The first day of Spring always brings with it such hope and ambition for the coming season. Appropriately timed with the equinox was an excellent article on the (yes we’re proud) front page of the Sunday Hartford Courant. For those of you that read our weekly letter you were in the know since last week about the changing of the guard here at Star Light. Though we obviously knew the story ourselves, seeing all the great pictures and reading the story out loud really brought it home for us. Reporter and Photographer alike really did a great job so if you get the chance, give it a read. Our only regret is having only one of the two Star Light Pups in the picture. Hopefully Clarkie will stop ignoring David some time this week. We knew this transition makes for a good story, so much like a B list celebrity going out on a Friday night we reached out to the Courant, giving them the first crack at such a heartwarming tale.
Speaking of Heart Warming, the response we have received from all of you good food people has nearly brought a tear to our eyes. It felt like nearly every customer at the market came with well wishes, congratulations, a smile and support. We must sound like a broken record in this regard but we will take the risk of echoing it again. If it wasn’t for all of you the Good Food People, who support us and others like us none of it would be possible. The Love, encouragement, understanding and support that is showered upon us week after week is not only the thing that makes this work, but also a source of rejuvenation, inspiration and hope. It’s the thing that keeps us going when we are covered in sweat and dirt, overworked, tired, but still replanting something that either the deer or the woodchucks got to. When we contemplate why we do what we do, yes there are many reasons. However, for us at Star Light Gardens overwhelming the number one thing that keeps us going is the knowledge that what we do is genuinely important and appreciated by our customers. All the smiles, the thank yous, the compliments on the produce and conversations about bugs, plants and soil truly warm our hearts and allow us to move through the fields with a lightness and grace.
Now we also wanted to comment on our thoughts and intentions for Star Light Gardens going forward. That is we don’t intend to for things to really change at all. Yes, we do hope to continue to expand and grow, after all we did expand the acreage. But in doing so and with all other aspects of the business we intend to stay true to the ideals and values that Ty and David built Star Light Gardens on. Sheep and all. We couldn’t be more grateful to David for giving us his trust to continue the work he started. As the Courant reports, “next generation” plans aren’t easy to come by. Which is a shame not only for the ready to retire farmers, but the young farmers who can be discouraged by the lack of access. Thankfully for us, our experience as young farmers has been just the opposite. David has given us nothing but encouragement, and has opened his land, his home, and his heart up to us in a way to has allowed us to grow Star Light Gardens, and to grow as people. Being the next generation of Star Light Gardens truly is the honor of a lifetime.
I really appreciate the bumper sticker that says”Know Your Farmer”. That statement means a lot to me because I love the idea that our customers have had the opportunity to get to know who we are,what we are trying to accomplish and most importantly, have a stronger sense of how your food is grown. As many of you already know, Star Light was largely Ty’s idea. She lived big and thought big. Without her vision, I doubt that Star Light would have even started. That was 23 years ago. 23 years?!? Almost impossible to get my mind around that much time. That is 5 years before we even had grandchildren and they seem like they have been around forever. I am not going to spend a lot of time telling you about the hard times, the good times. Not that they aren’t good stories,(they are)but rather want to leave you with three important thoughts. First, as of this past Wednesday, Joel and Jenn own the farm. A breath taking change for both of us. And this was an arrangement carefully crafted and executed over a few years. It wasn’t easy for them to think of buying Star Light and it also wasn’t that easy for me to give up my identity as a farmer and give up my hold on the ownership. But it was the right decision. Second, farming was one of the best decisions I will ever make in my lifetime. Every single step of the way was blooming with challenges and rewards. My skills as a problem solver have been refined over these few decades. And physically , farming has helped me in all ways. This is good work, even exceptional work. I faced every day with gratitude that I could make my living by growing and harvesting and selling wonderful food. Thirdly, so happily, I can promise you that I have left the farm with the best of all possible people in the world-Joel and Jen. Creative, hardworking, empathetic, great growers and( hey why not say i)t-a good looking couple. I’ll probably get in trouble for that. My hope of leaving the farm with the best people as possible has been fulfilled. Those of you going to the market-I will still be around. But now I will be working for J and J.
