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For the Love of Garlic and Soil

If you have been following our writings over the past year or so, you’re more than likely aware of a few things. Mainly our expansion to Star Light Gardens North West, the acquisition of more chickens and sheep, all with the intention of doing more than just Growing more good food. But also the intention to grow in a more regenerative and closed loop, incorporating pastured animals and cover cropping, seeing as we now have the space to do so. A first priority in this regard has been to take one high tunnel in Durham out of its regular intensive production. We’ll do some cover cropping and also a bit of planting things that aren’t usually grown in such expensive real estate. Another idea was to proactively replace the plastic on a tunnel each season. That’s when a fellow farmer gave us the bright idea to combine the two concepts, allowing the benefits of rain, snow and atmosphere to reach the soil while it’s out of it’s regular production style. So we decided first to recover the High Tunnel named Hartley(after David’s grandson). Commencing with the lack luster potato planting experiment of the spring. Cover cropping this summer with buck wheat and the fall with peas and oats. Finished off with 10 days or so of chickens doing what the do eating and scratching the cover crop away.

Hartley planted in peas and oats, pre chickens. Chickweed not pictured but certain there
Day 1 and the chickens wasted no time getting to work.
The second to last day, much progress has been made. Yet they continue to work hard.

It’s not quite that easy though, as hard as the birds do work for us, some prep work will remain. Tomorrow will be spent scraping, raking, broad forking and spreading compost. All with the intention of prepping this space for the final push of the 2022 garlic planting. We’ve planted about half of the garlic outside already, nearly 100 pounds. This Friday the plan is to finish the rest, with the help of some volunteers. So if you are looking to get your hands dirty, while working from the comfort of an inside covered space, feel free to reach out. Once all the garlic is planted we’ll haul in quite a bit of leaves giving the garlic a comfy blanket as well as suppressing weeds for a crop that will be in the ground until next July.

The final step to this great dance of chicken, cover crop and garlic is the removal of the plastic. Despite the sound logic behind it, removing perfectly intact plastic simply doesn’t feel right. But the bottom line is that the cover is over 11 years old and there is a hole to be found here and there. As we found out two summers ago a strong storm can easily remove old plastic for us, just not on our schedule. With the right crops in place recovering the tunnel this coming summer will come at a time we choose. Conveniently having a beautifully recovered and refreshed high tunnel just waiting for a late summer planting of what? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Have a great week
Maybe we’ll see you Friday

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Cover Up

There comes a time each season(well at least once), where we must simply face the truth of what is to come. We can talk a big game about how we are ready. Have all the row cover in place and the plastic laid out. Yes the most fragile irrigation is disconnected and stored away, but the truth of it is until the temps actually get into that hard freeze range. Until you actually have to lay down all the plastic and row cover. Move all those sand bags into place. Drain and roll up all the hose. Even to the point where we actually will have to close each house and cover inside. It is until that point where we are in a way still riding the wave that is summer’s easy living. Have no delusions about it that time has come. With lows tonight around 25 it’s time to face the facts, so I’ll assume you can guess what we’ll be up to today. Yup cover it all up and then sum.

We still have an abundant mix in the fields choys, mustard, kales, lettuce, radish, turnip, beets and carrots. We’ll be double covering to protect as best we can from the night’s lows. The cold weather landscape of the fields is really taking shape with our 5 rows of overwintered carrots now in place. It really is amazing what one can accomplish with low tunnels in a cold climate. It is not for the faint of heart or back for that matter though. Almost daily rituals of covering and uncovering, or repairing tunnels opened by the wind can be daunting. Its almost certainly a requirement that one has the ability to laugh at themselves, because after the 5th or 6th slip on the plastic of the day. A sense of humor is one of the few comforts you can cling to. All of this extra protection in the fields not only benefits us by extending the growing season. Continued growth and protection from the elements allows soil life the opportunity to thrive more than they would without it. Covering also prevents erosion and allows for a warmer and drier spot early in the spring. Just another opportunity for us to extend the season on both ends.

