Author Archives: Kelly M.

Crops Update: Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

From Left to Right: Caroline Bowes, Sean Moriarty, Jill Banach, Greg Suplinskas, and Elizabeth Ventura

 Say “hello” to this year’s Assistant Growers: Caroline Bowes, Sean Moriarty, Jill Banach, Greg Suplinskas, and Elizabeth Ventura. Caroline recently graduated from Hofstra where she studied sustainability; Sean is entering his second year of farming, having spent last season in the Berkshires at Square Roots Farm; Greg most recently worked as a research technician at Children’s Hospital in Philly where he also volunteered at a community garden focused on providing work opportunities for adults with disabilities; and Elizabeth has been a beekeeper with Boston’s Best Bees for the past three years. As a community, we’re depending on them to apply their many talents to growing and marketing our food, and we’re equally committed to supporting and teaching them.

And we’re off to a good start. We started planting onions on Tuesday of this past week, and by Friday, we were halfway done with this enormous job. On Thursday, we moved most of the old, overgrown rhubarb patch to its new location near the hoophouse. We had fun undercutting the old plants and separating the roots so as to expand the patch. Yesterday’s rain is helping the plants get re-established. All this prep to get ready for the 2021 CSA season, which kicks off May 19!

The team is coming up to speed quickly thanks in large part to Jill’s help in training them. Jill has been at Drumlin for the better part of four seasons and is deeply familiar with our marketing and farming strategies. Over the winter and spring, Jill has been writing down procedures and organizing documents to help teach her successors. Wednesday of this week will be her last day with us before she heads out to a farm near the Olympic National Forest in Washington state. We know she will succeed there because she has greatly improved all that she has attended to here. Thank you, Jill, and best wishes! What a pleasure it’s been farming with you!

As a parting note, she’s written to our community:

“With each change of season, I appreciate more aspects of farming than the year before. Thanks to Matt and many others, I have learned more about crop production and soil health than I ever would have imagined. This spring, however, I have been especially thankful for all of the people that Drumlin has connected me to and for the conversations we’ve shared. The new crew of assistant growers and field workers is no exception! Their collective excitement is energizing, and I look forward to hearing about all of the successes of the upcoming season.” 

Your Farmers

Crops Update: 2021 Season Kickoff

With our spring CSA season on the horizon, we’re back with more updates from the farm’s Crops Team. Follow along for the latest news from the fields this growing season.

How’s your garden growing, veggie lovers? Our first peas, fava beans, and spinach are up, and seemed to have enjoyed last Friday’s storm. We got the first seeds into the ground on March 24, and are following our regular seeding schedule: greens each week, roots every other week. We began transplanting lettuce to the field in early April, and have since transplanted leek, scallion, kohlrabi, and beet seedlings. In the past, we’ve seeded beets directly to the field, but haven’t been happy with the results for several years so are switching it up. We rarely find the time to thin the rows, and this leads to small beets prone to foliar disease. The advantage to starting beets in the greenhouse is that you can space them properly as you plant them. The disadvantage is that it takes loads of time to plant the beds we had previously seeded in a matter of minutes. Wah! You mean we can’t have it both ways? Despite the painstakingly slow transplant, we’re going to try this same method with chard.

Hoop House in Boyce Field growing seedlings, protected from the elements.

We planted out a quarter-acre of new strawberries on April 14 and uncovered the over-wintered patch on the same day. In the week ahead, we’ll plant out the first kale of the season under ProtekNet and start the two-week process of transplanting forty thousand onions. As usual, we have our remarkable volunteers—Anne, Sheila, Francesca, and Allison—to thank for their dedication to keeping up with our ambitious greenhouse seeding calendar.  

The Crops team has been busy since the mid-February tapping of sugar maples. We’ve been bottling syrup; installing an overhead irrigation system in the hoophouse; applying compost to the fields with our new spreader; cleaning the Green Barn, greenhouse, wash station, and crops vehicles from top to bottom; harvesting, donating, and selling greens from the greenhouse and hoophouse; hiring and training new staff members; researching and purchasing a new grant-funded box truck; and trying to get everything in order before the season truly begins, and, like a Gravitron, thrillingly spins us out.      

Your Farmers

Turkey Vulture

Extra, Extra! A Newspaper’s Journey at Drumlin Farm

Our Wildlife Care Department has a constant need for newspapers: we use them to line carriers when our animals travel to programs or the vet, as a substrate for indoor enclosures, and for enrichment activities for our animals, such as shredded newspaper piles or food wrapped in newspaper balls. We get most of our newspapers from local libraries, as well as donations from volunteers.