Thank you, one and all. What a great ride its been.
Every where we look signs of Spring are popping up. Be it garlic, tulips, grass for the sheep or seeds in the nursery. Oh yes and how can we forget the buckets on the Maple trees and sweet smell of a boiling sap happening out front. We are a bit late on the sugaring this year than those past. But the weather has been fickle and the week ahead does look prime for good sap flow, so we’ll go with it. Typical for this time of year is space inside becoming a premium. Both in the high tunnels and the nursery farmers and plants jockey for position on nursery benches and the protected soil of the high tunnels. We must keep on top of a strict schedule of transplanting and direct seeding as well as the mixing soil, making trays and seeding them. Into the germination chamber the trays then go(assuming there is room for them). With the right temp and humidity controlled, things like marigolds, tomatoes and peppers germinate(or pop) in no time at all. So quickly in fact that half a day or less in the chamber too long and you’ll be kicking yourself for not checking earlier( or so we’ve heard).
It’s funny like that sometimes in farming, things that seemingly take forever are here and gone in what feels like the blink of and eye. It’s sad to say that is this case with our sweet cache of winter carrots. In January when we first started harvesting them we wondered, “would need to harvest and store some since we had so many?” Now we’re staring at the last 50 row feet, trying to determine just how much more we can grow next year. The good news is a top priority on this weeks list is weeding the overwintered carrots outside in the field. Unlike the winter carrots that are seeded in August, the overwintered carrots are sown in November and traditionally harvest-able by Mother’s day.
It may seem far off, May that is. And we suppose it is, basically two months off. But there is that whole concept of things happening in the blink of an eye. Sure, there is a lot in between then and now. A lot of prepping, planting, repotting, seeding and harvesting. Before we know it though we’ll be harvesting those carrots we have to weed, trimming and planting those tomatoes were starting and rehoming the plants we’re repotting.
With what looks to be the most significant snow received so far this Winter coming this evening it may seem strange to say that March and in fact Spring are right around the corner. If you could look into our high tunnels, the nursery and our minds, perhaps it wouldn’t seem strange to say such things. No matter which way you slice it, we can’t deny the facts. Yup Spring is weeks away and yes the weather is only getting stranger, so it’s probably safe to expect a warm Spring with a surprise or two in April or May.
Speaking of surprised, we are not only surprised(although we shouldn’t be) but blown away by the support we have and continue to receive. In this instance we are referring to your generous support in the raising of funds for CT NOFA’s Farm Share Program. Our initial goal was to raise 600 dollars which NOFA would generously match, allowing us to offer 4 discounted or free market cards to people for the 2023 season. Not only have we reached our goal, but we’ve lapped it, one and a half times over! We’ve always liked to think we set a good pace here at Star Light and with the help of you the good food people that is more true than ever. The pace of fund raising that you all have set is eclipsing any similar efforts and that makes us prouder than you could know. So apparently the easy part was raising the funds and maybe the harder part is going to be recruiting the recipients. If you are interested in receiving a reduced cost/ free market card please let us know. These can be used at our farm stand or any of our farmers markets.
We also want to thank you all for being understanding during these slower times of year. After a few lighter weeks we are happy to have some of those favorite greens back on the shop. Having more space to experiment with growing more in the Winter has really been a growing and learning experience. Doing our best to take lessons both from seasoned growers and our own experiences, we are feeling quite ambitious for next winter(a strange thing to say on February 27th). We are also switching our email platform starting this week, so if you notice anything from this weeks letter that seems strange or doesn’t work, please let us know.
