Wow, that was a lot of rain! Several sizzling thunder and rain storms have hit Lincoln, and below, you can see the before and after state of our soil. On the left, Paige and Margot proudly stand over the third succession of summer squash they planted into the dust on Saturday morning—just the two of them! On the right, Monday morning, the oats and field pea cover crop is breaking through the mud in a field that will lie fallow this year. While all this rain will reduce the quality of the remaining strawberries, all other crops will greatly benefit. We were able to maximize the value of this year’s strawberry crop thanks to the harvesting work of volunteers and the farm team.
Stop by our Farmer’s Market Stand
This past Friday afternoon, another group of volunteers helped us pick about fifteen flats of berries for sale at the Union Square Market. Margaret, Jill, Nina and volunteer Avril did a great job selling them, and to date, sales at the market are far closer to average than we had predicted heading into a retail environment greatly altered by COVID regulations.
Reopening for Visitation
Thanks to the hard work and careful planning of many Drumlin staff members, the sanctuary opened to the public (who registered ahead of their visit) for the first time this weekend. It was great to see so many masked families exploring the farmyard and fields, and several people stopped to watch us hurriedly planting before the rains came.
If you’ve been missing Drumlin Farm and are overdue for a visit, please reserve your spot here so that we can safely manage our capacity limitations. Stop by the fields to say hi and see what the farmers and volunteers are working on!
New Veggies on the Way
On Saturday, in addition to the 640 summer squash Margot and Paige planted, we also set 2,400 Brussels sprouts and 1,100 flower seedlings, and seeded the next round of greens and radish. The last four rounds of greens have been affected by high heat and lack of rain; we’re looking forward to having a renewed supply of them in about three weeks.
In the meantime, a new set of exciting crops will start to appear in your CSA shares this week. We’re beginning to harvest the March 23rd seeding of carrots; it’s about two weeks later than we had anticipated due to the cold spring and subsequent lack of rain. We’re also harvesting the mid-April seeding of red and gold beets (our thanks to Volunteer Anne for weeding and thinning them!) and the first spring onions, fennel, fava beans, and field cucumbers of the season.
We continue to donate food to area pantries, and this past Tuesday we made our first delivery to the Lincoln Food Pantry—dinosaur kale, scallions, and salad turnips for 90 families. We also continue to bring produce to Food for Free in Cambridge. All told, we’re approaching $20,000 in food donations since mid-March! Thanks to all who are making it possible for us to contribute in this way.
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.
While we can’t gather in person to celebrate our favorite
fiber-festival of the year, we hope you can still join us virtually to learn
more about the story from sheep-to-sweater, shop local fiber vendors, and enjoy
some of our favorite Woolapalooza moments through the years.
In Massachusetts, sheep are raised on small family farms in flocks of varying sizes, ranging from a few ewes up to about 400 on the largest sheep farm. Sheep do well on Massachusetts land and require very little labor to produce a quality product that fits well with the New England climate. They’re also considered good for the environment and can help improve the ecosystem when managed with sustainable agriculture principles. Sheep are the perfect tool for controlling weeds and brush, helping land managers avoid mechanical and chemical means of control. They work so well that corporate and government land managers have adopted or hired flocks to help in reforested areas, watersheds, ski slopes and under power lines. You’ll often see our sheep in different fields throughout the year, doing their part to keep the pastures free of over-growth.
The Sheep-to-Sweater Process
Each year, master sheep shearer Kevin performs
our shearing, removing each sheep’s wool with large hand-held shears. The wool
is removed in one piece, called a fleece. Sheep are usually shorn in the
spring, when they can survive without their warm coat. The fleece is then
spread out and skirted, a process that removes large pieces of soiled wool,
hay, etc. Each fleece weighs 8-14 pounds fresh off the sheep, and a 10-pound
fleece might weigh only half that after it’s washed to remove the lanolin and
After the fleece is washed, it’s then carded, which involves
combing the clean, dry wool to straighten the fibers. Every wool fiber is a
molecular coil-spring covered with microscopic scales. The springiness of the
individual fibers can be seen in the curliness of a sheep’s fleece.
