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.

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.  


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. 


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. 


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.

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!

What's Bloomin' Today

Spring is here in full force and it seems like any direction you turn there is a feast for the eyes. Now, please keep in mind that this is our first year in the flower farm ramp up so we are still looking a bit floral anemic but progress is progress and the perennials we plant this year will make spring next year that much more impressive.

And let us not forget our indoor tropical beauties.....

The Orchard

It's taken us a couple weeks to recover from the planting ordeal and be able to mentally re-live the experience in order to put this post together. You may be thinking, ok, so you had to dig some holes and plant some trees big flippin' deal. No, oh no, aside from the fact that Graham fell into one of his own tree holes while trying to plant trees by the light of our truck's headlights it was also like a nightmare "I told you so" from middle school geometry. When are we ever going to need to know the Pythagorean theorem or inverse angles???? We'll tell you when, when you are trying to plant 100+ trees in proper offset rows running at right angles to a house that does not fall on a proper East/West axis, That's When!!! OK, now that that vent has been opened... We shall continue in a more productive tone.

The orchard, as it is envisioned will be about 120 trees in an offset grid pattern with 12' spacing between the trees. The pattern will be slightly offset again on the outer two rows to create a dead end when looking down the angled rows from the house. We ordered our trees from Stark Bros Wholesale. The commercial option saved a huge amount of money but created restrictions in terms of variety since you have to order minimum quantities of each variety and sizes range from almost fruiting ready to wee little things that will yield a few years out. To augment this we ordered a few trees from our wish list from their retail operation, those trees were more consistent in size and were pruned before delivery which is a nice touch. The trees were all delivered bare root and very well packaged with moist sawdust to keep them happy. The idea behind this orchard is to have more than enough fruit for ourselves, our friends and family and for various projects that Graham will inevitably come up with. With that in mind and since you have to plant trees years before you get to enjoy them, we figured it would be best to really mix it up now and hedge our bets that we will have exactly what we want in the future. We opted for a mixture of modern and antique hybrids and mixed in crabapples for pollination and cut flower use. Also, they will flower and look glorious.

Apples: Liberty, Macoun, Northern Spy, Calville Blanc, Ben Davis, Cox's Orange Pippin Antique, Enterprise, Granny Smith, Honey Crisp, Pristine, Wolf River

Crabapples: Manchurian, Whitney, Snowdrift

Apricots: Goldcot, Harcot, Harglow, Wilson Delicious

Sweet Cherries: Emperor Francis, Stella, Stark Gold

Sour Cherries (for pies): Suda Hardy

Peaches: Carolina Belle, Contender, Early Redhaven

Nectarines: Hardired, Stark Sunglo

Plums: Methley, Green Gage, Shiro, Santa Rosa, Spring Satin Plumcot (hybrid)

Pears: Anjou, Comice, Red Sensation, Seckel, Chojuro Asian

Quince: Orange

Of course, more will be added in future years and we still need to find a home for some figs, Arctic Kiwis, grapes, hazelnuts and persimmons.

The process for actually laying out the grid was tricky, we tried lasers at first, but they were no good during the daylight and right angles were too short, in the end we had to resort to strings and math. We took a 20' length of string and laid it next to the house foundation and measured 4' off the side of the house to create a consistent distance. Then we took another 20' length and tied it to a stick at the starting point of the other string. The internet came in handy next as we used a Pythagorean right angle web calculator to find the length of side "C" so to speak (the long side) and tied that to the stick at the other end of the line 4' off the side of the house. The way the theorem goes, we will get a right angle to the house once the end of the long piece meets the end of the 2nd 20' string leading away from the house. We know, this sucks and is annoying to read about, try actually doing it. As usual, Graham got tangled in the string multiple times and was on the verge of a fit. These pictures might make more sense than the verbage.

