Making straw on rocky top

for strawberries at morning glory

We farmers here at morning glory received many comments on the straw harvest on the front field (Sherman’s Field) this week.  Lot of people asked if we were making hay.  It seems nearly indistinguishable from hay at distance because all the same motions are made.  However we were making straw, the difference?  Well straw is traditionally the dried stalks of cereal (grain) crops, collected after threshing or combining.  This means that the seed or grain has been removed and the remainder is of low value and can be used for animal bedding, mulching plants, burning for biomass, thatching roofs, insulating homes, and woven into the farmer’s cheap straw hat.  It is generally considered to low in nutrients to feed to animals though many cattlemen use it as roughage in a portion of the diet.  The reason it can be safely used as vegetable mulch is because those viable seeds have been removed and will not start a huge weed crop in the field.  Whereas hay is nutritious grasses and legumes with the nutrient rich seeds still on the stalk, thus making it nutritious animal feed.

We did not harvest the grain off this crop of winter rye, instead we harvested it while the grain was still immature and not viable.  I tested a sample of the grain in the greenhouse as a germination test.  This harvest removes a lot of biomass that would have been plowed down into the soil as an important part of our crop nutrient plan.  By harvesting here on Rocky Top we know we have plowed down many successful rye crops in the past years, and we are able to spread our compost over this field as it is close to the home farm.  Over the years this field has steadily increased its strength and vigor.  Years ago Mom and Dad had little confidence in it and lost more than a few crops.  Huge amounts of organic matter have been added and the result is this tall stand of healthy rye and come August a tall stand of sweet corn.

So what do we do with all that mass?  This harvest was about 6 tons of straw.  We will use the bulk of it mulching StrawBerries in late December early January.  We stacked it under a tarp next to the strawberry field.  We always like to straw our rhubarb, and our perennial flower garden.  We like to mulch our garlic crop because of it’s long season (November to nearly August), its need for steady moisture, and its inability to thrive with weed pressure.  However this winter with the largest garlic crop of our farm’s life we ran short of straw and the market price was $8 bale, simply not feasible.  We would have to sell the whole crop just to pay the cost of the straw, and in spite of not having a mulch the garlic has thrived.

Mo glo'ers stacking straw Cheryl Harary, Daniel Athearn, Graham Glaser, Anna Adamowicz (LtoR)

Straw berries right?  Well many discussions and researchers have worked on where the name came from.   No definitive answer comes but the contenders are… The fruits were packed in straw to prevent bruising,  the plants are covered with straw all winter, the  fruits rest (free of soil/dirt) on the straw in harvest, or the way street vendors used to string the fruits onto a stem of straw to sell at market, or (from the USDA) because of the way the fruit ‘strew’ around the mother plant.  Who knows but I can’t wait till mid june for the strawberries to be ripe!  Come in on Saturday June 20th for our 30th anniversary festival for fun and games, a book signing of our new cookbook!  And fresh strawberry shortcake!!!

Beach plums in flower

plums in bloom at morning glory farm

The beach plums (prunus maritima) are in full bloom now.  Our noble little native plum is found along the dunes and beaches all over martha’s vineyard but establishes better on the northern shores.  The beach plum can be found up and down the Atlantic coast from northern maine to about maryland, and rarely grows  inland unless cultivated.  The wild crop is bountiful on cape cod and the islands and it’s fruit highly sought after for the great jellies it makes.  Severe irregularities in the plums ability to produce a crop have frustrated many lovers of beach plum jelly.

Many people and organizations have made efforts to understand and improve the plum.  One such effort was here on martha’s vineyard.  A beach plum enthusiast Ruth Eldridge White was looking for a commercial crop to help the weak agricultural economy of the area.  in 1938 she donated some land and got the agricultural experiment station to support her endeavor to work with these plants.  New varieties were created and copious notes and publications on the culture and care of the beach plum.  Soon after funds were withdrawn at the vineyard and other experiment stations because of lack of funds and the demands of the war effort.

A group of concerned purveyors and growers of the plum on cape cod started a plum association in 1948.  With the goal to standardize and protect the brand and quality of cape cod beach plum jelly.  Development of standards, a qualifying label and marketing were undertaken by the group.  But after four low yield  years the association failed.

