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Ground Breaking Sheep

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
The sheep grazing in the field in July
Same field now tarped in January
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.


Have a great week!
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A Slow Start

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).


Have a great week!
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The Winter Garden

The winter farm is somewhat magical. The growth is subtle and the pace is slow. And then when it feels that there is nothing but the color gray, we can take a peek into the high tunnels and swim in the shades of green. A Rumi poem about a winter garden resonated this week:

“Don’t think the garden loses its ecstasy in the winter. It’s quiet but the roots are down there riotous.”

Rumi

After a couple weeks off the slow growth of kales and spinach and lettuce crept up on us. Imagine our surprise when checking under the plastic low tunnels outside to see that bok choy survived those frigid days and nights we had over the holidays. The turnips are huge, yet still tender. And the carrots, sweeter than candy! Even the tips of the earliest planted garlic have begun poking out from under their bed of leaves. Riotous to say the least.

It felt really good to get back into the swing of things, and even better to see familiar names pick up at our stand and familiar faces at the farmers’ market. There is this magnetic energy between the good food people of the world and the soil that keep us all fed. It is our deepest pleasure to live in that energy. It felt stronger than ever after those weeks off. We so appreciate your pull towards fresh goodness. Between this pull and knowing what the farm is capable of we can’t help but feel we are at the beginning of what is going to be a great year for Star Light Gardens. 

Thank you and have a great week!

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Happy 2023!

It is our sincere hope that all of you have had an excellent Holiday Season filled with all those wonderful things that mean so much to you and yours. We are truly excited to be welcoming a new year with all the good food people. Though the heart of the season is months away our brains are already filling up with delicious ideas for the year to come. Surely you all must be asking yourselves, besides the obvious farmers sleeping and eating, how is the farm doing?

Considering the strange weather and time of year things are doing surprisingly well. We weathered the winds and rain the week before Christmas decently. The winds were fierce but besides a day and a half of covering and recovering low tunnels in the field little damage occurred. We don’t need to describe to anyone the wind and cold that followed. That much cold so long is a bit uncommon for that time of year but for the most part the veg weathered the storm well. It is of course the protection from the high tunnels and row cover that allow for this. But also the daily ritual of uncovering to allow the sun and heat of the day to warm the soil. Then before it gets too late covering back up to trap some of that heat. A fine balance between capturing heat but not too much moisture. Something we are sure you’ve either heard or will hear about again.

On the subject of again(or perhaps returning makes more sense), we are back at it with on farm pickup three days a week as well as the Cityseed New Haven Market returning, same place, same day, slightly different time, Saturdays 10-1. We are definitely looking forward to being back at the market this week as well as back in the dirt harvesting for you all.

 There are a lot of things we will be looking forward to this year.  But in case you missed it check out our 2022 Year in Review Post
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Year in Review, 2022

There is something to each individual moment unique and special. It easy to find ourselves wondering where has the time and in this case the year gone. Full of wonder, growth, struggle and a lot of good food, we would be liars if caught saying anything short of the year being tremendous. 2022 was a year, much like all the others; winter, spring, summer and fall. We know what to expect from the seasons and what our plates will look like based on the earths relationship to the sun. But how boring it would be to not zoom in and look at the things that make each year special!

This year, any free moment not spent tending to crops was spent moving fencing around to keep the sheep fed. There were trials and tribulations to this but it’s safe to say the Middlefield sheep had a good year, full of green pastures. Those of you who read Here Comes the Sun Angel knows that March 23rd was a special day here at Star Light, we were visited by a Sunangel, and thank goodness she is here to stay.

Our little Sunny was born with a star on her nose and a yin yang on her head. Her star felt like a sign that she belonged here. Her mark of duality reminds us that nothing is forever. Just as excited as we were to welcome this new being into our lives, we had the sorrow of saying goodbye to the OG sheep of Star Light, Alice and Angelina. David wrote beautiful testimonials to them: Thinking of Alice and The End of an Era. The Durham farm is not the same without “the girls”, and they’ve left their mark. Even now under a certain tree that Alice and Angelina spent most of their summers, our eyes play tricks on us making us think maybe they are still here.

