Monday, December 14, 2009

The Farm Formerly Known as Ostman

New South Roof! Our resident Nisse managed to hold the good weather for another week, so Tim and his crew blew through the barn's south side roof in a couple of days. Unfortunately we weren't able to document it due to our Real Job commitments during daylight hours- but it is Beautiful to see it DONE.

I agree with what Shakespeare was getting at with his "What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" comment. Fortunately for him, Mr. Shakespeare never had to deal with modern marketing issues like domain name availability.

When we decided to leave the land Ostman Farm lived on, we knew we would be leaving the name behind as well. We called the farm that in honor of John and Hilma Ostman, the land's original farmers, who ran Ostman's Dairy there from the thirties until sometime in the early sixties. We are not related to the Ostmans or their descendants except by friendship. The idea of keeping the name– even though we are now reasonably well known on the North Coast by that name– always seemed weird and just wrong to us. If we ever started a new farm, we knew would start over with a whole new identity. Possibly not the smartest marketing move, but the only one that we could live with.

Up close, the roof is incredible, but even standing twenty feet away you can smell the fresh cedar shingles. It is a wonderful scent- to me, it smells dry and safe and secure.

So here we are! New land, new farm, new barn with gorgeous new barn roof. So our new name is now.... hmmm.

Originally, when we first tried to buy this land back in the summer of 2008 and had to call it something in our business plan, we were calling it Home Farm. Simple, easy to remember, and meaningful. While trying to work out how to run our farm on land we were leasing from someone else, we had come to understand that essentially what we needed was a place to call Home. A safe place where we could put down roots, both figuratively and literally, and know that we had some say in what would happen to those roots in the future. We wanted to spend years getting to know a piece of land- how the sun moved across it, where the water went, what wildlife lived there, when the migrating birds arrived and left. I wanted to spend time building our soil, watching the plants respond year after year, and someday, hopefully late in my nineties, I wanted to just keel over while picking green beans in the sunshine. Just toss me on the compost pile, I will have died content.

I had always liked the simplicity of how in England, the Home Farm was the name given to the farm near where the local landed gentry's estate was, and was where the household would get their eggs, milk and produce from. It's almost a generic term for a farm in England. Simple. Easy to remember.

Unfortunately in this age of online marketing, no small business that wants to be even reasonably successful, farms included, can be without the obligatory website, blog, e mail list and possibly facebook page at a minimum. I don't think our farm will twitter, except in the traditional sense when the migratory song birds are moving through. But the rest of it? Working on it, as much as we are working on getting the greenhouse and the rest of our plants moved.

When you fix on a name that is so simple, and already very much out there in traditional usage, you can be pretty sure others will have gotten there before you, and such is the case. There are several Home Farms, (even the Prince of Wales has one), and on top of that, someone is squatting on the domain name. If we had an extra $40k to spend on it might be something to consider, but I would rather put any funds we have into rebuilding the farm itself.

Looking for a New Name- Tall Trees Farm?

So we now find ourselves playing a verbal game all day long. Name that Farm! We've been through some of the obvious choices. We could name it after ourselves, or a combination of our names. Retzlaff Farm? Too hard to pronounce. Coleman Farm? People will think we sell camping supplies. Retzman, or Coleoff Farm? Not quite right. Teresa's Farm? Packy's Farm? TP Farm? Definitely not. There isn't a creek running through the property to give us one of those obvious landscape feature names like 'Circle Creek Farm'. We do have a unnamed gully cutting across the pasture that runs seasonally, but 'Seasonal Gully Farm' just doesn't sound right.

What about where we are located- 202 Farm? (We are on Highway 202.) Kind of bland. 9 Mile Farm?(We are just past the 9 mile marker.) Aside from being an oddly popular word combination, (and the name of a Canadian pop band) we don't want to be confused with the Nine Mile Point Nuclear Reactor.

Olney Farm? Olney is the name of the area we live in- not a legal town with it's own post office and such, but there is The Olney Store (with the Big O Saloon next door), and the Olney Grange already out there. Would the Olney Farm be unique enough? Apparently not. There is already an Olney Farm- a fifth generation pony breeding farm located in Maryland that has the domain name nicely tied up.

We love wildlife- what about naming it after some bird or animal that lives here (that we are not planning on driving away). Packy is very stuck on Kinglet Farm, because during all this freezing weather, we had little kinglets flying into our enclosed porch looking for warmth, and banging on all the windows trying to pick bug remnants out of the frozen cobwebs. But to me that is way too close to Kingfisher Farm, the legendary organic farm that Jeff Trenary runs down in Nehalem.

Olney Elk are bold as brass and take no crap from anyone.
We are going to need some serious fencing if we are
going to be good neighbours...

40 Elk Farm? We've now met the herd, and they are a somewhat daunting prospect as neighbours. But will people think we raise elk for meat? We'd love it if some beavers would take up residence down in our seasonal gully, so what about Welcome Beaver Farm? Yeah, get your minds out of the gutter. See? This isn't easy. Plus we run the risk of alienating all the University of Oregon Duck fans. The Beaver-Duck rivalry in Oregon is fierce, best not to wade into those waters. Wildlife names can be tricky. We haven't hit on one that is just IT.

