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Heat and Ladders

Gone as fast as it approached another May is nearly in the rear view mirror. Like it or not Summer is almost here and with temps reaching the 90’s today, there will be no denying it. For most people it’s things like parades, pools opening and bbqs that signal the start of summer. For us it’s things like the arrival of flea beetles, the first cucumber, weeds growing faster than anything else and oh yes being vicariously perched on top of a ladder hanging strings and wires for tomatoes. It’s not for the faint of heart or those without good balance, but it is a necessary part to a good harvest. We grow indeterminate varieties of tomatoes which will continue to grow as opposed to reaching a height then stopping. We take advantage of this by training them up strings hung from a wire strung across the high tunnel’s bracing. Each year we must hang the strings and at SLGNW we have also had to put up the wire. These backbone elements to the delicate process of trimming and trellising tomatoes are time consuming and yes mildly risky. We would be lying to say that we’ve not benefited from someone close by to put the ladder back in place as you dangle from above. There have even been a few well executed rolling dismounts. Witnessed only by the dis-mounter, they unfortunately exist only in farm lore. Whether we are setting the strings, trimming the plants or the one stuck weeding carrots. As the bare strings are replaced by fast growing plants and the tomato jungle begins to reform we all know summer is nearly at hand.

Speaking of hands we are toying with the idea of some volunteer days here on the farm. We’re thinking a large task that can accommodate a group(no not weeding carrots), perhaps the garlic harvest. Other ideas like a pizza night have surfaced so think about it and let us know what your thoughts. Other farm news includes squash and cucumber plants that are looking beautiful and with any luck in the coming weeks occupying a lot of our time with their harvest. Fresh back from vacation, tan and well rested is our wonderful delivery people. They’re back this week and so is delivery for Wednesday. Everything else is business as usual. June also signals the winding down of our plant sale Stock is running low so be sure to reach out if there is something you are looking for but don’t see online. We look forward to seeing you all and getting you some good food, until then stay hydrated

Have a great week

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Thinking About Alice

Fifteen years ago, this past March, Ty and I were having our first experience bringing a litter of baby sheep into the world. Things hit a snag when the mother to be ,needed help with the baby’s presentation. It was somewhat turned around inside and therefore one of us (not me) had to reach way into the birth canal and spin things around. In the background for all this was a visit from our grandson Skye (aged 4, at the time) along with his parents. Somewhere amongst all the confusion of being birthing helpers and knowing very little about the right thing to do to help the birthing process along, Skye made a pronouncement. In retrospect, he had been coached by his parents to say what he had to say. “I’m going to be a big brother soon”. We were slow on the uptick. “What, honey, what did you say”. He replied without missing a beat, “I’m going to be a big brother soon.” We got it. Absorb that along with the anxiety of helping the mother sheep (Luna, by name) safely deliver her baby. Yeah, we can do that. Another grandkid. Holy smokes. What else does this day have to offer?

Happy to say, Luna delivered a few hours later. Two ewes. Alice and Angelina. Not sure where the name Alice came from, but Angelina was directly from Angelina Jolie. The two of them were beyond cute in every way, spending years chewing grass, figuring out how to jump the electric fence and who would get the most grain when it was offered.

Why Sheep, you might ask. I certainly did. Sheep ended up on the farm for one very simple reason. Ty wanted them as subjects so she could draw them. She had this utter involvement with how they looked and how they were able to transform grass into a beautiful fleece. But really, to carry it further, the fascination for her was how sunlight turned sheep into factories for making wool. After all, you need sunlight to make the grass grow that the sheep eat to make their coats grow. You get the idea.

Over the next 6 or 7 years, there were more sheep births. All of them found new homes, but somehow Alice and Angelina managed to stay here. After a while, we had to get rid of the ram. He was way too much work and not much fun , as he’d rather butt people rather than get petted.

But for that matter, neither Alice and Angelina enjoyed being petted either. They are Jacobs sheep. An heirloom variety that is close to wild. They grow spectacular horns and have amazing wool. Most goats and sheep will come closer when humans approach. Not these guys. They’d sooner take a ride in a pick up truck than becomes friends with people. I always said that they were a bit autistic, but of course I didn’t know anything that I was talking about.

And so life progressed around the farm. The flock got smaller. The two mothers got given away. And Ty kept drawing, using Alice and Angelina as her models. Ty made two books that used the sheep as her subjects. The detail and care of the work can be seen if you stop by the shed sometime and look at her sheep drawings hanging on the wall. They are beautiful, indeed.