With regular donations becoming less frequent amid the pandemic, our newspaper supply was in need of serious replenishment. Recently, our LEAF (Leaders in Environmental Access for All) interns stepped up in a big way helping us gather and organize newspapers when we were in need of more. While the pandemic forced them to temporarily carry out their internships remotely, this was a great way for the students to stay connected to the farm and to contribute to their educational goals around conservation and sustainability.

LEAF interns at the Cotting School in Lexington working on their newspaper drive.

Newspaper’s Second Life

We clean animal enclosures daily, so end up going through about one extra-large trash bag of newspaper waste per day. And because the newspaper is dirty, we can’t send it through regular recycling anymore. So what’s a wildlife sanctuary to do?

No, we haven’t taught our Turkey Vulture to read–but working to find food in the center of a newspaper ball offers mental enrichment for intelligent birds and wildlife.

Instead of throwing out the waste, Wildlife Care’s bag of used newspaper gets delivered to our Livestock Department in the Red Barn. There, they use the old water from our chicken coop (rather than simply dumping that water out) to soak the newspaper before adding it to other compostables collected on the farm, and delivering it to our large compost pile out in the fields. Wetting the newspaper ensures that smaller newspaper scraps won’t be carried away by the wind during transportation. Once in the compost piles, the newspaper then breaks down, and our Crops Department uses it with the rest of the compost to fertilize the fields. This enriches our soils and helps yield rich, flavorful sustainably produced crops.

So What is Compost?

Compost is the result of organic matter, such as leaves, food scraps, grass clippings, and even newspapers, breaking down into nutrient-rich soil. All organic matter decomposes over time, and we can help it along through the process of composting. The final product helps make soil healthier and serves as an ideal component in vegetable and flower gardens.

There’s nothing better than healthy, rich soil.

At Drumlin Farm, our soil’s health is a top priority when growing food sustainably. Healthy soils provide plants with the nutrients they need, allow us to use less water irrigating, and contribute to the overall health of our ecosystem.

Even better, you can incorporate healthy soil practices like composting at home as well! Learn more about composting and how to start your own compost pile by checking out these resources.

winter scene

Holiday Gifts for Nature Lovers

As we wrap up this eventful year, we’re reminded of all those that made it a little easier. To those on the front lines, those that provided support, and those that need their own break, we’re thinking of you! Now more than ever, the gift of love and appreciation is cherished. For a little something extra, check out these offerings.

1. Nature-themed Puzzles & Games

Have some fun this winter! Puzzles, memory games, bingo, mancala, and more are available at the online Mass Audubon Shop to help you stay smiling and entertained. Challenge your brain, and a friend!

2. Unique Experiences

Experiences are worth a thousand gifts! Make your gift unique this year by scheduling something fun to do together. Our programs, offered online and in-person following COVID-19 guidelines, will teach you to interpret the natural world and create lasting memories shared together. Or, visit a sanctuary to enjoy quality time outdoors on your own schedule.

3. Local Farm Products

Who doesn’t love to indulge in local treats? At the Drumlin Farm admissions window, there’s a whole suite of farm-fresh products that you can bring home, including:

  • Yarn, made from Drumlin Farm sheep wool
  • Soap, made from Drumlin Farm goat milk
  • Honey, collected from Drumlin Farm hives
  • Maple Syrup, collected from Mass Audubon Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary trees
  • Eggs, collected from Drumlin Farm chickens

Plus, stylish reusable Drumlin Farm-branded cloth bags to hold it all in! Create a personalized gift bag filled with treats the localvores in your life will love.

Please note: visiting the trails at Drumlin Farm currently requires online preregistration.

4. Feeders & Birding Gear

Bird feeders provide a perfect way to stay connected to nature while home-bound this winter. Fill it with seed and watch birds flock to your home! Binoculars let you notice the tiny details to aid in identification and field guides ensure your accuracy. Online ordering makes it easy too!

Feeling handy? Build a bird buffet with a crafty friend to make memories together and enjoy the birds!