Once we had a true right angle line we extended it out to the far edge of the orchard area and marked that point. Then we took a still with two 12' strings attached to it and marked the locations for each tree with stakes. Because the trees are planted with equal 12' spacing, once we had two tree locations we could use the stick with the two strings attached to it to find the third location quite easily and consistently, we worked our way around the area with the stick, strings, and stakes and ended up with a very reliable spacing (adjusted for obstacles and pre-existing ornamental trees of course).

That was the boring part, the fun part came with the Ditchwitch and the 18" auger bit. This machine went through our soil and most roots/rocks without any trouble. We dug the holes excessively deep at first but got the hang of it after a while.

With the holes dig it was a "simple" matter of placing the trees, planting them and then watering. Unfortunately Graham was on his own for this and time got away from him. The planting went till about 11pm and finished by the light of our truck. Towards the end it was impossible to find the hose, see the bobbex (dear repellent) that was being sprayed on and avoid the unfilled holes.


 It was pretty fantastic to wake up the next morning and look down on our future orchard (currently a forest of sticks)... deer fence is the next project, but we will take a breather before getting to that.



Hosebib Numero Uno

Water water everywhere but not a drop where we needed it, in this case, outdoors. Yup, this house was blessed with multiple acres and no way to water them. Sure sure, years ago prior to frozen pipes there were ways, but not since we have been here. So it is with great pride that we show off our very first exterior hosebib.

This is located right next to the orchard, which is a vast improvement over last weeks 5 connected hoses with lots of running back and forth attempt at watering the newly planted trees. We will get around to showing that ordeal, but for now Graham is still getting over the trauma of falling in one of his own tree holes.

This hosebib is no ordinary hosebib, it is a frostfree sillcock. yeah we don't know what that means either, but the end result is that it wont freeze over winter, a big plus. The plumbing for this required a whole lot of cutting out old pipes that snaked across the basement ceiling. Many of which were insulated with horse hair and rags (not fun to stand under and cut) we are talking a ton of pipes mind you, and then the running of a single new pex line, a dream of simplicity and modernity by comparison. Then some crimping connections and opening the valves, super easy and oh so convenient. Tune back for lots of pictures this summer of us using this bad boy!

UPDATE - Raised Beds

Last November, prior to snowmageddon, snowpacalypse, snow in general, we planted our raised beds. Now, we are happy to share the first update on how they faired. It's still early in the season yet, but we are seeing distinct signs of life from the majority of the species planted.

Tulips are up and looking very healthy. Ermerus (foxtail lilly), one has sprouted, it looks like a plant version of a squid mouth...that analogy may be lost on those of you who have not made calamari. Lilies are sprouting in quantity, as are the aliums, fritillaries, and narcissus. Of the Iris so far only two are showing, in truth we left them in their shipping containers too long last year so we suspected losses would be a sure thing from that bed. We will continue to keep you posted and of course, here are some pictures:


So if you are like us you probably go to the market and look for organic food and assume it is better because it probably comes from a smaller producer who cares about the earth and the environment. If that is the case then you will probably be disenchanted to learn that big agriculture has essentially adjusted/appropriated the playing field to benefit them in the realm of "organic" certification. We are not going to go into a long winded rant, if you are interested you can do a little research on the topic and probably learn more by doing than by being lectured at. In short though, the certification process to be organic is so expensive that many small growers/producers can't swing it and in the end the produce doesn't actually have to be organic in the year that you are consuming, just as long as a number of previous years were organic. For that reason a lot of small growers (us included) have and will adopt varying descriptions of their growing practices that do not violate the labeling rules (because it takes years to be officially certified and we are new) but that get the message across. For us, it will probably be "grown with organic practices" or something along those lines. We wholeheartedly believe in maintaining the environment and staying away from chemical fertilizers and pesticides and will stand behind all of our produce, but you wont be seeing a "certified organic" label for at least 5 years (the certification period) despite the fact that all our fertilizer and soil amendments come from the big mother (earth). We are especially excited to be using all Neptune's Harvest amendments this year. Kelp meal, crab shell, fish gurry and various humic based potions. We expect our veggies and flowers to be beautiful and productive while not adding to the environmental problems the world faces. Because organic practices are at their best as a additive system, each year's produce will become mulch and compost for the following year's produce, thus improving the soil structure and quality with each passing season; the polar opposite of what happens in a chemical fertilizer/pesticide based growing practice. So, it is with no small measure of pride that we present the 2015 season organic helpers:

Some of the smaller goodies are not shown. The drum is full of fish gurry, white bags are crab shell and the brown and green bags are kelp meal.



