News and blog

Welcome to the blog.
Posted 2/7/2012 4:06pm by Ty Zemelsky.

 

February 7, 2012

We are so excited to announce that this year we will have a CSA. For those of you not familiar with the term or the idea, a CSA means Community Supported Agriculture. Essentally you buy a "share "in this years production of our farm and we will provide you  with a weekly extravaganza of fresh, harvested that day, certified organic vegetables. For 22 weeks From May 30- October 24 you come by once a week and pick up your share for the week. 

The season will start with greens of many varieties from small head lettuces to arugula and then as it gets hotter will expand to offer all kinds of things, including our famous watermelons and our even more famous heirloom tomatoes.

All the information you need is at  CSA for 2012 .

Posted 11/17/2011 5:45am by Ty Zemelsky.

It is amazing to walk through our six hoop houses at this time of year.  We’ve been growing greens for 12 years now and I still can’t get use to the fact that we can eat fresh locally grown food every month of the year.  Spinach, kale and claytonia are our first choices for deep winter.  They seem to care less how cold it gets.  Mizuna, lettuce, tatzoi, tokyo bekana (to name a few)  are somewhat impervious to cold weather.  We make sure that we have a lot of these choices for early fall, just making sure to have an abundance of the three Winter Warriors (spinach, kale and claytonia) for the dead of winter.  This kind of growing offers huge benefits to farmers and a lot of surprises, too.  There have been many a cold January day that I will walk in our hoophouses amongst frozen greens in the early morning and think that our crop is doomed with no hope of bouncing back to life.  By 9 or 10 AM, it has warmed up enough so that the frozen plants have turned back into viable, energetic live plants.  Plants that can do this have the ability to concentrate the water in the plant cell, changing the density and therefore changing the freezing point.  The other amazing benefit of winter growing is that the winter greens are very , very sweet.  That is because the carbohydrates are increased when the plant feels that its life is being threatened.  Extra carbs in plants means extra sweet.

The cycle of growing on a farm doesn’t ever come to an end.  Currently, we are planting carrots, lettuce, chard and beets for an early harvest in late April and early May.  The object is to get the plants started in the fall, let them winter over and allow them to take off once the extra daylight returns in late January, early February.  All of these crops are being grown outside in low tunnels.  A low tunnel is a series of hoops put over a plant bed with an appropriate piece of plastic put over the hoops and weighed down with sand bags to keep the plastic from blowing away.  The most advanced of these crops(chard and beets) was planted on October 21.  They’ve already germinated and created  the first baby leaves.  Lettuce, which normally will turn to  mush below 25 degrees, does very well if the plants stay at a small size until mid winter.  We’ve planted a special mix recommended by Johnny’s Selected Seeds of Maine called 5 Star Greenhouse Mix.  The lettuces in this mix  stay healthy and are very beautiful when mature.

Anyone interested in getting salad or spinach for the holidays are welcome to call us up and we’ll get it ready for you.  Tuesday, November 22 is the last day of work for that week.  We can be reached at 860 463 0166.

We are also posting pictures of some of the greens that are mentioned above.  Hope that you enjoy them.

Posted 5/6/2011 7:42am by Ty Zemelsky.

In the midst of the greens, reds and purples around here, Ty has been working as a professional visual artist for over 25 years. Or it could also be said that in the midst of a long art career,  Starlight Gardens was started and continues to flourish. We are always in a state of never getting everything in the way that we want to do it. So one of our goals for this year is to more publically connectthe two parts of our work together. Check out her website.  ty zemelsky

 

Posted 2/16/2011 12:37pm by Ty Zemelsky.

