Summer can be divided into two parts – anticipation of tomatoes and arrival of tomatoes. Of all summer produce, Solanum lycopersicum reigns supreme. Unfortunately, tomatoes are not the easiest plants to grow – or at least to grow well. The secret to a vigorous tomato crop? Put at least 200 plants in the ground. Nobody like to hear this answer, but it is important to understand that tomatoes are prone to disease and disease spreads quickly. To complicate the situation, the tastiest tomatoes are often the most grotesque looking creatures. What may look like disease, often turns out to be perfectly normal.
My advice: Besides staking, watering and waiting this month, the best thing you can do in anticipation of the ripening fruit is know your plants and know what to look for. Here is an extremely brief guide to tomato terminology.
Determinate vs. Indeterminate – Determinate cultivars are bush tomatoes that produce a single flush all at once. (Think Roma varities.) Indeterminate tomatoes vine tall and produce again and again, slowly, until frost.
Cat facing – Although classified as a “disorder,” I rarely find that these telltale stitches and cavities along the bottom of the fruit indicate damage inside. Of course, inspect crevices for insects or mold, but closed seams are perfectly fine. Generally associated with heirloom varieties.
Tomato hornworm – These pudgy, green caterpillars will dessimate your plants. Remove immediately!
Curlytop – Strikes early – often before blossoms appear. Characterized by crinkled leaves that are rolled in on themselves. Pull the entire plant and discard. Otherwise, it will spread.
Mosaic virus – Affects leaves and fruit. If you see yellow spotting on leaves or fruit, pull and discard the plant. While Mosaic spotting does not kill the plant, it will drastically diminish the quality of the fruit and it spreads like rapid fire.
Blossom end rot – Look for sunken, black leathery patches on the bottom of fruit. I find this usually occurs during ripening or on the first few tomatoes. Unsightly, but not necessarily disastrous. Blossom end rot can be cut away and the rest of the fruit is generally fine.
Traditionally, garlic is harvested on the longest day of the year – our summer solstice. If you planted your garlic on time (October – December) your crop should ready by this time. And you will be grateful for those extra hours of daylight – pulling garlic can be a hard, long day’s work – but the rewards are lasting. Harvesting garlic always feels like building a bank account to me – alot of work upfront, but then you have a stock of something valuable – food that will keep for many months and always be useful. What worthwhile recipe doesn’t rely on garlic?
Note sure if your bulbs are ready to come out? Here are some guidelines to harvesting and curing your garlic properly.
-Know your varieties. Two broad categories of garlic exist: hardneck and softneck. Hardnecks will produce a scape. The scape should be harvested roughly 3 weeks before the bulbs come out of the ground. This way, the plant will know to send its energy down, instead of up, producing nice, big cloves.
-Bulbs are generally ready when about half of the plant’s green leaves have turned papery and brown. These are your clove wrappers.
-Take a look! the best way to know if your garlic is ready, is to dig up a head and examine its qualities. The bulb should look full, or “dropped,” and in proportion to the neck.
-Garlic can, of course, be eaten as soon as it is pulled. If you would like to store it, however, it must be cured. To cure garlic, lay the bulbs in a single layer in a cool, dry space with good airflow. Bundles of garlic can also be hung from rafters and dried this way. After 3 weeks, the garlic should feel very dry and you should be able to easily remove any dirt or excess papery skins with a gentle rub with your thumb. Snip the roots and the neck.
-Always store good garlic at room temperature. Do not refrigerate!
A sickle, by definition, is simply a curved blade. Arced, sharp and small, it is also the most able, brilliant tool you can carry into the garden. Sickles – serrated and smooth – have been used for centuries in nearly every culture to harvest the world’s most important food crops.
