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!

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.
 

When Chickens Escape: Deux

So it was fairly surprising when Graham heard our rooster crow for the first time (given that he was on the roof and he has a habit of falling off those we count ourselves fortunate he was not too too surprised). Sure enough the free chick that Murray McMurray threw in the box with our order turned out to be a male. A male going through puberty it would seem since his "crows" sound like a balloon slowly deflating. Anyways, since we don't want fertilized eggs we took him away from the girls and put him in a separate fenced enclosure...which he promptly and rather impressively flew out of. Now we have a rooster running around the yard, making awkward sounds and waiting outside of any door he has seen us recently use. Overall he makes an excellent addition to the atmosphere; we are keeping our fingers crossed for his health and survival!
 

What's Bloomin' today

More tulips, the dark dark tall stemmed variety is totally getting planted for next year. Also, our old lilac tree is showing some love as are our very old rhododendrons (need to identify what species they are). The white double almost Peony looking tulips are also beautiful, but their stems are far too short to use in bouquets....they will be sacrificed to the compost gods unless they put some effort in.  
 

Flowers in the Orchard

We resigned ourselves to having an orchard bereft of flowers this year (except weeds, we have plenty of those flowers). We were very pleasantly surprised when we found our various crabapples going into bloom, even after being pruned. These hardy trees have very quickly moved up in our estimation. Many people (us included) do not give them their due, but aside from being prolific bloomers they also provide ample fodder for wildlife and several varieties produce good baking/eating apples. Also, did you know that Granny Smith apples are rumored to have originally been a sport of a crab apple tree mixing with something a little more commercial in far away Australia...see, you learn something every day!