Plants? We have a lone apple tree (possibly crab apple) on the property from an earlier agricultural time, so I thought about Wild Apple Farm, which I like and of course Packy doesn't. However, it's irrelevant, because the domain name takes you to a weather site in Maine. (?!? More squatters, I think.) I kind of like the idea of using the word 'wild', so what about Wild Roots Farm? taken. Wildroot? taken. Wild Life Farm? Takes you to a family website with lots of photos of their travels.

Packy liked the idea of naming the farm after our newly discovered Nisse, in hope that it will continue to do good work on our behalf, but guess what? Nisse Farm? Taken.

I thought about a comment someone made to us when we described all that was going on with our farm. "You sure do have your hands full!" "Hmm", I thought. "Hands Full Farm?" Already taken. But not Full Hands Farm, so that's still on the table, although Packy isn't keen on it. He might be persuaded if things get desperate.

Full Belly, Full Moon, Full Harvest, Open Hands, Four Hands, Many Hands, Clapping Hands, Wild Moon, Harvest Moon, Wild Harvest... taken, taken, taken.

It's a good thing we've never had kids. They probably would have spent the first 18 years of their lives being known as ' Hey You' or 'Number Three'.

How is it that we can immediately come up with snappy names for our cats, but not for our farm??

Got any Farm Name thoughts? You may as well toss in your two cents. Maybe we can figure out a prize for the winning suggestion.

Even if we don't have a new name, we have a New Barn Roof.
In late December on the North Oregon Coast, that is even better.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Appeasing the Nisse

We've been so consumed with thinking about how much we wanted to buy this farm- needed to buy it, if we were going to be able to someday continue farming. So many times the deal seemed just impossible. We kept trying to give up on this place and find somewhere else, anywhere else, but this farm kept calling to us, and we both just had a strong feeling about it being The Place. Even when we'd given up on it completely, we still thought of it as ours.

I'm only a slightly superstitious person, but I'm beginning to suspect that there is a spirit that guards our farm, and that it knew that the farm, and the barn in particular, really needed new owners- ones who would love it, and care for it. Maybe the spirit spotted us the first day we walked around on the property. Maybe it saw us keep coming back, over and over, trying to figure out how to make it all work out and thought "Hah! These two will put everything they have into keeping this place going."

Most of the farmers who settled in Clatsop County were Scandinavian, or from Finland, which is not quite Scandinavian but close. So I suspect that what we have here is a nisse (or tomte, depending on where you come from) - a household spirit type of creature responsible for the care and prosperity of a farm. They seem to have a fair amount of potential for mischief, but if properly respected can actually help a farmer get quite a lot of work done. However, if our nisse was residing in the barn, as they seem inclined to do, he had to be pretty damn concerned about whether or not he'd have a home after this winter.

Just about a week ago, Tim and his crew began stripping off shingles on one side of the barn roof. It was right at the end of a wretched two weeks of pouring rain and wind that had soaked and pummeled the North Coast into a soggy mess. But that Monday morning it began to clear, and all this week it has been sunny- cold and frosty, but clear.

The roof was stripped off in a day. Tim and his guys told us that when they were pulling the old shingles off, in places it was almost like scraping compost off the roof, the shingles were that decomposed. It looks like this was basically the original roof that had just been patched and repaired over the years, but never fully replaced. We aren't quite sure when the barn was built, but people who grew up around here remember it being here in the thirties, so that's seventy years old at least.

With half the roof off, the barn began to dry out, and the swollen floor boards of the hay loft settled back down. It was an amazing experience to climb up into the hay loft early Wednesday morning just after dawn and stand there looking out through the skip sheathing at the cold, clear sky. I'm happy to have seen it, and hope Packy can see what it looks like when the other side of the roof is stripped off, (he had to leave the farm in the dark at around 4am that morning to get to the bakery) but then I hope we never have to see it again in our lifetime.

Later that day they began to nail on the gorgeous new cedar shingles. I still can't believe how fast it went, at least the first half of the side.

The top part where the roof curves in the tricky bit- I'm sorry I wasn't here to see them manage it, although perhaps it's better that I didn't see it, it would have been like watching the high wire act at the circus. Very nerve wracking for those of us on the ground- I can't imagine what it is like looking at it from up there.

Another interesting discovery was that the nails that held the skip sheathing to the rafters were mostly rusted away, and they had to re-nail them all to hold the roof together. I keep wondering- what was holding the barn together during this last big storm?? I still can't figure it out. Sheer willpower on the part of our nisse, perhaps. He must be exhausted, and ready to settle down to a nice rest in a finally dry, cozy barn. If he can just hold off the rain for another week, all will be well.

Hopefully he will adapt and protect greenhouses as well, as Packy and our good friend Joe plan to dismantle the greenhouse at the old farm in Seaside this week in preparation for moving it to it's new home.