The Caves of Mt. Carmel in Israel have revealed the remains of a culture that the archeologists call Natufian. These Natufians were the earliest people known to have used the sickle, a grooved halft of bone in which short flint teeth were mounted. These sickles are not certain proof that the Natufians, whom we can date somewhere about 6000 bc. actually cultivated grain; they may simply have harvested wild grasses. But it is clear that cultivation soon followed the invention of the sickle and that the spread of agriculture can be traced in part by the diffusion of the sickle (European Economic History: The economic development of Western civilization, p. 10)
You do not need to have a field of grain, however, to make use of a sickle. I keep a 6.5 in, wood-handled, serrated version at my side for harvesting head lettuce, cabbages and fennel. Another use: cutting down patches of weeds that have grown too tall and wild to pull. Basically, anytime you need to make a clean cut through green stem, let the sickle be your guide.
Purple Orach from Wild Garden Seeds
If you are growing food and flowers, take a moment to consider your seeds- how were they developed? where do they come from? Are they treated, untreated? What is the different between OP, F1 and GMO, really? All plants go from seed, well- to seed. The selecting, saving, sharing and sowing of them is highly valuable work.
In the world of seeds, Frank Morton, and his Wild Garden project is nothing short of heroic. When I first learned about Wild Garden, I was immediately turned on by their philosophy and approach.Perhaps more importantly, however, I quickly discovered that the seeds speak for themselves. Morton’s basic arugula is my gold standard. His Purple Osaka grows with muscular strength and the taste of wasabi. Wild Garden’s lettuce mix – the company’s original offering – stays speckled, vibrant and tender even in desert heat. And I suppose that is the point. The success I have experienced with their varieties, does indeed, inspire me to save the seed from that sweetest head of lettuce and the deepest hued Osaka leaf. Regardless, though, of whether or not you’re interested in saving seed, Wild Garden is a superior source for growing inspiration and high quality varietals.
To learn more – and purchase seed – visit Wild Garden Seed
Listen to Frank Morton describe the relationship between humanity, agriculture and seeds here
In recent years, backyard fowl have become as commonplace as flower beds in neighborhoods both urban and rural. Understandably, as chickens and ducks vastly improve the health of your garden. Birds truly make the best yard maintenance crew; plus, they turn your waste into food. Likewise, you can turn their waste into food. Assuming many of us already keep fowl for these reasons, here are some key tips to making the most of your flock.
-Introduce ducklings. Chickens are more popular than ducks- ducks get a bad reputation for making a mess. Yes, I admit, they are water birds and will surely muddy up wet areas, but they also provide certain benefits that chickens do not. They are superior foragers, feasting on a wide range of insects and grubs, including slugs, which can be devastating to plants. Ducks can also be easily herded and- most importantly – egg laying breeds produce eggs richer in fat and protein than chicken eggs. All the better for superior cake baking.
-Raise the water. Traditional waterers, which sit on the ground, work fine. I find, however, that for cleaner water – and a cleaner coop, a suspended water dispenser works better. You can purchase a set of red chicken “nipples” for only a few dollars. Simply insert these into a standard, 5 gallon bucket using a hand drill. Hang the entire system from a rope. The chickens will naturally attract to the red color and the scent of the water. Adjust the height as the chickens grow. Less mess, less wasted water.
-Move the coop. The grounds of a duck or chicken pen are rich in manure. The easiest way to make use of this natural fertilizer is simply to turn the plot of the pen into a garden. Ideally, you should adopt a seasonal rhythm for your yard – regularly rotating animal spaces and growing spaces. This will overtime, improve the health of your soil. Managed rotation is the easiest and best way to put all of that good bird waste to use. I also like to think the animals appreciate a change of scenery.
-Watch your birds. This may sound unnecessary for such self sufficient creatures, but chickens are highly social and problems can easily develop within the flock. There is often a hen who is picked on more than the others, or a rooster who is too aggressive. After feeding, hang around to see who does what. Is one bird getting shooed away from the scratch? Is the rooster actively assisting hens in finding food? Backyard fowl provide so many rewards to the gardener. In return, make sure your coop is full of happy, healthy (laying!) birds.
“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” -Masanobu Fukuoka.