There came a moment (maybe 8 years ago) when Ty decided that she was moving on from sheep as models and was going to put her artistic interest elsewhere . The sheep could be sold, she declared. Initially, I felt a moment of relief. That was because moving them, feeding them, chasing them down the road when they escaped-all this was my responsibility. Running the farm was more than enough, I felt. And yet, once she’d declared that they could go, I surprised myself by realizing that I wasn’t ready for them to go. So they stayed. There was something special in having to feed them twice a day, get enough hay in storage to make it thru the winter and watch them grow (older) that I decided that we’re going to keep them. I built them a new shed. Made a sturdy fence that they couldn’t penetrate easily. Alice, Angelina and I embarked on stage two of their history at Star Light- my pets in residence.

Sheep talk to you. They talk to each other and they certainly talk to the fresh grass that they ingest. What’s difficult is to pick up the ways that they talk to you. Although there certainly is an element of self-centeredness about them, sheep will try to tell you what they’re thinking. Its usually not particularly deep by our standards, but still , they are thinking. How much food am I going to get? Will the pesky dog stop barking? When is my next meal? When will they move this electric fence to a better spot? Can I jump over the fence and go eat exactly what I want? See what I mean? Not deep, but certainly important thoughts.

I forget exactly when this happened, maybe 5 years ago- Alice would allow people to scratch her between the horns. She seemed to really enjoy the sensation and seek me out to get some more. I probably thought, (incorrectly) that my care had won over her and her autistic ways. The truth is that I have no idea. She just started enjoying the scratch. I should also mention that the two of them, single handedly kept the back of the house mowed without any lawn mower help.

Alice was the bully of the two. She’d often butt Angelina in order to get more than her share of grain. Grain, in sheep language is like drugs. They can’t seem to ever get enough. Maybe that’s why Alice always seemed healthier and more spry compared to Angelina. I’d try all kinds of ways to get them fed equally, but Angelina always ended up on the short side of things. Alice was tubby. Angelina was underweight. So it didn’t come as a surprise that within the past year, Angelina ended up with a joint situation that made walking and getting up pretty difficult. I imagined how Alice was going to feel, once she was the last sheep. We had contemplated putting her down, but ruled against it, as she still seemed to have some good life quality in her. And so she has remained. Weak on her feet, but still able to stand up at times to the more aggressive Alice.

Almost at the same time, Alice started being a butting sheep. It would happen with no provocation. Certainly made for nervous encounters with her. It might have had something to do with protecting Angelina. Or it might have had something to do with just wanting more and more grain. I certainly don’t know. I was still able to scratch her, but kept my wits about me.

A few weeks ago, suddenly Alice stopped walking,drinking water , eating grass or grain. This was a surprise to all of us. We had expected that Angelina would be the first to go. She was not able to stand up. Alice crawled into the woodshed and wouldn’t move. On Day 2 of this behavior, I knew that her time had come-there was no positive life quality left for her at that point. This decision was not easy. Its hard to realize that humans hold the power over animals and their very existence. And yet, this clearly was the most humane thing to do. Clearly.

When the vet finally came, I was dreading the call announcing her arrival. Walking up to the house, there was this strong realization that we were heading down a path of no return for Alice. The vet was in complete agreement with my decision. This didn’t make things any easier. But then again, this wasn’t about making things easy.

After the procedure was complete, Alice eventually embraced the inevitable and slipped peacefully away. It was the end of our fifteen plus year experience together. I learned so much from watching them live. Often, it was just watching them chew cud or keep their eye on me as I walked by, hoping for some extra grain. I wouldn’t exactly say that Alice was my friend, but she helped me be a better friend to myself. Hard to explain that exactly, but her life put me more in touch with my own life. And I’d guess that there isn’t many other things that would do that.

Rest easy, Alice. You deserve it.

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A bird in hand or four.

The current record on farm for chickens caught and held at one time is four. We found this out yesterday in the first of what is to be many great chicken migrations. Now considering Joel’s niece and nephew can catch and hold two each, perhaps a fully grown adult could do better. And I’m sure we’ll get the opportunity to try. In addition to a little clean up and prepping to plant squash most of yesterday was spent chasing down rouge birds and trying to find out how they escaped the high tunnel. We probably found the “last” spot they were getting out of nearly ten times. Our freshly sheered sheep on their other hand were very well behaved in their migration. Jen has dubbed Sunday fresh pasture day for them, with a goal of moving them around around the farm using movable electric fencing. It seemed to work well with Willy, Bo, Betty, Mama Kanga and Sun Angel peacefully grazing all day. That is until Jen headed back to Durham for the evening, with Joel staying to finish up a few things. That was their chance and all they needed was enough space between the fencing and the high tunnel for them to slip out. If you’ve never witnessed it first hand, we must tell you a farmer skipping around the farm at sunset in an attempt to lead a flock of sheep is quite the sight. So it’s safe to say that our new pasturing system is not without it’s flaws and certainly needs some work, however we should be getting plenty of cardio in the mean time. It may seem like a lot of extra work and leave one wondering why bother? But there is an overall objective beyond simply happy and well fed animals.

