Sunday, September 30, 2012

Long Time No Nuffin'

Hunh? What happened... well, this picture of my filthy, destroyed shorts being kept up with some baling twine probably says it all:
The end of Summer brought a ridiculous amount of work coupled with a ridiculous amount of  heat and put me into survival mode for a month or so. That meant constant hydration, stretching, work/sleep/work mentality, and calories galore. Towards the end there, it was not uncommon for me to eat a pint of ice cream by myself after dinner EVERY NIGHT! We did some really great work getting people fed and closing up shop for the season. 

Farmers' Market #1
I have taken the time since then to tag along with Courtney to California for a week and a half and generally get my mind and body back into a normal, functioning state. I have been working at the farm since the season ended and will continue to do so through the Fall and through the next season. In some ways it was a very easy decision to make, but on a physical level it felt difficult to sign up for some of the punishment that the end of next season will inevitably bring. As if I didn't appreciate farming in this state already, doing the actual work sure brings that home real quick.

Farmers' Market #2
There are many projects that we need to get done in the Fall that I am very interested in: installing a rain water collection system, clearing land, putting up fencing, and mot importantly to me, the addition of hertitage breed hogs to the farm. Lots of work to be done and the cooling of the temperatures really helps to get me excited to be out there still. Hooray, Fall!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Summer Season: One Month Left!

Chicken Tomato, Spiral Okra, Vortex Tomato, Magic Bug, and the Ole Beet Washing Days
The question I get most often has to be 
"How you managing out there?" 
I've been managing just fine, actually. I'm surprised at just how acclimated you can become to the heat when you aren't cranking the AC in the car and at home all summer. It's hot, don't get me wrong...really, really hot... but tolerable. The only day that gave me trouble was the freakish record-breaking 109* day that made me feel like my brain was boiling while picking tomatoes in the field at 3pm. 

It's very interesting to watch the crops in the field slowly disappear with the progression of the season. Once a row is done, it is tilled in and the emptiness of the field expands whilst the harvestable area shrinks. It's like watching the last few sands fall through an incredibly slow hourglass. 
Our recent crops for CSA and market are long beans, eggplant, various peppers, acorn squash, butternut squash, okra, and melons. Barely hanging in there are tomatoes, summer squash, and cucumbers. Pulling from our curing back stock, we are still dolling out our amazing garlic and two types of onions, as well as previously harvested potatoes. Harvest now takes most of the day with washing typically taking up a mere hour or two. Sadly, that means more time in the heat, but so it goes.
I am incredibly excited for the upcoming Fall season for a multitude of reasons:
  • two weeks off in August (!!!)
  • lots of tractor work to be done
  • installing a rain water collection system
  • clearing land
  • digging stumps 
  • installing fences
  • seeding new plants for the greenhouse
  • potentially working out some swine herding operation at the farm  
All good stuff, no?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Summer Daze

Is Summer officially here yet? 
I'm just going to say yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah... it was so much hotter this time last year, but let's not belittle this Summer's heat just yet. I've recently started getting tan on my back, through a long sleeve shirt. The sweat drenches me on the humid days and plasters my shirt to my ever hunching over back. The sun does the rest. I've also got the okra itch, the squash scrapes, and the tomato stains. I'm hanging in there and so far, so good. 

The crops are all doing great right now! What started out as back-breaking harvesting of the petite okra plants has gotten easier with each passing week and each foot taller they grow. Yesterday, the okra plants were just above waist high on me. The squash has been prolific and it is a difficult tight-rope act trying to not crush the plants growing out into the walking aisle. I can't even recall how many hundreds of pounds of cucumbers we've been harvesting and selling wholesale... at least half a ton now. Oh, and tomatoes. They just keep coming! They are unstoppable! Quality-wise, It is absolutely AMAZING to eat okra, an over-ripe tomato, or a cucumber straight off of the plant. It makes a huge difference eating truly fresh vegetables that haven't been flown in from Peru or ripened in the back of an eighteen-wheeler from California. 
There is no going back for me. The grocery store is so very lacking.

On the horizon: eggplant, more peppers, melons, edamame, and long beans!

Most importantly, here are some fun pictures! 
Tomato face, Patty Pan squash owl in the rafters, "Brioche" squash, and a wet dog caterpillar

Saturday, June 9, 2012

How a Farm Works... Right?

Whoa! I saw this kid's toy version of a farm in the window at Whole Earth Provision the other day and couldn't help but check it out. 