Masanobu Fukuoka was a Japanese farmer and philosopher who lived and worked on the island of Shikoku, until his death in 2008. Fukuoka is famous for developing an agricultural method known as “natural farming.” It is sometimes translated as “do-nothing farming.” Although, personally, I find that to be an unfortunate title for a what is truly a rigorous and sensitive approach to growing food.
Fukuoka’s theory is based on the integration of cultivation and nature. In his 1975 manifesto “One Straw Revolution,” Fukuoka proposes a way of a farming that eliminates tillage (human or machine), prepared soil amendments, as well as weeding or pruning of any kind. Using this approach, Fukuoka was able to produce fertile grain fields and citrus orchards, while still maintaining the natural and wild qualities of his surroundings. “Natural farming” essentially describes a classic permaculture design – a sustainable, productive system in which all parts can adapt and thrive harmoniously. Fukuoka, of course, had no knowledge of Permaculture or Bill Mollison when he began farming and writing.
While not every detail of his practice may apply to your own garden, Fukuoka’s style, tone and basic concerns are easy to embrace: “I just emptied my mind and tried to absorb what I could from nature.” His philosphy reminds us why we choose to grow food in the first place. Or, it will at least inspire you to pose that question to yourself next time you are seeding vegetables, picking fruit from a tree, or simply absorbing your natural world.
Learn more about Masanobu Fukuoka and “One Straw Revolution”
I recently recommended using a hand hoe to clear weeds. Another great way to get rid of weeds? Eat them.
One of the most insidious and (thankfully!) tastiest weeds is Lamb’s Quarters. Also known as goosefoot – a reference to the shape of the leaves (Cheno meaning goose and podia meaning foot).
Lamb’s Quarters are in the family Chenopodiaceae, which also includes the more familiar spinach, quinoa and chia seed. Lamb’s Quarters are a staple in Mexico. There, You would encounter them under the name Huauzontle. Traditional Mexican recipes using Huauzontle can be found in the venerable Diana Kennedy’s “From My Mexican Kitchen”.
When young, Lamb’s Quarters are very tender and you will notice a powdery white film on the surface of the leaves. As the plant grows (it can get to be as tall as 6 ft high) the thick stem will take on a magenta colored striping. Either way, it is a delicious, green addition to your plate. Lamb’s Quarters are rich in calcium, fiber and iron. They are also a good source of B-complex vitamins and vitamin C. Use them anywhere you would normally use spinach. Just think of it as “wild spinach.”
Spring farming is rough. Early mornings are still chilly enough for knit caps and afternoons feel like mid July. Row cover blows everywhere and your plants are still tiny. Greens and mustards have not yet matured enough to harvest – even for a modest salad. Spring farming demands patience. I find that eating tasty weeds is one of the most gratifying ways to endure this season. I rely on Lamb’s Quarters (and purslane and chickweed…) to satisfy my very impatient craving for garden food. Eat what you weed!
It’s edible garden weekend at San Francisco’s Flora Grubb Gardens. If you’re an SF resident (like me) you won’t want to miss Saturday and Sunday’s workshops featuring Christopher Shein on Edible Ecosystems and Clarke de Mornay on Vegetables in the City.
This is a great time to start thinking about cultivating a sustainable food supply in your very own backyard. Whether you’re a green thumb or an aspiring one, don’t let that pesky fog belt discourage you! Both Shein and de Mornay know the ups and downs of permaculture in the Bay Area. Perma-what?
According to the Permaculture Institute, “permaculture is an ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor. It teaches us how build natural homes, grow our own food, restore diminished landscapes and ecosystems, catch rainwater, build communities and much more.” Eager to know more? Well, it’s time to learn because wouldn’t it be great to have your backyard be the farm in the farm to table dynamic? I think so. See you in the garden!
The best tools always feel like a natural extension of your own body. A simple hand weeder perfectly demonstrates the beauty of an intuitive, efficient tool.