Speaking of seasons, we are coming to the end of the 2022 market season.  This coming Friday is the last Madison Farmers Market of the year.  We want to send out a big thanks to all of the customers as well as the market staff.  Thank you so much for a great 2022 season.  As for Cityseed New Haven this Saturday is the last market of November, with three more in December to finish off the year.  Next week there will be no markets.  We will be doing on Farm pick up only on Tuesday 11/22 after 5pm.  In addition to this ordering will be open from Sunday morning until Monday at 5pm.   Keep a look out for a Sunday reminder.

Have a great week

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That special time of year

Surely there is no need to convince anyone that the weather as of late has been anything but epic(or even tropical). Needless to say we have been soaking it up as best we can, even sweating and occasionally seeking the refuge of shade. All the while we must keep in the back of our minds that the cold will be here. Yes, we have been spoiled not having to cover and uncover the fields outside. However, the calendar does not lie and the sun now sets each evening before 5pm. Forecasts predict cold nights to come and we’ll surely be doing some true winter close up, with crop protection in in place by the weeks end.

In some regards the weather has cooperated beautifully this fall, with several degrees of frosts being experienced in October. Allowing our veggie friends in the fields to harden off. The first few frost they remained covered and with the last few uncovered(mostly be design). How the jump back into summer like temps will undue the hardening off is difficult to tell and with any luck we’ll get one more light frost before lows get into the 20’s.

photo by Sam Kraszewski

With November here and in full swing a few things are at the fore front of our minds.  One is how many more markets are left this season?  Simply put 2 for Madison and 5 for Cityseed New Haven. With the time change the last 2 Madison markets will run from 3-5 ending an hour early. Thanksgiving week there will be no markets and on farm pick up will be limited to Tuesday only.

Other thoughts on our minds are simply enough, what to plant?  The answer is clear the time has come for overwintered carrots and garlic.  We have planted our first 220 or so row feet of garlic this past week.  Mostly the damaged heads not suitable for sale.  This way we can get an accurate idea of how much garlic we can bring to market in the coming weeks.  We are about as proud of how good our garlic seed is, as we are about the taste.  Yes there is still time to plant garlic for next year.

Overwintered carrots have been a staple for us for at least the past 6 years.  A lesson learned from Elliot Coleman arguably the O.G. of Four season market gardening and an inspiration to Star Light Gardens since it’s very inception.  With the benefit of more covered space we plant them both inside the high tunnels and out side in low tunnels.  Carrot germination can be tricky and we have a few tricks up our sleeves concerning that, not too mention Joel;s clear over purchase of 200k carrot seeds.  “Better safe than sorry” he says.  Though our current carrot supply is healthy it we inevitable run out before the May appearance of the overwintered gems.  Well worth the wait though, in the mean time enjoy what is left of the beautiful fall weather.

Have a great week

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Couldn’t Have Done it Without You

Seasons come and season go but as a four season farm it can be hard to find a way to mark “the end” of a season. For many years now there’s just been the three of us (Joel, Jen, and David), maybe the wintery pancakes were the end, maybe finishing the garlic planting was what did it. Maybe the reality is there really is no end, just beginnings of a slower paced time of year. Looking back I’m not sure we ever really had time to stop and savior the slow season. A small farm we may be but it’s still certainly big enough to keep us busy. However, this year feels different. Although we had a micro crew in 2021, this year we actually had full blown farm crew. It has been SO nice to have so many extra hands helping us out, we actually have time now to slow down and appreciate the quite nature of late fall and winter. Last week was the end of the season with our crew, giving us a true marker for the shift to slow season. We topped off the  season with an employee appreciation harvest feast last night. So it is with full hearts and full bellies that we reflect on their hard work and share with you about our season together.

