For Posterity

We have been growing orchids for many years. There is a certain excitement, thrill even, when a new plant blooms. For the uninitiated, it is worth pointing out that orchids do not grow quickly, they take years to reach blooming size and we like to buy our plants young since we primarily grow new hybrids. So, hypothetically, imagine buying some baby plants and then you nurture them along for many years, growing them, loving them, potting them up keeping any eye on the temperature through the winter, watching out for pests and then some day, voila, a bloom. A first bloom mind you, many orchids don't come into their own until they have bloomed a few times (read a few more years). Anyways, you get it, orchid blooms = excitement. Well that's the standard, but now imagine when a particularly nice bloom opens up... woohoo, bells whistles etc... We recently had a plant like that, a Dendrobium cross from the venerable Sunset Valley Orchids, Fred Clarke, the proprietor has a magic touch with the little genetic letter game of craps that we growers rely on. Anyways, we digress, so we had this great plant the was on its third blooming and figured, it was worth the 5 hours of driving to show it off at the North Jersey Orchid Show. So, some more background. Orchid names/hybrids are a serious business, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has been keeping track since the 1800's, every cross, every award. In the U.S. we have the American Orchid Society (AOS) which performs the same service/oversight in conjunction with the RHS. If a hybridizer makes a cross then it has to be registered with the AOS/RHS in order to have a name and not be noted as the parent x parent. Often times crosses go unnamed until they have been awarded and shown to be worthy of being recorded for the ages. Now that name is called the grex name (all the thousands of plants with the same parents). The grex name is only part of the story though, because many orchids produce near on 1 million seeds per capsule with near on 1 million variations on how those babies are going to look. With all those variations, if one plant is special it deserves to be recognized, so with orchids each plant or "clone" is viewed individually and once awarded has the right to carry its own name and the initials of the award it won....in perpetuity. So without further ado we present:

Dendrobium Graham Spearman 'Ermela Kaferi' HCC/AOS  

The parents of this beauty are Dendrobium Gilleiston Jazz x Brimbank You Beauty - the first plant carried the pod and the second provided the pollen. 

The judging process its self was really interesting. The team of judges (it takes 6-7 years to become an accredited judge) reviewed the plant, reviewed the parents and voted regarding the quality of the flowers, the plant and the overall inflorences. They provide their judgements in a blind ballot and the scores have to have a 6 point or less spread, then those numbers are averaged to arrive at the final score which determines the type of award. If the scores have a more than 6 point spread then they have to debate again and if they can't get it down to the range then nothing can happen. Den. Graham Spearman 'Ermela Kaferi' received 79 points which is a very respectable score, especially on a relatively young plant. If the judges come to an agreement on an award the next step is to write a detailed scientific description of the flowers and spike and then the plant is photographed with special attention paid to accurate color rendition. The description and photo are then recorded into the various national databases and the photo is published in the AOS Digest 'Orchids' Magazine along with the grower information and location the award was granted. 

Trying to transport the plant without damage was quite difficult and required a fair bit of creativity and slooow driving on wonderful Jersey roads. 

All in all this was a very interesting process that every orchid grower should give a try at, worst case you don't receive an award and you come away with heaps of knowledge, best case, your chosen name lives forever in orchid databases and collections. We will most definitely be making more of an effort to show our plants in the future and with the knowledge we have gleaned we will be able to make better choices in what we grow and breed in our own collection.

2017 Going Out With a Cold Shoulder

Well, let's be honest, not many people are sad to see 2017 go; it even seems to be content to give us one last kick in the but on the way out with arctic temps. We battened down the hatches, did a little extra insulating, closed those few pesky storm windows that always seem to sneak by on the first late fall pass and voila, it's hibernation mode. 

A look into the glass house one somewhat early morning in December.    

A look into the glass house one somewhat early morning in December. 

 

On the farm front we have learned a lot this year, mostly about better planning and time allocation needs. We had some really fantastic successes and new accounts but also shot ourselves in the proverbial foot(s) a few times (Christmas amaryllis crop that missed the mark by weeks, {an expensive mistake} transplanted stunted sunflowers that never grew to size etc...) Point is, we learned this year, both from successes and mistakes and we are looking to 2018 with the renewed vigor that mid winter offers all growers.   Snow has been light but enough for the birds to make their own brand of art... it reminds us of a blank slate waiting for us to make our marks. 