The best time to weed is as soon as you see a thin carpet of unwanted green surrounding your plants. Obviously, it would be far too tedious to pull each tiny sprout by hand. Luckily, a sharp hand hoe can clear an entire area in a single swipe. Glide the blade along the soil at a shallow depth – just deep enough to kill the blanket of weeds without disturbing the soil too aggressively. Be careful, of course, to avoid cutting the plants you are trying to save. In fact, when you are first getting used to the tool, it is a good idea to hold the stem of the planted crop with your free hand as you weed around it with the other. A new hand hoe will have a sharp tip at the edge of its blade. It is wise to file down this point to further prevent accidental slicing.
By May there will be twice as much happening in your garden. Now is the time to get a good, thorough pass on your rows. The weeds will inevitably persist, but clearing them at this early, mid-spring stage will at least save you more arduous battles later.
I just helped Kickstart Regan and Carey Meador from Southhold Farm and Cellar‘s project. I’ve known Regan for a long time and am excited to see him get his vineyard up and running.
Taking over land abandoned by bigger wine growers, The Southold Farm and Cellar is intent on bringing a series of strange grapes to the North Fork of Long Island including Lagrein and Goldmuskateller. This Spring, they want to kick things off by planting 1 of their 23 acre homestead with Teroldego and the other with some more known grapes like Syrah.
It’s not often you see someone with the balls to start a vineyard. They’re expensive propositions, so if you’ve got a few bucks to spare, give ‘em what you can here.
The Cornell Small Farms Program has just released their new “Guide to URBAN Farming in NYS”. The Guide answers common questions about farming in urban environments, and can help you launch, continue, or expand your urban farm business.
“The 105-page resource guide contains fact-sheets on a myriad of topics, including tips for advocating for urban agriculture, engaging communities, dealing with contaminated soils, intensive growing techniques, urban composting, site security, urban livestock, direct marking options, accepting food stamps, grant and financial opportunities, and many more! Also included is an appendix listing services and resources available from several urban farming organizations throughout New York State.”
Download it here.
Photography: Jackie Snow
Good things come in small batches—just ask the folks behind Dandelion Chocolate. Run out of a factory in San Francisco’s Mission District, Dandelion is a small-batch, bean-to-bar chocolate maker. “Make” is certainly one word for it. Try: roast, crack, winnow, conch, temper—all the many artful steps that go toward prepping the cocoa beans for the final product. Only one other ingredient is added, cane sugar, before each bar is molded and packaged by hand. Dandelion has recently opened a retail space, where they offer their signature treats: three single-origin, 70% cacao, tasting bars. Nutty, fruity, peppery—there isn’t one we wouldn’t want to melt directly into a cup of hot milk, creating the most delicious hot chocolate imaginable.
Who knew that, much like viticulture, the study of chocolate was so complex? Indulging our sweet tooth, we recently chatted with Dandelion chocolate maker Alice Nystrom and did some tasting of our own.
WQ: We all have a childhood notion of what it would be like to work in a chocolate factory. As a chocolate maker, you have first hand knowledge. What exactly are the steps that go into chocolate making and what is the significance of Dandelion’s “small-batch?”
AN: We make our chocolate in “small batches.” This means that all of our machines are much smaller than their industrial counterparts. It also means that we have more room to play. When we first get a bag of beans, we’ll use our test equipment to make a series of 1 kilo batches, roasted to various lengths of time. We decide which of those batches has the best flavor and scale it up to work in our production equipment.
Our production begins by hand-sorting raw beans. We then roast, crack, winnow, grind, melange, and temper our bars by hand. We foil each of our bars, use a machine from 1955 to wrap them in paper, then add our labels.
WQ: When I tasted my first cacao bean, it tasted very bitter (hold the sweet). How is the bean integrated into chocolate production? What effect does the bean’s origin have on the final flavor?