I'm sure the nisse is already happier, but just in case he's still a bit cranky at getting so wet this year, we'll make sure to leave him the traditional bowl of porridge (don't forget the butter on top) in the barn on Christmas day.

Hey, we need all the help we can get.

This week- the south side gets its turn...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Farm 2.0

On a nice sunny day, everything seems possible

I've been meaning to write a new post for ages and catch everyone up on The Farm Saga- I am so sorry it has taken this long. After much polite prodding from friends, family and loyal customers waiting for an update (thank for the push, Barb!) I am finally taking a bit of time in between bouts of digging up and moving plants to fill in the gaps of the last three months.

The good news? We got the loan!! We own Land!! The Farm that Now Has No Official Name lives on. Well, let's be honest. The Bank owns the new farm, and we are working like crazy to make sure we make our mortgage payments so that we can one day (in the distant future) call it completely ours. We still miss farming, more than we can even begin to explain, but we continue to be grateful for the jobs we have that are allowing us the opportunity to be stewards of our own piece of farm land.

The deal closed sometime around the end of September, I can't remember the exact date. It was all a blur of stress and anxiety. Ironically, I had been invited to address an all day conference on local food security put on by Clatsop Community Action, speaking as a local farmer on the state of farming in Clatsop County.

I remember being completely freaked out because our loan hadn't yet closed, although it was at the 'any day now' stage. We had been asked to actually write a letter to the potential lenders explaining how although we indeed had a 'history of farming', and had worked at this 'part time hobby business' of a small farm for the previous almost six years, we had seen the error of our ways, and had now gotten 'real jobs' for reliable income, and only wanted to purchase a house with 18 acres of reasonably well-drained land zoned for agriculture complete with charming outbuildings because we had gotten used to living a 'rural lifestyle' and wanted to continue that lifestyle, but had no plans to actually try to run a farm on the land.

We discovered the hard way that to a bank, 'Farm' is a nasty four-letter word that starts with 'F', and to confess to a 'history of farming' is akin to having a history of illegal drug abuse. Not quite a felony, but not really something to be proud of when applying for a loan.

So, it was more than nerve-wracking to be standing up in public (and in front of press representatives) talking about our farming experiences, and speaking about our hopes for the future of our new farm, and the future of agriculture in Clatsop County while behind the scenes we were desperately trying to look like regular 9-5 working folks who just like to grow an awful lot of tomato plants. Fortunately, the lenders don't seem to read the Daily Astorian, and a few days later we were called in to sign the papers (so many papers!) that meant that the farm land we had been lusting after for over two years was finally ours. Not that we were planning on actually FARMING it or anything. (Insert casual whistling noise here....)

Acres of reasonably well-drained soil- for a farmer in Clatsop County, it's better than gold

It was an amazing feeling- terrifying and thrilling at the same time.

Then the reality of moving hit- not just moving our household, but moving our household AND farm business. All those plants carefully planted years ago that were just finally starting to settle in and thrive, the plant nursery, the greenhouse, thousands of containers, miles of weed cloth and row cover, tools, soil amendments, odds and ends.... it has all been a wee bit daunting. Plus factor in that by the time the deal closed, and we started getting things packed in boxes and ready to move, it was well into October, and the Northwest Autumn Storm Season had begun. It has all made for a most challenging move.

We've been living at the new farm for almost a month now, but are still traveling back to the old farm several times a week, jobs and weather permitting, to continue dismantling the farm and transporting it northward. It is slow going, but we are making progress, and hope to be done by the end of the year. I hate to keep asking you all to keep crossing your fingers for us, but if you could just keep thinking good weather thoughts for a few more weeks, it would really help.

One of the most distinctive elements of this property is the old dairy barn. We aren't quite sure of the date it was built yet- the house is dated to 1926, and the barn most likely dates from sometime in the early thirties, but we are just guessing. It's got beautiful bones, a lot of character and is a apparently a significant landmark in the area. We are struck by how many people know the property we bought, saying "Oh, the one with the cool old barn, right before you get to the Olney Store!" Yep, that's it.

The starry night effect is NOT a good feature in a barn roof

Well, the cool old barn has been in need of some repairs for a while now, especially a new roof. It's been patched for years, and the old owners did the best they could by it, but it had really reached a point of just needing to have the whole thing ripped off and re-shingled. We had hoped to wait until spring to do the job, all the rain we've been having combined with all the holes in the roof has rather forced our hand. It really couldn't get any more wet inside the barn right now than if we take it all off in the midst of a down pour. The hayloft floor is swelling and buckling, and the chances of rot setting in gets higher each day.

So, we're doing it now. Well, WE aren't doing it. We get to help a bit, because we have the coolest contractor in the world who is willing to let us help as much as we can so that we can save a wee bit of money. I know there are some who will think us crazy, but we really wanted to re-roof the barn in cedar, as it was originally. Partly because we want to also build a water catchment system for the barn, but mostly because taking on stewardship of a historic building means something to us, and we want to honor it's history and restore it as much as we can.