Lydia worked with us a bit last year, and somehow, knowing what she was getting into she was ready to come back for more. She started the season off with us in March helping us get ready for plant sale and opening up the fields after their long winter nap. Next came Isa and Sam, in April. After many many plant-a-thons, carrot weeding, tomato pruning and greenhouse flipping we felt like we were set up to have a great summer. Then in July, Isa met Lindsay out in New Haven and brought her to the farm to help us round out the crew, like the missing piece to a puzzle. With the full crew in place it felt like nothing could stop us, not even the oppressive heat waves of the July and August.

2022 Farm Crew
Sam (+his partner Jess), Isa, Lindsay (+her partner Dan), and Lydia

If you are reading this we probably don’t have to tell you that farming is hard work, but in this photo you are looking at some really hard workers. There were days were the ‘to-do’ list felt like it would certainly run into the next day and almost always we’d manage to finish. But it wasn’t just their extra labor that made the difference on the farm. Sometimes farming is hard because of the slowness. It was during those slow, tedious moments that having everyone’s company and conversation made the difference. It was such a pleasure to have different perspectives, different energies, and different voices and laughter out in the fields. I’d like to think that even though it was hard work, it was also a lot of fun, for us anyway… Either way, to our crew: to say we couldn’t do it without you is an understatement, thank you so much for everything!

Now Lydia is off to Australia for a year on a work visa to learn more about farming and to travel with her long term/ long distance boyfriend. Isa, who juggled studying as well as farming is now a registered nurse and studying Midwifery. Lindsay is off educating the youth about climate issues and sustainability, as well as performing with her band Mother Juniper (keep an eye out New Haven people). We wish these ladies the best of luck with all of their adventures and endeavors! We are glad to say that Sam will be sticking with us this winter and gearing up to take on even more responsibilities at Star Light next Spring. He’s a jack of all trades, when he’s not farming he’s explore his other passions of photography, craftsmanship, music and sports. We look forward to his continued contributions to our little farm family.

Have a great week and Happy Halloween!

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An Ode to the Flower Season

Last week brought the first frosts of the season to the farm. Mid day Tuesday we started feeling a little anxious.  Maybe we were taking the predicted low of 35 a little too casually, considering that in Durham the farm is always a few degrees cooler than the forecast. So we rushed to find row cover that would fit over the most sensitive crops and tucked them in for the night. However, probably the most important lesson learned from farming is that everything has it’s season and somethings need to be let go.   In this particular instance we are speaking of flowers.  Yes we could have spent the rest of the day elaborately covering them,  but the effort would far exceed the reward.  So instead that day we walked through what was left of the flowers, harvested what we could, and said our thanks and goodbyes.
Our employee Lydia harvesting the last of the Cosmos

Though our main focus at Star Light has always been, and will always be growing good food, 2022 was our 4th year growing cut flowers along side our familiar veggie friends. There have been plenty of ups and downs, not to mention the learning curve. Still certain things remain the same. Flowers are a great way to increase biodiversity on the farm. Obviously they attract loads of pollinators, insects, and even some beloved hummingbirds, but their root systems also are more interactive with the soil life than most of the veggie crops that we grow. As farmers we love long term crops like flowers, planted once and harvested all season. This again benefits the soil life because the microscopic world built around the roots isn’t disturbed, even now that the frost has taken the blooms we will leave the stalks and roots in the ground for the winter. Allowing this subterranean metropolis to live on. The cut and come again nature of flowers also makes them a valuable crop for the limited space they occupy.

But I think first and foremost flowers have become a staple for us here at Star Light for their beauty and their pleasing nature. Not only to us who grow but also to those of you customers who enjoy them. In a way anyone who chooses to buy a bouquet is taking a piece of Star Light Gardens and making it a part of their home. Flowers have this ability to evoke so much emotion, living breathing art that touches each of our senses. I doubt any two people experience any one flower the same way.

This year we had the honor and pleasure of providing flowers for a close friends wedding. It was a beautiful weekend long event. Friday night was spent listening to the grooms band play while guests helped make dozens of mini arrangements for the reception the following day. It was such a joy to gift something we tend so intimately to loved ones.