AN: We’d all love to be able to taste finished chocolate when we sample raw beans. It takes a very well-trained palate. If we could taste raw beans on a farm and have a vision for the final product, it would be a great help. When selecting beans, we can taste for a certain level of quality and then we rely on other indicators. Generally, we learn as much as we can about the beans, the farmer’s practices, and the consistency of his production. We then get samples, make tiny batches, and evaluate whether or not these beans will work with our process.
The bean’s origin and the farmer’s practices have significant impact on the final flavor we can create in our chocolate. For example, I was lucky enough to visit the farm that grows our Madagascar beans last year. These beans grow in the Sambirano River Valley. The Sambirano River overflows frequently, leaving the soil fertile and rich. The farm that grows our beans, SOMIA, also has great biodiversity. SOMIA grows fine cacao, bananas, ylang ylang, peppercorns, and vanilla. These factors together produce bright red cocoa beans with powerful, fruity flavor. The farmers at SOMIA work hard to develop the flavor of their beans through fermentation and drying. The farmers carefully control the temperature and length of fermentation, developing flavor precursors. They then dry the beans in a way that releases some acetic acid, but does not mellow the flavor. By the time the beans arrive at our factory, we work hard to process the beans very lightly and to highlight the flavor they developed on the farm.
WQ: As a chocolate maker, what are you tasting for when you taste chocolate? Is it, for example, like wine tasting? Is there a ritual? Terminology? Any mouth sensations? Aftertaste?
AN: We try not to make our tastings too strict. We have our process, but there’s no wrong way to taste chocolate! We like to take a square of chocolate, bite it a little to break it up, then slowly let it melt. This way, we notice a distinct beginning, middle, and end of the flavor.We also pay attention to the texture and melt. Finally, if the chocolate’s particularly acidic, we often notice a puckery mouth sensation. The vocabulary for tasting chocolate is very similar to wine, beer, or coffee. We often notice sour, roasty, bitter, tannony, fruity, and nutty notes.
WQ: Not everyone has a sweet tooth (full disclosure: I’ve only developed mine in the past few years or so). What would you say to those savory inclined folks out there that might convince them to nibble on some Dandelion Chocolate?
AN: Not everyone loves dark chocolate right away. We work hard to create a variety of flavors in our bars. Some of our bars are easy to love, real crowd-pleasers. Others are bold and striking to tasters. Hopefully, everyone can find something they like.
Our cafe will be all sweets, all made with our chocolate. We’re sticking to what we know and love. We’ll have a full menu that covers dense and rich, light and fluffy, hot, cold, gooey, and crumbly.
WQ: I can imagine that your taste for chocolate has evolved over the years and that you’ve tried chocolate of all shapes, origins, and flavors. What’s an unexpected food that is perfectly complimented by chocolate? Do you have an all-time favorite chocolate shop or favorite chocolate recipe?
AN: I’ve learned a lot about pairing chocolate from our neighbors! I paired chocolate with cheese at Mission Cheese, chocolate with beer and savory food at 18 Reasons with the folks from Abbot’s Cellar. I have quite a few favorites from those nights — pork belly dressed with mole definitely stands out.
I’m excited for our chocolate cafe to open! Our pastry chef, Phil, shares treats everyday. I can’t wait to cozy up in the front of our space with a hot chocolate and a pastry. Hopefully our cafe will become my all-time favorite chocolate shop.
“A carrot is not a work of art. I’m not proposing that anyone think of a carrot as a work of art. But what I am saying is that a carrot and the art I make here are both results of the same process.” Peter Nadin
In the 70s, Peter Nadin was an IT artist running a gallery with social activist and painter Christopher D’Arcangelo. After the partnership dissolved, The Times describes Peter as having a nervous breakdown, which “caused Nadin to begin seeing the world in a fundamentally different way.” The painter revised his work – popping up here and there in select and famed galleries. Rather than continue to climb the art world ladder, “he became, for all intents and purposes, a farmer, sitting out an era in which the art world, from the template established in the frenzied 1980s, transformed itself into a fundamentally different place, a behemoth increasingly driven by the demands of commerce and popular culture. The few times Nadin’s work has surfaced anywhere in the last few years, it has been far from that world, in places like Cuba…”
But, you’re in luck. If you missed Nadin’s show in New York last year, The Horticultural Society of New York has your number. The group of merry gardeners is hosting an exhibition of Nadin’s Taxonomy Transplanted. Like much of his recent work, this series of paintings on handmade bamboo and cattail paper was created on Old Field Farm. The work is inspired and facilitated by the farm’s plants, livestock, products, activities, and landscape.
