Weather Roulette (the annual weather complaint blog in which your trusty farmer gets a bit Debbie Downer!)

[WC (weather complainer) warning - this is my annual cathartic weather venting. I’ll shut up after this, I promise!]

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What a spring.

From a seemingly early start that morphed into what feels like unending wet gloom, it’s been a wild and muddy April and May this year.

The driest day we’ve worked ground so far this season is wetter than the wettest conditions we’ve ever worked land before. Working soil when it’s too wet can lead to problems like poor germination of seeds, a damaged soil structure, or crumbly, clumpy soil that makes weeding a PITA later. We’ve been focusing on building up our soil to be better, so it pains us to treat it so mean.

But on the plus side (I guess?), it’s actually been so dank and dark the weeds aren’t growing this year either.

Good news for this field… it dried out enough this week (thank goodness) and I’m seeding beans here today!

Good news for this field… it dried out enough this week (thank goodness) and I’m seeding beans here today!

I try not to complain about the weather, I really do. [Matt wants to go on the record that he disagrees with that statement.]

I know that as a farmer, we throw ourselves into nature and hope for the best, but expect at times the worst. Plus, all our great, loyal customers and CSA members are stuck with us in this gloomy spring and hardly need their farmer complaining too!

The thing is, sometimes I do complain (hey, I’m only human). And sometimes after I complain, it’s been suggested that I just change careers to something that doesn’t rely on the weather.

And yes, Matt and I could pack it in and go do something else that would definitely be easier and more profitable. But that just solves the problem of increasingly damaging and erratic weather for two people.

Don’t worry, thanks to the high tunnel and our field raincoats, we still have veggies (this is last Saturday)… they are just slower than normal!

Don’t worry, thanks to the high tunnel and our field raincoats, we still have veggies (this is last Saturday)… they are just slower than normal!

I’m a total podcast addict, given how much time I spend alone in the fields. I LOVE PODCASTS. Well this week, I listened to a grand total of four podcasts where at some point the discussion came to rural areas struggling with the economy/tariffs, farmers dealing with bad weather, or these situations combined. And in each case, the podcast hosts or guest, most of whom I normally respect, took some variation of the position that farmers/rural folks just need to change to more economically profitable careers and/or move to urban areas.

This got me steamed to the point of becoming that crazy lady who heatedly calls in to said podcasts.

Yes, on an individual level, a farmer or even ten thousand farmers can change careers or move. But at some point, WHO is going to grow our food? On an individual level, extreme weather fluctuations stress me and our farm out. But on a bigger picture level, extreme weather fluctuations terrify me, because I know how hard they are on food producers, and it’s not just our farm dealing with this, but the farms growing food for 7.5 billion people.

This is from last year… we haven’t had enough sun for rainbows yet in 2019!

This is from last year… we haven’t had enough sun for rainbows yet in 2019!

The west has fire after fire, and is running out of water for both communities and the main produce production zones for the nation. The mountain west had snow this week, the plains have floods and tornadoes and hail, the upper Midwest and northeast (including us) are swathed in Mordor-like gloom with rain every other day, and the southeast is getting a bit of all of the above.

Yesterday’s initial forecast, when announced back on Tuesday, was for a medium chance of tornadoes and hail.

Not rain or mist or thunderstorms, but weather potentially so extreme there’s nothing we can even do about it. Thankfully, conditions shifted and let us off the hook, at least until Saturday when the next front comes through.

I know that weather changes and varies, and I know that climate change is this terrifying behemoth that it’s hard to wrap our heads around what we can do about it. But there’s just so much more darn energy in the atmosphere, that every storm and every weather alert has me jumping.

It’s like a game of Russian roulette, when you pray for the clouds to miss your farm each time, but know that if they do, it’s your neighbor on the other ridge or across town who will be SOL. Last night we could even see the violent rain (hopefully not hail) falling, and it was so close we know the farmers getting slammed by it.

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If all of our nation’s farmers who feel like they are looking down the barrel of this roulette game changed careers this week, would we have anybody left to grow our food?