As I write this note, we are getting ready to start our first wave of tomatoes.  There is a real promise of spring in this activity.  If you count all the months that these tomatoplants will be in our lives, you  begin to realize that this is a long term relationship!  The plants that are started today will be with us until the beginning of September-that would be seven months!  Among the varieties tht we will start will be Sungold, Prudens Purple, Moskovich, Red grape, Paul Robeson and Cherokee Purple.  In a few weeks, these small plants will be grafted onto a sturdy rootstock.  What this means, is that we literally cut the plant in half and clip it to the rootstock.  The purpose of this procedure is two-fold.  First, we are able to avoid soil borne root diseases.  Second, the newly made plant has the ability to increase its productivity significantly. We have always provided unusual and extremely tasty heirloom tomatoes over the years and are very proud of our reputation with top chefs and our farmer’s market customers.



On a more somber note, our greenhouses have suffered mightily this winter with all the snow that the state has received.  Star Light Gardens has 5 greenhouses with a total area of 16,500 sq feet.  In most winters, the snow that fell on the roofs of the houses would always slide off very soon after any storm.  That was also true this winter, untilthe piles became so high along the edges that there was no longer any room for the snow to go anywhere.  There came a critical moment when it became obvious that the only way to save the structures was to cut all the plastic from the inside and let the snow on top fall thru to the crop bed directly below it. Four of our five houses are now standing tall, minus the protective plastic.  The last house, our largest one by 50%,  partially caved in before we could do this procedure.  This is a costly, but not irreparable situation.  In this larger house, we can still get in the house and harvest at least half of what is there-wonderful winter spinach, truly the best that winter has to offer.  In the other houses, the snow has buried all the greens, making them inaccessible for now.  We believe that this will not kill the plants under the snow, just slow down their ability to grow.  Once the snow around the houses goes away, we can put plastic back on and the plants will start growing again. Although, we wouldn’t rate this event as positive, our goal is to get back to doing what we know best-grow the best greens, tomatoes and other veggies around.

Posted 8/11/2010 9:49pm by Ty Zemelsky.

Sungolds on my shoulder make me happy...
Didn't John Denver write that?
That sums up our attitude towards sungolds these days.  Sungolds?  Pretty little cherry tomatoes, the color of orange.  When they first began to ripen , there were 2 or 3.  Then 10.  After that 100.  Can't keep track of how many there are now.  The important thing to know about sungolds, is that they are all about the sugar.  The other thing that is important to know about sungolds is that everyone wants them.  The last thing you need to know about sungolds is that they are terribly distracting.  When we first started growing them, it was only in one house.  That would mean that if I was working on the far side of the farm, I would have to walk a long ways to get to them.  Like all farmers,  I always look for ways to save time and energy.  So the next year, we planted sungolds in every High Tunnel.  That way, when the spirit moved me, I wasn't too far away from one of these lumps of sugar with orange skin.

The biggest news around here is that we are hosting a Chef to Farm Dinner, created by Executive Chef Scott Miller from Max Oyster Bar in West Hartford.  The event will take place on August 29th at 6PM.  The theme of this dinner is organic products only, with a heavy emphasis on vegetables from Star Light Gardens.  Scott is extremely creative and will undoubtedly utilize  our vegetables in amazing ways.  Please go to Maxdiningcard.com for  more details, and ticket information.  These dinners are a fine example of the collaboration that can take place between chefs and farms.  We really hope to see you there.

Posted 8/10/2010 3:18pm by Ty Zemelsky.