A more regenerative and closed loop system, one that benefits both grower and eater a like is what we strive for. SLGNW especially is i need of some extra care and attention. It has not received the 23 years of love, attention and soil building the Durham has. Sure, things at SLG aren’t perfect but the difference between the two is quite noticeable. Using load after load of compost, a low till approach, cover crops and the benefits of our animal friends, we look forward to drastically changing and improving our new land. With time and love our systems will improve(less chicken chasing) and we will be able to incorporate them on both locations.

One thing that is not different between both locations is that we are firing on all cylinders and the season is getting ready to kick off into full swing. We are back at all three markets, Durham, Madison and New Haven, with preorder available on farm our at any market. Next week our delivery folks will be vacationing and thus delivery will not be available. Every thing is the same for this week and we will remind you again in around 7 days. Until then eat well and stay safe.

Have a great week

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Perfect Timing

We have always prided ourselves as being a farm that is pushing the limits of each season. Known in many circles as the tomato or carrot scientist, David’s experience an love for experimentation has rounded out our honorary degrees to many more vegetables. That being said a point of pride at Star Light Gardens for the past four or five years now has been overwintered carrots. Planting in the fall for winter or spring harvest requires careful timing and yes a certain bit of luck. Carrots when planted in early November, well watered and sometimes sung to will sprout within a few weeks. If protected with low or high tunnels from the harshness of winter, generally they will be ready for harvest around Mother’s Day. Sweetened with the cold months, they are unlike anything else you’ve had and certain to make you dance with joy.

 Around the farm there is a different kind of joyful dance taking place.  There really is so much to be done the the different task dance around in our brain each one trying to make it’s importance and urgency more apparent.  We quite literally dance around the farm and through the rows cultivating, sowing seeds, harvesting, transplanting and if you’ve seen us at the markets on a busy day you probably know that dance well too.  A different kind of dance all together took place this past Friday as we were about to depart for the first Madison farmer’s market of the season.  Being rarely ahead of schedule as Joel started the big bad truck, to his horror a much bigger and badder sound was heard.  After a few minutes of trying again it was apparent our only choice was to try and fit the contents of the truck into  two smaller vehicles.  With the clock ticking we began to unload the veggies and plants.  The tetras style repacking commenced and you could only imagine the dance that ensued.  It’s always funny to get those little reminders of the old saying that to be a farmer you’ve got to be an optimist. 

Tragically our optimism for spinach much longer is not too high. We’ve ended the double bag sale for the spring, but are keeping optimistic for the fall or dare we say late summer. As the plant sale continues we encourage you to reach out with questions or request for something that may be sold out. Did you peep our new farm sign above? Stay tuned for the story and pictures of it’s counterpart.
Have a great week
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Wind, rain, and cold

Well yes it’s May and despite it being a gloomy day I believe most people are ecstatic none the less.  Talking with you good food people this week the overall opinion is that with May coming the weather has to break.  It certainly hasn’t been the worst  April on record, but it has been one that tests your patience.  Rain, cold and windy with some beautiful days sprinkled in to tease us, seems to be a fitting description of April.  We’d like to optimistically say that on the farm we are if not ahead of schedule, definitely on track.  Plantings are going in quickly outside and additional space is be prepped.  Of the 250 lbs of seed potato we bought, (which seemed like a good idea in January then quickly became overwhelming thoughts like where are we gonna fit all these spuds) over 100lbs are already in the ground.  The big push to come is converting and planting the high tunnels(around 13 this year).  Tomatoes peppers and eggplant have been and continue to be re-potted for planting.  Turmeric and ginger are sprouting in the basement, cukes are in the ground at SLGNW and growing big in pots along side summer squash.  This year with the additional high tunnel space we’ll be stretching our legs a bit with large vining crops like melons it’s fair to say besides the amount of work we are setting ourselves up for, we too are ecstatic about the season.

Speaking of ecstatic this years garlic is looking particularly beautiful. Last week saw the all too important task of side dressing the garlic accomplished by three hard working female farmers in what seemed to be record time. Soon enough we’ll be offering up spring garlic, scapes and before you know it the real deal. This year nearly two thirds of the garlic planted is our very own “love garlic”. It’s tough to hold back 100 lbs or so in the fall when it’s been a staple at the markets since July. However, we do it for a reason and we’ve been planting more and more each year.

