What’s cuter than a baby bird…..5 baby birds!

May 10, 2012

Our harvest days find us splitting our time between the field where we are lovingly plucking your veggies from the earth, and between our newly-built wash station where we bunch, rinse and bag the weekly goodies. Depending on the time of year, it can be a nice break or a real drag to spend much time in the wash station preparing 50 bags of arugula (for example).. Usually if it is really cold, immersing your hands in frigid wash water until they acquire the color and dexterity of frozen sausage links, is not my absolute favorite pastime. When it is hot outside, its nice to get into the shade for at least a tiny respite. Our wash station is essentially a simple pole barn that we finished about 4 months ago. I am quite proud of the little building that Chris and I put together, as construction and carpentry are not my forte. The ultimate affirmation for the skill of our construction was given by a kind creature who liked it so much, she decided to raise her children in it. The little babies are only a few days old, and can’t be more than three inches long. They seem to have a voracious appetite, and despite being a hair smalller than my big toe, they let mom know they’re a bit peckish by emitting a wail that would definitely make my little screamer, Abigail, envious. Check out the photo of the little darlings that Chris snapped below. The other is a photo of the first ever DTE scarecrow that Chris lovingly assembled (he seems like he just wants a hug, doesn’t he?)

Sweet baby birds…..alternate from cute baby birdies to obnoxious squawkers every 15 minutes or so…

Teens who care?

March 11, 2012

Greetings!

Some of you who actually read this overly long email each week (Hi mom!), may remember a message i wrote about some wonderful school kids from the River City Science Academy that came out to the farm a couple of years ago. Well, for those who have not committed the illustrious history of Down to Earth Farm to memory you can check out this post titled Free Child Labor (you have to scroll near the bottom). In short, we were privileged to host a gaggle of teenagers filled with fun spirit, healthy curiosity and a strong work ethic (yes, teenagers!) who did a tremendous amount of work on our farm. Well, those kids amazed me back then, but I discovered that they and some of their classmates have continued to move up the Amazing scale quite a few notches. Very few of us in this country, much less our teenagers, are concerned about where are food comes from. Food magically shows up in grocery stores, and our only concern is getting the right toppings on our frozen pizza. Well, some students at River City Science Academy have thought deeply about their food and decided that it is important that the people that grow and harvest our food are treated fairly. They are joining up with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) as part of the Fast for Fair Food which will culminate in a march with the farmworkers in Lakeland over the weekend. Please check out the CIW website and scroll down to read the students’ beautifully written Statement for the CIW. Thank you to all who are in this struggle and to these special teenagers for the hope they give us!

Eat My Cutworms….Please!

March 2, 2012

The robbins are here!  I had an inkling that spring was getting close, what with the 82 degree days and all, but the party like atmosphere of hundreds of chirping and hopping robins has to mean that the long, hard three days of winter are finally over.  Since they are here I was hoping that, besides pecking the mess out of my strawberry patch, they could do something a bit useful in exchange for my hospitality.  On Tuesday I was wandering the rows and stumbled upon a massacre. “Egads!” I exclaimed. Nothing gets my goat more than those most odious of lepidoptera larvae:  cutworms!  These little gluttons will chop down an entire plant in a single night, decimating entire beds of veggies.  And as I have written about before, there really isn’t much in the organic tool box to handle them effectively. So, hopefully our little bastions of Spring, the robbins, will do the right thing and gobble those little monsters up!  Below is a picture of a handful of cutworms (chicken treats!) that I harvested in about 5 minutes of digging in our kale patch, along with a sad photo of a chopped down plant.  I threw in a happy healthy transplant photo just so you wouldn’t end the email depressed :)ImageImageImage

A Fine Straw Hat

January 19, 2012

Hello!

Our venture here at Down to Earth Farm is a small one in many ways, but it is also somewhat rare if not unique in our community. As such, we have experienced a bit of media interest in our four years. We have been in the Times-Union, PBS, in a University of Florida journal called CALS connections, and one 10th grade English report (no New York Times, you ask? Not yet!). We have handled it all well, considering that we lack even the most basic in media consultants. All in all, it is nice to have free advertising for our veggies, even if there is the the occasional inaccuracy (The T-U article mentions, “….rows and rows of …..bok choy and strawberry seedlings ensconced in a mixture of newspaper and mulch, not soil” Not soil?) The most thorough article was the one done by a woman from the University of Florida. We spoke on the phone several times, exchanged email and then finally she came to the farm for a few more questions and a photo shoot. The last part, the photo shoot, was not a small endeavor. She must have wandered the farm for an hour taking photos of every row of veggies, and then caught me “in action” a good number of times. I even posed on the tractor. I am not a terribly vain person. My hairline had receded half way up my dome even before I could legally drink alcohol, so vanity might be a bit misplaced . However, when I got the article and saw the only accompanying photo, I was taken aback. (Scroll down to see the photo, or here for the whole article with photo). At first I found it odd that she left my face out completely, but then I realized, ” Hey, that is a mighty fine lookin’ straw hat!”