July 30,2010
Things happen fast on a farm.  Not only that, but when I see something different, I am shocked that it actually happened.  Take watermelon, for example.  We start them in small pots in early April.  The seeds are soaked the night before  to help them germinate faster.  Then there is a little waiting while they sit on the heat pads so that the soil remains warm to further speed up germination.  After 5-6 days, the plant emerges- cotyledon first.  It is a different shaped leaf from what the plant will look like-just a promise of what is to come.  After tending them for a while, and watering, and talking to them and thinking about what is to come next - we are ready to get them planted.  This year, they are all the way down at the bottom of the farm next to "New Day" ,our  144' x 30' high tunnel.  We plant them out in rows 4 feet apart - a foot and a half between plants.  A row of drip tape lies down the middle of the row to deliver a small trickle of water whenever its needed.  Black plastic is put down between the rows.  This would be mid to late May.  Can't put them out too early.  If the soil or the air is still too cold, these plants could languish or even die.   Even so, for the first few weeks, nothing seems to happen.  They don't die, but they don't grow either.  I begin to panic a little.  What if there is no watermelon this year?  The idea  sends a small panic thru my mind.  But I calm myself and remember to be patient.  Eventually,  all this waiting pays off.  The vine begins to grow.  And then it grows some more and eventually the black plastic disappears beneath a sea of healthy vines.  This is followed by the emergence of tiny golf sized melons.  That would be around the beginning of July.  Every day, we give a watch to these ever larger sized melons until one fatal day when our grandson has a look at them.  "They're ready, Grampy.  Let's pick one!"  He's more than excited.  So am I.  I get closer to one promising specimen and inspect closer for the  three signs of ripeness.  Firstly, there's the dying curly sprig opposite where the melon attaches to the vine.  It should be totally dead and dried out.  This reminds me of those roasting chickens that have a thermometer pop out when it is cooked enough.  This particular sprig is totally dead.  A good sign.  Then there is the yellow spot underneath the melon where it touches the ground. That's what this one is.   Another positive sign.  Lastly, the melon needs to "thump" properly.  This is the more abstract sign of a ripe melon.  According to ancient wisdom, it needs to sound hollow.  This takes years of practices.  Probably a lot of failures, too!  This thump works for us.  With a quick assembly of bravery, we decide to cut it from the vine and bring it to the house to be cut up.  Watermelons don't particularly ripen well off the vine, so you got to pick it ripe the first time.  Not like heirloom tomatoes, who are happy to keep ripening after you pick them.  Once inside the house we all gather round the cutting board.  Now its also Ty, and our granddaughter and my sister, Judy-a whole crowd to watch the first melon of the season together.  Now, we're all excited.  I take the biggest knife we have and give it a big whack-hoping for all red.  A moment of suspense and then a parting of the two halves.  RED!  Success!  There's yelps and other sounds of excitement from all sides.  Quickly pieces are divided up and soon there are drippy happy faces everywhere.  Such a long wait for this moment and so sweet it ultimately is! And this brings me back to being shocked.  For that is how I feel now.  Besides the incredibly sweet experience of watermelon, I can not believe that all that time has gone by to transform those small seeds into this bundle of green and red energy.  We are indeed lucky.

Having said all that about melons,  you might be surprised that I didn't mention the tomato crop first.  Could have written the same story and substituted  the tomato for melon.  An even longer wait from seed to fruit and 10 times the work.  Our crop is pouring in now.  We've managed several 2 pound striped german tomatoes and equally impressive, but smaller green zebra.  The list goes on, but I won't burden you with the rest of it right now except for the Juliet.  This tomato has been named by me as the one I would take to a desert island if I had to choose only one.  It isn't an heirloom, but it's personality beats out all the rest. The fruit is smaller, deep red and shaped like a lopsided rugby ball.  Here is a tomato that doesn't care whether you eat it off the vine, cook it on pizza or dry it in the oven.  Either way,  it will knock your socks off for full flavor.  I can not overstate how delicious this tomato is.  If you come to a market, please visit our tent for a free sample.  You'll get what I am taking about right away.

On August 29th, we are going to be hosting a Farm Dinner prepared and served by Chef Scott Miller and his staff from Max's Oyster Bar of West Hartford.  Scott sits at the front of the boat as far as seeking out Connecticut grown products, whether it is cheese, meat, fish or produce.  He would be classified as a local hero in our book.  We are really excited about this upcoming event.  If you are interested-visited the Oyster Bar website at maxdiningcard.com  to make reservations.  We'd love to have you be part of the evening.

Posted 4/7/2010 1:47pm by Ty Zemelsky.

