We’re looking forward to the first Union Square Farmer’s Market of the season in Somerville this coming Saturday from 9 am to 1 pm. After 15 years in Union Square, the market is moving out into the middle of Somerville Ave between Carlton and Hawkins St! That’s right, the city will be shutting down its main thoroughfare every Saturday to make room for dozens of local vendors. Apparently, the logistics of hosting the market in the square became too complicated with the road and subway construction, in addition to the new pandemic-inspired restaurant patios overtaking the square’s parking lot. Assistant Growers Greg and Elizabeth will be managing our three tents there with help from Highsmith and Avril, who both worked in the fields in previous seasons. Stop by our tent and you should find carrots and scallions from the hoop house, violas, green garlic, and an assortment of spring greens like arugula, spinach, and this beautiful baby bok choy:
Out in the fields, we planted 1.5 acres of potatoes this past Thursday and Friday. That was the last of our big spring plantings, and we were thrilled when it started to rain last night. So nice to get an assist from mother nature after raking all those furrows closed! Thanks Mom, and all moms.
Now we’ll begin moving peppers, basil, and eggplant out onto the cold frame, and we’ll be checking the forecast constantly trying to anticipate any dangerously cold nights. We’re remembering the frost we had on the mornings of June 1 and 2 last year, and it killed 50% of our sweet potatoes. But sweet corn can take a little cold, and that’s the next big planting project we’ll undertake tomorrow. Otherwise, we’re trellising and mulching peas, hoeing crops, and preparing to attach the first clips to the hoop house tomatoes.
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.
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.
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.
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!
If not tonight, then by the weekend, we’re expecting the first light frost of the season. We take the forecasted low and subtract ten to account for the farm’s frost pocket. This means that in the week ahead it’s all hands on deck for what may be the closing bean, pepper, eggplant, summer squash and tomato harvests of the year. And while there is a mountain of work to get through this week, the Crops team has one less farmer, as Jen finished her season with us this past Friday. Jen accepted a job helping underserved communities in the Berkshires access public transportation. We will miss her steady presence on the team and wish her all the best. Given that, we’re really looking forward to having the help of our first corporate volunteer groups of the season later in the week, and we’re hoping to see some of our committed community volunteers on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon to help with these important harvests. Last Friday afternoon, we had wonderful volunteer help throughout the tomato and bean harvest, and then some people stayed, while even more arrived, for a total of nine volunteers on the evening flower harvest. Their good work helped us reach a season’s high in flower sales at Saturday’s market. Below you can see volunteer Nancy surrounded by a portion of that enormous flower harvest at Drumlin’s farmstand on Saturday morning.
While Nancy was making bouquets to order for farm visitors, seven more volunteers fanned out across the acorn squash patch and helped us bring them in before the arrival of another cool evening. Temperatures below 50 can cause chilling injury to squash and pumpkins, so it felt good to get the very last of this year’s crop into the greenhouse just in time. Acorn squash will be in this week’s CSA share, along with peppers, tomatoes, and some really nice carrots you can see lined-up below. We need to cut the tops off the carrots since we’ve sprayed the ferns with repellant to keep the deer away, and lining them up helps speed that process. The twine fence you see around the carrot patch is an added measure of protection against the ten deer we’re seeing on a regular basis in the field (4 does, 6 bucks).
One crop family the Drumlin deer leave alone is brassicas—broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc. Turkeys will occasionally eat brassica leaves, but its main pests are cabbage loopers and aphids. We spray organically certified bacterias to help control loopers, and for aphids, we seed cilantro in the patches and let it flower. The white flowers attract insects that also eat aphids. The flowering cilantro is taller than the already tall Brussels sprouts (we seeded the cilantro in the same week we transplanted the Brussels). On the soil you can see the top growth of the plants that we’ve just cut away to encourage the sizing-up of the sprouts—it’s like removing the garlic scape to boost bulb size. With this one bed of sprouts, we’re about two weeks too late with topping. But we’ll be able to compare sprout size in this bed with three others we topped earlier in the season.
I’m not saying the farm truck doesn’t need a good cleaning-out, it’s just that we really need all that stuff to do our jobs: gloves, scallion trimmers, bands, bug spray, sunscreen, Tyvek tape, rain jacket, and hermit bars (thanks Mom!). What’s more–we need that envelope on the dash containing a letter we recently received from a CSA member—but don’t know who—which we’ve been passing around and re-reading:
Dear Drumlin Team, In this peculiar pandemic period, there’s something deeply reassuring about Mother Earth and her cornucopia of green, red & yellow goodness courtesy of your hard work. All week, I look forward to the ritual of receiving from your generous hands a box of healthy food. The quality of your produce is astonishing—gleaming, ripe, beautiful, curvy, wavy, crunchy, delicious. I don’t like not meeting you, thanking you. The touch-free handoff feels alien! Nonetheless, my gratitude is greater, surpasses our restraints. Thank you for the care with which you pick, sort, wash, pack. For the weeds beat back. For the heat endured. For the sweat running down your back. Thank you for saving our summer, bring us joy from the earth. Respectfully.
