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.

Tilling cold soil

tractor in katama

Thursday I tilled the first ground of the new year.  I disc harrowed our herb garden because it had a bad blush of Winter Chicory Weed and I wanted to get it before it went to seed.  This tilling will also help aerate and warm the soil.  My objective in attaching the disc to the Ford 4600 tractor was to go work up a piece of ground, about 1 1/2 acres, for the spring peas.

I had chosen a field in Katama that the Land Bank calls The Norton Field, we call it Boatyard Norton because it’s right across from Herring Creek Marine and we already have a Norton Field.  This field is leased from the Land Bank and has good Katama Sandy Loam soils to about 10 inches.   Knowing this would be the first field tilled and there would be no benefit to having a cover crop that grows well in the spring (winter rye), it would not get a chance to put on it’s top growth.  So I planted a crop of oats that grew to 4-6 inches before it frosted out.  This left the roots and dead tops of the oats to hold the soil and nutrients for the winter.  This dead matter on top of bare soil made it disc under very easily.

Now I can look forward to a warm spell in early April to plant the first 4 crops of shelling and sugar snap peas on the same day.  I can do this because the varieties I have chosen have days to harvest that are a week apart.  So when planted the same day they should follow each other by a week, hopefully.  This good plan can fall apart when there is cold weather while they are young then hot weather follows.  The two varieties will ‘bunch up’ and race to producing their seeds.  Last year we were very lucky, our farmers picked nearly 3300 pounds of spring peas!  Every year you make the same footprints as the year before.

Tomatoes happy and warm


This is one of our indoor tomato houses.  We aim to have a late may harvest by seeding on January 23rd.  This house was transplanted right into the soil on March 16th and this picture was taken that day.  Heather Jardin and I set these plants in less than three hours.   This house is one of two and is the one that we maintain with organic methods (not certified); the other house is hydroponic.  We have a highly amended soil warmed from below with radiant heat about 1 foot down.  We also heat the air with a air blast oil furnace and a barrel wood stove we have to keep stoked ourselves.  It takes a lot of heat and therefor expense to raise these tomatoes, but to taste that real tomato flavor in May is worth it.

We like a variety called Cobra from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine.   This year both houses are cobra with a small trial of Geronimo and Trust as well as a experiment of growing cherry tomatoes for the early market.  The cherry tomatoes take up the leftmost two rows of this 12 row house.  I expect we will be picking cherry tomatoes about may 15th!  It has been one week since this picture and the transplant shock has subsided and they are growing fast, some are already showing flowers.  I have a small hive of bumble bees being delivered on Thursday that help pollinate the crop.

The black lines down the rows are the drip irrigation system, we can fertigate though it with organic fertilizers.   The wooden sticks you see in the picture are supports for the wire system that supports the trellis the tomatoes hang from.  These plants don’t grow like an outdoor tomato they grow stright up and need regular pruning to mainatin a single stem.  We generally get them to grow to about seven feet tall before dissiease takes over and kills them off by the end of July.  Keep tuned for tomato updates and a video about how to prune indeterminate tomatoes.

Mending Fences

chilmark fencing

chilmark fencing

Fence work continues as always.  In the off season we try to walk and repair all our fence lines, and cut back the brush.  Our neighbors don’t really want 20 cows grazing in thier well tended gardens and yards, which unfortunately does happen occasionally.   On our farm off North Road in Chillmark have over 8000 feet of fence, that’s over 1 1/2 miles of fence to visit and repair.  We use mainly 4 stands of barbed wire on locust posts, but also use mesh stock fence in some areas (peaked hill pasture).  When kept tight, barbed wire is perfectly capable but when deer, hunters, and those curious calves push the stands apart they need tightening.

In this picture Daniel is racheting a line end brace assembly.  The two posts are stabilized by the post accross the top and tightened by the angled wire.  This wire when tightend with the rachet, pulls the top of the left post to the right keeping the brace tight and fixed.  Here we were working on the gate to our lower pasture, a two + acre area with quality grass that we carefully manage.