In the short term, the answer is yes, since we are just one minuscule cog in the international food system. Small, local farms sell at the edges of the same markets as giant multinationals, who are able to buy from the cheapest products anywhere on the globe. If Midwest farmers get drowned out this year, these big companies just source their soy and beef from farmers in the newly razed forests of Amazon Brazil. If NY bulk milk costs a few pennies higher to produce per pound, they just ship in milk from cows raised in massive air conditioned barns draining western aquifers.

These big companies don’t care yet that growers in some regions are dealing with weather extremes because they can shift to buy elsewhere for the same low prices. But when these far off Amazon producers or Texas desert dairies get their turn in the weather roulette disaster zone and the big food corporations come back to look for their original producers for soy or dairy or vegetables, what farmers will have weathered their turn at roulette and still be left?

Customers who buy local (and if you’ve stayed with me so far, I’m guessing this is you!) do a big part in helping the farms that work outside this system keep growing and keep our local communities vibrant and green and alive. (THANK YOU guys—I know that we and our fellow farmers at local markets hugely appreciate and rely on your support, especially in crappy years like this spring!)

Tiny Beulah thinks our customers are the best!

Tiny Beulah thinks our customers are the best!

I also urge all of us, farmer and eater alike, to do what we can to learn about and try to mitigate climate change, whether that’s driving a bit less or putting pressure on our government to do more, so that we can make sure our next generation has plenty of delicious food to eat in the future.

Our takeaway as farmers this spring is that we have to get more and more agile, even as we try to figure out what that means—smaller operations, with more crops like mushrooms or livestock? A larger operation with more land under protective high tunnels? Starting to plant trees and nuts and fruits? Making protective raincoats for all our fields (don’t laugh, this strategy is what allowed us to plant this year’s peas, spinach, and lettuce on time!)?

And how do we keep our hope up as the clouds and mist continue to swirl around us? (I can answer that, it’s coffee, ice cream, cheese, and beer. Oh, and more coffee.)

Whatever we choose, it’s clear that we have to get smarter and quicker each year if we plan to survive the increasingly close rounds of weather roulette.

Now go out there and try to mow a bit more lawn (hmm… maybe we can just all agree to give up lawn mowing if it rains so much?) before the next rainstorm rolls through!

I know, the sky isn’t always being mean here!

I know, the sky isn’t always being mean here!

May Day and Mud Season

Beulah supervises our first big tree planting. (Had to teach her that it’s not a stick for chewing!)

Beulah supervises our first big tree planting. (Had to teach her that it’s not a stick for chewing!)

Spring temperatures are here, and so is the mud! After an unappreciated snowstorm last Friday (no accumulation, thank goodness), we’ve been out transplanting in the fields around the rain this week. So far we have some early greens, peas, and carrots direct seeded, and are plugging away on the onion, leek, scallion, beet, and lettuce transplants. We are incredibly happy to have Rose back with us again this season to help!

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One of the strategies we are using this year to let us still plant when it’s so wet is a mix of plastic mulch and re-useable landscape fabric. Laying down the fabric between the beds lets up keep planting without becoming too much of a mud monster.

When it gets too wet, we’ve been barreling ahead in the high tunnel and the greenhouse. We have the ground prepped in the tunnel for the tomatoes, but are waiting two more weeks to plant since the temperatures could drop again.

And in the greenhouse, we’ve long since opened the second mini-tunnel and booted poor Beulah out of her bed in order to fit in all the crops (which have also overflowed across the yard). This week we were potting up all the peppers and eggplants, as well as the fresh herbs for CSA members! New this year are more perennial options (including catnip for all the cat folks!).

Can you believe that this is actually clean for me in April?

Can you believe that this is actually clean for me in April?

Princess Peapod does not approve of losing one of her seven bed spaces on the farm…

Princess Peapod does not approve of losing one of her seven bed spaces on the farm…

Speaking of CSA, there’s just over a month until the veggies begin! We have shares available in small and large sizes still, at all of our sites (Tuesdays in Cicero, Fayetteville, Liverpool, Manlius, and Syracuse; Fridays at the farm; and Saturdays at the Cazenovia Farmers Market). Cicero is a new site, hosted by Crossfit 315, and we are really excited to be bringing our veggies up there!