The exhibition opens with a reception featuring a short film by Nadin and Aimée Toledano (see trailer above), as well as a Bootleg Buying Club with products from Old Field Farm, including honey, jams, chutneys, and tea.
Wednesday, December 12, from 6:00pm to 8:00pm.
It is autumn. The air and our minds are crisp, the harvest is central, our appetites grow and that back-to-school urge to learn is still fresh. All of these seasonal virtues converge at Stone Barns Center’s 9th annual Harvest Fest this Saturday. On October 6, From 10 am to 3 pm, this 80-acre Westchester farm and education center is transformed into a bustling, community celebration of the farm with workshops for adults and families, farm demonstrations, live music and a smorgasbord of local food.
Tri-state growers and food-lovers alike can learn how to prepare their herb garden for winter, watch a beekeeper and a mixologist talk honey and make cocktails, find out how to keep backyard chickens and see farmers and chefs take ingredients from soil to plate. Families of all ages are invited on hayrides and can enjoy live music from local bands. And where else can kids learn why bees are so busy, test their knowledge in a garden quiz show and demonstrate their pumpkin drawing skills?
In between workshops, farmer demos and stopping for entertainment, folks can stock up on farm-fresh meats and produce and grab a variety of food from local vendors hailing from the five boroughs, Westchester and Connecticut.
This veritable cornucopia of seasonal activity has a philanthropic end. Proceeds from the event go toward the Center’s children’s education programs, public programs and growing farmers initiative, which works to train the next generation of farmers.
Young Farmer’s Coalition: What’s up the hold up with the Farm Bill?
Wanna do something? Instructions on who and how to call your respresetnavie are over at the Sustainable Food Center website.
The 1920s experiment to reverse-engineer wild cows.
In 1920, the brothers Lutz and Heinz Heck, directors of the Berlin and Munich zoos, respectively, began a two-decade breeding experiment. Working with domestic cattle sought out for their “primitive” characteristics, they attempted to recreate “in appearance and behavior” the living likeness of the animals’ extinct wild ancestor: the aurochs. “Once found everywhere in Germany,” according to Lutz Heck, by the end of the Middle Ages the aurochs had largely succumbed to climate change, overhunting, and competition from domestic breeds…
Read the entire story here.
The National Young Farmers’ Coalition is an advocacy group for new American growers. Like many grassroots organizations, NYFC was conceived by three good friends around a table: Lindsey Lusher Shute, her husband Ben (Hearty Roots), and fellow-farmer Severine Fleming.
When these Hudson Valley cultivators realized how little their interests as young farmers were accounted for in the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill, which is revisited by Congress every five years to amend or repeal previous agricultural acts, and put forth new policy, was preparing for a 50 percent cut to several development and grant programs for young or immigrant farmers. The group surveyed over 1,000 small growers nationwide and organized the results into policy recommendations to effect the bills principles. “Many young farmers can’t inherit the farm, so we need to make sure they can buy it or lease it for a lifetime,” said NYFC director Lindsey Lusher Shute. “The US needs to have a serious conversation about affordable farmland.”
Beyond the Farm Bill, the group has a triad of objectives — social, policy, practical use — Ms. Shute, and the advisory board of small farmers from across the country tackle the trials, obstacles, and dramas of independent American growers by creating programs like FarmHack where folks can come together and share tips, practices, and new technology. Lusher Shute took some time to discuss the hopes and visions of NYFC with Wilder Quarterly.
WQ: What is the coalition’s working definition of a “young farmer?”