On the subject of more and more this week sees the return of the Madison Farmer’s market Fridays from 3-6. We’ve also added it as a pick up location on our store for all your preordering needs. In other housekeeping news we will no longer being taking paypal as a form of payment. In an attempt to stream line our record keeping we’ve made this decision, if it effects your ability to order reach out to us and we will figure something out. This may be the last week we are running the spinach sale as our fall and winter plantings grow up and the season changes. We’ll be doing our best though to keep you in the leafy greens as the weather warms

Happy May
Have a great week

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Sprinklers and Fences

I forget exactly where I heard it first but there is some saying to the effect of farming being 75 percent mending fences.  Now in years past I think we would have argued this to not be the case.  Despite the many break outs of Alice and Angelina.  Even still today our opinion lies somewhere around 25 percent fencing 25 percent irrigation 40 percent hard work and planning with the last 10 percent being blind luck.  What’s changed over the years basically 5 more sheep and a bunch of chickens, yet the overall heart and soul of the operation is very much Star Light.

We’ve had the opportunity and privilege to grow and learn with this beautiful piece of mother earth. As we care for her it becomes evident that she is the one caring for us. We strive towards a more holistic low disturbance approach to farming the land. Realizing that time and patience is key to such a transformation we’re filled with the enthusiasm of a young lamb about what the future holds.

   Looking to the immediate future this week is overflowing with the tasks of the season.  Prep, transplant, repot, harvest, there is no shortage of work.  This past week saw yet more kale, lettuce and the like added to the fields.  Also the first of this year’s plantings of swiss chard, potatoes and peas(actually it’s the second pea planting).  Around 180 tomato plants went in at SLGNW with more tomatoes and cucumbers to follow. 

   A fact of life and also farming is that generally things must end for others to begin.  So as we look forward to seeing all of our long lost friends of summer, we have to say goodbye, at least for now to others.  Hello tomatoes and cucumbers, goodbye spinach and claytonia.  Don’t worry for now we still have spinach but if you’ve enjoyed it this year, give a heart felt goodbye to claytonia.  Oh miner’s lettuce you sweet winter green we will miss you.

Have a great week

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Dogs in the field

Across parts of Connecticut, both farmers and ambitious gardeners alike are waking up this morning with a variety of mixed feelings.  A bit upset that temps dropped below the predicted lows, yet proud of ourselves for taking the time to cover and protect those things we’ve planted perhaps a little early.  Maybe even nervous about those things that were left uncovered thinking that they of course would be fine.  After all, they said the low was 33.  We’d be lying to say that all of these feelings aren’t currently valid for us.  The reality is that we are a farm that firmly believes in pushing it in terms of season extension on both sides of the year.  Ask us our opinion on how cold hardy somethings are and we’ll say that you would be surprised how hardy a plant can be.  That being said some plants can’t handle too cold and even a cold hardy variety that experiences too cold too fast will meet it’s demise.  This morning’s temps serve as a timely reminder to not let the nicer days lull us into complacency. As we begin to kick this year’s plant sale off to full swing, we encourage you all to reach out with any questions or for planting advice. We all know how easy it is to get over excited about getting back in the dirt.  Being out into the fields these past few weeks have brought an undeniably satisfied smile to all our faces.

Speaking of dogs in the field, after some discussion last week we thought it only fair to highlight canines.  Besides moral support and kisses our sweet boy Sid is quite the hard working farm dog.  Don’t tell the cats we said this but if you tallied up the feline verse canine rodent work load.  It’s tough to say who would come out on top.  As sweet and well behaved as he is photogenic.  The only thing harder than getting him out of bed on a cold morning like today, is getting him to come up from the farm and take a break.

We encourage you all to channel your own dog in the field this season.  Share your stories, questions, hopes and anything else with us, there are few things we enjoy talking about more than plants.  This morning we should be putting some finishing touches on the heated tunnel at SLGNW.  Stay tuned for tales and pictures of tomato plantings and probably farm animals too.

Have a great week

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Cats in the Nursery

  There is a certain amount of panic which seems to always take hold just around this time of year.  The mind runs back and fourth asking have we started enough of that, or too much of this?  Should those have been stared earlier and did we rush in transplanting that?  As the main fields begin to literally Spring forth with life and there is barely enough room in the nursery for our piece of mind let alone the countless trays to be re-potted.  It’s hard not to feel the pressure of the season approaching.  With a few deep breaths, the courage that comes with morning coffee and the confidence in what we know this beautiful farm and it’s great crew can produce, panic is easily replaced with a joyful feeling like a child on Christmas morning.  Outside a true conversion is underway, uncovering areas that have been covered and prepped since the winter, or simply covered to control weeds and protect the soil.  Uncover, prep, seed, transplant, cover again, this is the mantra of the season.  There is and undeniable beauty to each season and spring is no different offering us those moments of “yup this is why we do it” feeling.  Signs of spring are all around insects like the dreaded flea beetle(more on that in the future) return,as well as cats that stay out all night remind us that the time is here.

