Where: Mass Audubon Headquarters, Lincoln | Who: A Vermont ex-pat, lifelong skier, musician, photographer, motorcycle enthusiast, budding native plant gardener, and pun master | Favorite part of the job: Working with wonderful colleagues to make nature accessible to everyone
Strawberries, snap peas, garlic scapes, the solstice, and Father’s Day. Every year, the confluence of these crops and events also coincides with our annual pick-your-own strawberries weekend. The hot and dry weather has favored the strawberry crop, but COVID canceled our plans to invite the public into the patch.
Instead, small groups of volunteers helped us pick berries on Wednesday and Friday of last week. Thanks to them, all spring CSA shareholders received a pint of strawberries on Wednesday afternoon, and on Saturday morning, we took over 300 pints to market! The few flats we didn’t sell there we donated to Food For Free on the way home.
This week marks the opening of the summer CSA program, and we look forward to once again working with volunteers to pick berries for members and for market-goers. Many thanks to volunteer coordinator Pam Sowizral for organizing the harvesters, and thanks to all who have pitched in so far.
At the beginning of last week, before temperatures hit the 90s, we raced to pound tomato stakes and spread straw mulch. Above, from left to right, Greg Poelker-McKee, Jen Healy, Paige Taylor, Margot Becker, and Margaret Hayes have just loaded dozens of fifty-pound bales for transport to the main tomato patch. Nobody enjoys getting itchy straw in their masks, shoes, and pockets, but it’s motivating to know that the process would be far more uncomfortable in high heat and humidity.
The team made quick work of the project, and now we’re keeping an eye on the forecast to find a cooler day to stake and mulch the second succession of field tomatoes. We planted those last Thursday afternoon, and the deer quickly found them and ate an entire bed! Deer pressure seems to be heavier than in years past, and their current favorites are peas, lettuce, tomatoes, and beets.
In other wildlife news, at least three Killdeer nests have hatched-out and we’re plowing around two others where the adults are still sitting on eggs. The Red-tailed Hawk keeps trying to eat the little ones, but the parents are as protective of them as they are of the nests.
On Saturday afternoon, we planted a half-acre of pumpkins—the last of the big summer planting projects. Now the days are getting shorter, and the remaining large planting jobs are fall brassicas: kale, collards, storage cabbage, and kohlrabi. Later this week, we’ll transplant acorn squash and Brussels sprouts to the field. Acorn squash matures quickly and is susceptible to sunscald, so we seed it two weeks later than other winter squash.
This week, we’ll also try to seed oats and field peas on vacant fields in the hope of catching a thunderstorm. Our last rain was on June 11, and all crops need a drink right now. But as you can see in the above picture taken on Sunday, despite the lack of rain, crops continue to thrive in our rich soil. Our low backs are about to get a serious workout bringing in the summer squash. Everybody, do your sit-ups!
Wake up calls keep coming, for justice for all people and for the environment. And we can be grateful, because what else is consciousness for but to be roused and applied?
Our food donation work has developed a rhythm where we harvest and box greens for Food for Free on Thursday mornings, and harvest bulk for Concord Open Table on Friday and Saturday mornings. Volunteers from that organization arrive on Sunday and we help them load the produce from out of the walk-in fridge—over 250 pounds of greens, radish, turnips, kale, scallions, chard, and green garlic this weekend alone.
We’ll soon be adding the Lincoln Food Pantry to our roster of food recipients, and speaking of our town, it’s a good time to remember those two graduates of Lincoln-Sudbury high school who went on to write many heart-warming and absurdist sing-alongs including this family-friendly and still timely gem.
And if belting that out doesn’t elevate your spirits, some good news is that, although a week late, strawberries have arrived! On Thursday, we weeded the patch—you can see some of the weed piles above in front of the dilapidated shade tent. And on Friday, we harvested berries for the first time this year! They’re definitely tart, but will get sweeter over the next few days.