5. Give the Gift of Membership

Give the gift of rivers, forests, marshes, and meadows. Members enjoy free admission to more than 50 wildlife sanctuaries, and many other great benefits, including member-only discounts on walks, talks, classes, and camps. Share your experiences in nature with a loved one all year long, and give the gift of a Mass Audubon membership.

downy woodpecker

Birding Challenges to Tackle this Winter

There are joys that can be found close to home and like many of us, watching birds is at the top of our list. You don’t have to travel far to see frolicking chickadees or that elusive Fox Sparrow. However, if you’re looking to up-your-game and give yourself a fun challenge, we recommend participating in these community science birding projects. FeederWatch from the Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology, and the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count will motivate your birding and help scientists gather important population data.

Downy Woodpecker

FeederWatch

FeederWatch, along with Cornell’s NestWatch and eBird programs, has built an immense data bank of information about bird populations, migratory patterns, and breeding locations…all supplied by bird watchers like you!

It’s easy to get involved: register at the FeederWatch website and put out seed, then on your own schedule, record the number of each species you see and enter your data. Your findings, combined with those of thousands of other participants, provide ornithologists with a big picture view of winter birds across the country. How cool is that? Plus, it is a family-friendly activity that children can help with and be a part of.

Need to upgrade your feeder set-up? Browse Mass Audubon Shop feeders to make sure you’re ready to count!

Christmas Bird Count

For a bigger challenge, you can join the nation’s longest-running community science bird project for its 121st year: National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count. Organizers assign birders to specific areas within predetermined 15-mile diameter circles, each of which is assigned a name. For example, Pam Sowizral, Mass Audubon Metro West’s Volunteer Coordinator and birding program leader, is birding this year as part of the Concord Circle.

The challenge takes place on one day for birders to venture out and record species and their numbers. Depending on the circle area, a date will be chosen between December 14 and January 5 so sign-up soon. During that 24 hour period, you can bird as much as you’d like! Some folks are out before first light to find owls then bird right through until evening, and others spend several hours giving their section a good comb through. How can you cover the most birds in your area?

Happy Winter Birding

By joining FeederWatch or the Christmas Bird Count you get the chance to do take part in a beloved hobby, while providing important scientific data – it is a win-win situation you can feel good about! Happy Birding!

Crops Update: Preparing for the Cold

Snow and twenty degrees is predicted for this Friday night, so, in the days ahead, we need to focus on harvesting any last sensitive crops like daikon and cabbage, while also protecting immature greens. We’re in good position after a week that brought three corporate volunteer groups to the field. All those Brussels sprouts in last Wednesday’s CSA share were separated from their stalks by lawyers from IBM. They also helped us trim the leeks that went into the share boxes. The next day, volunteers from National Grid helped us break apart and plant the last three beds of garlic. We now have eleven beds planted (using about 14,000 cloves)—a new high for Drumlin. This reflects our customers’ and our own newly discovered enthusiasm for cooking with green garlic—the immature plants pulled whole in May and early June. National Grid volunteers finished their afternoon’s work harvesting parsnips. The drought has affected the size of the crop, and, above, you can see Paige and Margaret sorting the parsnips by size into two separate crates—small and smaller! We still have more parsnips to bring in, but they won’t mind being buried in snow for a while.

On Thursday, Jill and Margaret delivered 750 pounds of potatoes to The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB). This is our first time visiting the enormous warehouse, a relationship made possible by one very generous donor. That’s Jill on the right holding up some of our precious Kennebecs with Emily Yerby, manager of local food donations for GBFB. That day, as part of our restaurant circuit, Jill and Margaret also donated produce to Food for Free in Cambridge, something we’ve been doing every week throughout the season. Thanks to you both for building relationships out in the community and for coordinating all the ins and outs of our complicated Thursdays.

On Friday, volunteers from ENGIE, who help businesses move toward energy sustainability, helped us harvest the last watermelon radishes of the season and prepare Brussels sprouts for sale at the weekend market and farmstand. Saturday was a warm and beautiful day, and many shoppers in Somerville and here at the farm were so thrilled to get those sprouts that we sold out! Out in the fields, we worked with community volunteers to finish the turnip harvest. Now it has turned much colder, and given the challenging predicted weather ahead, it’s time to close the farmstand and express our gratitude for the volunteers who made it possible for Drumlin to operate a stand during the pandemic—Richard and Nancy, Linda and her grandson Jake, Leah, Alden and Basha. Thanks all for working to feed our community.