Bees, yup, we are getting bees, partially to ensure good harvests in the orchard and veggy garden but really so we can have real artisanal honey. Bees are not as easy as one would think though, they take a lot of setup and maintenance, their rewards are worth it though so this week Carol spent hours and hours assembling their future homes. Supers, frames, hives etc.. it all came in pieces and had to be put together nail by nail. She did a great job and we think the bees will be very happy come May when we pick them up and move them in!

Shifting Gears

Spring is here! Actually, that's a lie, but, it is time to start planning for spring, plants take time to grow and we want to maximize the growing season. First order of business, planting plans, I.E. figuring out what seeds we have (Graham got carried away ordering and at last count we had about +/- 30,000 to plant) so that will be fun. Organization is the order of the day, essentially making a page of notes for each variety that covers spacing, planting notes, harvest notes, planting successions etc...  

With those notes sorted out it was time to plant, so Carol got right to it....the pictures show flats of delphiniums, callas, geraniums and rhubarb. This is just a small taste of what is to come, by the time the last frost happens we will have thousands of plants eager to go out into the ground. It's is going to be a very colorful year on the farm. But wait, there was more planning to be done, the orchard had to be sorted out. So we ordered trees from Stark Wholsale, which is great from a price standpoint, but resulted in us having an orchard twice the size of what we were intending....as of now we need to find homes for about 140 trees.

So, there you have it, proof that spring is here, in a way. We are just holding on to dreams of sitting in the orchard, enjoying the fruits of our labor.

Helping Hands

It was hard to admit, but my better half was right when she said I had not built enough raised beds for the bulbs ordered. So...back to it. Luckily I had extra hands this weekend in the form of Oren, Emily, Naomi and Asaf, hard working and very generous friends. With their help we were able to knock out two more beds and get top soil in them in just a couple hours. 

That's Oren using a nail gun for the first time, he got the hang of it pretty quick. 

One lesson learned from this was that we need another wheelbarrow. Preferably a bigger one, so that we can size the tool to the task, things would have gone even faster with two going back and forth. The six yards of topsoil are finally starting to dwindle, but we probably have another bed or two worth. 

Twilight is settling in and we are just about done on this bed. Testing out the concept of leaving wire mesh on top of the beds to see if it helps deter deer from digging for bulbs. 

Meanwhile, while the guys were tackling raised beds and throwing old lumber out of one of the attics, the very industrious ladies were demo'ing the back room (future solarium).

Que 80's montage music....

Efficient, organized and fun, those girls make one hell of a construction crew. 

End of the day tally: Girls, one broken window. Guys, one broken window - tie game. 

Anyways, thanks go out to Oren, Emily, Asaf and Naomi for taking a precious weekend day to come play on the farm. 

Planting Bulbs and Building Raised Beds

So when we first embarked on this renovation project we knew we would want to make the land carry it's own weight so there are lots of plans in place for various agricultural pursuits. With that in mind we checked the USDA National Resources Conservation Service soil maps for the area and to our delight our farmhouse falls in what is designated as Copake gravelly silt loam, or in simple terms.."prime farmland". We naively had daydreams of being able to dig a small hole, reach in elbow deep through light fluffy organic soil and have perfect results no matter what we planted. The reality is that, yes, the soil is good and has great drainage, but it varies from point to point and has a fair amount of clay in some areas and is highly compacted/neglected in others. Being lovers of the classic European country gardens which utilize raised beds and also being aware of the benefits that raised beds provide we concluded that the bulk of our planting areas should be built in that manner. On paper that was an easy choice, in reality it's a lot of backbreaking work (especially when the 6 yards of topsoil are dumped 150' from where they are supposed to be).