Although the ’22 flowers are through, our sights are already on 2023. Hundreds of tulip bulbs arrived this week to be planted before the new year. Dreams of entering into the world of dahlia growing are starting to materialize. Before long seed catalogs will start to pile up and so will flower seed orders. We even made some fabric dyes from some of our favorite flowers that we will play around with this winter. It’s safe to say that as vegetable production expands here so too will our flower growing.

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Optimistic Fall Lighting

For the most part important late summer and fall task have been checked off the to do list. What remains for us both inside and outside truly hearkens the season to come. We are half way though planting overwintered onions, we must prep and plant for overwintered carrots and yes of course garlic. In fact everything with the exception of pea and sunflower shoots, that we will start this year will be destined for harvest in 2023. We’ve always been of the opinion that fall truly has the best light of all and maybe there is something more to that than just the undeniable beauty of an October or November sunset.

There is a certain relief and feeling of reset when we pull a high tunnel of summer crops. The freshly prepped beds are like a blank canvas. Where in the same spot just earlier that day or the day before existed something that could be described as a jungle. This was the case this past Thursday as we said goodbye to a large planting of peppers and eggplant. A mornings worth of removal and prep left us with time in the afternoon for transplanting, onions, lettuce, radish, turnips, choys and Swiss chard. There was also 15 or so parsley plants that were inter planted with the hot crops that we incorporated optimistically into the Swiss chard rows. Whether in fact or simply in our minds replanting a high tunnel for winter gives us a feeling of starting over a sort of renewal if you will.

Speaking of renewed one thing that has been renewed is the fact that just because you did things right one year doesn’t guarantee the results will be so easily achieved the following. Here we are referring to our Ginger and Turmeric crop. From the very beginning issues arose when nearly all the seed we received was frozen in transit during the cold of February. Though we did receive some replacement seed it was slow to germinate. Then with the combination being slightly behind planting schedule, the summer heat and a kinked irrigation line discovered too late, all contributed to a very slow start. Our solution was simply to leave them in the ground as late as possible, one to hopefully get as much growth as they can. And two to put off the pain of harvesting a crop that we know will have us reminiscing to 2021. There is a fairly accurate saying that to farm one must be an optimist, so we guess it’s best to say that without failures what would be of our successes. And maybe just maybe the real thing to be celebrating is the process.

Have a great week

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Not Quite a Frost

With more High tunnels available to us then has been the case in past years, growing in the shoulder seasons is feeling almost as overwhelming as the main season rush. When starting at SLGNW last year things were pretty much a blank canvas. The high tunnels were empty and all we had to do for the most part was plant. This year however we have had to make the hard choices of which houses to pull first. And if you think saying good bye to 10 foot plus tall tomato plants is tough, just imagine pulling hundreds of them out by hand. Hauling them off by cart to the compost piles, then all the laborious prep that turns those beds back into a nice smooth surface for direct seeding or transplanting. Multiply this by this by 6 or 8 and add on the pressure of diminishing light and the required planting schedule. This can give you a little idea of what we are feeling and where we are headed. Truth be told though, that same diminishing light that puts the pressure on also has it’s own way of making time for us to decompress. With more darkness in the evening and mornings and the eventual freezing tempts before the sun comes up to heat the day. One finds themselves with little other choice than to take some time for yourself.

Now don’t let this bit of venting be mistaken for complaining. The fact of the matter is for all the extra work we may have taken on, the opportunity to grow better and better each season doing more of what we love in a more efficient manner is ever present. You won’t catch us complaining about the fact that with more high tunnels we can use less low tunnels. Focusing more on overwintered carrots and onions outside as opposed to greens which generally don’t fair as well considering the work. We’ll still be slipping and falling on icy plastic each winter but hopefully with less frequency.