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Anyways, here's to a brighter better more sane 2018 with fewer moments of geopolitical insanity, domestic self destruction and floral difficulties.  

 

Happy Holidays from Ermela, Graham, Charlize, Carol, Cercei, Maia, Sophia, Cookie and the Birds!

Those in Glass Houses....

NO throwing stones in our new glasshouse!! That's the rule for our new to us Lord & Burnham glasshouse...this was one of those craigslist folleys. Graham looking at who knows what in the used greenhouse section stumbled across a listing for a dismantled classic Lord & Burnham lean to. Now for those of you who don't know the company, Lord & Burnham was a NY based conservatory company that built huge beautiful conservatories and greenhouses of the botanical garden palm house variety (think the Enid Haupt pavilion at NYBG for reference). Anyways, Graham found this thing, got really excited about the potential for a nice lean to attached to the south side of the garage and next thing you know a box truck is in the driveway unloading box after unmarked box of bits and pieces and no directions but with the vague assurance that everything we needed would be there. Fast forward two years (yes two) and we finally have it up and enclosed and despite a couple hurdles like putting the foundation in the wrong spot and breaking some glass and not fully understanding some components it is actually up and pretty awesome. The awesome factor is based on it being 80+ degrees inside on a sunny day while only 20 degrees outside. We suspect this might pose an issue in the summer but hope to have the very complicated venting system sorted by then. The space is 35' long x 13' deep x 12' high inside. We expect to be able to do all of our starts as well as some protected crops and all our hanging basket production inside, and have room for a bistro table and chairs for some mid winter mood improvement.

We will spare you all the grisly details and just let the pictures do the talking, can't wait to get things growing in here!

Tulips

Tulips, for most people they evoke thoughts of spring, or perhaps clogs and windmills, but mostly spring...for us, the association is a little different, for us it is fall. Crisp cool air, radiant light, blisters from digging, yeah, it was almost too idyllic there, have to dissuade people of the all is rosy on the farm concept. Yes, for us tulips mean fall planting and hopefully spring harvesting. The harvesting part is easy though so the strongest association is with the fall planting. We have tried it a few different ways at this point. Our first year we planted them in raised beds in the hopes they would come back each year. We got exactly one great crop out of them, lesson learned, tulips as a commercial crop are all about the margins, what does each bulb cost? What is the loss factor? What can you sell them for. Last year we grew about 150 in very generously spaced trenches. They came up, looked beautiful and we only sold a few because we didn't have cold storage and couldn't control the harvest. Second lesson learned, build cold storage (check). So this year we planted 1,000 tulips spaced closely in a wide trench (trench = blisters). 1,000 might sound like a lot but many established flower farms plant many many thousands. The reason is that tulips (like peonies) can be held in cold storage for a long long time; those beautiful imported tulips you find in the grocery store, they are probably weeks old by the time you see them. It's the closest we come to a commodity crop at BCF. So, this year we went with a couple tried and true varieties, Red Sensation and Evergreen, 500 of each. Our personal taste trends more towards the exotics but if all goes well these two varieties will be front and center at our early spring market stall and we want them to have a wide appeal. 

Once we had our trench we planted the tulips shoulder to shoulder and then put a layer of leaves on top, sprinkled with kelp meal and crab shells and covered with dirt. Our hope is that the leaves will break down over winter and should benefit the soil structure, the kelp is a slow acting natural fertilizer and the crab shells should be irritating to burrowing critters.

Now, we wait.

Orchids are an Addiction

It's true, not sure if a 12 step program exists for this particular affliction, but it is a real problem. Take our greenhouse as an example, once upon a time it was slated for seed starting and growing hanging baskets.... fast forward a season and it has been consumed by the slow and inexorable creep of additional epiphytes and exotics. Oh well, it looks better for it and has spurred completion of the second orchid, we mean propagation greenhouse. 