March 30, 2010

Not to put too fine a point on it, but-we’re having a great spring.  There are a number of reasons to be feeling this way.  Top on our list though is the great early Spring spinach that we’ve been selling both at Farmer’s Markets and to our restaurants. These greens were planted in late fall , spending most of the winter barely growing at all.  With the relentless return of stronger and longer light, they began to grow, starting at the end of January.  In addition to the spinach,  there have been plantings of mizuna, hot spicey mustard , kale and arugula started in mid february.  These plantings are now ready for harvest.  Additionally, outside we’ve benefited from our low tunnel system.(see our blog 2/11/10 for details).  These low tunnels are now full of early chard, beets, carrots.  They should be ready for harvest in 3-4 weeks.  The young baby lettuces have begun to be harvested.  They are a welcome addition to our salad mix, both in flavor and bright vibrant red color. Before the big rains came, we were able to get a first planting of the bordeaux spinach outside.  This would be pretty early for us to have planted outside at this date.

In the nursery, there are thousands of baby tomato plants, basils, parsley , chives, peppers. Lots of these plants will be going to the early May Farmers Market so that many of you will be able to grow some of the same plants that we are growing at  Star Light Gardens.  Notable tomato plants that we would recommend are Sun Golds,Green Zebra Paul Robeson, Juliets,  Cherokee Purple and Wapsipinnicon.  In addition to the Farmer’s Markets, they will also be available at our farmstand at 54 Fowler Ave./Durham, CT  starting in early May.

We are on the eve of our first tomato planting in the greenhouse.  This has always been an exciting time for us.  Once these plants go in the ground,  they will be an intregal part of our daily lives untill late September.  If you count the planting date, which is Feb 10. , that would mean that we will have had a relationship with these plants for over 7 months!

Right now we have wonderful greens available. First, there are salad greens.  In the mix you can find beet greens claytonia, red oakleaf lettuce, green oakleaf lettuce, rouge d'hiver, spinach, red russian kale.
Also, available now are two different kinds of spinach: samish and 7 green.  Both varieties are full of sweet flavor and texture. On the near horizon, we will be able to harvest pea tendrils and arugula.   Come visit us at CitySeed at Wooster Square , Fairfield Farmer's Market at the Fairfield Theatre Company and the Litchfield FarmersMarket.

Our farmstand will be open soon with many tomatoe plants, herbs and peppers.


Posted 2/11/2010 9:58am by David Zemelsky.

Now our days are longer than 10 hours.  This  means that the days are long enough to see real growth in existing plants that are in our High Tunnels(aka hoophouse).    The time that is below a 10 hour day is known as the Persephone Period, name because of the Greek myth about how plants  stopped  growing while Persephone was held captive in the underworld by Hades (see Wickipedia  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persephone).  While it is not exactly true that all growth stops during this time period (October 13-January 29th),  it certainly slows to a trickle.

At this point in the year, we've harvested all of our greens and are already seeing a lot of regrowth.   This is a wonderful thing, as we've been enjoying supplying our restaurants and farmers markets all winter and now look forward to resuming shortly.  Our greens are always delicious, but the big attraction to winter greens is their sweetness.  This is largely because the cold weather causes the starches in the plant leafs to change into carbohydrates, a simple sugar.

This is also the time of year to be thinking about tomatoes.  Our first planting of tomatoes goes into the one High Tunnel that has a heat source around March 29th.   A tomato plant wants to be around 6-7 weeks old at the time of planting.  That means that we'll be starting tomatoes next week.  Hard to believe.  Very hard to believe.  But then again, growing helps one feel like Spring is right around the corner.  We'll be busy setting up grow lights in the basement this week.  Right on the heals of tomato planting will be onions, peppers,lettuce heads and herbs.  Growing in the basement goes on for a few more weeks and then we transfer everything to our nursery that is out in a hoop houses.  We have built a 10' x 20'  houses inside this hoop house and installed a small propane furnace.

Meanwhile, we'll be preparing new beds throughout the different hoop houses for spring greens.  These will be planted out with arugula, mixed lettuce, kale, spicey mustard greens, tatzoi, mizuna and pak choi.  Can't wait.  It is hard to beat the feeling of working in a hoop house on a cold, sunny winter day.  You don't need a coat and it feels like a day in May.  This is a great substitute for going to Florida in February.  Infact, one winter when we couldn't go anywhere, we satisfied or warm sun needs by bringing lawn furniture out to the hoop house and sprawled out in total luxury.