So, kids, just so you know... there won't be much green space on your farm. The more concrete - the better. Also, here's how we keep and raise livestock:
 Put on your hardhat, hook your cow up to that weird machine, and jam them piggies in there. All animals live on steel grated flooring, too. Dang! This farm depresses me!   
At least that one guy might be sweeping up poop, I think.

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would say this is pretty good proof of big ag influence on kids. 
Good thing I'm not.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Death of a Hand Model

Regular "farm hand" (top right), post-tomato trellising (left), and washing the tomato hand (bottom right)

Woo doggy, it's hot out there! The start of Summer has brought on a whole new set of crops to plant, maintain, harvest, and wash. We have officially harvested the last of salad mix, kale, spinach, turnips, and other vegetables that either dislike the heat and/or have gotten overrun by legions of Harlequin bugs or the like. I find that the Summer vegetables have a personality all their own. Among other things, they prefer to put up more of a fight when giving up their goodies. The use of spines, itchiness, and hide-and-seek tactics are the new norm. 

Last week saw multiple days of tomato trellising, in which we hand-hammered T-posts into the ground all throughout the line, ran three rows of wire down the posts, and hand-tied tomato vines to the wire using square knots of jute twine. This gets the vines, and thus the fruit, off of the ground. As illustrated above, I had already lost my potential hand model status due to the numerous nicks and cuts and the perpetual layer of dirt (perma-dirt) that comes along with farm work. Trellising tomatoes brought a whole new level of dirty hand to the table, though. Strangely enough, after handling tomatoes for two hours you accumulate a layer of yellow so thick that it appears brown. You don't get a full feel for the amount of plant residue until you wash your hands and watch neon yellow water run down the drain for three minutes.

The new additions to the menu lately have been okra, tomatoes, two variety of beans, and two varieties of squash. Very soon, we should be adding basil, eggplant, and cucumbers.  

Out with the old, in with the new.

Matoes, patty pan squash, and an unusually spiraled okra


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Super Lucky Green Bean Challenge Quiz!

QUIZ TIME: How many beans can be harvested in this square foot before moving on? [Answer below]

Strangely, of all things on the farm, picking green beans has to be with most back-breaking chore of them all. It entails hunching over the plant, methodically shifting it this way and that, and grabbing all the beans you see. These bush beans are prolific little suckers, too. We've already harvested 85# in once session, 120# a few days later, 60# another, 80#, and so on. Side note: green beans are not heavy. The craziest part is that we haven't even been able to get to all of the beans before they get too big to sell. They just keep going and especially with the rain, it is hard to keep up! Needless to say, there have been a lot of green bean side dishes at the Hans-Vallery household as of late. The beans are incredible crisp, juicy, and so very fresh tasting, so I'm certainly not complaining.

If you guessed 832, then you are correct! Git back to work!

Rain or Shine

The shirt that was once white.
Just like the postal service, we work rain or shine. It's hard to complain about the rain, since I'm pretty sure it rained a total of 13 seconds for the entirety of last year. It has also been great for keeping the temperature down and the sun off of my body. The cons are a delay in transplanting (again) and a resurgence of weeds, which we had just about gotten a handle on. It was strange to dig leeks from the damp ground in the sun and stifling humidity the other day and feel freezing cold the very next day while being completely dry in the covered wash area. Isn't there some joke about not liking the weather in central Texas and just waiting 5 minutes? If so, hopefully it goes better than that. 
To the mud field!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Hard/Good Life

Golden Beets, the garlic cleaning circle, Summer Section of the farm, onion field, collards, and a farm dog caught eating carrot pulp out of the compost pile.

This is officially the hardest, hottest job I've ever worked, but the most fun and the most rewarding. 
 I occasionally have dreams about crating vegetables or getting la cuenta incorrect, but for the most part, I feel great! I sleep well, my work stays at work, and I feel healthy and happy. 

The past two weeks have seen a lot of harvest and washing,
 but as the season trudges on we are slowly cleaning out the greenhouse and getting all of our summer veggies transplanted in. Many hundreds of yards of peppers, tomatoes, okra, squash, and melons have gone in recently. The soil is pretty darn dry already, so transplanting has been slow and extremely rough on the hands... more akin to planting in broken up asphalt rather than soil. 

On the harvest front, we have been pulling, cutting, and digging quite a variety: garlic, beets (3 kinds), turnips, cilantro, sweet onions, fennel, green beans, salad mixes, arugula, collard greens, kale, carrots, radishes, daikon, kohlrabi, and more. It's a great selection for the CSA baskets, as well as for the Farmers' Market, which I have been working the last couple of Saturdays.

Oh, and here is the view driving from home base farm to the river farm.

