Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Vegetable & Tomato Starter Plants for 2013

We will be offering a nice variety of vegetable and tomato starts available after April 1st for pickup on-farm or at the Glover Park - Burleith Farmers market on Saturday mornings, 9 am to 1 pm.

For those of you unfamiliar with that market, its directly across from the Safeway on lower Wisconsin Avenue in the Hardy Middle School parking lot.

Pricing will be $ 5 for 6 packs of veggie starts. Tomato starts will be $5 for medium and $8 for large size plants.

Please email your order to: info@whitmorefarm.com and we will reserve your plants for you.

No plants will be reserved without payment on ordering - we accept checks, paypal.

These varieties represent some of my favorites over the years and most are heirloom varieties.

All inputs (soil, fertilizers) for our starts are organic/NOP/OMRI approved.

More of an ornamental but leaves can be blanched and eaten. We grow this for its great architecure, lovely silver foliage, and purple thistle flowerheads in the garden.
$5 each for sizeable plants.

herbs:  $5/six pack
Italian parsley 
Better, stronger flavor than other forms. Will self-seed if given afternoon shade and moisture. 

Genovese basil 
Classic italian form. Can't imagine summer without it! Really likes the heat, so don't put it out too early. 

Dukat dill 
Another fantastic culinary herb. Fantastic in rice, indian food, and more.

Chives, common (allium schoenoprasum)
Chives....need I say more ;)

I think more Americans should grow fennel. Its really underutilized in our cooking and has a wonderful, delicate flavor. The plants are beautiful and it will reseed readily for volunteers year to year. 

GREENS: $ 5/six pack
Dandelion   Catalogna frastagliata
                  Italiko rossa 
I tried dandelion greens last year and really fell in love with them in salads. One variety has a prominent red stem, the second all green. As you can imagine, easy to grow. 

Lettuce       kweik, tom thumb, oakleaf, others
We will be offering a variety of heirloom lettuce varieties, mostly buttercrisp varieties that tend to form a nice head.

Kale, lancinato ‘dinosaur'  
Sorry, but as far as I'm concerned,  lancinato kale puts all others to shame. A really nice, hearty kale that stands up well in soups and stir fries. It has that really deep, dark color I look for in kale.

Chard, swiss 'bright lights'  
This is an incredibly colorful variety that performs well in moist soil, maybe some afternoon shade.


$5 for medium-sized plant
$8 for large -sized plant

Cherry tomatoes:
Lemon drop             
Prize of the Trials  
Indigo Rose             
Yellow Pear              
Maglia Rosa             
Red Pear                 
Black cherry           
Green grape            

Full-size tomatoes:  
Hillybilly Potato Leaf 
Crnkovic Yugoslavian  
Gold Medal                 
Mortgage Lifter         
Cherokee purple          
Costoluto Genovese     
Green Zebra                
Brandywine, Yellow       

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Hoop house heaven! (again)

Often people want to know more about what its like to be 'on the farm' on a daily basis, so I thought I might make an effort to share some of my activities, both and good and bad.

Today was a 'good' day - I got to play in the dirt!

Back in September, I found myself without anything important to do. I was confused, wandering around but unable to find a suitable project. I was as shocked to say the least! 

The roof is polycarbonite.
South face of barn.
So about 7 days before Hurricane Sandy hit, I decided to build a greenhouse. (Of course, what else would you want to do as a massive Hurricane was barreling down on you).

I must admit that during my 50 years, there isn't really all that much I have denied myself, but a heated greenhouse was one of them. 

Still, I could never find justification for such a hedonistic, environmentally-unfriendly, fossil-fuel sucking, money pit of a project.

However, on the farm, things had suddenly changed. I had plants to start for the veggie garden and previous years' jury-rigged hothouses had been pretty inadequate. ('I'll never do THIS again!' I grumbled last year.)

I finally had my justification and my evil plan was sprouted! I would have my heated greenhouse, finally!

Of course, there was no money and I work full-time off the farm, but I did have some free time, so what the hay.

This space is a lounge area for the interns.
I built the heated cool greenhouse attached to the workroom of the barn, on the south facing facade, where I can take advantage of the protection the barn provides from prevailing, cold winds. The concrete floor, part of the barnyard, serves as a heat sink and provides a good surface to work on.

Access is through a sliding barn-type door off the workroom.

What a luxury! I just don't know how I've managed so long without one!