This was last year’s first week’s small share… finger crossed that the weather cooperates to make this year’s even better!

This was last year’s first week’s small share… finger crossed that the weather cooperates to make this year’s even better!

Seedlings, Sneaky Pooches, and Shoveling!

This week was the start of the get-in-shape weeks on the farm, which is an annual realization that all our winter workouts to be ready for the fields can prove inadequate in one day of serious digging. Over the last few years, the beds in our high tunnel have migrated south a foot, so we needed to double dig them out to realign them. At the end of the season when we are in farm shape, it only takes a day to do this (and it doesn’t feel too hard). This early in the season, it takes a day to do a quarter of it, and considerable sweating is involved! [The soil below looks a little reddish—we added a bit of peat moss to it, which will help boost it’s organic matter and water holding capacity—we are interested to see the results!]

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Fortunately, we have some nice days coming up this week to finish the shoveling and bed reshaping to get the earliest of spring crops in, which are these babies down below that are ready to go to their bigger home (spinach and greens for the May farmers markets).

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Besides early greens, we are busy in the greenhouse, with the biggest week for seeding coming up ahead. We seed many of these early crops close together in open flats (see below), and then after they have a few leaves, transplant them up to bigger trays. This system takes a little longer, but allows us to make better use of our tight greenhouse space and lets us fit all the crops into the germination chamber (a box with extra heaters, that helps seeds germinate more evenly).

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I love the sunlight and cheeriness of the greenhouse work—it’s a great place to zone out and get excited for the season. I also appreciate the chance to fuel my podcast addiction (this week I’ve been listening to the new season of The Uncertain Hour, Reply All, and The Dropout, but I’m always looking for new recommendations, if you have a good one!)

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Despite the snow today, it was gorgeous last week, leading to what feels like the earliest ice melt date yet for the pond. Early melting is helpful because it means we can start getting our irrigation system put back together and tested before the season, which saves us time in May.

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Ice melting early also means Beulah has been hard at work this week chasing off the geese, and learning to differentiate between geese and ducks (we are cool with a mallard mom or two). The poor geese, Harold and Maude, don’t know what to do with a dog back patrolling the yard, and there’s been considerable honking and angst between snow rolling sessions.

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Since she’s working so hard, Beulah has been taking liberties to slowly ooze herself up onto the furniture when she thinks you don’t realize what she’s doing (below is the end of a several minute long process that started with all four feet on the floor… if her eyes are closed and she can’t see you, then you clearly can’t see her, right?). Also pro-tip for beginning farmers, don’t buy white couches (I have no idea how we ended up with all white furniture, but it was clearly a poorly planned decision given farm dogs and mud…)

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We are also squeezing in a few last pre-season (non-farm) things. Matt’s still helping sugar on weekends (you can catch him at Critz Farms for the last Maple weekend Saturday and Sunday), and I caught an interesting full day training on food safety techniques for farms (yes, I learned about cleaning equipment all day and how different brushes work better, which was actually super interesting!). I’ve also been squeezing in a few last roller derby tournaments (I’m a referee) before things get too busy on weekends!

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And that’s the news from the increasingly less goose infested fields of Hartwood Farm this week… Happy April!

Full Moon, Sugar Season, and Farm Dog Training!

This week on the farm was awesome, largely because over half the days were SO DARN NICE. Even us grumpy old farmers can’t help but be happy when the sun is blasting down and all the birds are coming back home singing! We kicked off the last week enjoying beautiful moonrises reflecting off the windmills. (Though the full moon felt significantly less friendly when it starts shining through the cracks in the blinds at 3 am!)

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We’ve been working steadily through our farm-to-do list from the past two winters, since last March wasn’t as cooperative on the weather front (do you remember the ridiculous amount of snow we had—we couldn’t see out of our windows this time last year!). Sadly, we had to say goodbye to a few of the yard trees that were sick or dead, which involved some interesting chainsaw work. This one (below) is Beulah’s nap tree, so we left the base for her reclining pleasure (and because of the cool fungi).