Tim Kennedy of Blind Moses Woodworking is just the greatest person, and he seems to be as excited about the barn as we are, which is pretty damn excited. It's wonderful to work with someone who has a passion for their work, and we can't wait to see how it all turns out.

The scaffolding is up, and Tim has just begun tearing off shingles today. We will keep posting pictures of the whole process as it goes along. Keep sending good weather thoughts out way- especially for Tim and his two guys up on the scaffolding!

We have a lot to do in the next month- move the greenhouse, move the final plants, clear out a couple of outbuildings, pick out a new name for the New Farm, and start making plans. Lots of plans. We're tired, but also excited about the future again after such a long time. Stick around- the story is just starting to get good...

Monday, August 3, 2009

Keeping the Bees Happy

It's really weird, not farming anymore.  Our lives went through a rather abrupt change a little over a month ago, when it became clear to us that the only way we could ever hope to gain long term security in our lives and own a home, especially a home on a bit of acreage, would be to stop farming, get "real" jobs (ones with a regular paycheck), and commit to a whole new path for ourselves. This has not been easy on either of us- no matter how great our new jobs are- and they are both great in so many ways- it is just a tremendous change for all of us, even the cats.

Packy is slowly becoming accustomed to getting to work very early in the morning- 4:00 am on many days- to bake bread at the Blue Scorcher Bakery.  I am learning that doing outreach, education and fundraising to help further the good work of  land conservation by the North Coast Land Conservancy involves spending an awful lot of time indoors in front of a computer. I'm going to have to start intentionally exercising, something I haven't had to do in years. 

Eddie and Squeaky are getting used to being on their own all day long, and alternate between being wildly happy to see us when we get home, presenting us with all the exciting things they killed while we were at work, to ignoring us with that "Oh, were you looking for me?  I didn't notice", completely intentional indifference that only a cat (or a recently spurned lover) can really pull off effectively.

So many edible flowers, no time to take them to Cannon Beach

Farm customers and friends have been so kind and supportive, but understandably cranky and sad that there are no late summer lettuce and leafy green starts, or Ball Jar Bouquets, or lavender wreaths.  

It's all a little weird and somewhat gloomy, especially since we still don't even know yet if all this sacrifice has been worth it- believe it or not, the purchase is still not a done deal.  The Bank People now have all the information they can possibly have about us, and they have to decide if they think we are really committed to this new path that we are on, and if we can really take on the responsibility of  home ownership.  I know, I know.  It's frustrating.  Anyone who actually knows us knows we are up to it.  We know we would live on rice and beans, ride our bikes to work, and forgo any small luxury for years before we would ever miss a mortgage payment, but these people don't know us personally, and so need some convincing.  We should know sometime this week.   Needless to say, all fingers crossed, candles lit, prayers said and offerings made are welcome.  

There is one group that is pretty much ecstatic that we have stopped farming: The Bees. The bees are finally having a fantastic year, after the last couple of scary spring/summers that were far too cold and wet at all the wrong times. This year we are seeing thousands of bees- mostly bumble bees and honey bees from our hive- busily fighting over rights to the best flowers, all of which are blooming their heads off right now.  I just don't have time anymore to keep the flowers properly dead-headed but the bees don't mind.  When you walk past the lavender, the rows hum and vibrate to the sound of happy productivity, and that makes me feel good.

The cutting flower rows have just exploded into bloom in the last few weeks.

So far my favorite new dahlia from Old House Gardens is 'Old Gold'.  
Stunning! But it does have competition.  I'll try to post more photos soon...

If all that comes out of this summer's flower harvest is a lot of happy, healthy bees, then it will still have been a good year.   I sometimes stand there looking out at all the flowers and mentally compose bouquets with them, watching the new dahlias that I got from Old House Gardens this year open and bloom for the first time, and muse about what other flowers I would combine them with. I rejoice seeing old favorites bloom again after a long winter's absence.   I have the thought that I should cut them, do something with them, but I just can't make myself- we have no time for markets anymore, and I would rather see them in the garden making the bees happy than try to make bouquets.  It's just too hard to think about anything right now other than, "Arrgh! Bank People!  Just tell us Yes or No!"  I think we are all- me, Packy, the cats, the plants- somewhat preoccupied with wondering where we will be blooming this time next year.

We'll let you know as soon as we know.

Fingers crossed.

I don't even really like candy pink flowers, or cactus dahlias, for that matter.
But this beauty that my friend Jay gave me (no idea what it's name is)
is so gorgeous, I forget that it's pink and cactus-y and just think "Wow".

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Getting Past the Brick Wall

Land acquisition, like double digging, is damn hard work.

Many of you have been following our quest to find a piece of land here in Clastop County that we could move our farm to, one that we could own, not rent, and where we could do so many of the things that you have all been asking us for:  Grow organic fruits and vegetables, more cut flowers and lavender, host classes, workshops and school tours, expand our edible plant offerings, offer a Locally Grown CSA and so much more.

Well, we have Good News and Not So Good News.

The Good News is that we are very close to being able to purchase an appropriate piece of land that will allow us to eventually do all of the above, and more.  I won't say any more about that right now so as not to jinx things.  Just keep your fingers crossed.