A special thanks to Jill and Margot for putting up the deer-excluding electric fence around the strawberry field. Last season, volunteer Fred taught each of them separately how to install the fence, and they helped each other remember the steps. Fred just returned to volunteer in the fields and on Tuesday he helped mow the Umbrello Field (formerly Blue Heron Farm), which I then plowed on Saturday evening. We are currently leasing the Umbrello Field from the town of Lincoln, and our plan is to seed cover crop by the beginning of next week to build the soil and to get a sense of how things grow there.
Otherwise, we’re doing our best to keep up with all the fieldwork. With strawberries and peas requiring lots of picking time, we have less to give to other jobs. But we planted an acre of winter squash last Tuesday and plan to put in a similar amount of pumpkins later this week.
It’s also time to stake and mulch the first succession of field tomatoes, and we’ll be working on that over the next few days before it gets too hot. In the hoop house, a special thanks to Jen for putting in time on Monday mornings to keep the cherry tomatoes trellised. Check out the progress!
The second half of May was dry and hot, but it ended with two mornings of light frost on the first and second of June. Overall, the cold spring has delayed the start of pea and strawberry season, but we do hope to start picking sugar snap peas by mid-week. We still haven’t seen even a hint of pink in the strawberry patch; June 5 or 6 is usually when we pick the first fully red berry of the season. Hopefully, the weekend’s rain and the predicted sunny weather will speed up ripening.
We were planting flowers on Saturday afternoon when the first real rain in 21 days arrived in the form of a beautiful thunderstorm. We sheltered in the hoop house and caught up on some weeding and trellising there.
Earlier in the week, we were dismayed to find only about 30% germination under a greens row cover we had seeded during the dry spell. Our supply of arugula, radish, and other greens like baby kale and bok choi depend on our system of weekly seeding and covering to protect these crops from flea beetle damage. Each week, we also open the previous week’s cover to hoe the beds and check germination. While spring greens have been bountiful up to this point in the season, we may see a decline in availability starting next week as we begin to harvest from drought-affected successional seedings.
But all the dry weather has been ideal for transplanting, and in the past week, we planted more rounds of lettuce, basil, cucumbers, and scallions, the second succession of sweet corn, and the first round of cantaloupe, watermelon, and eggplant.
After years of not very successfully battling the flea beetles and Colorado potato beetles that feed on eggplant, we’ve covered this year’s transplants with Proteknet—a lightweight nylon net that floats above the crop on a series of metal hoops. We’ve also used this method to keep leaf miners out of the chard patch, and not only has it excluded pests, but the additional heat trapped under the cover has given us full-size leaves earlier than in any previous season. Above, you can see a chard bunch we harvested yesterday along with some of the other good stuff coming out of the fields right now: clockwise from noon, Lacinato kale, scallions, chard, raab, turnips, basil, Chinese broccoli, and green garlic.
This past week, we were thrilled to have the help of volunteers with the bagging of CSA shares. Above, from left to right, you can see Anna, Kate, Sheila, Margaret, Mike, and Sandra (mio madre!) putting together 190 shares. Thank you! And additional thanks to Pam for coordinating the effort, and to Margaret for keeping track of all the crates of veggies and moving them out of the walk-in fridge and box truck to the packing area.
More help also arrived this week as my sister’s eldest, Margot, graduated from high school and started volunteering with the team. It’s great to have Margot here, and so far we’ve been motivated to cook with all this amazing produce—turnips and green garlic five nights in a row, and not sick of them yet! We vary the dressing but usually start with Drumlin maple syrup and Sir Kensington’s spicy brown mustard. Places to go from there: lemon juice/lemonade, rice vinegar, shoyu, plain yogurt, vanilla yogurt, apricot jam, peach kefir, ume plum vinegar, pepper, olive oil, sesame oil, vermouth, balsamic, etc.
It must have gotten close to freezing on Monday night in our ice bowl of a farm. The next round of basil out on the cold frame is mostly burned, and the tomatoes we planted on Friday afternoon have some darkened leaves on top.
Normally, in spring and fall, we look at the predicted nighttime low and subtract 10. That would have brought us to 33°F last night. At Drumlin, we’re well aware that it can freeze any time in May, and as much as we’d like to submit a formal complaint to the weather gods—“But it was June starting at midnight!”—we’ll just be grateful that it didn’t get any colder.