Each week, day or month we have a different perspective. Surely this must be apparent to all of you with each weekly writing. Reflecting the ever changing environment in which we live and grow. Saying this winter has been anything but mild, with a reality check here or there, would be putting it lightly. Such warm beautiful spring like days in the midst of winter, tempt us to make the mistakes usually associated with mid to late March. At the risk of sounding not exactly humble we would like to hope we are learning from past mistakes.. Field prep with proper cover and protection. The decision to stay in the low tunnels with any early plantings outside. These echo in the back of our minds. Like a voice originating from the furthest corners of the farm. As we turn around not quite ready to ask each other. “Did you hear that?”
Of course with all of these past lessons we must do our best to toe the line between over ambitious and being reserved. This week brings with it, transplanting, bed prep inside(and hopefully out) not mention the starting of just about everything type of veg and flower we grow. Of course even though we may want to forget there is also a decent amount of administrative tasks piling up. It might not be our forte or first choice of jobs. But we will certainly be doing ourselves a favor to get on top of it.
February and early March, can be and often are tough times of year for grower and consumer alike. We have been harvesting off of plantings since November and December. Growth is negligible at best and combined with a cold snap like we had a week or so ago, can leave one feeling a bit helpless. Yes it is true that many of the plantings were only damaged by the cold and will regrow. However, the damage must be cut away, and those cuttings now lost, did have a place in our harvest plan. Needless to say harvesting last Thursday was tough on both spirits and egos alike. Humbling and painful as it might be, still a good lesson to remember many things are out of our control. The future as far as weather is concerned is more than likely going to be even more unpredictable. We would do best to take any and all lessons we can from this.
As tough as Thursday was, Friday was a beautiful day that lifted spirits and reminded us of the coming months. As hopeless as this time of year can feel it is juxtaposed by the return of growth and longer days. The hope and joy that comes with the Spring, is strong and rejuvenating. More than likely it has a lot to do with why many of us grow.
On the subject of growth(or lack there of) and regrowth. Unfortunately, one thing that will not be growing is the amount of products available this week. You will find claytonia, and salad greens out of stock this week. We do apologize for this and hope you understand. In general the next few weeks will be slower than we want them to be. We appreciate your understanding on this and before you know, we’ll have too much.
This week as many of you can guess we will be transplanting, seeding and prepping, to ensure as much early bounty as possible for the coming season. The next few days of temps look favorable for direct seeding and transplanting alike. Direct seeding in the cold can be a challenge. We look for longer periods of warmer temps, not only to water, but to speed up germination.
We will also be setting up a second germination chamber this week. Some things like peppers, tomatoes, and cukes like to germinate at really high temps. While many other things need temps much cooler and will not germinate well if temps are too high. With two germination chambers we can we can have the best of both of these temperature ranges. Enabling us to start more plants at the perfect time this spring for both your at home gardening needs and our own plantings. After all that exciting time of year is just around the corner and we hope you are looking forward to it as much as we are.
The resiliency of vegetables(plants in general for that matter) never ceases to amaze us. Year after year through long stretches of cold and dreary weather, plants survive, thrive and often produce much more than in warmer seasons. Still the drop in temps from near spring like conditions to arctic(or shall we say polar) cold in such a short period of time seems unprecedented. For the most part things on the farm has fared well. There are definitely sad looking plants, some goners and still others that look as if nothing happened. The coming days will be a true test, seeing what recovers and is harvestable. It is for this reason we are suspending Wednesday pick up this week, just to give the plants a little more time.
In a way we have been lucky. Had the last seeding of November been a week or two earlier as planned, we would probably have a high tunnel of greens that got hit with the cold. Leaving us no choice but to cut the damage and allow for regrowth. Instead in their still smaller stage they mostly shrug off the cold. Also furnace repairs delayed the ignition of our nursery. Had it fired up as planned we may have had a fuller nursery and burned quite a bit of fuel heating it this weekend. Instead seeing the low temps ahead in the forecast, we made room in the basement, a temporary return to subterranean life, and certainly a savings in propane and emissions.