After this cold and windy day we returned to the top of the hill where Dan and his family live.  I was able play with Clara and lil Zeb and meg made a wonderful beef stew.  Meg had a hot fire going when we returned and cold beers for us.  In one strange way as the days do get longer I miss the ability to quit at five and go spend time with family.  But I guess that is what winter is for.  Keep those fences tight!

Farm Kitchen Recruitment

I attended the job expo at my alma mater Southern New Hampshire Culinary Institute this week in hopes of recruiting new cooks and bakers.  SNHU has greatly expanded since I was a student there.  MGF has hosted one culinary intern in the bakery and hopes to attract more.  Students can work on a ‘coop’ or ‘internship’, as a paid learning experience for the summer in between their two years of culinary school.

Morning glory has two kitchens; the bakery and the kitchen.  The Bakery built into our vegetable barn started in 1987 to do something with all that extra zucchini, hence zucchini bread.  The Zuke bread has become one of our most popular items at the farm.   The bakery has grown quite a bit aver the last 20 years and we now bake 24hrs a day and produce; yeast breads, muffins, quiche, pies, sweet treats, jellies, pickles, granola, trail mix etc.  A very busy bakery expertly managed by our own Jody Drake, a superb baker and 12 year bakery veteran.  Much of our bakery success is placed at her feet. 

The Farm Kitchen is ‘across the hall’  adjacent to the bakery a stand alone production area.  Here the cooks maintain about the best salad bar on the planet.  We daily use the wealth of produce coming in from the field to make a very fresh salad bar, with many scrumptious additions.  They make one or two soups daily and have a cultish following of people who appreciate the quality and creativity that flows from their knives.  Chef Judy Klumick has embraced the use of a constantly changing supply from the farm and turns those items into, side salads, spreads and salsas, carry out dinners, and oh those delicious soups.  Judy’s creativity always keeps us guessing and salivating on what is coming out next.  Due to her unbelievable success we expanded her kitchen 250% in 2008. 

We daily post our soup and specials on our homepage so you can see whats cooking.  If you come by this season stop in the salad bar and peer into the bakery through our window and see litterly whats cooking.   We take pre orders every day and are a smart idea to get an order in for our pies, they go quick.

Morning glory’s grass fed beef


Every couple of weeks the hay mows have to be restocked from one of our storagebarns.  At morning glory farm right now we have 22 cows that we raise for beef.  We have mostly Hereford/Angus crosses and some Limousin breed.  Of that 22 we hope that 14 of those are pregnant and will calve this summer.  The cows can eat about 1 bale each per day in the winter.  We try to keep them especially well fed all winter while they are gestating and not on fresh grass. 

This is a picture of us moving another load of hay, these trucks hold about 130 bales.  This hay is an oat hay, filled with seed pods of oats.  We harvested this hay this early July on a piece of rented land at Katama Farm (FARM institute).  To renovate the neglected field we turned the soil with a plow in the fall and planted a winter crop.  In the following season we planted a pumpkin crop, added missing nutrients and adjusted the PH.  Following harvest we planted another winter crop to be disk-ed in early in the spring to plant the hay crop.  This change of plant types enrichens the soil, eliminates pests and weeds, and makes use of the natural fertility of fallowed land. Calcium shell grit can also protect plants from slugs or snails and other pests. One way of planting out a hay crop is the use of a nurse crop.  As you know grass is a slow grower and will be overcome with weeds if it does not establish itself fast.  Using a nurse crop ‘nurses’ the grass along till it can make it on its own.   You plant your grass seeds as you normally would then on top of that you plant a fast growing annual that you can cut off later in the season to make way for the grass.  We like to use oats, the oats make a quality hay on their own and the whole plant is removed in haying and the grass is left to take over the field.  This last round we cut about 100 bales an acre which is good for edgartown land. 

The cows like the oats and will after eating it all will nibble on the oat seed pods that fell to the ground around the feeding spot.  I love watching these cows gallop across the pasture when they see they hay truck coming.  You can see their large pregnant bellies rolling side to side.  Daniel is  our herdsman and the one who maintains the fences and does most of the ‘heavy lifting’ of feeding.  He lives on and maintains our Chilmark side of the farm.  There are 4 Herefords in Edgartown now.  These are heifers, young females who have not had a calf, they are quite spunky and surprising like visitors.  They has to come to edgartown because they were to young to cavort with Mr. Bull who came by this September.