Speaking of icy segues, this past Saturday brought the first frost advisory of the season.  And with it out came the first layers of row cover seen on farm since April.  To only have to cover a few beds of more sensitive greens that we wanted to make sure stay perfect.  As opposed to half our outside growing space was truly a joy.  Not that the time to cover mostly everything outside won’t be here, because it will.  There are countless lettuces, choys, and other cold hardy plants living their best life.  The fall is their season and to an extent the cold is beneficial.  It seems intuitive to close all the tunnels and cover all the fields when the lows approach freezing temps at night.  However, the instinct to capture the heat of the day also traps moisture and leaves the plants less hardy for the colder tempts to come.  The time will come for heavy row cover and plastic, but for now we must let things harden off and stay dry.   Yes, a few things like beans and flowers may have thrived another week or two if we diligently cover them however, all of that takes time.  And after all time is all we have so we must choose and make the most of it.  Leaning into the cooler seasons and accepting the inevitable so goes farming as does life.

Have a great week
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Working Autumn-ously

Fall arrived last week in it’s own spectacular fashion and the weather has certainly taken the cue that Autumn is here. This is a special time of year on farms. For many it’s the peak of harvest, and we must balance the need to get crops out with having to sow cover crops or perhaps get in one last planting. For many farms it is the signal to begin to slow down, clean up and close the operation down for the cold months ahead. But for many others like ourselves though it is time to try and clean up, slowing down and closes up isn’t quite the tune of the day. For us with some night time lows in the forecast reminding us of the cold to come it is time to get organized, pulling out all of the season extension tools. Now this may sound more glamorous than the reality of it being metal hoops, plastic, row cover and sand bags. None the less this Monday morning we will begin to free them from their overgrown summer homes. Setting up the unique winter landscape that is a 4 season farm in New England.

Though season extension itself isn’t new to us one fall activity we are actively trying to expand on the farm is cover cropping. Used to protect the soil form weather and erosion, fertilize and perhaps most importantly keep life in and on the soil as much as possible. Cover cropping is an amazing tool, that unfortunately does require a good deal of skill and effort, at a time when the clock is ticking. Surely the delivery drivers that have seen our seed deliveries change from small light boxes to 40 and 50 pound bags of peas, oats, vetch and winter rye know something is afoot. So far we’ve sown one beautiful patch of peas and outs, a few areas of peas, oats and vetch of which the deer have enjoyed the peas. One high tunnel in Buchwheat then peas and oats along with a large section of Winter rye this past Friday. At this time of year one would be hard pressed to plant anything else beside winter rye and maybe vetch. Rest assured we have around 100lbs of rye to get seeded this next week or two.

In addition to fall being the season of cover crops it is also the time of year where many of the vegetables we grow year round come into their prime. Signaled by the dwindling light, bok choys and lettuce for example can grow big without fear of bolting. One can hold them in the field for months with a bit of effort, season extension gear and some cooperation from Mother nature.

Speaking of Mother nature, we all know that the weather won’t always align with our schedules, as was the case this past Saturday. With the promise of a cold rainy day we were less than enthusiastic about getting out of bed to head to the market. It’s a feeling we are sure you all share on those less than appealing market days. Despite this we go to the market warm with the knowledge that many of you will faithfully come out and support ourselves and many others who make up this good food people thing we do. It’s simple to say it, but the truth of it has endless reverberations. We are all in it together, without dedicated customers we could not do what we do. This feeling of appreciation for you all is magnified on those less than perfect days and we wanted to make sure and express how much we do appreciate you all.

On the subject of appreciation we figured a cute picture of Willie and a little sheep update may hit the spot. As you can see though Willie appears to have 3 horns there are actually 4. The one with the tennis ball decoration is actually 2 fused together. These two horns have separate points and a small amount of space between them which is perfect for getting caught on just about everything. A simply solution is to cap the horns with a tennis ball(something he seems to like) and switch from net like fencing to simpler strands. So far so good, so from Willie and the rest of us here

Have a great week

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How it Started vs How it’s Going

Those of you who are avid readers of our blog may recall our A Bird in Hand or Four post back in May. This was our first time truly putting the chickens to work. The high tunnel was planted densely with carpets of lettuce, baby kale, arugula, mizuna and red kingdom. Rather than breaking our backs to get those greens cleared out we unleashed the chickens, and boy did they put those beaks to good use. The chickens were well fed, the high tunnel was ready to prep with a light amount of effort from us farmers, and the soil got an extra boost of fertility. These win-win-win situations are a growers dream come true. There was another win in this situation and it comes in the form of Sun Gold tomatoes.