The first step in this project was to check the compass and run the beds along an East/West axis. From there we pounded grade stakes in and measured off 4' bed widths and 3' walking path widths. One the stakes were in we strung lines along them to create the guides for tilling.

Once we had the rows marked we ran a mower through the area to knock the weeds and growth down and create a little extra mulch. Now, it should be noted that here that #1, we should have mowed before marking and #2, many people would advise to cut the sod out first in order to prevent weeds from getting mixed in. We are not so worried about the grass since it will be tilled deep and then an additional 6+" of soil put on top. These particular beds are set to be for perennial flower bulbs so they will most likely get various nitrogen fixing cover crops going forward which will choke out any attempted weed growth. Normally Ermela would do this next part, but she was at her real job so it was left to me (Graham) to play with the heavy (by our standards) machinery....the tiller. We use a Reardon Briggs  tiller with a Honda motor, so far it has handled everything we have thrown at it with flying colors. It takes three passes on each depth setting for each 4' row. There are four depth settings and three rows, it's a lot of walking back and forth.  

Walking back and forth, back and forth and all the while fighting the machine as it bucks when it hits rocks and then having to bend down and pick up said rocks. In the above picture you can see just a few of the rocks after the 2nd pass, the real big rocks came later. Time passes though and even the most tedious tasks are done. 

Time to start adding soil amendments! We keep this simple, a liberal helping of high quality top soil (mixture of soil, compost and leaf mulch) and this season's leaves to add air and hummus over time. If this were a vegetable bed we would add a lot more manure and compost. The next step...more tilling, but this time Ermela is around to take over and mix that soil up. She always claims to be the better driver. 

With the soil beds thoroughly mixed and aerated it's time for the construction bit. We are using basic 2" x 6"  lumber for this, not pressure treated, we don't want the chemicals in the soil. This will result in us having to replace them from time to time, but that's a small price to pay for peace of mind.  

These are 16' long, they look so short when in place, we are going to need a lot of lumber. One of the things we have been toying with is using some of the lumber form the trees we had to take down to make raised beds, but that's a whole different project. 

Either we messed up our math or the lumber company forgot one of our boards so we had to scrounge through our debris piles to find a few more end boards. Then it was time for my favorite new tool, a Porter Cable compressor with a Bostitch framing nailer...it's a beast! Hand nailing these beds would have taken three or four times as long and probably resulted in a few bruised thumbs/fingers. 

With the beds put together it was time to start planting bulbs. We figured it would be easiest to layout the bulbs, slightly pressed into the tilled soil and then just cover with the top soil to fill the beds. Graham got a little carried away and fell in love with the pictures in Brent & Becky's and McClure & Zimmerman's and ordered a couple thousand bulbs. It was an aha moment when the boxes were opened and it became apparent that more beds would be needed. 

These are just a little over half the tulips. They are planted closer than what would be used for long term naturalization plantings since using them for cut flower production will wear them out after a season or two in all likelihood. Before covering them in topsoil we scatter pest repellent granules over them to discourage voles, moles and deer. We shall see how well it works, if it is not repellent enough we may have to put a layer of metal wire over the beds to discourage critters from digging. 

Two thirds done. At this point the sky had started spitting rain and the wind was picking up and Graham wouldn't stop whining about his back hurting after about 30 wheelbarrow loads of dirt. We put a thing cover of topsoil over the second bed to protect the bulbs and put off starting the third. In an attempt to keep track of what is where we stapled the tags or bag labels to the sides of the beds. We still have several hundred bulbs to plant. The mixture at the end of the day will be tulips, daffodils, aliums, lilies, iris's and all kinds of exotic rarities. Our cut flower production will focus on white, green and black flowers. According to our garden master plan.. three down, about 50 to go.