Blog/Farm Newsletters

Posted 4/28/2011 8:04pm by Dave Ruggiero.

I woke up at 3:30 this morning to a terrible cacophony outside.  High-pitched, howling winds, buckets of rain hitting the side of the window, and thunder and lightning - strangely, very little thunder, but lightning pulsing and flaring every fifteen or thirty seconds, as if some enormous strobe light was parked over my head.  The wind and rain blasted the house for at least a half hour as I tried to go back to sleep, but it was no use - the constantly blinking blaze of light in my room, bright enough to read by when it hit, would not allow me to fall asleep. 

When I finally did, I slept fitfully, full of strange dreams, and awoke to a calm morning and a blinking, useless alarm clock.  Dan, Brosi, and I made our way downstairs and discovered that we had not overslept - it was about a quarter to seven - and that we'd all watched and listened, fascinated and a little horrified, to the fantastic weather three hours earlier.  We ate breakfast and nervously ventured outside, curious to see whether the plastic had been ripped off the greenhouses, the chicken coops (and their inhabitants) had been blown across the fields, or maybe the Rapture had happened overnight.

Miraculously, none of these things seemed to have come to pass.  The greenhouses were intact, the chickens were safe, and the farm crew, with their widely varying degrees of faith, all showed up for work.  It did make a farm full of worry about the wet spring start to wonder just how much we were going to have to put up with before we could get farming this year.  Rain is one thing, but weather that the National Weather Service described as "tornadic" is another (there's your word of the day!).  Raining frogs or lava floods seemed within the realm of possibility. 

But, weather-related chatter can only last so long, and getting to work there were plenty of signs of hope for the year.  We've already harvested about three hundred pounds of asparagus this week - a hundredfold increase over last week - and the rhubarb is sizing up nicely too.  We've been getting plants into the ground every way we can lately - making beds by hand, reusing greenhouse space, tilling up dry corners of well-drained fields - and the strawberries are starting to flower.  We farmers always say we like working outside and being out in the weather, so I guess we can't complain when it puts on a show.

Posted 4/21/2011 8:32pm by Brosi Bradley.

Two sunny days in a row... unheard of yet this April or so it seems. A third and we might actually be able to drive a tractor in the field.  Until then, we will try to be light on our feet as we transplant tomatoes and potatoes by hand, and re-cover plastic beds with the time honored tool known as a shovel.  Dave said that Roy used to lay all the plastic beds by hand when they grew a lot of melons for wholesale.  Not bad to do for a little section but I can't imagine doing row after row.  I guess that is what they talk about when they say how easy things are now, no walking to school both ways in the snow uphill.  Or rather planting in the snow... crazy weather forecast.

The tomato jungle of the greenhouse has moved out to the mini-tunnel for hardening off the plants, basically getting them used to the rough and tumble outside weather after the cozy greenhouse.  It allows them to be a little stressed, but with roll-down plastic sides, we can moderate the cold night temps some.  The sungolds have easily filled the new field tunnel and despite being a bit droopy the first day, have perked up and will soon need to be trellised.  

Yesterday Dan and I and one volunteer (or rather drafted) laying hen headed up to an education earth day event at State College Central Parklet, mainly for 3-6 year olds.  The hen (hereafter referred to as 'Princess' thanks to some snappy namers) was clearly the star of the show.  The expected problems, such as making a break for it, or the hen taking an unopportuned bathroom break when we were holding her, did suprisingly not occur.  Fed some extra greens for her work, it was a bit hard to return her to the annonymous flock of chickens after spending a day getting attached.  While I'm not sure the kids grasped the value of CSA's or eating locally grown organic produce (we didn't really try), I was impressed at their ability to match some vegetables to their seedlings, as well as planting peas for us, and enthusiasm for the hen.  I was happy to hear the number of teachers that are hatching chicks in class or planting seedlings.  