LLS: ”NYFC’s focus is first career farmers, who are generally in their 20s and 30s, but the issues we work on are important to farmers and consumers of any age. A young farmer to me is someone who wants to devote her life to building and growing a farm business. Young farmers include 2nd generation farmers, farm workers and young people without experience who enjoy hard work and want to fix the food system by growing healthy food.”
WQ: Would you share one of most common and daunting obstacles of the trade, and how NYFC is choosing to approach it?
LLS: ”Transitioning farms to a new generation of independent farmers is no small task. Within farm transitions, farms can be destroyed by development, or taken off the market by speculators, big agribusiness or non-farmers. To keep independent farmers on the land, policy needs to incentivize farm transfers from one farmer to another…
The next issue that we want to delve into is land access. NYFC is committed to farmers owning their own land and we want to work with land trusts and policymakers on making land ownership a possibility for the next generation. Right now, land is priced many times beyond the reach of full-time farmers and this situation is getting in the way of young people starting and growing their businesses.
And, the best part, is that [since the 2011 survery] we’ve seen a lot of those ideas put in the Senate version of the Farm Bill that was passed a couple of weeks ago. This has been hugely exciting for us because we’ve taken immediate needs of farmers and taken them to Congress.”
WQ: How was the advisory committee determined, and how intentional was it to have a sampling of agricultural experts from a sampling of all/most US regions?
LLS: ”From the outset, we wanted to create an organization where farmers were at the helm. Three farmers founded NYFC, and our first step in creating a leadership team was to call farmers that we knew and respected for the success of their businesses and leadership within their communities. For instance, Sean Stanton runs North Wind Farm, Blue Hill dairy and serves on Great Barrington’s select board.
After bringing together a core of farmers, we then decided to invite service providers that were connected with our mission and doing something innovative in their field. For example, we recruited Michelle Hughes of the New Farmer Development Program in NYC. She helps farm workers, primarily from Central and South America, become farm owners. The [regional diversity] was intentional as well. We couldn’t call ourselves a national coalition without bringing in farmers and service providers from all regions. We are still working to bring on leaders from the South and California.”
WQ:Will you speak about the work being done in FarmHack, and the general concept?
LLS: Farm Hack was Ben’s idea, who is a farm ‘hacker’ himself and wanted a venue for farmers to share great on-farm inventions… And the concept was fleshed out and is still in development around a table — filled with farmers like Ben, programmers and engineers who want to help.
We want Farm Hack to help independent farmers become more sustainable, both in terms of land stewardship and profitability. We’ll provide open source tools for independent farmers that will make their farms more efficient and support farming practices that build soil and promote clean air, water and healthy people. We want Farm Hack to be a place for farmers to get inspired, learn to build new things on their farms and give back to their community with modifications of existing inventions or new ideas.
And the [work charrettes] are critical. Events are where a lot of great ideas take off! For instance, at Farm Hack New Hampshire this year, we formed a group to talk about remote monitoring devices — and as a result, we have a farmer and two programmers working on the FIDO greenhouse monitoring project. None of these folks knew each other before the event, nor had they thought of building that specific project. The meetings inspire a lot of creativity and build trust between individuals that enables them to work as a team on specific projects.
I’m a big fan of animals. If you ask me, everything in life is sweeter when a furred, feathered, whiskered companion is part of it. Last week in my vegetable garden I was lamenting my poor choice of hay for mulch because of its tendency to harbor wet and slimy voracious slugs. My young chard is lattice work. My squash leaves, like doileys. Answering my expletives without the merest hint of a smile on his face, my boyfriend said ‘why don’t you get a duck?’
And it turns out that’s a good question. Sluicing about with those shovel-shaped bills, ducks are death incarnate in a slug’s stalked eyes. More judicious weeders than chickens (which I have employed in the garden before) ducks tend to keep their eyes trained to the ground, sifting beneath mulch and rooting up seedling weeds. They also don’t worry the soil the way a chicken will, leaving roots intact and buried weed seeds where they belong. Plus they don’t do any cockadoodle-doing, and then there are those extra rich eggs!