Because we had already pushed our chips to the center of the table, in a sense gambling with our peppers, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes—all of which were in the ground by Saturday afternoon and covering way too much area to try to protect with row covers—and given all the planting work we need to do this week (corn, cantaloupe, watermelons and winter squash), we didn’t want to delay any longer starting the process of getting the frost-sensitive plants in the ground.
Above, you can see some of the Crops team planting the tomatoes this past Friday. From L to R, farm bandits: Nina Halty, Jill Banach, Jen Healy, Paige Taylor, and Margaret Hayes.
Many more people attended the Union Square market this past Saturday (hooray!), and instead of hauling lots of food back to the farm like last week, we mostly sold out of things. We are slowly figuring out a new approach to selling during the pandemic, and spent several hours on Friday pre-packaging the market greens. In the past, this is something volunteers would do in the back of the box truck or under the market tents as customers took cellophane bags of greens off the display tables.
Here, you can see part of the roped-off display Margaret and Jill put together this weekend. The kale, green garlic, and baby lettuce mix are some of the crops we’ll be featuring this week.
At Drumlin, we don’t irrigate crops out in the field, so we celebrate every time it rains. This Saturday night’s loud storm watered-in our potatoes and the first sweet corn planting of the year. We were hoping for more rain on Monday, but no luck. We dry-planted the first round of cauliflower and cabbage on Saturday, so now we need to either water it in by hand, or trust that there’s enough moisture in the soil to carry the plants through to the next rain—but there’s none in the forecast.
On our side is our system of soil-building practices: fallowing, cover-cropping, and spreading compost, all to build soil organic matter—the stuff that makes soil a sponge rather than a mere paper towel in terms of its water-holding capacity.
But it’s time to start using the water-wheel transplanter in the way it was intended. Above, you can see the water wheel marking the bed with water-filled holes to receive pumpkin transplants. This picture was taken in June 2017, when we had a large volunteer group and no need for masks!
This spring, because we’re missing the extra help of volunteers, we’ve been trying to save time by letting the rain do the work and skipping the step of filling the transplanter with water—it takes a while to fill, and then more time while running it for a dedicated person to clear the spikes of mud (that’s what Veronica is doing in the above picture). But now that the reliable spring rains have ended, we’ll need to invest more time in establishing crops. This week, we’re planning to plant the first round of basil, summer squash, and broccoli, and, if the sweet potato slips arrive from NC, we’ll plant those, too.
Some of what we’ll be harvesting this week for market and CSA is pictured above. The carrots will be coming out of the hoop house, and all the way to the right, you can see the current size of one of our favorite springtime crops—Japanese salad turnips. They’re about a week away from being ready to eat! The bunch of aliums in the middle of the picture is green garlic; it’s just garlic pulled early, more mild in flavor than the mature bulb. Chop up as much of the stalk and leaves as possible and use it like a scallion.
Because the opening of the Union Square market has been delayed until this coming Saturday, we had all of last Friday available for field work rather than a market harvest. We made good use of the time trellising and mulching peas. Above, you can see Margaret attaching the netting to the T-posts.
This is the first time we’ve ever mulched peas, but given that we won’t have volunteer groups to help us control weeds, we decided to dedicate valuable straw to this crop that doesn’t compete well with weeds. The straw will also help the soil stay cool and retain moisture—conditions pea roots love. And we’ll certainly appreciate kneeling on the soft straw rather than the hard soil during the long pea harvests.
Also on Friday, in the hoophouse, we planted lunchbox peppers and husk cherries, and lowered the trellis lines down from the spools in preparation for clipping up tomatoes and cucumbers. It’s truly an octopus’ garden in there, or even a jelly fish heaven, as that other fab four, The Dead Milkmen, sang!
Tuesday, May 26
The first Union Square market took place this past Saturday. The City of Somerville and the market managers had COVID-19 protocols in place and our team did an excellent job following them. In the above picture, you can see our masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, rope barrier, and plastic shields. What you can’t see are our new touchless credit card readers from Square.