Your Farmers

Crops Update: Garlic Planting

Like Tusken Raiders on Tatooine, befuddled by sandstorms, masked and wrapped in layers of protective clothing, envious of the moisture farmers drinking blue milk in their droid-maintained compounds, we croak out our dismay at this enduring drought! Rain is predicted for Monday night and Tuesday, but with so few growing days left in the season, cover crops will benefit the most. At this time last year, we were beginning to put away some of the 3,000 pounds of carrots that would eventually fill the root cellar. This year, having lost our main patch of storage carrots to the drought, we are just now beginning to harvest from the Hail Mary carrot seedings we continued to put in the ground week after week following July 15. Strong winds have been further damaging plants already stressed by the lack of rain and cold temperatures. Even though this past Saturday was warm and sunny, by Sunday morning several crops appeared newly frosted, burned by the previous day’s lashing wind. But the row cover is still holding in place over the last round of lettuce thanks to the extra rock bags we heaped along its edges. We plan to start harvesting it later this week, and the heads should be in good condition as the cover protects against cold and wind.

We’re approaching the end of garlic planting thanks to the good work of the team and lots of assistance from volunteers. Starting on Friday afternoon, we began the process of breaking apart and planting 400 pounds of our own seed. We planted three beds with community volunteers that day, and three more with volunteers from the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) on Saturday.

Above, you can see us leaving the stems and papers on the field as we separated cloves on Saturday. Today, we planted two more beds with yet another volunteer group from AMC—the fifth of the season! Thanks Kate and Katie for continuing to recruit and lead AMC members at the farm. Breaking apart the garlic bulbs is a serious workout for the hands, and we’re so grateful to all who have helped with that. We’re in a good position now to finish up the garlic planting with more corporate volunteers later this week, and then it’s on to the parsnip harvest.

Your Farmers

Field Work

Crops Update: The Last Potato

This past Thursday, we dug the last potato of 2020! Ten volunteers from Astra Zeneca helped move us toward the potato harvest finish line on Wednesday afternoon. The group started apart, some harvesting 200 pounds of storage turnips, while others pulled up the last of the tomato stakes. Then, we all met and together dug 600 pounds of potatoes. Astra Zeneca sent volunteers to the farm last summer during the garlic harvest, and some in this year’s group were reminiscing about how many days it took for the smell of garlic to entirely leave their cars following the commute home after an afternoon spent on that fragrant job! They must not have minded too much as they came back and did great work once again.      

In the week ahead, we’ll continue harvesting storage crops into the root cellar. Each fall, volunteer Fred reprograms the motherboard controlling the root cellar fan and AC unit to make best use of cold night air to lower the room’s temperature. Our goal is to get the hyper-insulated cellar to 40 degrees as quickly as possible using the least amount of electricity. The more cold night air we can fan into the room, the less we need to run the AC.  We start by grabbing 50-degree air, then step that value down as the room cools. Eventually, we’ll target only 35 degree and colder air to maintain the room near 40. Thanks Fred for all the time spent tapping at the keyboard and monitoring the gauges.

As the nights get colder, we’ve protected the chard and last planting of lettuce with winter-weight coverings. On Friday afternoon, the team secured the covers around the obstacle course of deer fences. Nice work all! The poles and twine were already in place to keep the deer off the greens, and we decided to leave them there to prevent the deer from walking across the expensive covers and cutting them with their sharp hooves. But then the wind twice lifted one of the covers, and we had to remove the hoops to lower that cover’s profile (pictured above). The purpose of the hoops is to keep the frost above the crop. We’re now hoping that the cover is thick enough so that when a light frost settles on it, the leaves pressed against it from below won’t get burned. While we worry about the greens, day after day volunteer Anne has been returning to the last planting of shelling beans to pick those that continue to ripen. Thanks to Anne’s persistence, Jill and Margaret brought fifty pounds of those beans to market, and then donated any that didn’t sell to Food for Free.  

Talulla, one of the restaurants we deliver to each week, recently catered boxed lunches for a group that gathered at Drumlin Farm. The chefs included the following note in each box, and their words provide another illustration of how our community sustains this farm, and vice versa.

To Our Guests,

Talulla is a small, family-operated, Mom and Pop restaurant for which our daughter is the namesake. A connection to our farmers and their ingredients is a core value in our business. We love Drumlin Farm because they are more than just a farm to source ingredients: they are an extension of our family; from the farmers that deliver our produce each day, to the staff at the farm who helped organize our daughter’s Birthday Party last year. We support each other because we both believe in the importance of operating on a smaller and more local scale. At our restaurant, about 90% of the produce we use is sourced from Drumlin Farm. We hope you enjoy the ingredients of your basket. As many products as possible are sourced from Drumlin Farm.