The carded wool can then be spun on a wheel, where the fibers
are drawn out and twisted together to form yarn. Wool clothing is highly
durable, easily dyeable, breathable and temperature regulating, resists
wrinkles and retains shape, flame resistant, and naturally water repellent. It
truly is an amazing fiber!
Shop Fiber Vendors
Please support our amazing local fiber vendors who annually make Woolapalooza such a special event:
For those of us lucky enough to be at Moon Over Drumlin this past Saturday, we were treated to an event thoughtfully orchestrated in every detail. The tent looked beautiful, and every dish the chefs created amplified the love and attention that goes into raising Drumlin’s livestock and crops. I felt especially grateful to have a moment to relax with the Crops team away from the fields and say thanks for a job well done—both in preparing for Moon and throughout the season. Here we are as a team cutting flowers for the event, that would become table centerpieces:
From L to R in the back is Highsmith, Jill, Erica and Veronica. In the front is your narrator (Matt), Maddie, and Kari. We were joined by many flower cutting volunteers that night, and more volunteers assembled the table bouquets on Saturday morning. Congratulations and thanks to all who participated in making the event a success! A special thanks to Jill for designing the bouquets and leading so many new-to-harvesting folks. Thanks also to CSA member Jocelyn Finlay (and her daughters) for help with the flower harvest and for taking this wonderful picture!
It looks like two nights of more serious frost coming our way this Friday and Saturday. Thankfully, we’re already half way through the sweet potato harvest because of the work of four volunteer groups over the past week. Volunteers from Wayfair, Appian Way Energy, Paytronix and Wellesley College all dug one bed of sweet potatoes each. On Tuesday, Wayfair volunteers also dug regular potatoes (lots of digging for them!) and picked tomatoes for CSA distribution. On Thursday, Appian Way volunteers weeded the strawberry patch and picked beans for Saturday’s market. On Friday, Paytronix volunteers picked tomatoes, eggplant, beans and peppers for market. Thanks all for keeping us on pace with the fall harvest. As soon as we finish the sweet potatoes, we’ll start filling the root cellar with storage potatoes.
Tuesday morning’s harvest was especially long because of all the additional food going to chefs for this Saturday’s Moon Over Drumlin—our annual farm-to-table gala and live auction. Moon Over Drumlin features one-of-a-kind tastings from seven local partner chefs made with ingredients from Drumlin Farm. A few tickets are still available too! We’re looking forward to seeing you all there, and to tasting what our talented partnering chefs concoct.
If you were wondering, yes, it did freeze at the farm Thursday and Friday mornings of last week! This is one disadvantage of farming at the bottom of an ancient lake—cold air settles there. Beans, cucumbers and husk cherries are the first casualties of the fall, but tomatoes and melons continue to produce, and you will find some beautiful fruit at the stand today.
We did get all the edible squash out of the field before the frost. And thankfully, the pumpkins were exposed to only two cold nights before volunteer coordinator Pam pulled together an emergency volunteer group from the Appalachian Mountain Club to help clear the patch this past Sunday. Maddie, Veronica, and Kari worked an extra afternoon, and the volunteers (some returning to the farm for the third time this season!) got a serious workout loading the pumpkins onto the trucks and then ferrying them into the greenhouse. Thanks to all your hard work, the greenhouse is very crowded (pictured below)!
We would have been even more behind schedule this morning if not for the harvesting help given to us on Monday by a volunteer group from Middlesex School. Together we picked over 100 pounds of cherry tomatoes for chefs, and also started digging the sweet potatoes. We’ve worked with Middlesex students before, and they always do fabulous work.
We’ll continue getting ready to celebrate the intersection of the community’s labor and the Hatheways’ vision for what this land can provide on Saturday. Looking forward to raising a glass with you at Moon Over Drumlin!