforming well also. The escarole is so huge it scares some customers away - how could they possibly use that much at one time? We just tell them they should invite some friends over and share the love...

Its been a few years since we have had a good pea crop, but this looks like it will be a decent one. We don't plant a lot of peas, but they are one of our favorites, so we always put in a few rows. In the past, we have grown Sugar Ann snap peas; these are the sweetest variety out there, but they have their problems. The vines are too short to bother staking, so the plants just lay on the ground. If you get a bout of rainy weather you end up with a rotting, stinking mess of vines and peas. This year we switched to Cascadia, a taller variety that trellises well, but is still quite sweet when fully ripe for picking.

So far, the patch looks great! We picked a few pounds of the earliest ripening pods this week, and it looks like the main harvest will start to come in next week.

Also, just starting to come in is: fennel...


...and Costata Romanesca zucchini. This is an Italian heirloom variety, less productive than modern hybrids, but with outstanding flavor and texture. The flavor is mild and a bit nutty,and the flesh is a little more firm and less watery when cooked... yum!


Still a ways off in the season are tomatoes and fingerling potatoes, but both crops look to be coming along excellent. We are growing many of our favorite tomato varieties that we've grown in the past, but are trying a few new ones too. Beaver Lodge is an heirloom from Oregon that is very early and has excellent flavor for an early tomato. We've grown a few in the past to check it out, but this year put in about 25 plants. The fruit are sizing up nicely and are sure to be the first to ripen for us.



Potatoes are staying healthy and are developing quickly. We are growing two fingerling varieties this year: Laratte and Red Thumb. Laratte originated in France, it is similar to the better known Banana, but has a nutty flavor and dark yellow flesh. Red Thumb are beautiful small red skinned and red fleshed potatoes. The Red Thumbs are in full bloom, so it should only be a few week before we can start to dig some of those yummy babies up!


May the weather Gods continue to look kindly upon us, and the woodchucks behave themselves... enjoy this beautiful summer.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Sunshine, Daydream..

Wow, what a nice spring we have been having... it really does seem like a sunshine daydream! The weather has stayed on the mild side with only a few days creeping into the 80's. We have had some thunderstorms and showers pass through, but so far have missed out on any of the severe varieties. This has allowed us to continue to stay on schedule with all the seedings and plantings.

Sunshine after the rain

We have managed to get all the major spring and summer crops in the ground - potatoes are planted and just starting to come up, snap peas germinated well and are about a foot tall, the first beans are in and poking through the soil.  The hoop-houses have been erected and are full of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.

The farmer's markets have been going well - we've had plenty of salad and cooking greens available to meet the demand. One new item that has been very popular is bags of baby kale - who would have dreamed that kale would ever be that popular. Plant sales the past two weeks have been very busy, as well. I looks like a lot of people will be putting in a garden this year.

In addition to the Saratoga farmer's market, our products are now also available at the newly relocated and enlarged Four Seasons Natural Foods store. It is now quite convenient to farmer's market shoppers, right around the corner on Henry Street. They are currently stocking our salad and cooking greens, and assorted sprouts. They are open seven days a week, so if you miss the Saturday market, you can still get your greens for the week.

Shortly, we will also be stocking our products at Saratoga Apple in Schuylerville. So, when you go to pick up apples, don't forget to pick up some salad too.

Here are some recent scenes from the farm. Stay in the sunshine, until next time.

Fingerling seed potatoes

Making furrows with the wheel-hoe for planting potatoes

Erecting the hoops for the hoop-houses

Tomatoes ready for planting

Planting the tomatoes in the hoop-houses

View from the barn

Snap peas

Swiss Chard

Monday, May 5, 2014

It's May

It's May, it's May, it's May! Despite all the cool and damp weather this spring, the farm season here at Minglewood is in full swing. Things have greened up nicely in the past few days; daffodils are blooming and tulips in the south facing garden are out too. Before this latest bout of showers, we were able to get the fields plowed and the first crops in the ground. We are entirely on schedule for the season - a statement I rarely am able to make - so life is good.

Friday was our first harvest of the season and everything went smoothly. Our new farm helper, Carly, picked up on the routines like an old hand, and appears to be a natural. Desiree, a four year Minglewood veteran, set a pace even I couldn't keep up with. It's always a pleasure to have experienced helpers returning to the farm.