So why the low yield?  In 1996 Richard Uva of Cornell started research on the plum with the help of a SARE grant, and soon was connected to the cape and islands where people were already actively pursuing it.  Morning Glory Farm purchased 16 plum saplings from the experiment station and planted them in our ‘Cove Patch’ on the meshacket road in edgartown.  These plants received no treatments after planting and grew poorly.  The idea was that these plants survive and even thrive in the desolate dune environment, so plant them in you poor soils or on cranberry land’s borrow pits.  After a few years of experiments, one I visited several times at Coonamesset Farm in Falmouth, the research group learned surprisingly to “treat it like a plum crop”.  This meant to lime, fertilize, prune, and maintain the plants, and to remove excessive fruit by thinning and this should even out the biennial bearing that plagued the crop.

In 2002 I collected plums and the resulting seeds from eight locations around martha’s vineyard.  I stratified the seed (cold treating to simulate winter) and planted them in the greenhouse for two years until they were large enough to plant out to the orchard.  In spring of 2005 I planted over 200 plums in our Cove Patch carefully and using the new guidelines set up by the new beach plum project.  They grew slow the first couple of years and were heavily browsed by the deer,  and some winter losses of plants.  However many have survived or been replanted and we have had a couple of successful harvests.  The plants have been pruned and trained to start growing upright and with a open center (like a wine glass).  We now have many bushes resembling trees and about four feet tall.  I have been unwilling to fungicide or insecticide treat the crop so losses have occurred because of brown rot and the plum curcillio pest.

I still have high hopes for getting a even, regular and bountiful crop and hope to employ our kitchen in making the jellies for sale in our farmstand.  As a farmer so often does, I have applied by best assurance for a good crop I know  as Jim says ” I crossed my fingers”

simon athearn picking beach plumsLets all cross our finger for a good crop!  I love beach plum jelly!

Plowing down cover crops

jim athearn plowing in katama Jim Athearn plowing at the old Waller Dairy farm, now owned by town of Edgartown, just to the north of the Katama air field.

Dad says “its time to plow everything”.  We have been out turning all the vegetable fields over this week.  Last weeks wet weather made the cover crops jump up and kept us out of the fields because they were too wet.  Many to most fields now are covered by our staple cover crop, winter rye with a mix of hairy vetch.  In most fields the rye is up to my belt and thick.

Winter Rye puts on a huge amount of growth in the spring, and establishes easily even into late November.  And the best part of rye is its ability to hold fertility over the winter.  Even when 4 to 6 inches high in November it binds up many of the soluble nutrients that might otherwise disappear down to the water table.  Then there is the bonus of a large crop of ‘green manure’ to plow down in the spring.  Green manures are any vegetation that when grown can add to the soil after plow-down,  I love that term ‘green manure’.  Mixed in with the bodacious rye is hairy vetch.  Vetch’s are part of the legume family (think peas and alfalfa).  This means they have that magical ability to ‘fix’ nitrogen from the air and store it in nodules in their roots.  So this little cold weather legume will grab the farmers most valuable nutrient from the air (I hear there is too much in the air as it is) and stores it for use during the growing season, we plow it down and take advantage of those nutrients.

I could watch that rank green winter crop slide over and under into the earth as it leaves the plow all day, just beautiful.  And luckily I do get to watch it all day, this part of the season alot of time it put in on the plow.  A fast pace on a long fields (with less turning around at the ends) I can plow about two acres and hour (record time).  This year we are headed for plowing and planting to vegetables about 65 acres, that’s some time in the saddle.  But of course it only begins our process of planting because plowing is followed by:  Disking, fertilization/lime, compost spreading, more disking, perfecting (a tool for leveling and smoothing), planting, cultivation, irrigation, and HARVEST.  Spring makes the farmer happy beacuse his fields are still full of promise, he hasn’t had time to screw anything up yet!