Speaking of Media–check us out on Facebook. We have finally hopped on board the social media bandwagon, so come on over (digitally, that is) and say hello!

The Green Monster

November 11, 2011
I’ve said it before, that while it is an unbounded joy to nurture and grow healthy food, it is an even higher level of happiness to get to eat the bounty that comes about from all the blood, sweat and compost that we pour into producing it.  Well, that higher level gets bumped up a couple notches when you can share the harvest with your family.  This could not be better illustrated than on Wednesday when my somewhat finicky little girl, Abigail, helped me down an entire plate of arugula (pronounced in adorable toddler-speak as “ag-oo-ru-la”), aided only by a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar.   Many of you know that our agoorula has a good helping of spiciness to it, too, so it was pretty impressive to see our 22-month old fill her mouth to capacity, then smile jubilantly to show her chlorophyll-painted teeth.  I love the stuff, but if I eat that much at once it makes my eyes water like I’m watching “Titanic”.   I’m not exactly a marketing wiz, but I bet if we emblazoned the green-toothed Abigail image on the bag we could sell a serious quantity of arugula. (check out the Happy Herbivore below!)
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Three Little Pigs

November 11, 2011

Greetings!

During the summer (you remember those long, hot, steaming, sweaty, skin-baking months of summer?) we are asked frequently if we are going to be at market.   This is my opportunity to explain the growing season of North Florida and that, although we could be growing eggplant and okra, this is the time in an organic system to let the soil (and the farmer’s family!) rest.   We get started planting seeds again at the end of August and have been working like busy beavers since then tilling, planting, shoveling, bug-squishing…..And now the glorious reward:  Harvesting!  So it has been more than a few shakes of a pigs tail since we have been at market with our delicious veggies, but we are very happy to be back!
Hey, speaking of shaking a pig”s tail (I got an “A” in forced transitions in school)  we had a pretty strange encounter on the farm yesterday.  Our wonderful new intern, Chris, and I had just finished our day of work and were heading inside when I glanced toward the chicken coop and saw three dark specters silently milling around in our sweet potato patch.  Our farm is not exactly way out in the countryside (just ten minutes from downtown) so we are not accustomed to seeing a heard of  wild boar traipsing through our land. It took my brain a few seconds to realize what these creatures were and, although they were really beautiful animals, I knew they could make short work of our farm if they were so inclined.  So Chris and I, armed with no more than a handful of broken sweet potatoes to use as projectiles, valiantly chased our porcine invaders off our land.  Incidentally, these guys weren’t sporting tusks so I’m not sure if they are just wandering piggy pets or menacing wild boar.  For the sake of our bravery lets call them wild boar………(check out the pics below, there are two pig pics and one just of our garden

I think the smart pig is in the middle....

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the Big Stink

June 11, 2011

Bugs.  To  most of us that word encompasses any of a million things that might crawl up your leg, but to an entomologist, true bugs are a specific order of insect, hemiptera.  These insects with the shield like wing cover have become the bane of our spring farming life.  Unfortunately we have gotten to know them pretty well and, quite frankly, they stink.  These stink bugs will feed on practically anything in our garden from squash and cucumbers to eggplant and tomatoes.  They don’t take big bites out of the fruit or chew holes in the leaves but they use their pointy proboscis to pierce the fruit of the plant and suck out its juices. The worst is what they do to our tomatoes.  Many get speckled and almost crusty because these stinkers were slurping their tomato-flavored shakes through their needle noses. Even our kind-hearted intern Susan has declared boldly, “I do not like them”.    In the battle between insects and humans, stink bugs boast a tough exoskeleton and we have an ostensibly large brain.and, more importantly, Dust Busters. That’s right, a hand vacuum has been our weapon against the stink bugs.  We are not averse to squishing them, even though that is the best way to have them live up to their stinky name, but paradoxically, the scent that is released when they are crushed is actually an aggregation pheromone, meaning that the smell will attract other stink bugs.  (Morbid curiosity apparently is not a trait monopolized by our species.)   Vacuuming and squishing eggs when we find them is akin emptying the ocean with a thimble, I suppose.  But it works better than a feather duster and the mop experiment was really a waste of time.