As a reminder, greenhouse #1 started as a shed with a glass wall and stone floor. It had electricity and a water supply line, a drain line that goes....somewhere and a separate tool storage section running it's entire length. It appears to have been built in two phases, once a much smaller building that had grown and continues to grow. This summer we finished installing double wall poly on the west roof pitch and south and west walls. We also added misting systems, heat, insulation and lots of benches. This is very much a work in progress but it is coming together and and we look forward to sharing pictures as it progresses.

Amenia Farmer's Market

Our first market season has ended and it was quite the experience. There is no better way to see how your product is received than by talking to each and every client face to face. It was also a huge learning experience for us in terms of making sure we always had things to sell, because standing there with an empty table or only one type of flowers is not much fun. We started the season with ranunculus and anemones and finished strong with dahlias and celosias. In the middle we needed more bouquet fillers and at the beginning of the season we could have used more variety....lessons learned for next year. Oh, and we will be doing a winter market of baked goods, potted plants and eggs so come visit us at the Amenia town hall on Saturday mornings.  

Arctic Descends

According to the Times, Bloomberg, NPR and the venerable Weather Channel we have just experienced record setting lows...temps so cold that we are of a mind to start our own Super PAC with the goal of getting the jet stream back where it is supposed to be. We didn't need any of those news outlets because the minute we stepped outside every bit of exposed skin let out a cry for help and then abruptly froze.

Naturally our deep seated basic instincts said find a warm cave and crawl inside; we obeyed in the modern sense. A warm place and a fire were a good start but the icing on the cake was a full rack of ribs slow cooked to perfection. The next morning we awoke to one of those crisp blue mornings, the kind where the beauty belies the comfort. Checking the chickens, walking the dog, inspecting the plants in the greenhouse those things are normal; doing them at "feels like -29" that's a truly visceral and memorable experience, made more so by seeing the sun come up through the trees. Just goes to show, even when farm life is downright uncomfortable, there is still beauty to be found. 


Newest Members of the Flock - Winter 16' Edition

Last year we ordered chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery, this year we decided to hatch our own. Our current flock of fluffy butts is six strong and they lay well, plenty for our little household, but we wanted a few more to be able to share with family and friends (and because Graham was convinced that we needed more egg color variety). Getting the eggs was a bit of a debacle, the site we ordered from shipped out four of the 12 eggs and then notified us that the other eggs would not be available for a couple months. After many many conversations they agreed to ship out a fresh set of eggs quickly so that all the eggs could be incubated together.

Incubating was pretty easy, we got an incubator from Farm Innovators with a digital control so we just set it and then spent a couple minutes every day rotating the eggs (in addition to them being in the auto turner) and adding water to keep the humidity up. 21 days later the first eggs showed little holes (in pro egg hatching circles this is called being pipped). It takes a lot of energy for the little chicks to unzip their shells, it can take anywhere from 12-24hrs after the pipping for the babies to finally make it out into the world.

After the girls (we are being optimistic here) hatched we let them dry out and settle in with their sisters for a bit. Now for those of you who have not seen a bird hatch, there is something magical in the process. They put every ounce of effort into hatching, they put it all out there and leave nothing on the table...we are definitely going to do more hatches. 

We gave them their shots so that they would have a good strong start and we also mix probiotics and nutrients into their water and give them medicated chic starter feed. Now here's a funny note, we are continuing to be optimists, but we know that one of the chicks is a boy because he has a white dot on his head; some breeds are called "sex linked" because you can tell their sex right when they hatch based on their markings. Anyways, that boy can be seen hiding under the two white chicks in one of the pictures...he will make a big scary strong rooster some day.

 

They really are so damn cute at this age.

Getting Traction

The farm had a great driveway probably about 150 years ago, that's not meant to be a joke, seriously the last evidence of this placing having a good driveway is a sepia tone photograph of folks in period dress, a guy in a rocking chair and a horse n' buggy. Gravel had been put down from time to time over the years so the basic foundation of a driveway existed but it was very muddy and washed out. Based on that old photograph and the way the grass grew in we could see that the drive used to curve around the front and then go back along the side of the house. We could not replicate the exact front circle because a couple 100' pines grew in the way over the last century, but we created an amoeba like approximation which really ended up looking good. There are right and proper ways to make a driveway and there are less proper ways and then there are hybrid versions like we opted for. Purists will tell you that a base coarse needs to be put down then weed fabric then various grading and edging. Those purists probably don't have to deal with driveways that are over 1000' long very often, we opted for the more old fashioned way, put down gravel and then drive on it a lot and regrade from time to time. Eventually we will put in belgian block edging but at a cost of about $5 a foot times over 2,000' of edging, well, you do the math. Ermela came up with the great idea of using thin cinder blocks as the temporary edging, at a cost of less than a $1 a foot and capable of holding plants in the holes (we will be planting trailing thyme in each and every hole - three holes per block, you do the math) they turned out to be perfect. They do break if hit with a plow or backed over by a heavy truck, but we think they will tide us over until we win the lottery.