Meanwhile back at the farm, the unexpected rainy day, turned sunny, and busy.  The days seem to fly by a lot faster when sunny.  After cloudy days, the sun seems awfully bright, and I feel like a recently transplanted tomato, easily wilted by the windy warm sunny conditions.  But we are all quickly adjusting with the extra energy of spring, as well as the lovely snow forecast!


Have a wonderful earth day!


Posted 4/12/2011 8:10pm by Brosi Bradley.

Flowering claytonia for salad mixAs the rain continues outside, the plants continue to fill the greenhouse.  It becomes a bit of a triage... what needs the heated tables ~ primarily for germinating seeds, what needs to be at least above 50 F- ~basil, peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes, and those plants that can brave the outdoors  ie onions, lettuce, other greens.  Certain plants get to make it out of their confining trays: lettuce that can sneak into greenhouse space, parsley into the herb beds, and spinach, bok choi, and chard all made it out into the one prepped field. By transplanting by hand, we don't have to wait for a stretch of dry weather.   

Transplanted tomatoes in the greenhouse surrounded by lettuce

The catch is the driest field is due to the high rock to soil ratio (my guess is a good 2 to 1), which results in the less than pleasant sensation of trying to plant into a rock.  Other plants aren't so lucky, sure a few tomatoes and cucumbers escape to the greenhouses, replacing those that failed to survive those 23 degree nights a few weeks back, but most just have to wait.  They are not the most patient subjects.  There is an unfortunate combination of quick growth inside the greenhouse and rain keeping us out of the fields.  

For example, the 1st planting of tomatoes, perhaps left on heated tables too long, have already been transplanted into 4" pots with added nutrients. The jungle of green tomatoes when you walk by is a reminder that it was only a temporary appeasement of the monsters we've seeded too early and the extra nutrients just let them keep growing. Overgrown tomato seedlings Celeriac on the other hand is a patient plant, dantily increasing in size, content to remain in their small trays. But zucchini... I know the danger of not picking them everyday, but to watch the seedlings grow overnight is a reminder of their speed.  And every week there is more to seed.  Some such as sweet corn will be pushed back a week, but others will add to the many shaded green jungle that might just decide to set permanent roots soon if not set out soon.  

Zucchini seedlings

Each day the weather forecast throws us a glimmer of hope.  Sunny days seem only 1 or 2 days away.  Yet the sunny forecast for Tuesday magically transforms into rain.  Spoiled by last years relatively dry spring it seems outrageous to me, but Dave suggest this is more like the norm and not to despair.  Meanwhile another high tunnel is only a few dry days from completion and with it those jungle tomatoes will finally get room to grow not only up but out.  We will just keep our fingers crossed for a string of dry days. In the meantime, we'll be enjoying the spread of the rain-fueled vibrant green across fields, forests, and greenhouses.

Posted 4/9/2011 7:30am by Dave .

Another week of unsettled weather here at the farm.  April is here for sure!

The farm crew has been busy as always this week - with CSA harvests and box packing, taking down and putting up high tunnels, planting cucumbers in the greenhouse and spinach outdoors, fertilizing the rhubarb, and moving the onions outside.  In the midst of it all Steve and Marsha have bought a trio of goats to add to the farm family.  They're currently living in our barnyard, antagonizing the laying hens no doubt, but soon enough both groups will be moved to their summer homes - the chickens to one of our pastures and the goats to the shrubby, multiflora-rose-infested woodlot across the creek.  Hopefully they'll find the invasive species over there to their liking - in the meantime there should be some pictures up here soon.

Other life is stirring on the farm of late too. The spring bulbs are coming up in the yard, and the wild ramps and trout lilies are springing up by the creek.  The mice and voles are stirring in the fields and the hawks glide overhead all day in search of them.  As for us, we just try to keep busy and stay useful until the fields are workable - when that day comes, it might last twelve or thirteen hours, as we hurry to do all that has been waiting to be done. 