Puzzle Carrots

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Week 3 CSA Basket: Colour!

Photo by Twisted-String
We really put together such a beautiful basket this week:  
Kohlrabi, carrots, collard greens, a head of Endive Frisee, beets, radishes, garlic, a head of Romaine, and a colorful salad mix! 
It is one thing to harvest, wash, and package, but an entirely different thing to see it all put together like this. I feel so proud! 

Failed Experiments. Guns. Radio Interviews.

A few days ago, reluctantly due to smell and gnats, we had to take some time to clean out cooler #1. It's not so much a cooler, as it is a cool, dry cellar-like space. For the past month+ it has housed a huge amount of endives for the CSA. Sadly, very few made it. We packed the cooler so tightly that it was hard for water to drain and dry up. That, coupled with a lack of air circulation, caused the endives to "funk out," as my farmer calls it (left pic). Considering some of the buckets smelled like sewage when dumped (they really had been left in for way too long), the term "funk out" seems more than appropriate. We learned a lot and my farmer lost some money on that one, but next year will be a success!

Besides rotting endives and our usual Farmers' Market/CSA/weeding/watering duties, we also harvested 924 leeks for a wholesale order (top right pic). 924! We also harvested something around 90# of arugula. You could barely fit into cooler #2 (an actual cooler). I washed a bit, but mainly bunched. Tying 300 bundles of wet leeks with jute really takes a toll on your hands. I finally had to tape up a couple of fingers after cuts threatened to deepen.

Rounding off the week was a post-work skeet shoot. These are the beautiful things about working on a farm. We set up a skeet thrower and took turns shooting neon orange clay disks out of the sky with shotguns. It was incredibly fun and I, surprisingly, shot the best out of all four of us with the farmer's young son in a close second. The farmer was unable to participate because just as we set up, the host of radio spot Field & Feast, Cecilia Nasti, rolled up for an interview about... of all things... endives.  
I gave her a friendly wave with my non-shotgun holding hand which she reluctantly returned. They interviewed on the porch while we shot skeet in the background.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Max the Deer

When someone said, "There's a deer over there," during our Swiss Chard bundling, I imagined looking up, gazing 100 yards across the field, and seeing a fleeing deer in the brush. Instead, there was a young deer 30 feet away, staring at me, and walking slowly towards me. After my initial WTF thought, I noticed that the deer had a collar on. It came right up to me, let me pet it, and sniffed around for a handout. Upon inspection of the collar, I found out our visitor was named "Max" and there was a phone number listed. To say the least, the idea of a friendly deer wandering through our field munching away on all our crops was a bit agitating to our farmer. At his urging, I grabbed the collar and hung on as he came over, intent on getting a hold of it and getting rid of it. As the farmer got closer, the deer began pulling back on his collar. The more he struggled, the more I was urged to hold on. Finally, the deer was bucking and leaping 3 feet off the ground pulling backwards with all his strength. Just as we were about to subdue Max, his collar broke and he pulled free. Of course, he was a little more leery about coming up to us after that, but still trusting. We got the collar back on and with a rotation in players, repeated the whole bucking scenario all over again. We called the number... which was disconnected, of course... so we had no choice but to chase him off and ensure that he would be too frightened to return. We tried to coax the lazy dogs to chase Max into the woods, which they halfheartedly did eventually. It was a very surreal way to start the day.
Moral of the story: Don't try to domesticate wild deer *and/or* keep your pet's contact number up to date. Good luck, Max.

On another note, this week I've seen 2 of these huge Green Tomato Worms (about as big as my index finger)

...and I have discovered my new nemesis, BULL F*CKING NETTLE! A member of the stinging nettle family, Bull Nettle first stabs you with million of tiny, hair-like spines all over the stems and leaves... sometimes THROUGH leather gloves. It graciously follows that with some sort of chemical transfer that makes the stung area feel similar to ant bites for the next 30 seconds to 1 minute. It may look all sweet with it's white flowers in this picture, but I assure you it is a complete and total plant a-hole.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Week One Recap: Bees, Garlic, and Weeding!

7:20 AM At The Office
Yesterday I completed my first official week at the farm! I've already racked up just under 40 hours in the past 4 days. It has been a physically demanding, hot, dirty, but ultimately very rewarding time. Each day typically alternates between harvesting for CSA customers, bulk wholesale orders, and Farmers' Markets and the subsequent washing, weighing, and packaging for said avenues of sale. In between harvest and wash, we are weeding, transplanting new veggies, weeding, laying irrigation lines, weeding, weeding, and watering the field via a convoluted (though very effective) irrigation system with its own annoying personality. 