The potatoes are in

morning glory potato planter
Here is a picture from a couple weeks ago when I was putting in the early red potatoes. The early variety is  Dark Red Norland that we harvest young as ‘new potatoes’.  I hope to harvest these potatoes by the last days of June. They are wonderfully tasty potatoes with a dark red skin that peels/falls off very easily and must be handled gently, but are oh so tasty. These early potatoes need no accompaniment just steam and enjoy with a little butter, olive oil or salt. I like to use a little parsley to finish them, it is a great combo and the early parsley is usually just ready by then.
This planter is  simple to operate and very reliable in spacing and fertilizer rate. We have our Ford 4600 tractor pulling it, this late 70’s tractor is not old in years but with nearly 9000hrs on the original engine, every day I am impressed with it’s strength and reliability. The green Lockwood potato planter has a new paint job and works quite well.  It spends all but about 10 hours a year safely in the barn under cover.  It opens a trench, seams fertilizer, places a highly variable rate of cut potato seed, then covers with a firm ‘hill’ of soil all in one pass. We bought this machine to replace what is really just a relic, a hand operated single row tow behind model. Jim and Debbie went up to Presque Isle Maine to buy this. Aroostook County Maine is a Potato growing region that I think is still shaking it’s fist at the great Idaho Potato marketing campaign.

This year I planted these varieties of potatoes

Dark Red Norland, Pontiac Red, Yukon Gold, Burbank Russet, Norwis white, French Fingerling, and All Blue Potatoes.

What are they doing on Meshacket road?

pounding posts at morning glory farm

Many people have been asking me what we are doing in our field on Meshacket Road in Edgartown. Over the last couple of weeks we have been removing trees from the field edge, cleaning up rock piles, removing stumps, burning brush, and have begun setting posts for our new deer fence. We wanted to clean up the edge of the field of its trees that are out of line so our fence can be in a straight line. All of this brush, stumps and debris once cleared was cut for firewood to stock our greenhouse wood stoves next season, while the unusable wood was pushed into a small pile in the middle of the field which we burned last Friday April 22nd. The ash and debris after the burn is actually a wonderful fertilizer and I spread it around the field as best I could with our front end loader. I expect we will see a positive reaction in the strawberry plants that will be set there this coming week.
small brush burn meshacket road
The fence we are putting in feels like an option of last resort. We for years have tried to put up with the deer nibbling our vegetables. But the pressure just seems to keep increasing. We regularly during the growing season head out to the fields after dark to scare the deer out of the fields, and it simply seems as if the herd size and numbers of groups is increasing. Last season seemed to be a tipping point with our deer controls. With an electric deer fence around the cut flowers the deer still got it, even breaking the wires to get in. We had 4 plantings of green beans compromised and lost all of three plantings of yellow (wax) beans. Most acutely was the loss of two plantings of lettuce to the deer, each planting should have yielded about 2000 heads of lettuce for August sales in the farmstand! Losses were also seen in carrots, squash and cucumbers. This new fence should immediately give us 100% control, we like that! Despite the large cost of buying and setting out the materials I am confident that it will pay itself off quickly by ending losses like that of 2008.
So why the change in deer levels? I don’t know, but some factors would include. That martha’s vineyard has had a strong population for many years, proved by the second largest allowed harvests by hunters in the state. Edgartown’s overpopulation has crowded the woods and grasslands out of the picture sending animals into ‘domesticated’ areas. This also has removed a lot of the hunting areas that were once used, hunters have a hard time finding quiet and safe hunting areas all over the island but especially in heavily built-out edgartown where we do a lot of our farming. I also think that the extremely well cared for lawns and gardens of residents and visitors offer a huge food supply to our deer herd. I am not a wildlife expert by any means but these are some factors that I think influence our deer troubles. I tell folks that I love to love deer, love to watch them, hunt them, appreciate them; but when summer comes and I have a lot of investments tied up in their diet my blood begins to run cold. When the deer are excluded I will be able to sleep a little easier at night and have one less field to visit to honk at and chase the deer nibbling our crops.

The end of organic farming? I think not.

So undoubtedly many of you have heard of HR 875  and 879, the so called Food Safety Modernization act.   Many friends have excitedly passed this information on to me for a couple of weeks now.  And if you travel in local food circles you know about this already and perhaps a great deal more than I.  But for those who need a small farmers take on this possible regulation, here it is.  But don’t just take my word for it, we are all just products of the last five articles we have read and all read into things a little differently.  So check it out yourself, the actual language is at
http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h111-875 so you can read it yourself.  There are infinite other blogs and websites talking about this topic, go to people you trust.  I like the Farmers legal defense fund for one, http://www.ftcldf.org/.