Speaking of cats and of a great farm crew we have some hard working felines here at Star Light.  It’s hard to imagine as they nap all day long in the nursery, indulging in the large catnip plant as they please.  But they have made impressive headway in rodent control over the years and we love them.  Even if they do knock over the occasional tray in the nursery.  Over at Star Light North West we will be firing up the nursery this week, freeing up some much needed space here in Durham.  If things go according to schedule we should be firing up the furnace in the high tunnel named Mizuna(another one of our cats) at North West this weekend too.  With a massive tomato planting to happen not long after that.

On the subject of schedule the Durham Farmer’s market is back.  Opening day last week was a bit cold and wet however, this week promises to be very pleasant. Open from 3-630 Thursdays, located right on the town green mere minutes from the farm, it’s our hometown market and it’s good to be back.  Pick up Thursdays at the Durham Farmers market is now a preordering option.

Have a great week

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The season is upon us

We know the one question that has been burning on everyone’s mind.  Have they gotten a chance to plant all those little baby beets, kales, choys and mustard’s that we’ve heard so much about?  And the answer is yes, Onions, kales, collards, beets, choys and lettuces now are taking up residence in our main fields.  With flowers soon to follow this morning.  Meanwhile the space outside the nursery, our little reminder of what needs to be transplanted this week.  It is once again full of the next round of transplants to go out.  And yes we are aware that the real transplanting question in most everyone’s mind is one simple word, tomatoes?  We are pleased to report that our first round of Jen’s grafted tomatoes will also be going into the ground today.  All of these things are great for their own obvious reasons, but the added benefit of transplanting this time of year is freeing up much needed space in the nursery.

As you can see real estate in Skye(the nursery) is at an all time premium in the spring.  One of the major reasons for this is the Spring plant sale.  We’ve been busy re-potting all the most cold hardy herbs and veg that you’ll find available on our website and at farmer’s markets this week.  We love that our customers are into growing food and it gives us pride to provide you with both the plants and food.  Is there something you really want to make sure you have in your garden this year?  Preordering is the best way to guarantee it.  Do you have questions about what varieties we will have or just a growing question?  Feel free to write or catch us at the markets.  We’re plant people and love talking about it.  In addition to plants now being available on the website other notable farm news includes opening day of the Durham Farmer’s market.

Open from 3-630 Thursdays, located right on the town green mere minutes from the farm, it’s our hometown market and it’s good to be back.  Pick up Thursdays at the Durham Farmers market is now a preordering option.

Have a great week

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Here comes the “Sun Angel”

Reading last week’s writing back this morning there is little to do but laugh and be glad we didn’t transplant all those beets, mustard, kales and choys. We moved them out of the nursery, prepped the ground, having all the intention to actually transplant them last Wednesday. Low and behold as I had my morning coffee and checked the weather my plans were literally frozen. With the low temps of tonight and last night, the facts had to be faced, there was no transplanting happening the first week of spring.

However, speaking on the first week of spring and the arrival of it’s harbingers, there was a sure sign of the season’s arrival. Despite last evening’s snow squall and temps in the 20s, here at Star Light our hearts are as warm as a lamb in a wool sweater. If you follow us on Instagram you may know but for those who don’t we would like to officially announce the newest addition to the Star Light Gardens family. Arriving in the early hours of the 23rd our sweet lamb Sun Angel.

Sunny as we have nicknamed her arrived a few weeks earlier then we expected but with the ease that only such an angel could enter the world. Showing up at Star Light North West for morning chores, Jen got her first glimpse of this sweet girl scurrying amongst the flock. Pictured with her is Momma Kenga. Despite being the most skittish of our new sheep, her motherly instincts are strong. The two are doing great needing practically no help from their human companions. Last night we fitted Sunny with an extra wool sweater to keep her warm for the cold night ahead.

Despite the cold on the farm our resolve to plant and transplant this week is strong. Though likely not until mid week. Also taking place this week is David’s birthday. Though he’ll be off celebrating during the week you could likely catch him this Saturday at the farmer’s market. Speaking of the Saturday market this week 4/2 the market moves back outside for the main season. This means opening an hour early from 9-1, hopefully not too many of us vendors will forget to set our alarms.

Stay Warm and enjoy your week