With February’s first days behind us and with them the groundhog, the time is now and things will be kicking into high gear. The first tomatoes and herbs of the season are germinating in the basement along side this year’s first flowers. More tomatoes, peppers, onions, herbs and all the regular are also slated to be started this week. With six more weeks of winter predicted it may seem early and I’m sure in some respects it is. But remember what we were saying about the resiliency of vegetables, they will often surprise you, we just have to give them the chance.
Many thanks are due to all of you the good food people. As always for just supporting us. But especially this week for all of you that braved the cold for the market or on farm pick up(or shall we say school house pick up). Lastly for the donations received by CT NOFA, helping us in raising funds to provide 4 market cards to people in need. We are already a third of the way to our goal of raising six hundred dollars, which will be generously matched by CT NOFA. By clicking here you can make a tax deductible donation to CT NOFA that will go directly to this fundraising effort.
As we creep closer and closer to Spring there’s lots of excitement going on here at the farm; the first of the flower seeds are germinating, new wash station area in the works, a cleaned out nursery, interviews with eager and qualified farm crew applicants, tomato seeding and crop planning just to name a few. But rather than diving into any of those things we want to tell you about some other exciting projects that have been brewing behind the scene.
First is the CT NOFA Farm Share Program. This program was established to help CT residents who are interested in joining a CSA but find that the upfront cost unaffordable. The idea is for farmers to reach out to their community and raise funds so farmers can offer free or reduced cost CSAs to interested individuals or families. CT NOFA will match donations up to $600. Our goal is to raise $600 so we are able to offer 4 $330 Market Cards to members of our community. If you find that Star Light Gardens produce has had a positive impact on your life and well-being and believe that the opportunity for eating fresh, organic produce should be accessible to all we hope you consider making a donation towards this goal. By clicking here you can make a tax deductible donation to CT NOFA that will go directly to this fundraising effort.
On that same note, if you are interested in a reduced cost Market Card/CSA please send us an email. We hope to accommodate everyone as best we can.
Next on exciting happenings here at Star Light Gardens is official merchandise! We found a great company that will print items on-demand, which allows us to offer more styles, colors, designs and sizes than we could otherwise afford to buy in bulk. That’s right, Star Light Gardens hoodies, tank tops, tee-shirts, even in kids sizes! We ordered a few samples for ourselves and couldn’t be more pleased! The artwork is from the one of a kind market sign created by Ty. This sign has been a staple of our market set up for years and the best part about it is the two unique sides. Beautiful in their own ways there’s no need to pick just one side, you can get a shirt in either or both designs! To continue to layer on the excitement 100% of the profits from the merchandise will go toward the Ty Zemelsky Rising Artist Scholarship Fund which was created in Ty’s memory to support young local artists. Click here to check out our merch! It should be noted that you are not purchasing through us (though we will receive the profits). We purchased some ourselves as though we were customers, we found it very straight forward and received our shirts about a week later.
Some last little things; Friday and Saturday are going to be cold, very cold! That means orders will be waiting for you in the warmth of the “School House” attached to David’s house. Also, seeing as our chickens are not producing much and we don’t have much storage we do not want egg carton donations. The thought is appreciated but is not helpful at the moment.
Here in Durham we grow in just about every spare inch of field space. Where as in Middlefield we have barely begun to scratch the surface, when it comes to growing outside. There are two main reasons for this. In Durham we are coming up on 24 years of growing. That’s nearly a quarter of a century of broadforking, rock picking, applying compost and all the other love and care that goes into the ground. Sure we may have a larger bank of weed seeds than we want, but it’s pretty great soil none the less. Middlefield is not so much the same case. Enough rocks to repair every stone wall in the neighborhood and soil that lacks benefit of years of love, make rushing this growing space into production a bad option.
Secondly, to put this amount of land into use so quickly would force us to rely heavily on mechanical intervention. Any issues created from the previous over use of a tractor would be exacerbated. We would bring more weed seeds to the surface where they can germinate. Creating potentially hours and hours of labor dealing with weeds, at a time of year when our efforts would be best spent harvesting and planting. Most certainly any tractor we used would require repair to it’s implements considering the rocks at our hill top locale. Yes, we could hire someone with the right equipment and skill to plow and reshape the fields. We could tarp in an attempt get ahead of the weeds and heavily amend to ensure the success of that years crops. But for us the negatives of this outweigh any short term benefit.