Speaking of dog naps, we’re in the midst of training work with Beulah (over at Mystic Chateau Acres in Munnsville) to get her better receptive to our directions, less reactive to strange dog visitors, and to hopefully take less strolls around the neighborhood. It’s been a good but exhausting winter project, and she can still be a petulant teenager at times but is doing well if cheese is involved (but who doesn’t do their best when cheese is involved?). She is working very hard to keep the geese out of the yard, and is diversifying into running off crows as well.

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Matt has a big birthday looming, so we snuck up to New Hampshire for a couple days to have a little party with friends there. It was satisfying to go someplace still colder and snowier than us, and we enjoyed helping boil sap outside for two glorious days. Locally, Maple Sugar Weekends are happening in NY these next few weeks—you can catch Matt helping out down at Critz Farms!

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The big push now continues in the greenhouse. It’s my favorite time of year with seedlings bursting up through the fresh soil (and it smells delicious and alive in there). We had great neighbors help us water last weekend, but greenhouse season is significantly easier and gentler on our piece of mind this year with the new fans and vents that automatically regulate the temperature. We also got one of those creepy cameras that lets us look in and monitor the temperature (I know, we are getting all high tech around here!).

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So what’s growing in the greenhouse? This week we started the first beets (both gold and yellow) going outside, the first outdoor rainbow chard round, and the next round of flowers and herbs. Some of those herbs are for the CSA shares that first week (small shares each get one plant, and large shares two plants), I’m excited that we will have a few more fun choices for folks this year, including catnip (Beulah didn’t approve, but we outvoted her)!.

Can you see these seeds? No? Well I couldn’t either… good thing we only grow a half acre of flowers, or I’d have to get some stronger glasses!

Can you see these seeds? No? Well I couldn’t either… good thing we only grow a half acre of flowers, or I’d have to get some stronger glasses!

That’s it for last week—we hope you enjoyed the sun, and check back next week for all the exciting farm news (and yes, it includes some in-ground planting in the high tunnel, hooray!).

It’s also not too late to order a CSA share for the summer (thank you all who have already joined us, we are looking forward to bringing you veggies in a couple short months!). You can sign up on the website (www.hartwoodfarm.com) and shoot us an email at info (at) hartwood farm dot com if you have any questions! Thanks and happy spring!

This week on the farm!

With the first hint of spring on the farm, we are back in our blogging saddle!

This week blew in like a lion, melting the snow and heating up the toasty greenhouse for the little baby seedlings. Geese streamed over and checked out the still frozen pond for home sites, Beulah was overwhelmed by all the aromas from the warming ground, and we farmers were thrilled to have our hands back in the dirt (well, the potting soil at least).

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Matt had a lot of fun moving the top heavy giant ice cubes of potting soil through the narrow greenhouse door. Beulah supervised the process, of course, in between spats of chasing the Robin Mafia out of the yard. (The robins earned their name last year by destroying all the other birds’ nest to earn farm yard dominance.)

By mid-week, warm weather blasted over the farm, and partially ripped off the high tunnel cover. Fortunately, it was warm and sunny enough that the plastic became stretchy over the day, and we were able to balance on the precarious ladder (ladders and mud don’t cooperate well) and pull it tight enough to refasten it. Thank goodness for sunshine!

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The sun worked its magic inside the high tunnel as well. We had spinach and kale at Saturday’s market (thank you everyone who came out), and the soil is warm enough we are planting some greens for our early May markets this week! We will also be at the Spruce Ridge Market from 10 to 1 on Saturday, April 6th with greens and storage veggies.

In the heated greenhouse, we’ve started flowers, herbs, onions, leeks, scallions, shallots, spinach, and more! Seeds are bursting out of the ground fast.

But the real truth of farming this week is that it’s our last chance to fine tune our crop numbers and figure out what’s going where. Thanks to the new field high tunnel, we have a bit of extra space this year, which will let us play with new crops, and do more cover cropping to build better soils (and grow more delicious vegetables). But it also meant that this was my view on one of those gorgeous sunny days!

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Happy spring to everyone! We hope to see you at the market, or as part of the CSA (shares are still available at hartwoodfarm.com/sign-up