I built the frame out of pressure treated wood. Roofing is twin-wall polycarbonate and the windows are inexpensive stock windows from Lowes. They're all vinyl, so are rotproof, energy efficient, and don't need paint. I considered triple or quad wall polycarbonate for the roof but decided against it when I saw how much light is lost with the improved energy efficiency of the thicker poly.

The hip walls are super-insulated and clad in galvanized roofing material. I decided against glass in the lower walls because its the least useful space in any greenhosue due to the lower temps near the ground. The space under the tables provide a dry space to store supplies.

The shed design for the roofline allowed me to add a second tier of windows on one side. This will allow passive venting of hot air along the high side of the greenhouse with very good cross-ventilation when needed.

All in all, the materials cost about $6500, which includes about $1200 for the galvanized tables. The table surfaces are polymax material available as an option on these Farmtek greenhouse tables. I like the fact that they keep my supplies dry underneath and provide a smooth surface on which to work, but they aren't as thick as I would have liked and bow somewhat in the middle, which causes some pooling of water.

Farmtek and I have a love-hate relationship. In my experience, their quality is not always that great, but what can you expect considering their generally low prices. I buy from them with caution ;)

When I say 'cool heated greenhouse', I mean that supplement heat is provided, but it is far from tropical. Nighttime temps can go as low as 40 degrees. I provide heat mats which have been shown to improve germination but also, cold tolerance, even for heat-loving plants like tomatoes.

This is where my tomatoes for the summer garden are started. I already have tomatoes and basil going, as well as lettuce plugs for the hoophouse to fill empty spaces as they come up.

Here you can see some of our lettuce starts alongside a close up of our spinach bed. The wire hoops allow us to cover the more sensitive beds with agribond, also known as row cover material.

Agribond/row cover material is an awesome product that provides a 'blanket' for plants both inside and outside the hoophouse. It protects the plants from frost, heavy snow, and the like, while retaining heat and creating a micro-climate for the plants. 

This is a double layered system inside the hoophouse which was originally used in Europe on a very large scale to provide local food for large cities like Paris and London. The prospect of transporting food over large distances was not an option in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th Centuries. This was more or less how it was done up until the mid-20th Century.

Current crops include spinach, swiss chard, carrots, lettuce, beets, and kale. And what a crop it is! These plants thrive in the cool, bright light!
Watering on a grey day.
5 different varieties of lettuce.
Lancinato kale thrives

Weed pressure tends to be very low in the hoophouse. We've had some trouble with fungal infections which I imagine are exacerbated by the row cover material. Better cross-ventilation would probably help, but its been too cold most days to open the greenhouse doors and we won't use fans for this project.

One of my goals for the unheated or cold greenhouse/hoophouse was to not use any electricity for heat or ventilation. I wanted this hoophouse to only use passive solar energy, to show how much can be grown with only passive inputs.

We have pulled out probably about 10 tons of produce from this 30 by 90 foot hoophouse so far this winter, and I expect to pull out another 10 before we till everything in and plant our summer crops. This year, our summer crops for the hoophouse will be peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Ninja farming in Guatemala

We recently had the pleasure of taking a very well-deserved vacation from the farm and to visit Guatemala for the first time.

So what does a farmer typically do on a vacation off the farm? Well, if you're from Whitmore Farm, you visit another farm of course!

While visiting, Lake Atitlan, a volcanic lake in the highlands of Guatemala, we heard of a crazy kid from New Jersey and his wife running a micro-farm in one of the lakeside towns only accessible by boat! 

So...of course, we had to go.

the view from our hotel
our hotel room door

a view from the balcony - the lake in the foreground is a collapsed volcano and very deep

But of course, before we talk about the farm, let's talk briefly about Guatemala!

If I had to say one thing about it, that word would have to be textiles

The Mayan indigenous people (well really the women) can weave and embroider some incredible stuff.

The shop below is a ubiquitous site in Guatemala and it can be very distracting!
Typical textile store
Similar to a drop spindle for hand spinning wool

A native of a different kind,
 my niece-in-law who has been living amongst the hippie and Rainbow Family community in Mexico and was able to meet us for some of our time in Guatemala.

In addition to some awesome translation services, she was able to cleanse us using the Mayan tradition of burning a special kind of very sappy wood.

A beautiful view and a face full of sacred smoke later and we were cleansed and ready to go!

I know this posting is going a little sideways and heavy on the pictures, but I had to include pictures of this wonderful little butcher we ran across in the Mayan town of Santa Katarina with these wonderful hand-painted signs advertising his product.

 Now Will and I do love us some pig, but I did find the pig on the left to look a little sinister! 