Whoever you are, thank you so much for taking the time to write that! It’s an amazing group of farmers, volunteers, and Audubon staff members who together make the CSA Farmshare happen from week to week, and they all deserve to hear your moving words, to be reminded of why we do this work.
This is the last week for the summer CSA, and next week begins the fall program. Fall members will enjoy the end of what has been a stellar tomato and melon season, and a bountiful potato and winter squash harvest will provide good eating through Thanksgiving. There are still some spots open for our fall share, so join today if you haven’t already, and help us spread the word to others that may be interested!
Out in the fields we’re hoeing fall carrots and greens, bringing in the last of the winter squash (two varieties to go!) and preparing fields for cover cropping. Two days of rain last week means we expect to have a steady supply of field greens through frost!
A few teasing thunderstorms last week brought a faint double rainbow on Wednesday evening, but little in the way of rain. Then, Sunday afternoon, it finally poured! Peppers, eggplant, cauliflower, and cabbage had been wilting in the drought and not producing much. Hopefully, in a week or so, we’ll see an improvement in harvests of these crops. Beans, tomatoes, beets, watermelon, and cantaloupe have been thriving in the drought, and we expect to continue picking lots of each in the week ahead.
We’re now harvesting from the second succession of watermelons, so we get to savor our three favorite varieties all over again starting with the small, round, pink-fleshed Mini Love, moving on to the personal-sized, zeppelin-shaped Dark Belle, and finishing with Shiny Boy, striped, bullet-proof medicine balls. On Saturday morning, Paige (taught by Margot, who was taught by Fred) taught Nina how to move and install electric fencing, and together they protected watermelons #2 from the deer and coyotes that have already started breaking them open and eating them up. Deer continue to be our primary pest problem, and, over the past two days, we’ve been forced into an early harvest of all pumpkins and most of the winter squash.
The drought caused early die-back of the vines, and the deer have taken advantage of the easy access and visibility to browse the rows, biting hundreds of squash and pumpkins only once or twice, rather than eating all of a few like a respectful pest might. We estimate we’ve lost 15% of the butternut squash and pumpkin crop to deer, but about 40% of the butternuts have scarring from shallow deer bites. In the foreground, above, you can see piles of bitten squash we had to leave behind this past Saturday afternoon. The team stayed late that day to move the butternut into the greenhouse, and we wouldn’t have gotten as much done without the help of volunteers Nathan and Jake. Thanks all for doing the heavy lifting in the heat and humidity! This morning, we finished salvaging the pumpkins and then moved on to some new varieties of winter squash we’re trialing this year like the warty Black Futsu you can see in the foreground below.
Also on Saturday, we had a successful Somerville market at Union Square thanks to help from some additional volunteers, and a busy day of sales at the Drumlin farmstand. There, the volunteer trio of Basha, Nancy and Richard (from L to R above) are now teaming up on a regular basis. Thanks to help from volunteers Linda and Leah, we were able to open the farmstand for the first time this year on Sunday as well. Both have run the farmstand in years past, so with a little training on the new technology from Visitor Services staffer Marcia, they were prepared to begin selling again putting to good use their familiarity with more unusual crops like ground cherries.
So, visitors now have access to our food on Saturdays and Sundays, and more people are getting involved in the process of selling and producing it. When I farmed for a nonprofit on Long Island, a neighboring large-scale potato producer would object that our CSA didn’t “feed the world” like a real farm. Perhaps he meant we didn’t put bags of potatoes on shelves in grocery stores the world over. Yes, we are not commodity farmers, but community-based ones who endeavor to promote health, both environmental and individual, through meaningful work and delicious, beautiful food. And we’re trying to engage as many people as possible in all parts of the process, from camp kids picking cherry tomatoes (thanks for the one hundred pounds this past Friday!) to volunteers like Jake and Christine whose continuing connection to Drumlin began with a commuter rail ride to Lincoln to help us plant garlic last fall. Check out Christine’s wonderful retelling of that experience in her recently published comic.
What a relief the past two cloudy, 70 degree days have been! Last week was a real trial for plants and farmers alike with several days in the 90s and the soil surface completely dried out and often hot to the touch. Nina described kneeling on the ground during the drought and heatwave as similar to dipping your foot into too hot bath water: you retreat and then try again after mentally preparing yourself for some pain. Many, many thanks to the team and volunteers who continued to get the job done under these challenging conditions!
Above, you can see the effects of the drought in the winter squash patch. Despite the early die-back of the vines, it looks like the plants got enough moisture when they needed it, and we have a huge crop. With the vines no longer protecting some of the squash, we’ll start bringing them into the greenhouse this week when we’re not harvesting tomatoes and melons.