Thanks to Renata, Ryan, and Jill, we have a fabulous new web store for online purchases that also supports sales at the market. We’re getting familiar with the new technology, but eventually, it should help us speed up transactions and keep better records there.
The produce you see on the display table was like the plastic sushi in a Japanese restaurant—only for the looking; we made up orders from bulk bins behind the registers. A policeman asked if the display produce was real. I thought he might be asking if it was for display only, but no, he thought it looked so pristine that it might be plastic! Kudos to the Crops team for producing bunches of radish, carrots, and turnips that even Plato would have had a hard time sorting into real and ideal.
The new market protocols radically limited the number of people who could enter the area at one time, and so we saw far fewer customers than usual. We had harvested large quantities thinking that pent-up demand might lead to a very busy day, but we returned to the farm with a lot of beautiful food.
Thankfully, Concord Open Table—a long-term food donation partner of the farm—was able to bring all of the leftovers to various food pantries where they are seeing a big increase in demand. Above, you can see them filling two cars with all the food! This past week we were thrilled to learn of a generous contribution to our food donation program: matching gifts up to $25,000! Our community’s response to those in need is a huge inspiration and motivation for the farm team.
Out in the fields, it’s time to plant the heat-loving crops. By the end of the week, we hope to have the tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and sweet potatoes planted. The forecast is for showers on Friday, but this is a dry weather pattern that has us concerned. If it doesn’t rain on Friday, that will be day 14 without appreciable precipitation. For now, plants look happy, and we expect to start harvesting lettuce heads, spinach, kale, cilantro, and scallions in the near future. Strawberries are flowering right now, and we’re envisioning the sweet harvest in mid-June.
Beautiful weather the first weekend in May helped us make progress in our crop establishment work. On the back of the truck, you can see onion starts in the black trays and lettuce and Chinese broccoli seedlings in the white.
Last Thursday morning we harvested arugula from the field for the first time in 2020. We seeded it on March 22. Some of it will be going to our partnering restaurants, some to Codman Farm here in Lincoln for resale at their store, and some to Food for Free—a Cambridge-based non-profit devoted to improving access to healthy food, especially through schools. In response to challenges posed by the pandemic, we’ve been delivering carrots, eggs, and greens to Food for Free for the past month. You can learn more about our food donation program and how to support it here.
All prior harvests beginning in January and continuing through the beginning of May came from the hoophouse. Above, you can see what was going on in the hoophouse: The green growth in front of the ladder is carrots seeded in mid-February. We plan to begin harvesting those within two weeks. The spools hanging from the hoop house frame, and looking like air quotes, are called Rollerhooks. Each one contains about 100 ft. of twine (several seasons’ worth), to which we’ll be clipping cucumber and tomato vines. We’ll transplant the cukes and cherry tomatoes and expect each vine to grow to be 20–25 feet in length by mid-summer. The riddle to be solved is how to fit that size of plant in a house whose peak is 20 feet tall, and how to harvest near the tops of the vines? We’ve got a plan for that. Can you guess it?
Above is a photo taken yesterday that previews this week’s CSA share, the first of the season. We seeded the scallions into trays in the greenhouse in January and then transplanted them into the unheated hoophouse in February. On March 22, we seeded the bi-colored French Breakfast radishes directly into the field where they have been growing under a protective cover ever since. The Red Russian kale was seeded on that same day in March. The lone carrot is a vision of things to come. We seeded carrots into the hoophouse in mid-January; they still need a little more time to grow before we harvest them for you.
You can see those carrots growing along the Southern (left) wall of the hoophouse. Last week, we cleared out the last of the winter spinach and lettuce and then planted early cucumbers and tomatoes in their place. In anticipation of Saturday night’s freeze, we hooped and covered the cukes and tomatoes with a winter-weight row cover. We didn’t trust that the hoophouse’s single layer of plastic would provide enough protection. All plants looked healthy when we removed the cover this morning. We’ll cover the plants again on Tuesday evening as we’re expecting another frost in what has been an unusually cold spring.
Despite the cold days and frequent rain, we’re on schedule with our field plantings. Above, you can see us on Sunday afternoon raking-in the trench holding the last of the seed potatoes. And on Friday, we finally crossed the finish line of 2020’s Onion Marathon—48,000 transplants in 13 days. Next up is transplanting sweet corn, trellising peas, thinning beets and hoeing down weeds.
