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!