Betting on the forecast finally being accurate, we seeded a half-acre to greens and turnips yesterday afternoon. And, after 13 frustrating days without rain, we got about a quarter-inch last night. Hooray! Last week, we had to skip our weekly seeding of greens and radish, because, given how hot and dry it’s been, it would have been a waste of seed and time. The turnips you see germinating above were seeded two days before our last precipitation from Isaias on August 4. It’s amazing to witness what the Drumlin soil can do with so little water.
The fall kale and broccoli patch you see above is bordered on the left by the second-to-last succession of summer squash, and all of it was planted by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) on July 18. We’ve had less than an inch of rain since that day, so it must be the high percentage of organic matter in the soil that’s retaining moisture down below and supporting these beautiful plants. Kate from AMC brought another group of volunteers to the farm this past Saturday, and they finally got to work with us on a reasonably cool day. Together, we planted 3,200 lettuce seedlings before harvesting some cherry tomatoes. We donated those to Concord Open Table the following day. Volunteers from Concord Open Table now pick up donations from Drumlin twice per week, and we continue to deliver produce to food for free every Thursday as part of our restaurant route.
If you’ve wondered about all the additional fencing in the fields, the berserk deer population is the explanation. In addition to battling the extreme weather, we’re fighting the deer for our food. They’re trying to eat melons, chard, lettuce, beets, carrots, and sweet potatoes, and we’re responding with a combination of electric fences, repellant sprays, and small sections of twine fences. At the farmstand, you may have noticed umbrellas, a black shade cloth, and up in the rafters, an enormous, white, kite-shaped cloth, all put in place by Property Manager Geoff to help keep the sun from baking volunteers and veggies in the CSA farm share boxing area. Geoff also cleared brush from along the back of the farmstand to provide more space for people to spread out on Wednesdays while weighing and bagging produce. Thanks very much Geoff for helping us stay cool and for helping keep the produce as fresh as possible!
It’s looking like fall in the greenhouse with the arrival of the season’s first winter squash: Sunshine orange kabocha. We harvested them last Thursday as soon as we saw the vines dying back leaving the fruit exposed. If we can detect orange in the field, so can the deer, and the deer love to bite into all types of winter squash, especially the orange kabocha and pumpkins. Those are storage onions you see drying on the benches around the crates of squash below, and those seedling trays behind them hold the second-to-last lettuce planting of 2020.
Lower & Lean
With transplanting nearly complete, we are spending most of our time weeding beds and harvesting melons, potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes. In the hoophouse, the cherry tomato vines are over twenty feet tall, so it’s time to “lower and lean” them. We get up on the ladder, clip the top growth to the twine, then let out three or four turns on the spool allowing the whole plant to sit down. Then we lean the plants to the side by jumping the spools to an adjacent zip tie or by sliding the tie along a truss. The lean provides easier access to the fruit and prevents a crimp from forming at the base of the vine. The red Sakuras on the right have been lowered and leaned, while the orange Golden Sweets on the left await their turn.
Why Are Our Crops So Flavorful?
Out in the field it’s hot and dry. You can check out your town’s drought status too–if looking at the powdery soil or your burnt lawn is not informative enough! Hurricane Isaias blew down some of our tall flowers and brought a little rain, but we’ll need more precipitation to ensure a bountiful fall harvest. In the meantime, we’re wearing our hats (check out Greg’s superb chapeau below) and enjoying the intensity of flavors in melons and tomatoes brought out by these extreme weather conditions. Jill’s theory is that our field cherry tomatoes taste better than those from the hoophouse because those in the field are not irrigated. If true, that would be the first on-farm example of something we’ve been saying for years: Drumlin produce tastes this good because it’s not watered- down. But the hoophouse cherries are also more fibrous than those from the field, which is strange considering that the fall and winter hoophouse greens were far more tender than their field counterparts.
Leaving aside the mystery of the watered hoophouse cherry tomatoes, we know for certain that we need more water on crops in the field! And some days not in the 90s would be much appreciated. This past Friday, we had to harvest the watermelon and cantaloupe first thing in the morning just to keep the fruit cool. We then stored them under tents (pictured above) to keep the sun off until we had a chance to wash and load them into the box truck and walk-in cooler. We’re doing our best not to overburden the under-sized reefer unit on the market truck, and if you let the sun hit the melons for any length of time, you wind up with dozens of molten crates radiating heat for the rest of the day.
While it’s hot out there under the August sun, amazingly, volunteers continue to come and help us harvest in the fields and box CSA shares at the admissions area. But some of our regular community volunteers are beginning to quarantine themselves in preparation for college, so we’ll be needing more help through the fall. If you’ve been considering volunteering at the farm, now would be a perfect time. It’s a great way to get out, meet other masked people, and join in meaningful work that supports Mass Audubon’s conservation goals. In the past, at the end of August volunteer sessions, we’d gather round and cut into some watermelons and cantaloupe. Now we just send volunteers home with a melon to enjoy later. It’s different, but everyone who helps should know the sweetness they make possible.