Keep dry, everyone, but not too dry - it's not really spring until you've stuck yourself in a mud puddle!

Tags: spring
Posted 3/31/2011 8:00am by Dave Ruggiero.


Yesterday's poetic post from Brosi celebrates the rebirth not only of spring but of a blog on our Village Acres website.  Like snow flurries in April, it comes as a surprise whether you're expecting it or not.

We here have been giving a lot of thought to ways to bring the farm community (workers, family, buyers, and eaters) together in different ways, and the blog idea has been tossed around for a while between apprentices and staff.  It always seems like a great idea, but always the perennial problem of farming arises...well, some would say that "tillage" is the perennial problem of farming, but no, Wes Jackson, I'm talking about the other problem, "things that seem like a great idea in the winter but you don't have time to do in the summer."  More specifically, with the blog, there isn't much going on here in the winter, but there's lots of time to write - and in the summer there are a lot of neat things afoot and hardly any daylight to spare.  Brosi made a go of it last night, though, and we're going to do our best to keep it up in our spare time.

Posting after hours, on weekends, and in small, snatched moments on rainy days means that you should expect the Village Acres blog to have a different flavor than the Veggie Voice newsletter notes.  It may be a bit chaotic - a rambling description of the day's events, or some thoughts on subjects as diverse as international farm policy, favorite turnip recipes, or how to get a mixture of used motor oil and mud out of your carpet.  It may not be for everybody - you can ignore it for weeks at a time if you want, or you can comment on each post and get into a discussion with us or one another.  If any of you want to share any thoughts, email me and I can post them up here as well.  I hope it'll bring us all more together, let you get to know all of us here a little better, and keep those of you who want more stories informed without burdening the rest of your inboxes too much.

As always, thanks for sharing so much with us, and letting us share with you!


Posted 3/30/2011 11:09pm by Brosi Bradley.

I'm rather reminded by the farm of how I imagine a bear would act upon coming out of hibernation.  Yes, we haven't really been hibernating, I've felt busy all winter (except those 2 vacations within 3 weeks), but between the greenhouses, the shop, and the biweekly csa distributions, our days have felt quite full.  But now it seems the farm is fully waking up, shaking off the sleepy winter calm, and heading out.  Full of the same sense of urgency I think of a hungry bear roaming around for food.  Instead though, we are out trying to beat the weather, scrounging not for hidden acorns or grubs, but spots of dry tillable land,  a plastic bed perhaps made up in the fall, or the small herb beds that are workable by hand.  Perhaps untrue of both the farm and the bear, but I imagine a bit of grogginess, a bit of uncoordination due to unuse, the need to learn or relearn for both the staff and the equipment. As a four-wheeler not used for months needs a bit of time to get reaquainted with the idea of shifting out of reverse.  A parade of tractors rearranged in the machinery shed to access the plow last used months ago. A dash to plow, till, make raised beds, and seed, as decisions are made that indeed the soil is finally dry enough... today. not yesterday but today... unfortunately the snow/ rain/ crazy wintery (spring) mix is called for in a few out of hibernation into a sprint.

We try to prioritize- what will our members really want in a month or 2.  The precious dry ground is fit for peas, both snap and shell, spinach, baby bok choi, mesclun mix, arugula, but beets and carrots still stored in the cooler will need to wait a week or 2.  Its also a matter of what can take the crazy weather this spring is bringing and what transplants are ready to go out.  Coming out of hibernation is a bit of balance.  The energy is there, but tempered by a bit of winter's rust. Leaving the comfy confines of the greenhouses for the wide open skies over the spring mud is something we all have been looking forward to... but a few hours in the damp chill of a cloudy afternoon and I was ready for just a bit more time back in that warm hollow.  With rain in the forecast, we most likely won't be abandoning the shelter of the packing shed, shop, and greenhouses, but when the sun returns (hopefully not with accompanying 20 degree nights), we'll be ready, having had a chance to stretch and encouraged by those first tastes of spring planting.