The vegetable consuming public is reasonably scared after the numerous food safety scares in the last two years.  Most notable of these are the bagged spinach ecoli scare, the peanut butter scare,  and the tomato salmonella scare.  These food safety concerns scare me too.  Even as much as I do not trust large scale producers to produce a safe and nutritious product, all but the most vigilant of us do consume their wares.  So two  bills have been floated to try to address this problem.  With language that aims at breaking the dangerous activities on large farms that lead to these outbreaks.  Large factory farms are just that, efficient factories and need good streamlined practices to maintain their supply and production methods.  They do respond well to regulation just like factories and will adapt their significant resources to fit a new model.  Small farms it is concerned will lack the abilities to say keep all wildlife (and their fecal matter) 50 feet from all growing spaces.

There are a lot of inciting phrases being tossed around the blogosphere.  The end of small farms, jail time for organic farmers, criminal penalties for those who use heirloom seed, even banning backyard gardening, and also very disturbing super ceding states rights and making this a federal issue.  So  by now you should be in disbelief, rightly so.  If its too good to be true it usually is how about if its to bad to be true?  I think so, this kind of bill would collapse the agriculture industry.  Not even our congressmen or factory farmers what that.

Do y’all remember the Federal Animal Identification System?  This was in response to things like mad cow and bird flu scares.  This bill was passed and received it’s due disrespect from farmers, who refused to tag and log every animal on their farms and report to the feds about said animals progress.  It passed and was continually held up from implementation because of obvious impossibilities, and it finally died.

I believe that this bill at very worst would fallow the same path as the Federal Animal Identification System.  The drafts that we have seen are very open ended and vague, they need a ton of tweaking before they could have a hope of  passing.  We all know that we need food safety standard reform to ensure the safety of the public food supply and some sort of legislation is eventually going to pass.  There are currently little regulation on vegetable crops compared with the ‘potentially hazardous foods’ like meats, dairy and processed foods.  So expect some new regulatory arm to fill this gap.  I am not intimated, this is worth watching and definitely worth putting in your oar by emailing/calling your congressmen with your suggestions.  I like the idea of a small farm exemption or scale appropriate legislation.  It is so often that we small farmers are the ones who put the care and personal attention into our foods and keep them safe.  Lay your trust in people you know, like and trust; be wary of out of sight producers and bills that sound too bad too be true.

Katama garlic gets sidedressed

chloe nelson sidedresses garlic, katama, martha's vineyard Chloe Nelson at work in the garlic.

Good Morning, after a couple of heavy rainfalls and four days of sunshine many of the perennial crops sprung up from the earth.  The garlic growing in katama at the corner of Cleavlandtown road and Katama road has made a leap to about 8 inches!  It is at this time the garlic likes an infusion of nutrients.  We treat this field using all organic methods (without certification).  Over the two decades that we have worked this small plot we have steadily increased its organic matter and overall fertility.  Even as a field with strong fertility the spring cool soil does not allow all of its nutrients to be ‘available’ to the plant.   We like to give it a boost by seaming a quality fertilizer along the row edge within easy reach of the plant roots.

The fertilizer used here is a blend made by North Country Organics called Pro-Gro of:

Natural Sulfate of Potash, Phosphate Rock, Colloidal Phosphate, Oyster Meal, Kelpmeal, Greensand, Natural Sulfate of Potash/Magnesia, Vegetable Protein Meals, Animal Protein Meals, Natural Nitrate of Soda, Compost, and Dried Whey.

The farmer/gardener’s mouth should be watering right now.  This mix of all natural ingredients are wonderful soil amendments and many are long lasting and will benefit crops for years.  I am looking forward to it benefiting this 11,000 linear feet of garlic, thats 22,000 bulbs!  I am eager to pull robust healthy bulbs of German White Garlic from the earth in mid July.

First comes the garlic scallions that can be pulled by the first of May, then comes the early June harvest of garlic scapes (a little tendril size of a marker 20 inches tall that rises from the middle of the plant into a little curly Q and would host the seed pod if left to grow), then the main harvest of German white and Music garlic bulbs in mid July.  Music garlic is used for braiding several heads together.  Lastly we will seperate the highest quality bulbs for our seed stock for planting again this November.  If all goes well I hope to also sell quality seed garlic to island gardeners this fall.  Lets all hope for a strong growing season and a heavy harvest.