Open seven days a week ;)

Now the guy on the right - much more my speed!

Not sure where all the pigs were. I only saw one during my whole time in Guatemala, and that was some scrawny pig.

Okay, so getting back on track with the title of this post, we would need to take a boat to get to the town above which our friends at Atitlan Organics did their good work!

10 am, 'be on time' their website warned...

Now this being our vacation, not knowing exactly how long the trip would take, we asked the staff and owners at our hotel.

'Oh, 45 minutes, no problem' was the response. Now, this being said, one thing we had learned pretty quickly was that local peoples' perception of both time and space seemed to be operating in a different plane of existence. 

At several points already during our trip, we had been led on some very long walks thanks to directions given with a smile, but clearly no actual SENSE of direction. 

Sorry but nothing that a language barrier could explain - our niece is fluent. When asked about it, Alexa laughed and agreed. For some reason, the Mayans just didn't seem to have much of a sense of exactly where things are...I guess they just figure they would eventually get there if they wandered around enough. 

That certainly worked for us out of necessity during our short time there.

So, with some suspicion, we agreed to leave one hour ahead of time - 9 am sharp. An extra 15 minutes to allow for the 'guatemalan' effect in our travel times.

The boat trip over was lovely as you can see and we arrived in about 20 minutes, smooth sailing.
So far so good!

Upon our arrival, we stumbled upon a pair of very American-looking fellows. 

My niece asked for directions, en espanol. Hablo anglais? they asked...two Americans! Great! 

No confusion there! Directions were given and off we went. We were a full 40 minute walk uphill to our destination and suddenly we were late!

We were in Guatemala, Central America, the land of manana and I was stressed about time! Clearly, I had been seriously misled about latin culture somewhere along the way!

coffee plants growing in small groves along the path uphill towards the farm
One tuk tuk ride later over cobblestone, concrete, and what looked most like dry river bed, we were just a short distance away 'up that way' our tuk tuk driver waved. 

Our tuk tuk could go no further :(

At several points, I felt the urge to put my feet out the side of the tuk tuk and push a la Fred Flintstone, in order to help the poor tuk tuk carry its heavy load up the steep hillside and rough terrain.

I was suspicious. 'The Americans said to the RIGHT of the radio tower, and this guy says LEFT?', I asked. Ugghhh. Not again.

Well surely, our American brothers couldn't be wrong.

One short trip to the RIGHT of the radio tower and back again, we were back on track and heading to the LEFT of the radio tower.
(Sorry to have doubted you Mr. Tuk Tuk driver)

Now, it was actually hot...very hot. I was breathing pretty hard as I hauled my plump, 50 year old body up a 30 degree incline, and that's when the bees arrived.

Not just normal, friendly, Maryland bees, but seriously pissed-off (oh shit this is Guatemala) Africanized bees.

Now we were running uphill, waving our jackets over our heads, being chased by bees. 'I'm going to die here' I thought.
We crossed a stream and thankfully, the bees did not follow. Death would not have me that day.

So finally onto Atitlan Organics and its Ninja gardeners, Shad and Colleen, working the soil for over 4 years on the slopes of Lake Atitlan.

As they describe it:
"amazingly beautiful and dynamic farm scape, complete with orchards, vegetable and medicinal herb gardens, baby animals and intelligent people."

The siting of the farm was quite scenic alongside a small stream and tucked into a small valley above the town. The hillsides are very rocky and somewhat steep, so as expected, there was some major terracing going on.

As Shad put it, he wanted to keep everything good that comes onto the farm (water, topsoil, nutrients, organic matter) and let none leave the farm. Smart thinking from a farming perspective.

Shad gave us a very inspiring and passionate description of his farming practices, taking advantage of every square inch of sunlight reaching his microfarm, all the way from the tops of the trees to the soil underfoot and everything inbetween.

Poultry and rabbits shared communal housing, where the chickens were able to scratch through the rabbit droppings on the coop house floor.  Deep bedding and attention to dry (brown)  and wet (green matter/urine) ratios helped produce a very nice compost that was used across the property.

One of Shad's original designs for a mobile chicken house. As with much of farming, this model was found to be impractical and the chickens were moved to a stationary poultry house.

No surprise....the terrain is very rough and flat ground is hard to come by.
The farm's new goat house and milking parlor, funded fully through farm-generated income. Quite a feat in such an area so inhospitable for farming.

The vegetable garden at Atitlan Organics.

As we ended our tour and headed back down the mountain, we were treated to a beautiful sunset.

A perfect ending to a great day of ninja guatemalan farming!