The facts in hand and a mindset towards ecology has led us to a slow regenerative approach to rehabbing the land. Our first phase of growing in Middlefield was the 6 high tunnels which were already in semi use. Over a year of compost, broadforking, animals and love have us feeling really good about this approach. Next up are two more high tunnels, a 200 footer named the Jungle and the sheep’s first home, which will become a large portion of this years flower crop. In addition to this we are beginning to open up the outside space with a regenerative low till approach
Animals( sheep and chickens) are a key component to this approach. Star Light has always had sheep and if you spend any time with these lovable creatures it’s easy to understand why. Last year we acquired 4 Jacobs sheep for Star Light Gardens North West, one of which was pregnant. As you may or may not know Sunny our 5th arrived in March. If you saw the size of her now you probably wouldn’t believe she wasn’t even a year old yet. In addition to these our neighbors bordering that field space also have some sheep. In a win win neighborly exchange we happily offered them to graze their sheep, and they did the majority of last year.
The next step, one we just completed this past week, is to tarp a section of this field space for a few months. Starting the tarps where the animals have grazed, around April we will move the tarps over to another section of the field,hopefully unveiling mostly broken down vegetation and soil. Raking and hoeing the remaining debris into the paths, broadforking and a generous application of compost(not to mention a lot of rock picking) will complete the bed prep. That will essentially be the process over the next few years to bring this outdoor space into use. Animals, followed by tarps,followed by a planting, followed by a cover crop and repeat(sounds easy right).
We are in year 2 of 2 for our Middlefield cucumber and squash rotation. The idea here is to give each location a 2 year break from cucumbers and summer squash. Thus helping to alleviate some of the pest pressure associated with these crops. This newly tarped field space will be summer squash and pollinator friendly flowers into landscape fabric. A beautiful combo, once the squash die back the flowers flourish creating a late season bounty for our insect friends. Landscape fabric can be a good choice, it suppress the weeds enough to let the crops flourish, can be reused and when removed leaves more or less a blank slate, making for a quick turn around to a cover crop or other planting. Not too mention SLGNW had plenty already here when we arrived, so we’d be amiss to not make good use of it.
Here we find find ourselves quite literally in the midst of January. Certainly a mild one as January is concerned. None the less here we are, in a semi hibernation, yet chomping at the bit. Day by day we get closer to more than 10 hours of light, the magic number that allows plants to really grow. With the nurseries not yet fired up and trying to mitigate the amount of subterranean(basement) growing we are doing this year what we have started so far is limited. Escarole, radicchio, lettuces, and some scallions should come out of the germination chamber today or tomorrow. Though these varieties are cold hardy, they have also not experienced cold temps. Going from the germination chamber to the unheated nursery may be too much acclimation for tonight lows. But with favorable temps on the horizon and just one overnight basement stay the starts should be just fine. This will make room for our next round in the germ chamber. More scallions, beets, bok choys and Chinese cabbage are all next on the list. Of course we don’t want any of you to worry. No; we haven’t forgotten anything. The first tomato plantings of 2023 won’t be far off. After all we can only hold out another week or two before having to get the nurseries going, making room for all those lovely plant starts destined for bellies and gardens alike.
Not starting too much too soon can really be a challenge. As a rule of thumb we always plant more than is needed, to account for the unknown which lies ahead. But it is all too easy, with the excitement of the new season to over do it. Yes, we are fairly certain that this will be the case this year, hopefully to a lesser extent. Taking the time to really consider what space we have and what will be going there, then planting off this notion, things should be dialed in a bit more. This will serve us well at least until the pace of the full season sets in and we can embrace a little more reckless abandonment(or the farmer version there of).