The Not So Good News is that in order to secure a loan to help purchase the land, we have had to go down the route that involves Taking Real Full Time Jobs in order to make these nervous bankers happy about us.  Given the economic times we are living in, it is understandable that they are nervous, but still, it is a frustration that the only effective way we could find to get around the financial brick wall that stood between us and owning a farm was to take this path. Still, it is just a detour, and our eventual destination remains the same.

I have just accepted a position as Development Director with the wonderful North Coast Land Conservancy.  It's a bit daunting to take on, but I couldn't ask for a better group of people to work with, and the opportunity to help further the cause of land conservation on the North Coast is one that I can gladly devote my time to for the foreseeable future.  In a roundabout way, their hiring me makes it possible for us to buy the land we need, so they are indirectly helping protect one more great piece of land in the county, because you know that we will devote our lives to being the best land stewards ever.   

Working to help protect such things as Old Growth Forest lands
on the North Coast will be a massive hardship, but somehow I will manage.

Packy will be expanding his baking hours at the fabulous Blue Scorcher Bakery & Cafe, even taking on some graveyard shifts so that they can get bread out of the ovens first thing in the morning, so you early bird bread fans won't have to wait until midday for your organic artisan bread fix.  Iris has also talked him into doing some cake decorating as well, and anyone who has received our anatomically correct Coho Salmon Gingerbread cookies at Christmas knows that That Boy wields a mean icing decorating bag.

Now covered in flour instead of compost, Packy's regular access to BSB cardamom rolls
fresh out of the oven will go a long way towards making non-farm time less painful.

All this makes us both happy and sad-  it will give us the opportunity to finally move forwards on our Farm Vision, but it also means that we will not be able to continue with the Farmers Markets for very much longer this season, and it is very likely that we will not be able to do them with any regularity for the next year or two.

Believe me, you cannot be any sadder about this than we are.  We have loved building up our farm business, and getting to know all of you.  It has been a great honor that so many of you have chosen to fill your gardens with our plants, brighten your homes with our flowers and thrill your cats with our catnip.

We will do everything we can to continue to grow and sell things on Some Level during this time of transition.  We will have a lot of work to do re-building our infrastructure on a new piece of land, but we actually know what we are doing now, and we know that we can do it even better this time around.  

 I know that I will not be able to stop myself from starting seeds and growing plants and flowers.  Farming feeds my soul in a way that nothing else ever has, and I will find a way to keep doing it on some level, and somehow get what we grow to you all, maybe by doing occasional farmers market drop in days, or by special order and delivery, or...?  I promise, we won't just cut you all off cold turkey.  I will grow our cool heirloom tomato plants for you all next year as well, and the great lettuce plants you love, and find a way to work some flowers into the mix somehow.

In the meantime, please keep in touch with us!  I will keep updating this blog to let you all know the latest news, and at some point we will shift to a New Blog for our New Farm, and we will link to that as well.  It is going to be a great adventure story, so stay tuned.

Thank you all for being so supportive of us over the years!  In our opinion, Oregon's North Coast is really the Best Community in the World, and we are so lucky to live here.  We are looking forward to bringing you great locally grown organic vegetables, fruit, flowers, plant starts and more in the (hopefully) not too distant future.

In her favourite spot among the work boots, Squeaky dreams of 
all the mice and voles she will be able to hunt on the New Farm.


About The Hat

For years now, I have been getting questions about The Hat I wear at the farmers markets.  It's gotten so that when I forget to wear it, people comment, or don't even recognize me.  (Which is a great way to go incognito, just leave The Hat at home.)

I bought this hat years ago, I think it was in 1994, maybe '95.  I was working at Smith & Hawken in Mill Valley, California which, for those of you aren't familiar with it, is a very snooty garden store company.  (That used to have something to be snooty about.) In my defense, when I worked there it was just after the company had been sold for the first time to some corporate holding company based in Boston, and at that time it still retained a lot of what made S&H famous.  There were only two stores, both in the Bay Area, and they sold actual Real Garden Tools, and both had nurseries that sold  amazing and beautiful plants.  I remember having to study the S&H Tool Manual so that I could speak with intelligence about tree planting shovels and digging forks vs. spading forks and so on. We were trained in how to properly use and care for everything we sold, even including how to sharpen and repair customer's Felco hand shears. (I remember one customer who brought in some Felcos that had been lost in his compost pile for about a year- that was fun.)   

You could even get your Bulldog tools re-handled by Charlie, the guy who ran the MV warehouse. They employed Real, Knowledgeable Plant People in their nursery (I learned so much from Carol, Ann, Eve, Jane and Paul that first year) and although they did indeed sell super expensive teak furniture (I remember realizing that the cost of one teak steamer chair would cover my rent for a month- jeez), the company emphasis on quality and customer service and actually useful garden products was great.  