Cutting baby salad greens
Every year I panic that we won't have anything to sell at the first market, but somehow the plants know their time is coming and seem to have a real growth spurt the week before market. We didn't have a lot of excess, but were able to harvest a respectable amount of salad greens from the greenhouse and lettuce fieldhouse.

First harvest of lettuce from the fieldhouse

Friday was a chilly raw day, so it was nice to be able to seal up the packing shed from the elements and stay reasonably comfortable while washing and drying the greens. Such an improvement from out old set up, which was basically an open sided pole building that the wind just whipped through.

Washing and packing for market

Opening day ceremonies at the market

Saturday was a bit cool and overcast, not the nicest day for opening day at the market, but we had a good turn out of loyal farmer's market fans. Saratoga's mayor, Joanne Yepsen, and market president, Charles Holeb, oversaw the festivities to officially open the outdoor market for the season.

Time to start the garden

In addition to salad and sprouts, we had a nice assortment of vegetable transplants for sale. It's still too early to plant things like tomatoes and peppers, but the perfect time to plant lettuce, broccoli, kale, and some of the herbs. We also brought salad baskets to sell - these are literally a living salad, still growing. Each contains an assortment of lettuce and other types of greens like arugula, mustard, mizuna, and tatsoi, and even edible flowers. They make a beautiful table centerpiece, but are entirely edible, just snip individual leaves to add to your salad, and then let the plants grow back for future cutting. The baskets are always a hit for Mother's Day... so don't forget about mom.
Tammara selling at market
We had quite a few customers sign up for our Club Minglewood pre-buy program, and we thank them dearly for signing up early. This really helps the farm out with the early season cash flow, when expenses are high, but income is low. It also allows customers to save from 10% to 20% off our product all season long. To find out more about the program and how it works, visit our website at newminglewoodfarm.com and go to the Club Minglewood tab.

That's about all the news for now, I gotta go to work.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Spring snowstorms and other bits of magic

Is there anything more magical than a springtime snowstorm? While my first instinct as a farmer may have been to moan and cuss at the weather gods, there was no way not to rejoice in the beauty of last Wednesday's sunrise, and the light cast on all that freshly fallen snow. A springtime snow is so much more beautiful than a mid-winter snow because it is so ephemeral and fleeting.  For much the same reason that fresh bouquets of flowers are so special, in that they have to be appreciated in the moment, you know a spring snow will be gone within a few hours and you must seize the moment and relish its beauty right now. I guess this is all just a metaphor for life - be in the moment, for this too won't last.

So, while all the rain and snow was a setback to getting anything planted this season, you really did have to take a moment to enjoy this late reminder of the winter past. At mid-day, while there was still quite a bit of snow still on the ground, it had warmed up enough to get the peepers singing in the wetlands - clearly a sign not to lose hope for the coming spring.

While it has remained too wet and gooey to plant anything in the fields yet, we have been busy getting lots of stuff ready in the greenhouses. Lettuce and assorted early vegetable crops are just about bursting out of their containers, waiting to be put in the ground. Needless to say, once things dry out, we will be working like crazy to plant everything and get back on schedule.

We have also been busy seeding the warmer weather crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant - both for the farm and to sell the plants. We anticipate growing about 400 tomato plants for the farm and over 1500 for sales. It always amazes me the biomass of food that can be produced from a hand full of seeds; from the plants that we expect to produce it's possible that over ten tons of tomatoes could be grown!

We start each plant by seeding into a mini-block, which is a compressed soil block about a half inch cubed. This allows us to start about 300 plants in the standard 10 x 20 flat.

Tomatoes and peppers like it warm - about 80 degrees, so we place the flats on heat mats to keep the soil warm and speed up the germination.

After the plants have germinated, we pot them up to grow them up to size. We are growing many of the popular varieties that we've grown in the past, but also have a few new surprises for this season. More on that later.

Even with the late spring, we did manage to get the first set of lettuce planted out to our fieldhouse. It's been staying pretty cold at night still, so it's not growing very fast, but at least we got something planted. I don't expect it will be big enough to cut by our first market, but should be ready by mid-May.

We also have been working on our shiitake mushroom production. Drilling holes in all those logs we cut last month, and inoculating them with sawdust spawn. These logs won't be in production until next year, but last year's logs will be ready to produce as soon as it warms up later in the spring.

On a side note: our farm website has been totally revised and updated - just another one of those winter projects. Be sure to check it out at www.newminglewoodfarm.com. If you are in the Saratoga area, we will see you at the farmers' market in just a couple of weeks.