Morning glory video by Tim Larson

Hey all simon here; I just received a video from Tim Larson.  Tim wanted some farm shots and asked me if he could shoot some film on the farm.  He came by on an late August day and we shot all this footage on his Super 8 Camera, a beautiful older model.  He edited the shots together and layered over a song “Butterflies” that his band the Billionaires recorded.  Take a view and a listen I am sure you will enjoy it as much as I did.  In true Islander fashion Tim was not interested in payment, instead he asked my mechanically minded bother Daniel to repair his motorcycle; Dan quickly obliged.

Click the link below for morning glory’s new video.


Eggs are an everyday thing

clara athearn collecting eggs

Here is Clara Athearn helping her father Daniel Athearn collect the mornings eggs.  She at just three years old is very steady at gently removing eggs from under the hens and carefully placing them is the basket.  She works totally un-phased by the dozen hens pecking at her legs and feet.   She needs to be involved and will also tell you when ‘she’s tired of collecting eggs’.  For her birthday two weeks ago she was given a dozen specialty laying hens that her and her family will raise on their Chilmark farm.

Collecting the eggs is a regular chore.  Every day the hens need attention and egg collection.  Many folks collect several times a day, right now we collect once a day at about 9 am.   If the hens develop the bad habit of breaking and eating eggs you need to start to collect two or three times a day, thankfully ours do not.  We have four rooms of about 200 birds each.  Three of those rooms are laying now; one room is just ramping up another starting to fade in productivity.  The fourth room is planned to start to lay about June 1 in time for the summer season at our farm stand.

The daily production is about 45 dozen a day right now and should go up by summer.  This is every day, every Sunday, holiday, day off, rain day sunny day etc.  This is the beauty of it, small profits made every day.  These eggs are carefully collected, washed, boxed, labeled, cased, and delivered to island businesses.  Our largest buyer is Cronigs market, this is a good connection for us all winter when our retail store is closed.   IFP (Island Food Products) delivers our eggs to restaurants and markets island wide on a weekly basis.

We sell our eggs on the porch of our farm stand all winter while the store is closed.  Self service honor system; collect your eggs from the picnic cooler on the porch and slide the corresponding cash through the slot in the door.  We charge $3.25 /doz and $3.50/doz for jumbos.   I have been trying pickled eggs at home all winter, trying out different recipes.  I have made some great ones, I especially liked the yellow curry ones and the jalapeno eggs.  Easter is coming up and if you plan to hard boil and dye local eggs a couple of notes for you.  Brown eggs will accept dye but not as well as white eggs, the lighter shades are lost.  I find they are good for coloring with crayons, markers or stickers.  Also fresh eggs are just that fresh, so the yolk will stay right in the center of the egg and not fall to the bottom while cooking and the whites are connected to the shell and do not peel as easy as older factory farm produced eggs.   The general way to deal with this is to get your dying eggs a couple of weeks early and let them rest in the refrigerator, older eggs peel much easier.  This can also give you a chance to select the whiter eggs over a period of weeks.

Have and Eggselent day.  simon

Sowing Seeds…

Working at morning glory farm greenhouse

Debbie Athearn, Tracy Meyers/Briggs, and Rachel Forbus hard at work at the potting bench.  Here they are working on seeding the second planting of broccoli and cabbage.  We are still using the early spring variety, Premium Crop, but next week we will seed the more heat tolerant Windsor.   We like Windsor and will sow it about every 12 days till September.

Greenhouse #3 (the head house) is starting to fill up with flats of vegetables, herbs, and flowers.  We will have to fire up the next house by the end of the week.  The smell of soil and seedlings is a welcome scent every spring.  You hear the heat or vents rattling away, the smell of moist soil and after a long winter we get to have people back around the farm.  Spring awakens the farmers sprit and allows him to put in the extra time and extrodinary care put into all those tiny seedlings with hopes of seeing them through to harvest.  We all seem just a bit more livened and jovial, egear to set seed to soil. Visitors start to ‘drop by’ with thought on the season.  Many chefs drop in  to make their  requests of varieties or to ask us to find some interesting heirloom or ethnic variety.

Around the greenhouse the rhubarb has poked up and the peach buds are swelling.  Sasha the dog sits outside the greenhouse door to wag, bark and greet our visitors.   The smell of tomato pollen is starting to souround the greenhouse area.  The chives planted nearby are allready tall enough to cut a little for dinner, and the rosemary has truned back to its dark green color.   Spring is springing and we here at morning glory are so glad to embrace it.