It all went to hell pretty soon after that first year I worked there. They began to rapidly open more and more stores across the country, and there was an ever increasing emphasis on selling 'Garden Lifestyle' crap.  Decorative cachepots (stupid containers that don't even have drainage holes in them) began replacing actually useful tools and supplies, and we were told to ask such things as, "Do you need socks with your garden clogs?" and "Would you like your (pumped up on steroids and forced out of season) 'Hydrangea-In-A-Decorative-Cachepot' in a Gift Bag?"

Really, it was enough to make any true gardener break out in hives.  I refuse to link to S&H, because they are such a useless company now as far as a source for Actual Real Garden Supplies goes, and everyone I know that had any real knowledge or skill is long gone. (Are they still owned by Scott's, the makers of Miracle-Gro? God, how the mighty have fallen.)  I was lucky to work there when I did.  I met many wonderful people there, and made some of the best lifelong friends I have among my co-workers, including my partner Packy, who worked at the corporate office in Mill Valley.  (In the company services department- he has never been a suit kind of guy.) It took me a long time to realize he was flirting with me when he would stop by the store, but I'm glad I finally did.  I'm pretty sure he is too.

Before I left S&H, I used my hefty employee discount to purchase The Hat, which I had coveted for months, and saved up for.  It is made by Helen Kaminski, a fabulous Australian hat designer.  I think the style was called 'Provence', but when I checked out her website, the hat called 'Provence' only sort of looks like mine. Of course, mine is at least 14 years old, and has seen some major wear- it gets wet, baked in the sun, sat on, squashed, and occasionally covered in compost.  I've long since lost the fancy leather forehead protector band inside the hat, and a few years ago the raffia string that goes around the crown to tighten the hat to your head (so it won't blow off in the wind) fell off, and I've replaced it with a bit of hemp twine.  They may well have updated the style a bit too.

In my opinion, this is the Greatest Hat Ever.  I think at the time it cost about $150, although I see they are up to $175 now.  Yeah, I know. Not Cheap. But when you figure that I got it for about $90 with my discount, and I've had it for 14 years, that adds up to about $6.43 a year for the Best Hat in the World.  Even if I bought one at full price today,  if it lasted me at least 14 years that would just be $12.50 a year.  Maybe I need to get a new one, just to have as a backup. (Although we need to save our pennies for buying a new farm, see next post for exciting update!)

Honestly, I cannot recommend this brand of hats strongly enough.  They are worth every penny, and if Ms. Kaminski ever needs a testimonial from a well satisfied customer, I will gladly supply it.

I just won't buy my new hat at Smith & Hawken.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Age of Squeamishness

I had the most interesting experience at the American Association of University Women's 'Clatsop Girls United Leadership Day' (to give it the official title) or 'Girl Power Day', as my friend Iris called it.  We were both there to give talks to girls from local elementary and middle schools about the career and education opportunities available to them in their future, and basically to just get them thinking about different possibilities for their lives.  Iris talked to them about baking (she is one of the owners of the great Blue Scorcher Bakery in Astoria), and I got to talk to them about Composting with Worms.  

Here is the thought provoking thing that I observed. 

I spoke to two groups of girls, the first were 7th and 8th graders, and the second were 5th and 6th graders.  They were both great, and both groups asked good questions, but the older girls were SO much more squeamish about the worms! One girl wouldn't even come up and look, but sat at the back of the room insisting that she would throw up if she even saw them.  A few of them were willing to touch the worms, and handle the worm castings, and there was one fantastic young woman (who told me she wants to be a zoologist when she is older) who gave the group an excellent explanation of the physical attributes of worms.   But for the most part they were fairly reserved and fine with just watching and listening.

But the younger girls!  As soon as I gathered them round and dug into the bucket of compost with worms in it, they were completely into it, digging their hands into the pile, feeling the worm castings, letting the worms crawl on their hands, looking for worm babies- I brought along several containers of nightcrawlers purchased at a local bait shop to show the difference between red wigglers (good for compost) and earthworms, or nightcrawlers (great in the soil, not good for compost), and they took the containers off to their desks in groups and began pulling the worms out to hold them, asking about which was the head and which was the tail, and squealing "Oh!  The worm is pooping on my hand!  Look!"  I had completely lost their attention at that point, they were just so into the worms.

It was so cool.

And my question is this:  What happens between 6th grade and 7th grade that changes girls from hopping up and down with the excitement at the thought of plunging their hands into a pile of composting vegetable matter filled with worms, into girls hanging back looking to see if anyone else is going to touch the worm first before they think maybe they might be OK with it, but just for a second?
Because whatever that is, that's what we need to help girls (and boys) overcome.  When people are excited about something, and able to show it, and just plunge right in without fear of what other people will think, great things can happen.  And since these girls are some of the people who will be running the show when I am old and (hopefully not too) decrepit, I want them to be able to make as many great things happen as possible in their lifetimes.

In the meantime, I hope they are all perhaps just a wee bit less afraid of worms, which really are some of the most amazing creatures out there. 