Xo,

Danielle & Conor

We hope to see you picking up a farmshare box, walking the trails, or connecting with us on social media. Happy Harvests!

Your Farmers

Crops Update: Oh Deer!

We spotted three new fawns running out of the fields this morning, bringing to 13 the number of individual deer we’ve counted out there. Our two solar chargers and electric fence set-ups are deployed around carrot patches, and, so far, have been effective. We continue to set up twine fences around ever more crops, three beds at a time—that’s the largest area we can effectively protect without electrification; go larger and the deer just hop right in—, but we only seem to be pushing them onto new crops. Deer are now eating cilantro, radish, bachelor buttons, and next year’s strawberry crop. Even after last weekend’s frost killed the sweet potato vines, we sprayed the beds with repellant just to keep the deer from pawing up the roots over the few days it would take to get them out of the ground. We got a jump on that big job thanks to the helpful work of volunteers from Enterprise Holdings. On Tuesday of last week, seven Enterprise volunteers worked with part of the Crops Team to dig over 1,000 pounds of sweet potatoes, while another seven helped us harvest, shuck, and trim this year’s popcorn crop. Thank you, Enterprise!

We  finished the sweet potato harvest over the next two days with help from community volunteers. And on Friday, more community volunteers helped us do a final sweep through the tomato, pepper and eggplant patches looking for any last fruit that had escaped the frost. By Saturday, we were cutting down tomato twine in preparation for extracting the hundreds of stakes we pounded in June and July. That day, we also began harvesting storage potatoes into the root cellar.

On Sunday afternoon, volunteer Kate from the Appalachian Mountain Club brought another awesome group of ten hikers to the field, and they cut down the rest of the tomato twine and dug 600 pounds of potatoes. Many thanks to Kate and the AMC! Volunteers from Concord Open Table arrived on Sunday afternoon for the second of their weekly pickups, and they took away lots of greens and winter squash. Jill has been doing a great job tracking our food donations to Food for Free, Concord Open Table and the Lincoln Food Pantry. She let the team know that last week we passed our $50,000 target for donated produce. Nice to start the Friday harvest with good news like that! Our thanks to all who are contributing to Drumlin’s efforts to feed those in need through the pandemic.

Your Farmers

Crops Update: First Frost of the Season

This phone camera is as beat as these plants. If you can make it out through the impressionistic haze, that’s our frozen tomato patch on the left and two burned-up bean beds on the right. We noticed the first frost damage of the year on husk cherries and purslane weeds on the morning of 9/15, and have had several freezes since then. Remember, the last frost of the spring killed half our sweet potato patch on the morning of 6/2. That means we had a total of only 104 frost-free growing days this season! The Crops team and volunteers worked throughout last week with an awareness of the looming cold, and did a great job maximizing the final tomato, pepper, flower and string bean harvests of the year.

On Friday afternoon, volunteers from Definitive Healthcare (the first corporate group of the year!) picked 80 pounds of beans and 90 pounds of cherry tomatoes. They’ve been working remotely throughout the pandemic, and this was their first opportunity to be together outside of Zoom meetings. You can see them picking away and then proudly standing behind their bean harvest, while in the background of both pictures, notice volunteer Anne, intent on the job at hand—saving more beans! While this group worked in the front field, a separate group of community volunteers thoroughly picked through the main tomato patch and another planting of beans. And then, for the second week in a row, a large, fresh wave of volunteers arrived at 4 p.m. to cut flower stems. All told, Drumlin had about 30 people harvesting that day–right before the killing frost!

And so, we made the most of the summer. To all who have been helping, whether it be by greeting volunteers in the parking lot, pulling weeds in the field, seeding trays in the greenhouse, harvesting crops, boxing CSA shares, paying bills, mucking barns and making compost, fixing broken things, ordering supplies, and/or, at the other end of the process, buying the farm’s food, take a moment to reflect on the delicious bounty the earth produced all summer, and to appreciate the role you played in that. Thank you!

By the end of this week, we plan to begin filling the root cellar with storage potatoes. Before that, we need to dig all the sweet potatoes that survived the June frost. Now that the September frost has burned away the vines, the deer have easy access to the tubers, and they will dig down with their hooves. Root harvests have been made easier by the lack of rain; it’s as if everything is buried in sand and lifts right out. We would trade that ease for the water the storage carrots and cabbage really need right now. It hasn’t rained since 9/11, and there are so few days left for crops to put on size!

Your Farmers