During the last warm spell when all the  snow melted, I had the opportunity to look under some of the outside rowcovers.  It was amazing to see live and tasty spinach growing there.  As soon as warm weather arrives, these plants should really start to take off.
We also have several low tunnels that are performing really well.  These are made from wirehoops that make a low arc over the greens bed.  Plastic is put over the hoops and weighed down with sandbags on the edges and corners.  We planted lettuce, chard, beets and carrots around the beginning of November.  At this point, everything is small in there.  With the return of the light and warmer weather, all of these greens will make great progress.  And interesting part of all this is that baby baby lettuce can survive the harsh temperatures, but larger leaves will turn to mush.  Like all our winter greens, they have an anti-freeze system of sorts whereby the water migrates out of the plant cell and concentrates deeper down in the leaf, lowering its freezing point.  This is how we are able to provide fresh greens to restaurants and farmers market all year round.Now our days are longer than 10 hours.  This  means that the days are long enough to see real growth in existing plants that are in our High Tunnels(aka hoophouse).    The time that is below a 10 hour day is known as the Persephone Period, name because of the Greek myth about how plants  stopped  growing while Persephone was held captive in the underworld by Hades (see Wickipedia  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persephone).  While it is not exactly true that all growth stops during this time period (October 13-January 29th),  it certainly slows to a trickle.

At this point in the year, we've harvested all of our greens and are already seeing a lot of regrowth.   This is a wonderful thing, as we've been enjoying supplying our restaurants and farmers markets all winter and now look forward to resuming shortly.  Our greens are always delicious, but the big attraction to winter greens is their sweetness.  This is largely because the cold weather causes the starches in the plant leafs to change into carbohydrates, a simple sugar.

This is also the time of year to be thinking about tomatoes.  Our first planting of tomatoes goes into the one High Tunnel that has a heat source around March 29th.   A tomato plant wants to be around 6-7 weeks old at the time of planting.  That means that we'll be starting tomatoes next week.  Hard to believe.  Very hard to believe.  But then again, growing helps one feel like Spring is right around the corner.  We'll be busy setting up grow lights in the basement this week.  Right on the heals of tomato planting will be onions, peppers,lettuce heads and herbs.  Growing in the basement goes on for a few more weeks and then we transfer everything to our nursery that is out in a hoop houses.  We have built a 10' x 20'  houses inside this hoop house and installed a small propane furnace.

Meanwhile, we'll be preparing new beds throughout the different hoop houses for spring greens.  These will be planted out with arugula, mixed lettuce, kale, spicey mustard greens, tatzoi, mizuna and pak choi.  Can't wait.  It is hard to beat the feeling of working in a hoop house on a cold, sunny winter day.  You don't need a coat and it feels like a day in May.  This is a great substitute for going to Florida in February.  Infact, one winter when we couldn't go anywhere, we satisfied or warm sun needs by bringing lawn furniture out to the hoop house and sprawled out in total luxury.

During the last warm spell when all the  snow melted, I had the opportunity to look under some of the outside rowcovers.  It was amazing to see live and tasty spinach growing there.  As soon as warm weather arrives, these plants should really start to take off.
We also have several low tunnels that are performing really well.  These are made from wirehoops that make a low arc over the greens bed.  Plastic is put over the hoops and weighed down with sandbags on the edges and corners.  We planted lettuce, chard, beets and carrots around the beginning of November.  At this point, everything is small in there.  With the return of the light and warmer weather, all of these greens will make great progress.  And interesting part of all this is that baby baby lettuce can survive the harsh temperatures, but larger leaves will turn to mush.  Like all our winter greens, they have an anti-freeze system of sorts whereby the water migrates out of the plant cell and concentrates deeper down in the leaf, lowering its freezing point.  This is how we are able to provide fresh greens to restaurants and farmers market all year round.