I released the captive nightcrawlers into the soil throughout the farm later that day.  I just took the containers and turned them over onto the soil, leaving the container there to provide some shade.  Within an hour, the worms had all disappeared into the ground.  I hope they have a good time down there.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Market Madness

Eddie the Cat supervises the loading of the van

We meant to take a lot of 'action shots' at the Astoria Sunday Market's opening day but honestly, it was a complete blur and there wasn't a moment to take the camera out!  All I remember is an enormous wave of people coming through our market booth, steadily wearing down the great wall of plants that we had brought with us that day.  If you came by to say hello and we had no time to chat or catch up, I apologize!  It was just a crazy day, but in a good way. Do come by again soon.

 I loved seeing so many people excited about growing edible plants this year, whether they were old hands coming back to experiment with a new tomato variety, or people growing their very first head of lettuce.  I think there are going to be a lot of great homegrown meals served up on the North Coast this summer.

The main topic on everyone's mind was, as usual, TOMATOES.  It is such a tragic love we have with them here, as they are such a challenge to grow on the coast.  And yet...  when it works, and you bite into that ripe, delicious tomato that you grew in your very own garden on the coast, it is the most satisfying thing imaginable.  So I get it, and want to help everyone have as successful a tomato growing experience as possible.  I got a little crazy with the number of varieties we are growing this year, but I wanted to give everyone lots of options for great, short season, smaller sized tomatoes that have a good chance of making it here.  We are close to selling out of a few varieties, so if there is one you are really wanting to try, drop us an e mail and we can reserve it for you to pick up at the next market.

We can't do anything about the weather, but we can do something about how we respond to it!  If you didn't get a chance to pick up our 'Tomato Growing Tips for the North Coast', just follow the link and it will take you to our websites plant growing tips section.  (Yes, I know, so far there is ONLY the tomato growing tips!  More coming soon, I promise.)

There were three questions we heard all day long.  

1.  "Do you have any basil?"  The answer to this is technically yes, but it is still young and we won't bring it to market until it has at least a fighting chance of surviving outside.   May is just TOO EARLY TO PLANT BASIL OUTSIDE ON THE COAST.  I know that sucks, but it just is.  Be Patient.  Summer is coming.

2. "What do you think about those upside down tomato containers?"  The answer to this is...hmm.  Well, a LOT of people seem very excited about these this year, and I understand that there have been several advertisements in heavy rotation on television recently, promising great things using this method. (We don't have cable, and thus out here we don't get television, so I miss these things.)  

I had a moment to chat with Vicki from the wonderful Sungold Farm last Sunday- they have also been getting a lot of questions about these upside down tomato growing thingys.  We both agreed that it seems kind of weird to us, and couldn't figure out the answer to the main question, "Why?!"  I guess it's a space saving thing.  And neither of us could figure this out: When you water them, where does the water run off go?!  Because it seems like it would just run out the bottom and get your tomato plant all wet, which the plant will hate.  I don't want to say they don't work, because I've never tried it, so if you have, or if you are trying it for the first time, will you e mail me and let me know what your experience is?  I will say that if you want to try it out, you would want to pick a determinate tomato variety to grow, not an indeterminate one.

Which brings me to the last question.

3." What does 'determinate' and 'indeterminate' mean?"

Tomato plants come in many, many flavors, but two basic styles- determinate and indeterminate.  Determinate tomatoes are also known as bush tomatoes- they have a finite size, and the plant will grow to that size and then stop.  It will continue to flower and fruit, the plant just won't get bigger.  These are good tomatoes for containers, because they don't get too big, and their root system isn't as big.  A lot of hybrid tomatoes are determinate, as the plants have been bred to stay smaller.

Indeterminate tomatoes are vining plants, and they will just keep growing- vines can get 8-10 feet tall if you let them.  You do not have to let them, you can prune away at the tops once they get too big.  Most heirloom varieties are indeterminate, because plant size has only really become an issue in more recent years with people wanting less rambling plants in their garden. Indeterminate varieties will need support- we like to grow our up against a  trellis, which helps with air circulation and ripening, and makes it easier to cover up with row cover fabric when those damn summer storms blow through.  And it is good to pinch out suckers on indeterminate tomatoes to control the rampant growth.

Later in the year (when we can take illustrative photos) I will post on pruning and training for tomatoes.  For now just keep them warm and as dry as you can, and hope for sun.

I am looking outside my window at a glorious early morning- clear blue sky, no wind, and the faint roar of the ocean way off in the distance.  A Good Day for Tomatoes.  After savoring the beauty of the moment, and thinking, "ahhhhhh.....", my next thought was "Tell Packy To Water The Greenhouse!!". 

Not that I'm not willing to do it myself, but I'm off this morning to give a couple of talks about Worm Composting to groups of young girls at the American Association of University Women's 'Girls Esteem Day' in Astoria.  

Handfuls of decomposing plant matter full of wriggling red worms + 8-13 year old girls.

Should be a fun morning!

Come by and see us at the market soon.  My fabulous father, Ralph-Dad Retzlaff is visiting us right now and helping out on Sundays (well mostly he is just trying to stay warm in the afternoon Astoria wind tunnel that is the market street!), and we are looking forward to catching up with old friends, and hearing about your garden adventures.