Speaking of farm animals; our series Cats in the Nursery + Dogs in the Field came to mind when thinking of our favorite blog posts from the year. That bubbly feeling we have in our bellies during the early spring is hard to put into words but these letters do so nicely. It has become a trend that we get a little over excited early spring, planting seedlings too early then having to back track by double (or triple) covering things when the temps drop again.

Thankfully, aside from a few marigold casualties all our early spring transplants survived and made it to their full potential. That’s not to say everything went according to plan this year. Our ginger and turmeric, or lack there of, sadly did not live up to our expectations from the previous year. The seed which is shipped from Hawaii in February froze during transit. The seed company replaced it for us but this set back was just the beginning of a long list of reasons the ginger was behind schedule. The result was small, lack luster pieces rather than the crown jewels we are accustom to. As a result, the determination to get it right in 2023!

One crop we felt very good about this year was our cucumbers. The new high tunnels in Middlefield came equipped with fancy insect netting built into the sides. Try as we might there is no stopping the cucumber beetles. However, these netted sides, along with the fact that cukes hadn’t been planted there in the recent past resulted in a wonderful early crop of sweet, thin skinned cukes. Cucumber Yoga kept us limbered up, well fed and most importantly hydrated. These cucumbers might have been the only way we survived the crazy heat waves this July and August, them and the mid day trips we took to Millers Pond.

This summer we fell in love with a new (to us)crop, Callaloo. After years of encouragement from a Cityseed customer we purchased a packet from True Love Seeds and got to work. Actually, it was quite easy to grow, commonly known as amaranth, Callaloo didn’t need much from us and our little plot produced well. Tender enough to eat the whole plant, this Caribbean delicacy thrives in the summer heat when other hearty cooking greens like spinach won’t grow. Once our Callaloo stopped producing we found another new love, Komatsuna. Aka Mustard Spinach, this crop cooks like boy choy but has the same favorable harvestability of collard greens. Meaning we can plant it once and harvest from it several times. We inter-planted one small row of Komatsuna with some bok choy and were able to harvest it for a few months. There’s no doubt that both of these crops will be making a bigger appearance next year.

2022 was also the first time we played around with some regenerative agricultural practice. By incorporating the chickens into our crop rotation we added fertility to our soil which increased our crop yields. For example the sun gold tomatoes we planted after the chickens went to work thrived and we were harvesting them into November! To hear more about this reread our post: How it Started vs How it’s Going and For the Love of Garlic and Soil. When we first started cultivating in Middlefield there was not much life in the soil. By adding generous heaps of compost and rotating the chickens we are starting to see the return of the worms!

We feel so grateful to be part of this community; the good food people who understand the importance and seek out local produce, the fellow farmers, and farmers’ market staff that keep things running smoothly. From year to year it is difficult to say what exactly it is that has changed, but most things usually do. There is one thing however, which is unwavering and consistent. That is all of you, without all of the people out there who support the good food movement, what we do would not be possible. We are forever grateful, hoping for wonderful Holidays and a great New Year to you and all of yours. We would be certainly out of step if we did not take another opportunity to thank the crew that helped us get through the year; Sam, Lydia, Lindsay, Isa- thank you so much! We also had some volunteers this year we need to thank ; Eleanor, Sue, Alex and James- thank you for lending your hands to help with weeding and garlic planting! Our resolution for 2023 is to tidy up the farm, keep things organized, and take more time for rest and recreation. We look forward to another great year growing with and for you all. Is there a particular variety of something that we grow, have grown, or you’re interested in seeing us grow or want to tell us about? We’d love to hear it. Thank you to everyone for making 2022 the amazing year it was.

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December Snow and One to Go

The thing about December (especially with an inch or so of snow on the ground), is that one can easily forget it is still fall and winter hasn’t even started. December’s shorter days are good to us, yes the daily tasks that come with animals and two locations still exist, but there is a healthy amount of down time. Time for friends, family, pets and the season. The thing about time is that in many ways it depends on perspective. Age, time of year, urgency, all these things effect the idea of how much time we have. The down time and leisure are great, but we must not get complacent because the time to start, plant, prep transplant, repeat is never too far away. Time is funny in that way. This week will be the last full pick up week of 2022. We have one more cityseed New Haven Market this Saturday the 17th. Next week there will be only one pick up day Wednesday the 21st. This will be the last pick up of 2022. It has truly been a wonderful year, Thank you all so much.