Posted 7/7/2009 12:33pm by David Zemelsky.

My assignment for the 4th of July family picnic was to bring salad and corn on the cob. The salad was easy but the corn on the cob? There was none at City Seed that day ,where David was doing the market at Wooster Square and none at a local  corn stand. So I gathered lots of sungolds and bloody butchers to drizzle with olive oil and garnish with basil. Then I saw the garlic-- row after row of it. I hanked seven of them out of the ground, cut their leaves and roots off and peeled off their outer skins. I liberally drizzled that olive oil once again, put them in  a  small cast iron fry pan and baked them. I started them at 350 but raised them later to 450. They were golden and soft in a half hour or so.

Arrivng at the party, all attention was on the gorgeous hoola hoops that a friend makes. Everyone was doing it from the just turned five year olds, to the almost fortys, to the nearly sixties. I fell in love with the feel of picking up a hoola hoop and still knowing exactly how to use it after all these years. 

After wild and wooly hooping,the feasting began. Nobody noticed that the corn was missing as the beautiful roasted garlics were swooned over. Even the just turned fives loved them, for they were sweet as sweet can be.

Later that night I took my brand new sparkly green and purple hoola hoop home and hooped under the nearly full moon as if I had just turned five.

 

 

 

Posted 6/26/2009 8:25pm by David Zemelsky.

ripe sungolds

About two weeks ago, while scouting out our 2000 tomato plants, I  discovered a ripe sungold. Finally. Of course I picked this tomato and found Ty, to continue our tradition of experiencing the very first tomato of the season together.   I felt this instant connection to the cycle seasons long gone and plates of sliced tomatoes devoured on summer nights.  That most flavorful moment marked the beginning of our 2009 tomato season. Its been a long winter and rainy spring since fresh heirloom tomatoes have been available in Connecticut. And by the time I have gotten around to writing this, each day brings more and more tomatoes as well as more varieties.

tomato jungle

How did we get to this moment?  Our tomato program starts in early February-six weeks before we plant them in the high tunnels.  We will start hundred of new plants in soil in trays that sit on probagation mats- a source of heat that speeds both the rate and the speed of germination.  Plastic domes are left on these trays until the plant emerges from the soil-usually 4-6 days.  After 10 days, they are removed from the mats and placed under grow lights.  There  they will remain for the 4-5 weeks to be planted then in our  only high tunnel that has supplimental heat.  This year, these plants were planted on March 24th.  The other hoop houses do not have heat, so  we need to be sure that later planted tomatoes won't get a frost.  That usually means that they will be planted at the beginning of May.  We have found that there are several important advantages to growing tomatoes in high tunnels.   Sometimes, just a few temperature degrees between the inside and out,  can mean life or death for a small plant on a chilly morning. Another advantage is that  all of our houses have driptape irrigation.  This gives the tomatoes what they want- moist feet and dry overcoats.  The driptape is hooked to an electronic system that delivers water to each tunnel for a specific amount of time.  Tomatoes like to get a drink before sunrise.  In our earliest house we planted Bloody Butcher, Glacier, Sungold, Prudens Purple and Yellow Gold.   These are all early varieties, a bit small compared to other heirlooms, but mighty tasty.  Later comes the Paul Robeson, Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, Striped Germanand Waspinnicon, to name but a few.

tomato blossom

ripening sungolds


Last night three of our young grandchildren came to visit. They were excited to see  the " tomato jungle."  The plants are over 9 feet tall now, but should reach 13-14 feet before the end of the season. Darting through the rows, they quickly collected several pounds of ripe tomatoes.  It turns out that grandchildren really like to find, pick and gaze at tomatoes.  But what they really like to do best is take one bite out of the fruit, suck out all the juices and toss the rest onto the floor.  I accidently stepped on several of them last night. It was worth it.

tomatoes early box

Now we are poised to have a waterfall - like arrival of tomatoes-more tomatoes than we can imagine . With over 1800 plants and 30 varieties, we will soon be graced by their wild colors and flavors all through summer and well into fall.