Eddie the Cat will be staying back at the farm, guarding the greenhouse and working on his tan.

Maybe this afternoon I'll get to take a nap in the greenhouse too.

Monday, May 4, 2009

To Market, To Market!

Hopefully we can remember how to put the market tent up....

Considering that the next part of that line in the nursery rhyme is 'to buy a fat pig', perhaps I should have tried to think of another blog post title, given the current world attitude towards swine. However, that line has been humming in my head for days now, as we are less than a week away from Opening Day of the Astoria Sunday Market. 


I never understand how time seems to moves so fast, as I'm pretty sure we just took down our tent on Twelfth Street for the last time of the season a few weeks ago.  Yet here we are again, with a greenhouse and nursery loaded with plants (SO many cool tomatoes!) and so many other good things on the way, and next Sunday at 7 am we will be pulling into our spot in front of Lucy's Books, sleepy but excited. Opening Day always feels like the first day back at school to me- seeing old friends for the first time in months, swapping stories and checking out what everyone grew or made for this year.

We'll be spending the week getting as many of the last minute details sorted out as we can (I know we'll forget something), as well as continuing to get more seeds started, more transplants transplanted and more plants in the ground. So much to do, but somehow everything that needs to get done seems to get done in the end.

Spring  greens are ready to plant!

Do come out and see us this Sunday, because you know that what your Mom really wants for Mother's Day are some gorgeous heirloom vegetable and herb plant starts, grown right here on the coast, with maybe a few flower plants mixed in to attract the beneficial insects and make everything look colorful and bright.

And maybe you need a few wonderful tomato plants for yourself, too.

 Garden fresh tomatoes are always worth the effort

Keep your fingers crossed for sunshine, and come say hello!  We've got stories to tell about the winter, and we want to hear yours.  We look forward to a great day, and a wonderful season. 

See you soon!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Burning (Chair) Man '09

One of the best things about small-scale farming is the kind of community that can build up around it.  When you work and farm right next to where your fellow market vendors, customers and co-workers live and work, it isn't long before friendships form and ideas are exchanged, and help and support are offered and received.

We've had Farm Days off and on over the last few years- it started the year I broke my wrist in January (an encounter with a bad patch of black ice) and had to break down and accept that if we were going to have a market season at all that year, we just needed help.  We put out a call, and had so many friends show up and generously spend a day weeding, chopping, planting and mulching, getting us back on track for the season. We shared good food (we are blessed to know many fantastic cooks) and good stories, and the kids got to run around like wild things, pick daffodils and poke around in the creek.  

We've also had a few bonfires-  there is something just so primal and satisfying about setting a huge pile of debris on fire, especially when it largely consists of blackberry vines.  I know, I know, it screws up our whole carbon footprint thing, but we do our best to offset this every day, I promise.  Plus it is a great excuse to make homemade marshmallows and graham crackers and eat the best s'mores ever.  Although after eating just one, you kind of have to go lie down and recover.

So this year, when I was scrambling to figure out what to do for Packy's birthday, which falls at this time of year when I am so consumed with transplanting and weeding and mulching and planting that he is lucky if he gets a homemade cake, I had a last minute thought- we'd have a Farm Day, ON his birthday, AND set fire to the huge pile of debris that had been collecting in the 'to be burned' pile in the pasture.

The cold, rainy, gloomy weather we had been stuck with for the last few weeks hung on until about 10:30 that morning, pelting us with one last shower of hail before breaking up and heading East.  The sun managed to break through, friends showed up bearing some truly delicious food and drink, and all were amazingly eager to work- so eager that I had to ring the dinner bell and go out and roust them to come in and partake of the amazing meal that was laid out.  

The best Farm Crew in the world. Until we tapped the keg.

There was a lot of laughing, way too much sugar consumed, a great keg of Sunrise Oatmeal Pale Ale supplied by the Fabulous Fort George Brewery (we love you, guys!) and possibly one of the best Spontaneous Combustible Art Moments I have had the good fortune to participate in.

I'm not sure whose idea it was.   There was a decrepit rocking chair sitting there, waiting it's turn to go on the bonfire.  Someone commented that we needed a effigy to sit in the chair while it burned, and I think it was Martin who piped up, "Old Man Winter!  We need to Burn Old Man Winter!"  Given that we had all been suffering through the most wretched month of cold rain and sleet, the idea of burning Winter Personified was tremendously appealing to us all, and after a bit of creative scrounging around,  suddenly sitting there in the chair was a cobbled together Old Man Winter. The final touch was shoving one of the bundles of flash powder (that the crew from Lance's Farm Vittles had brought Packy as a birthday gift) into Mr. Winter's head.

It was all SO satisfying.

Old Man Winter, aka  Burning (Chair) Man

Taking advantage of Old Man Winter's slow ignition to roast
 just a few more marshmallows....

And do you know, the last two days have been Truly Beautiful- clear, sunny and warm, the first two days this year where it has actually felt like Spring. 

So maybe it worked, after all.

Resting in between s'mores...

We are already thinking about Burning (Chair) Man 2010....