Tomato Time

Greenhouse tomato startsTomatoes healing from graft

Wow March is here already.  We usually try to have our first crop of greenhouse tomatoes in the ground the first week of March.  This year I pushed the germination date forward by two weeks to try to save some fuel in the greenhouse.   This year we seeded 750 tomatoes on January 19th and expect to transplant near March 18 in the first house.  The seeding for the second house was done on February 19th of another 750 tomatoes.  For several years we have liked the variety Cobra, and for the last 5 years we have been grafting these tasty tomatoes to a stronger and more disease resistant root, Maxifort or Beaufort.  

Tomato Grafting is as simple as (or as hard as) severing the top of the tasty tomato and sticking on the top of the decapitated rootstock and holding it there with a tiny clothes pin clip.  After about two weeks they are one plant with the attributes of both.  Although straightforward this process is delicate and stressful; as you are betting the whole crop on your knife skills.  Severing the connection with the stem you must handle the plants in a specific manner to help them heal.   This is a  very common practice used in fruit trees and ornamental for hundreds of years.  This year I took a year off from the tomato grafting for the greenhouses; and will probably return to it next year if the results prove the difference.   I do however expect to try grafting somefield heirlooms this year.  They are wonderful tasting varieties but were given up on by farmers because they are so weak and disease prone.  Giving these weak plants a strong  root system should double their pounds of fruit per plant.

A wintry day

This morning I woke up to a light snow just covering the ground.  The temps have droped twenty degrees in 24 hours.  Yesterday the sap was flowing fast, today I doubt there will be a drip.  I Tap the Swamp and Norway maples and here at my house in Edgartown I can set 16 taps.   This is really just a hobby amount and I quite enjoy it.  The 2 1/2 gallon buckets can fill with sap almost every sunny day where the temps are above 34 and the night was below that.   You must process the sap before it begins to spoil, I boil it off in shallow pans on my outdoor propane pot boiler.  It can take a lot of time, but it’s easy work.  It takes 40 to 50 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of finished syrup.  I boil till the sap measures about 218 degrees F. 

Sugar maples have the highest concentration of sugars in their sap but all maples produce a sweet sap.  In ideal conditions you can get 8-10 gallons of sap per mature tree, I am not always that lucky.  I do however, after all the years mistakes are done get 1 or 2 gallons of syrup to distribute to friends and family and to enjoy on my oatmeal in the morning.  Daniel up on the Chilmark farm also does some sugaring of his swamp maples, as does my cousin on Runamuck farm up in Lambert’s Cove.   A thoroughly enjoyable hobby, save when you burn the sap and all your hard work literally goes up in smoke, unfortunately I have done this more than once.  This is just a hobby, however my father planted two long rows of maple trees about 1990 along the edges of the Sherman field, the dream is that one day we will be able to draw a significant amount right at the home farm.  There are a lot of maples on Martha’s Vineyard, happy sugaring.

Simon Athearn

Wood burning maple sap boiler

Wood burning maple sap boiler

Morning Glory has a blog!

Welcome to Morning Glory’s Farm Log.   I hope that through the posts from all the farmers/bakers/cashiers/growers at MGF you can get an inside look into life on our vegetable farm.   I have enjoyed reading and commenting on farm and locally grown blogs,  and hope to have the same discussion about life here on Martha’s Vineyard.   As an island community we have the ability to define ourselves as those who live and visit with us here on the Vineyard.  We can work to make our community as self-sustaining as possible, and measure our success by the amount of help that is needed from the mainland.  With the  goal of making a dent the numerous trucks of food/lumber/clothing/and fuel that have to  make the daily trip from the mainland to sustain our level of commerce here.  I invite readers to post comments about how we all can further this cause and help make the connections from farmer to buyer/carpenter to sawyer/fisherman to chef etc. and to share the abundance the Vineyard offers us.