This week we harvested a multitude of salad greens, Arugula, Leeks, Swiss Chard, Spinach, Cress, Green Garlic, and enough Red German Garlic to kill a Red German Garlic-eating horse.

Fun things from the week:

  • Saw a swarm of bees first flying past the field (think cartoon bee swarm) and later swarming in an Oak tree. I had my hands in a tub of salad mix and nowhere near a phone, but it looked exactly like this pic:
  •  Watched a cat go from lazy sleep to pouncing on a field mouse in the blink of an eye. (The dog saw the cat, pounced on the cat, and the mouse ultimately got away.)
  • Lost my $30 fancy-shmancy camping utility knife in the field yesterday :-(
  • Learned how to lay, hook-up, and splice lay-flat irrigating line
  • Got to intimately know the Dutch version of the American weeding hoe, known as a Hula-Ho... seriously, that's its name. Looks like this. It scrapes under the weeds and feels like the outdoor equivalent of scrubbing the floor.
  • "Limpiar los montes" means weeding in Spanish, but literally translates to "cleaning the weeds"
  • Someone almost touched a snake in the field... Rat Snake maybe. It left.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Experimental Endive Batch
I just got back from a solo camping trip to Big Bend National Park and my body hurts. A few days and 20+ miles hiking with a heavy pack is a lot. It doesn't hurt so much in my muscles per se, as it does where my muscles attach themselves to my bones. That's another story... but before I left, I got called out to the farm to help with the grand Endive experiment. It was a good warm up to the trip!

These Endives (Belgian, I believe) were started out in the garden this fall. They grew willy-nilly all winter and had become some large, almost Napa Cabbage-like plants by the time we visited them again. With a crew of five, we gently (though quickly) forked them up to reveal a huge (often 12" long) underground tuber root. We knocked off the dirt and trimmed the tops down to the above shown nubbins. Repeat times two double rows.

Once we hauled the trimmed tubers back up to the house, we set about loading pots with sand, jamming as many Endives in as possible, and loosely filling in the gaps with more sand. Moisten pot and repeat. The pots then go into a light-proof room for 6 weeks or so. I was kinda confused about this process and the whole Endive/Chicory thing, so I found more info here. In a nutshell, it seems that you let the plant build a huge energy-storing tuber out in the garden, trim off the original green bitter leaves, and place it in the dark to re-sprout. The leaves that then come up in the dark will be white(r) and therefore much less bitter. The roots can be dried, roasted, and ground to produce Chicory, which is a poor people's coffee additive... hence the New Orleans coffee tie-in. Side note: If you've never had Chicory in your coffee, you have never lived one day in your life ever. Just sayin. I think at least one of us is going to give the home Chicory production a try. We'll see how it goes! 

Friday, February 17, 2012

New Farm: Day 1

I think this about sums it up. On Thursday, I made this sugar sculpture vaguely relating to food and the natural world... today I worked with 3 others to plant ten 100 yard rows of potatoes somewhere in the hinterlands around Manor. My goal with the new blog is to document my journey from full time indoor, florescent lit pastry kitchen to outdoor, inclement weather open acreage. 

DAY 1- Yesterday I made Spanakopita for my students and graded sugar sculptures, eclairs, and orange souffles. The very next day I found myself out with the sparse early season crew of the organic farm planting All Blue, Purple Viking, Yukon Gold, and Red fingerling Potatoes. I technically started the day at 4am by waking to the sound of hard rain coming down on the roof and being blown against the bedroom windows. I knew it was either going to be a no-go day or a super sloppy one. It turned out to be the latter. 

We drove from their Manor Farm home base out to the new plot of land out east. The new plot is still in development with newly cleared fields, freshly plowed field, and a tall deer proof fence going up. Our job, drag a crate of potatoes out, plant sprout facing up, repeat 1,000 times. We followed the planting with a heaping handful of ground cotton seed meal spread through the trenches. What just took 20 seconds to type in the last two sentences took about 3 hours in real time. At this point, the normal procedure would be to drive the tractor through and cover the potatoes and be done. Thanks to the inches upon inches of mud, we covered all rows by hand with rakes. 

What did I learn today?
  • Let your potatoes sprout before planting
  • Budgie Potatoes are apparently DELICIOUS, but IMPOSSIBLE to grow here
  • Potatoes like Cottonseed Meal
  • Mud will add a solid pound of weight to each foot and two pound to the end of your rake
  • It is incredibly pleasant to be separated from your phone and any time source except the sun