You see, in order to comply to food safety standards we have to plan what crops follow the chickens carefully. Crops that are in direct contact with the soil cannot be harvested for 120 days, and crops like tomatoes that don’t directly touch the soil have a 90 day waiting window. So with that in mind we planted a nice late crop of cherry tomatoes following the chickens. This time of year can be full of difficult decisions, whether to hang onto the struggling tomatoes or start fresh with something new. Thankfully, because of the late cherry tomato planting these decisions were a lot easier. The first of the tomatoes have all been pulled and most of those areas have been replanted for fall or are at least ready to be seeded and the late succession of cherries is coming in great.

We hope everyone who went to the Durham Fair had a great time. We didn’t make it this year but we did donate our sheep fleeces to a friend who runs the fiber dept. She sent us this picture of the yarn they spun throughout the fair. It’s so cool to see the process and to know their wool is being put to good use! With another Durham Fair in the rear view mirror, traffic in the area should be back to normal when picking up on farm.

Have a great week

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Three houses down still plenty to go

How does one choose, how does one draw the line? On one hand we have summer crops which are still producing and in some cases coming into their prime. On the other lies the spirit of Transition, Fall and Winter right around the corner. We feel them in the dawn, we feel them in the dusk, the truth behind them we cannot deny. Like many things in life, as with growing, each season there are but a few and usually just one chance to get things right. The parallels that can be drawn are abundant because after all food is life. A food truth that cannot be denied.

So here we sit on the cusp of decision. To pull and plant or continue harvesting that which days we know are numbered. That fact of the matter is despite which decision we make, currently we are blessed with abundance. Two beautiful lands, several acres and a little infrastructure to boot. We have a ton of wonderful Good Food People who support us and other Farms in every step and misstep we make. With more growing space and Love than we could have ever imagined cultivating, we’d be hard pressed to deny that each intentional step we make has more behind it than can be expressed in words.

In other farm news despite the protest from our soar muscles we continue to make headway on the newest pile of compost and seasonal transition in general. Cover cropping though not a new practice, on the scale we hope to be doing it is new to us. We’ve sown peas oats and vetch on a few spots, with any other cover crop destined areas to get the old standard winter rye. We have also made the decision to proactively recover a high tunnel each year or so. This way we can gain the benefit of a winter’s weather falling upon the soil and hopefully avoid the inevitable forced recovering when old plastic breaks. First up is the high tunnel Hartley. This was the seen of our relatively weak potato experiment and is now a lush bed of buckwheat pictured above. This buckwheat will be worked into the soil this week followed by a quick cover of peas and oat. Then around December the soil will be prepped for a planting of garlic. Then comes the hard part, intentionally removing the plastic covering, stay tuned to see if we have the courage. On the subject of garlic we have finally finished cleaning this years supply and will be saving much of it for seed. Last year we planted over a hundred pounds and even this record amount is not enough to meet the demand from customers and our own desire to no longer purchase seed garlic. With a hundred pounds of seed secured from our trusty source and over a hundred pounds of our own garlic left one thing is certain. You may not see too much more of our garlic at markets this year but there is guaranteed to be more next year

For those of you preordering for on farm pick up please be aware that the Durham will be happening. Traffic usually isn’t bad in early afternoon but as the evening rolls on it can get quite bad. In addition to this Fowler ave is turned into a one way street which may create a slight detour. It is one way going from Cherry out to Main street opposite of what it was last year. For those looking to avoid this we recommend Wednesday pick up though Friday and Saturday are still viable options.

Have a great week