But if you’re more into growing fruit, consider the prospect of an ovine pruner. In viticulture, small breed sheep like the Babydoll Southdown are used to keep grape vines neat and tidy, increasing fruit production. In apple orchards, both sheep and goats are used as a low impact method of mowing/weed control. How about that? You could throw away your weeding knife for good!
The Shandaken Project is a community-supported residency program in the Catskills. Beginning this summer, artists, writers, curators, and more will be invited to live and work on their 250-acre grounds for free. Residents can use their time as they choose, but are required to give back to the project by working in the communal vegetable garden. They have a great property, and a lovely house and operating costs covered. They are currently fundrasing for one-time costs including: building three private studios, fencing our kitchen gardens, and amending the soil in our garden areas.
This is a lovely project and they’re almost at their goal. Go tip them over the edge?
Wilder Quarterly interviews the urban farmer, beekeeper and founder of Hayseed’s Big City Farm Supply, Megan Paska. Paska talks to us about bee-keeping, gives us advice on growing in Brooklyn and speaks to her exciting plans for the future.
By Lena Vazifdar / Photo of Megan shot by Patrick Lamson-Hall. All other photos are from Rory Gunderson.
Blogger, bee keeper, urban farmer, educator and business owner, Megan Paska, is a modern-day polymath. She started Brooklyn Homesteader, a blog about her urban farming experiences a few years ago. “The blog is mostly focused on the bees but there are a few here and there about my garden, my apiaries and my chickens,” she says.
Megan’s love for farming started at an early age, visiting relatives in rural Virginia during summer vacations. “They have about 450 acres outside of Lynchburg and when I was a child they grew tobacco and corn and grain for feed,” she says. “That lifestyle impacted me in a big way. It just seemed ‘right’ and from then on I knew that I wanted to work for myself and that it would involve food, animals and being outdoors.”
Along with her colorful Brooklyn blog, Megan hosts popular educational classes like her backyard homesteader boot camp and beekeeping workshop. Her lifelong love of urban farming also lead her to a new Brooklyn venture, Hayseed Farm Supply, where you can find everything from beekeeping supplies, locally adapted heirloom seeds to books and poetry.
WQ: What is your gardening/growing history?
MP: My grandfather and grandmother always had a vegetable patch with onions and cabbage and tomatoes. My mom liked growing flowers and tomatoes. I think it’s a common story, most people have gardeners in the family. I’ve been gardening for about 10 years, beekeeping for 4, keeping chickens for about 4 and just started raising rabbits this year.
WQ: You recently opened Hayseed Farm Supply. Could you please tell us a bit about the store?
MP: My partners at Brooklyn Grange and I had been talking about providing affordable urban farm supplies to Brooklyn for some time. I had been putting organic, soybean-free chicken feed orders together for about a year and coordinating pick up at Grange. We wanted get the best products for a fair price and figured we couldn’t be alone in that desire so we started putting feelers out for the right situation.
I met the gals from Domestic Construction last year when they started their garden plot and asked them if they’d be keen on hosting an urban farm pop-up shop. They said yes and countless emails and meetings later here we are!
WQ: What do you think are the best things to grow in the Brooklyn climate?
MP: We have a slightly longer growing season than upstate NY because of the atmospheric conditions of the city. There isn’t much you can’t grow here with the exception of maybe long season crops like peanuts. Growing things like corn and wheat is tough just because you’d need a lot of space to get a yield that is worth it. I think a person could keep themselves stocked in greens year round with small garden space.
WQ: Do you have any tips for a novice urban gardener who wants to start their own garden at home?
MP: Start with short season crops like lettuces, radishes and pea shoots. There’s a low rate of failure rate and a low time commitment. If you do manage to fail at that, you still have ample time to try again … and again. They are forgiving crops and a great way to get acquainted with gardening. They are also highly productive in small spaces, making them worth the effort.
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