Chicken meet and greet

May 28, 2011

History is full of famous marches: Sherman’s march to the sea, Dr. King’s march on Washington, Gandhi’s salt march. Well, we can leave this one out of the history books, but the Baby Chicken March that concluded this week was as an exciting event here at Down to Earth Farm. In February we became the proud parents of eleven adorable week-old baby chicks. Olivia and Abigail have held all of them and given them ample love since they moved in (Abigail’s affection being quite “aggressive” so we had to monitor how hard she was squeezing the peeping little fur balls).  A few weeks ago, they seemed to be getting near ample size to make the big move to the established coop where a dozen hens (our “Old Ladies”) would be waiting for them.  So each day when we fed them we would also pull their little pen a few feet closer to the big coop, both giving them fresh grass and building excitement.  The anticipation was palpable!  I had read a multitude of differing descriptions and advice on the web about the best way to incorporate new birds into a flock.  There were pages and pages of horror strories of unfortunate and gruesome peckings, so I wanted to set up as smooth a transition as possible.  I considered some ice breakers and other group activies that would promote intergenerational chicken unity (duck, duck, goose, anyone?) but settled on the idea of just having them look at each other across fencelines for awhile. When the big day came and we finally opened the door on the travelling cage, the young chickens slowly and bravely joined their sisters to start their new life.  Two days have passed and the birds have been happily harmonious, though I swear I heard one of the older birds mumbling something about “kids these days..”.

For the love of squash

May 21, 2011

Our garden is booby trapped. Between stinging nettle, thorny thistle and pokey pigweed, you are taking your life (or at least the well being of your shins) in your hands if you meander thoughtlessly betwixt the veggie rows.  The pigweed, easily my least favorite member of the amaranth family, is ostensibly edible except for the fact that it is artfully adorned with two-inch medieval spikes.  Some of the  invading weeds are malicious, to be sure, but the vegetables, the ones that we have lovingly nurtured since before their infancy, they would never do anything to harm us, right?  Well, our squash vines apparently are not sentimental.  They reward our months of care with a multitude of nicks and scapes on our arms and legs with each harvest.  The stems and leaves of the vines are covered in tiny spines that seem innocuous at first.  By the time someone  finishes harvesting a  bed of squash, the plant defenses leave you with a tingling itchy burn that is a bit maddening.  I know, I know, wear long sleeves and gloves and you’ll be fine.  Which is true, but dangit I don’t like wearing a bee keeper suit to pick squash when its 93 degrees outside!

Kristin’s a bloggin…

May 15, 2011

What a treat to live with a farmer!  It’s easy to endure the heat when beautiful food and flowers surround our home.  No matter the petty frustration of the day, when Brian walks in with a jar full of flowers, it’s hard not to appreciate all the work.  This week I savored sauted squash with fresh basil, kale chips (4 bunches!), fresh-dug potatoes with green beans, Brussels sprout greens and potato soup, and a pasta/veggie stir fry… MMMM!   Also fun is to harvest volunteer (rogue?) vegetables from around the farm — dill and swiss chard from seasons past that pop up here and there have been my favorite.  And there is particular joy in plucking ripe sun-gold tomatoes from their much-loved (staked, twined and pruned) vines – watching as Olivia plays an inspiringly healthy version of chubby bunny.  Abigail made her mark this week as well picking a kale plant bare into her cup and rendering a few snapdragons helpless.  Though Brian occasionally speaks of the impending doom of stink bugs and downy mildew,  and I often ask, “where have all the weeders gone?”, there is inspiration surrounding us and I am grateful.  Our moments all together on the farm are few, but one that will remain a highlight for us was witnessing the caterpillar’s journey.   You’ll remember Brian sparing a few and Olivia watching as they cocooned on our dining room table.  Well, one day we walked in and there were big black swallowtail butterflies with iridescent blue spots!  Just like that!  It was an honor to escort them outside in plastic clam shells and release them together in the flower bed as Abigail waved bye-bye.  I like creating sacred moments – that one was just too easy.


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