What follows is really just a lot of pictures of the whole family pitching in to bring this project together. In short, we used a trencher to cut the channels and the driveway shape. We then put the cinder blocks in the channel, back filled and brought in gravel. Sounds easy right? Wrong, it was a bloody nightmare, especially because Graham thought he could move the 220 tons of gravel on his own..by hand. You heard that right, genius over there tried to move 4 million pounds of gravel, it didn't happen. The gravel company owner watched for about 2 hours with a little smile on his face until Graham and Donald could barely move and then he drove his dozer over and moved the rest of the stone in no time.

A big thank you to the whole family that came out over the holidays to pitch in and help, this was hard, heavy work. And a word to the wise, if you try this yourself, practice with the trencher a bit and try to find one that is capable of making turns.

 

Birthday

Two wonderful ladies threw a big birthday for me (Graham) this past weekend. It was great to finally put the house through its paces and break the kitchen in a bit. A huge thanks to my wonderful wife Ermela and my talented mom Carol for putting this event together! And now, the pictures can do the talking:

Star

We love our Garland range. It has a great commercial look, two ovens, six burners, and a grill. But those are all aesthetics for the most part, what makes a great stove great is how it cooks. 

See that unusual flame shape? Not a basic ring, but a star, that is what makes this stove so special. It distributes the heat evenly across the bottom of the pan/pot, coupled with fine controls this allows the chef to have a perfect simmer, or just all out high power fast boiling heat. So there you have it, we love our Garland and look forward to it's many years of service. 

Change Your Filter

Furnaces are new to us, turns out you need to change the filters in them… yup, shocking huh? Well we had our first cold night recently and tried to turn the heat on only to have nothing happen. Next day O'neil plumbing was able to come take a look at it and diagnosed a loose connection on a relay, no big deal. While here they pulled the filter door open to show us how to change them, then they gave us one of those looks that people give you when they think you are a terrible terrible negligent human being. 

So this is actually the cleaner of the two filters. Needless to say we went to Home Depot that night and got nice high quality replacements. So listen up people, change your filters once every six months and if you are doing construction like we are, change them every three months; you don't want to make life harder for your furnace or your lungs!

Chim Chim Chimney

It seems like a deviation or perhaps even a betrayal of our farm name but from time to time we want warmth, toasty, sweltering satisfying warmth. Chimneys help with warmth sometimes. Broken chimneys carry warmth away so they don't help much, but functional chimneys; Awesome. Our old house was built in phases literally over centuries, what that means is that the heat does not necessarily flow well from one area to another. One of these heat gaps so to speak is the kitchen, it has no connection to the furnace and sits pretty far away from the rear pellet stove. Fortunately it has a big dramatic old fireplace, less fortunate is that it was blocked off decades ago with wood (a red flag) and still had stove pipe connections into the upstairs bedrooms. It looks really cool:

Beautiful right? Not really actually, but it has some great original details. That huge piece of wood in the foreground was a decorative mantel that was definitely not to fire code. This old gem is the answer to our heat gap though and what farmhouse kitchen is complete without a functioning wood burner. 

In order to get this going we called Tricounty Chimney, they put the liners in for the pellet stoves and furnace and Frank is a great guy who specializes in historic restorations. Frank came out, put a plan together, ordered a custom stainless ($$$) liner that is huuuge but means we can have a great fire with no draw problems, and put us on the work schedule. 