My grandfather, a jazz musician and an entertainer at heart, was a man of one hundred sayings. In the winter he’d quip, “I’ll see you in the spring if I can get through the mattress!” And his answer to the basic question “How are you?” was his always surprising “Lonely without you!”, delivered with such grace and charm that you simultaneously felt good to be a valued presence, while never once concerning yourself that he might be lonely.
This spring, his punning mattress could be viewed as the unusually cold and wet weather we’re having and also, certainly, the distances we’re keeping from each other. But, as unlikely as it seems, we’ll warm up and come together again.
On April 13, strong winds blew down trees around the sanctuary and dislodged one of the many coverings protecting greens out in the field. On April 18, several inches of snow tested the strength of our cold frame (pictured)—no plants were harmed!
On April 19, we finished planting 4,200 strawberry plants, occupying 12 beds (one quarter-acre). And on April 25, we began the onion-planting marathon (pictured—Nina Halty [left] and Margaret Hayes [right]) —2,500 plants down, 44,000 to go.
A special thanks to greenhouse volunteers Anne, Sheila and Francesca who, back in February and early March, seeded all those onions one by one by one. We’ll continue planting those onions over the next two weeks.
By the middle of next week, we’ll take a break from that to plant over an acre of potatoes—one ton of potato seed has been green-sprouting in the barn loft in front of the windows. And by the end of this week, or early next, we’ll plant the first warm-weather crops—cherry tomatoes and cucumbers—into the hoop house! We’re making way for them now by harvesting the last of the winter’s spinach and lettuce crops.
And so, onward we go, and in the spirit of spring birdsong and of my grandfather who would often repeat “You’re never alone with books and music,” Tally-ho!
As an agricultural operation, Drumlin Farm is considered an essential business. Our crops program is still hiring for Beginning Farmer and Field Worker positions with both full-time and part-time hours, beginning immediately or for the summer period. Please see our job postings for information on requirements and how to apply.
Mountain top yoga? A pro photography lesson? A trip to Iceland? What’s your Drumlin dream? Tickets to this year’s Moon Over Drumlin gala auction are sold out, but you can still have a chance to win! Buy your raffle tickets or put in a proxy bid before it’s too late to enter to win some truly fabulous prizes, including everything from cooking and yoga classes to weekend getaways and globe-trotting trips.
Here are a few our favorite prizes to get your mouth watering and your travel bug itching for an adventure.
This evening for 12 begins with a nature walk around the sanctuary, leading to an hour-long sunset yoga practice at the top of the drumlin, led by Laura Loewy, founder of Backcountry Yoga. Afterward, adjourn to a fireside wine and cheese reception, hosted by Sanctuary Director Renata Pomponi.
Private Paradise in Portugal
Relax for a week at Casa da Figueira, a private seaside villa in Algarve, Portugal. This traditional Portuguese villa has ample room for eight adults and is well-suited for children and families. The villa is just five minutes’ walk to the beach, cliffs, and excellent restaurants. Numerous golf courses and wineries are within an hour’s drive.
Private Drumlin Soirée
Have the sanctuary all to yourself—and 20 friends—for an evening farm and food extravaganza! Harvest seasonal veggies from our farm fields, then return to our kitchen to create pizzas that feature your harvest. After dinner, enjoy s’mores and a campfire performance by singer-songwriter Katrin Roush. This one-of-kind celebration can be customized for families with children, workplace outings, or groups of friends of any age!
Seafood Lover’s Cooking Class and Dinner Party
Svenfish founder Sven Olson—Drumlin Farm’s charismatic Farm Stand seafood supplier—invites you to an evening of cooking and dining! Sven will demonstrate cooking techniques and prepare a multi-course tasting menu (at his own home, or at yours) that includes locally-sourced seafood and seasonal Drumlin Farm produce. Your dinner for 8 will be accompanied by wine pairings and tasting notes from Eric Broege and Carolyn Kemp of Vintages in Concord, MA.