Speaking of a great year we will be putting together a little year in review for next week. We want to share with you what we really loved this year. Highlighting some of the good and not so good outcomes of the season. If there is something in particular you have enjoyed this year and want to share it with others. Write us and we will do our best to include it next week.

December is both beautiful, tough. As a grower there can be a strange helpless feeling in that Mother Nature is truly running the show. The cold, the lack of light, these are facts of life for now. The chickens are also sensitive to time and light. I’m sure many of you are missing their eggs . Purchased last year from another farm they are reaching year two of production. For chickens especially the breed we have this is usually their useful life. In addition to that they molt this time of year a process which further effects egg production. We do plan to get 50 new birds this winter and will keep the older chickens around as long as possible as part of more closed loop fertility system. In the mean time we no longer need extra egg cartons, until we begin selling again.

Have a great week

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A helping hand. Or six

With all the garlic in the ground(nearly 200 hundred pounds) and Jen planting all of the tulips yesterday(about 800).  It is safe to say that we have all the bulbs in the ground and for the most part all the major plantings of 2022 are done.  Saying that it was easy may be a bit of a misstatement, seeing as farm work is always physical labor.  We would be hard pressed however, to say that it didn’t go smooth and with barely a hiccup.  Yes, there was the tractor stalling while moving leaves, an easy fix when you realize you just have to really tighten the negative cable on the battery(yet again).  There was also the not so bright idea of planting corn into landscape fabric and the epic afternoon of undoing that mess.  But the actual prep, planting and mulching of the garlic went off without a hitch.

Speaking of smooth the first “official” Star Light Gardens volunteer day was just that. The plan was to plant the remainder of the garlic in one of the high tunnels. We assumed it to be enough work for the day and that being covered(for now) we could wait to mulch them another time. We had hoped to start casually around 10 however, with the early arrival of our longest running and most enthusiastic volunteer, the pace of the day had been set. By the time Joel returned from uncovering and playing with the sheep at SLGNW (aka Middlefield). James and Jen were already diligently breaking apart the bulbs. With the triple J now in effect we began digging holes as some continued breaking up the bulbs. Before long David arrived to pick up the slack that coffee and snack breaks have a habit of creating. Nearly back on schedule, we were pleased by the sight of our second volunteer of the day arriving. Conversation and stories filled the air, as we moved quickly, filled with the joy of company. Many hands make light work, while working with good colleagues makes for an excellent atmosphere. An atmosphere made all the more pleasant when planting in a high tunnel on a sunny December day. Before we knew it nearly all the garlic was in the ground. Far ahead of schedule and still with the pending arrival of our last volunteer. Although the planting had been completed, there was still the need to mulch with leaves. Yes, we planned to save that for another day, but with the time and the bodies it was an easy decision to finish the job. So the stage was set, the tractor was started and as if planned that way our final volunteer arrived on scene. Jen finished up packing the Friday orders just as Joel began scooping leaves with the tractor bucket. She quickly joined the others and between the six of us the high tunnel was mulched with leaves in no time at all. With everyone in high spirits and still more light to the day we expanded our efforts to the wood pile which David and Joel had so diligently split(some 6 months ago) yet, neglected to stack in the shed. It’s amazing the power that community and food can have. We were reminded of it on this day and are so grateful to all those who help to make up this good food movement we are all a part of. Especially to our great volunteers on the 1st annual Star Light Gardens garlic planting and wood stacking volunteer day.

Thanks James, Sue, and Alex for lending a hand!! 

So that was our Friday, very pleasant as they go. Still a stormy Saturday loomed on the horizon. Sure Joel did have to awake around 5am to pack the coolers and load the truck. It was David and Jen who had to bear the brunt of the storm. Of course they would get to experience yet another example of the community that is this good food thing. Despite the weather customers showed up to the market in full force helping to remind all those wet and tired farmers and vendors just why they do what they do. And for that we have to extend our gratitude. You make what we do possible, providing hope and light in the dark and dreary days.

Have a great week

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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