It took about two weeks all told, there is no rushing this kind of work because the cement/mortar has to cure between applications. Frank and his team were great about letting us look over their shoulders and learn as they went. One of the coolest parts of the process was the application of the chamber tek - it's essentially dryish cement with fibre mixed in for strength. It sticks and can be hand molded. Frank used buckets of the chamber tek and a trowel and slowly built a new smoke cavity, true artistry. Because of the size of the liner it could not be made out of the usual crimped flexible metal that smaller chimney liners are made with. Ours had to be built in 4' sections, each section was hoisted up from the scaffolding on the roof and then connected to create one long long stainless safe flue. The final bit of magic is a damper that is mounted at the top of the chimney and connected by a cable to the fireplace. The damper is spring loaded and a simple pull down locks it up tight and keeps hot air from escaping or critters from entering, heaven. 

With the work done we had to start a long burn to help cure the cement..not exactly a hardship in our book. It was glorious and the kitchen is a heat gap no longer. 

For anyone considering a chimney rebuild we would highly recommend the top mounted damper, it makes hearth life a lot easier. 

Sunflowers

We LOVE sunflowers. They are pretty close to the ideal cut flower crop, they are easy to grow, reliable, flexible on timing and they sell well. Of course we are not talking about the run of the mill orange with black center types, we just don't do those here…we are talking about the world of oddball sunflowers, the reds, greens, doubles, halos; happiness on a tall stem. 

This year we grew "Jade" and "Chianti", the Jade were the overall crowd pleaser, florists and their customers liked them whereas the Chianti went over well with the florists but did not sell well for them in their shops. This was actually an interesting lesson in regional tastes. Our NYC friends absolutely loved the dark red almost black flowers but the more rural tastes where we do the bulk of our selling was skewed heavily towards the "happier" aspect of the lighter colored daintier Jade blossoms. Our plantings next year will be heavily skewed towards the Jade with some chianti mixed in, we are also planning on trialing several other varieties to see how they grow and sell. 


To grow sunflowers for cut flower production you MUST do succession plantings. There are some crops that you can plant once and harvest throughout the season, sunflowers are not one. You plant the seed, grow the plant and then harvest it. In order to have a continuous and steady supply the seeds need to be sown every two weeks. One of the nice things about the Jade is that once you cut the main stems they will throw some small stems up from what's left of the main stem. These little stems are like perfect miniatures of the full sized flowers and the stems can be up to 20" in length which is perfect for florist work. 

Our sunflower season has come to an end here in upstate NY, fortunately Ermela's cousins were in town and willing to help cut the crop down and prepare the beds for fall. 

Harvest

There is nothing quite like reaping the rewards of your labors. That's not to say that the actual harvesting isn't work in and of its self, but something about it is a wee bit more enjoyable than the digging, slogging, planting part of the year. This year Graham was slightly more restrained than last year in his potato planting and the harvest was spread out over several weeks. We were fortunate to have our good friend Henry visit with his family to help disinter the brown, purple and yellow nuggets of starchy goodness. There is something about digging in the soil and finding a perfect potato that really delights. 

Some other edibles were far easier to harvest and we are thrilled to finally have eggs! Of course our bird brain chickens keep laying them randomly in the straw on the ground instead of in their beautiful nests. 

And then of course there were the bees..we were hoping to have gallons of honey to harvest but alas the bees were just too busy setting up shop and getting established. We do enjoy suiting up and checking in on them though. 

Oh how we can't wait for the orchards to factor into harvest season. 

Work Crew


It's mid august and it's so hot the hens are laying hard boiled eggs....or at least we wish they were, so far it's more like a farmyard version of Jurassic Park with "nature always finds a way" since every time we turn around one of our "hens" has started crowing. Well now that that rant is out of the way... It's really hot here in upstate NY so we have been trying to do our outside work in the morning and the evening and do interior work during the heat of the day. A great plan unless that interior work happens to be tearing plaster walls out, in which case it's a crummy crummy plan. Fortunately we had help this weekend in the form of the always reliable Oren and Julie and a first visit north by our good buddy Jesse. We feasted on food catered by Babettes Kitchen courtesy of our top West Coast supporters Toni, Frank and Zak (a very talented designer).

After lunch it was back to destruction in all it's various forms. Check out @brokenchimneyfarm to see a video of Oren AKA The Hulk attacking a plaster wall in slow mo. Before too many of you lament the loss of old plaster walls please keep in mind that we are saving all the plaster we can, but some areas are too damaged to save and or will be put to purposes not compatible with plaster.

The guys spent the whole day in demo mode - locked inside rooms with no AC and sweat obscured vision, but they got a lot done. The Girl crew spent a good chunk doing more methodical demolition and then put the kitchen together now that the floors are finished. Getting the fridge in and plugged in was a big moment! Eventually the heat got the better of everyone and one by one we hit the floor, wrestled with Cercei and cooled off with drinks and played Cards Against Humanity. All in all it was a very productive and fun day. Let us not forget the high point of the day (in Oren's opinion) Mama Carol threw together some blueberry tarts and home made whipped cream; they were the perfect antidote to summer heat and grime.
 

Harvestin'

Things are crazy here, the flowers are growing fast, blooming fast, and fading fast...we are learning as we go and trying to make the most of it all. There have been some real learning moments in regards to plant spacing, crop supports and marketing strategies, but we are taking it all in and already looking towards next year. We still have to finish this one though so for now we will just keep picking, planting and selling. Here are a few recent harvesting moments:
 

Quick Hoops - Invention of the Century???

We think yes. For those of you unfamiliar with Quick Hoops, you are missing out, at least in our somewhat humble opinions. Last year our eggplants were decimated by Japanese Beatles (we hate Japanese Beatles, they are stupid stupid stupid{literally, they fly straight into things all the time}). Aside from being less than intelligent they are also extremely destructive. As adults they eat leaves, something they are currently doing in the orchard with wild abandon but their real damage is inflicted when they lay eggs on plants which pupate and the grubs eat their hosts down to little nubs, really terrible manners on their part. Point being, last year between Japanese Beatles and Flea Beatles, are you familiar with Flea Beatles? They area really really annoying, they hop on young leaves and eat little holes and sap the energy from the small plants... right so beatles in general really ruined our eggplant crop last year, we planted 60 plants and got two actual little eggplants! This year we opted to try row cover fabric from Agribon and Quick Hoops from Johnny's Selected Seeds (a good Maine company). The Agribon is pretty standard stuff, comes in various widths and lengths and keeps bugs off your crop, it will also keep pollinators off your crop so make sure you take the fabric off once you see flowers; its used across the country and the gently moving white tunnels of it are sort of the modern equivalent of scare crows. Quick Hoops on the other hand are a do it yourself brilliant invention from the folks over at Johnny's that allow people to make hoops for low row tunnels out of inexpensive electrical conduit. The conduit costs very little and holds up to the elements with no issues, the system is also totally modular and works with any kind of row covering: agribon, plastic, insect screen etc.. You want pictures right? Good, because we can't figure out a good way to explain this.
 

The Quick Hoops bender is the double pipe arched shape that we bolted to an old stump (you can also use a picnic table or the truck hitch adaptor they sell). In less than a minute you can bend a straight pipe into the perfect size for a 4' wide raised bed, then it's just a matter of pounding them into the ground or slipping them over short rebar lengths like we did and then covering with your preferred material and anchoring the sides so that it doesn't blow off. This will keep our plants safe from pesky beatles (did we mention how much they annoy us) and will also create a bit of a sheltered mini climate for our peppers and eggplants to mature in. When compared to purchasing hoops from a vendor this little invention pays for itself in no time (we may be a bit over enthusiastic as images of eggplants are dancing in our minds). They also make a bigger version for full size gothic arch high tunnels, but that project might have to wait a bit.
 

Upholstery Zone

It has been determined and proven already that Carol can do anything. It has also been determined that Graham enjoys purchasing fabric too much and Ermela comes up with too many ideas for said fabric....What does all this add up to? If Carol doesn't get an upholstery studio, Ermela wont get her chairs and Graham will bury everyone in yards of natural fibers. The obvious solution was to start converting one of the garage bays into a workspace, it has natural light, electricity and big spaces; or at least it will once we finish emptying it out of boxes. For now we have cleaned it up, turned a door into a table, set up a couple sewing machines and put down a sisal rug (we have learned that the quickest way to make a space feel more finished is to put down a sisal, its odd but true). So, without further ado:
 

Yes yes, you were expecting more, but it's a start, the true magic will be seeing what Carol turns out of this space.