The season for strawberries, garlic scapes and peas is winding down, but we’re beginning to harvest summer squash, cucumbers, cabbage, and broccoli. We got a downpour on Saturday morning, but Sunday’s severe storms passed us by, and we were grateful not to experience the damage to leafy crops hail storms can cause. The few showers we did get helped water-in the fennel and summer and winter squash we planted with Saturday’s drop-in volunteers. We’ve now finished planting all the gourds, pumpkins, and winter squash—which takes about three acres to accommodate those crops! Now we just need to control weeds, fertilize before the vines run across the beds, and close off access to those fields until harvest.
It has been difficult to find a source for straw this season because all the rain has made it tricky for farmers in the Northeast to cut and bale grains. I believe last fall’s wet weather also affected the supply going into the winter, which doesn’t help. We were wondering if we would need to leave our tomato patch un-mulched and just commit to fighting the weeds all season long. We held-off stringing the first succession of tomatoes hoping that some straw would turn up before it would become difficult to add post-stringing. At the last moment, Colby Farm in Newbury, MA came through for us and delivered bales on Thursday, just as a group of volunteers from National Grid returned to the farm for the third year in a row. They jumped right in, spread the straw in the entire patch (pictured below), and then stayed late to help us plant some brassicas.
On Wednesday, volunteers with Google Chrome weeded strawberries, and then did an awesome job planting our entire second round of tomatoes (pictured below). On Friday, a large group of MathWorks volunteers planted over 1,500 cauliflower transplants and then picked peas for the next day’s market. All three corporations that sent volunteers this week have done so in the past, and some of the individuals were returning for the second and even the third time. We can happily say they like coming here and connecting with nature and Mass Audubon through shared farm work! Thanks all for making it a successful week.
There’s more variety in the harvest now as the carrots seeded in the last week of March are ready for digging, along with the beets seeded mid-April. Pictured below is the lovely roots display at we had at the Union Square Farmer’s Market—nice job market team, what a vibrant array of colors! If you haven’t had a golden beet yet, I find them to be citrusy, yet milder and sweeter than red beets. As with all beet varieties, you can cook the greens in addition to the roots; the greens taste similar to chard and spinach, but with a different texture. All of it delicious!
We’re also picking Sugar Anne snap peas and lots of strawberries. All these treasures of early summer and more are available at the farm stand which is now open. In addition, Strawberry Day, complete with strawberry picking, strawberries for purchase, and strawberry-related activities, is this Saturday, June 22. It seems appropriate that volunteer Anne has been picking the majority of the Sugar Annes. She loves picking peas, and to our way of thinking, Sugar Anne refers to no one else. Thank you, Anne!
All this rain has been great for establishing crops and growing greens. We’re hoping for it to stop raining now though so that strawberry quality remains high through Saturday’s Pick-Your-Own event. This past Saturday, the public responded to Kelly’s flash sale social media alert about a last minute additional opportunity to pick berries–thanks Kelly! We opened the patch at 10 and were sold out by 1 (pictured below). This coming weekend we should have far more berries, hope to see you then!
Another consequence of the frequent rains seems to be lower pest pressure, which is a good thing. By this point in the season, we’re usually spraying organically certified pesticides to control leaf hopper on beans, thrips on onions and Colorado potato beetle on potatoes. Rain can help wash thrip eggs off onion leaves, so maybe that’s happening with other pests. We’re also noticing hundreds of dragonflies patrolling the fields, along with lacewings, swallows, bluebirds, killdeer, toads, and frogs. We think of these creatures as other crops teammates doing the work of insect control, and we want to encourage them in any way we can. Yesterday, as we were removing row cover from the field, we heard a chirping coming from one of the hundreds of rock bags we had tossed onto the truck. The sound was so distinctive that it was easy to locate the bag in question and fish out the toad who was calling it home. He looked fine and hopped away, and we assume got right back to work.
The Summer CSA’s first pick up is Wednesday, June 26th. If you haven’t registered already, you can do so online and look forward to carrots, beets, potatoes, greens, fragrant herbs, tomatoes, sweet corn, broccoli, celery, and more up until the beginning of September!
We don’t mind harvesting in the rain, especially at this time of year when we’re working with crops that prefer cool weather. There’s less stress on us because we’re not worried about the sun wilting the greens. And we can save time by loading crates of veggies directly onto the trucks. During a sunny harvest, we stack crates in patches of shade cast by the trucks, and then load them when we’re ready to move. When it’s not efficient to head directly in to the wash station, we may load, move, and then unload back into the shade of the truck as we arrive at a new harvest area. None of that to worry about this morning, but we still had to get our work done quickly so as to get to the restaurants on time. That may account for our serious faces (pictured below) as we bunched up Japanese white salad turnips.
If you haven’t had Japanese white salad turnips before, set your turnip preconceptions aside. These are sweet and can be eaten raw or lightly cooked. I like to halve them, start them sauteing in olive oil, add scallions, then add the turnip greens—total cooking time is about five minutes. I dress it while it’s cooking: shoyu, rice and ume plum vinegar, Sir Kensington’s mustard, lemon, and maybe a little maple syrup. Freshly harvested turnips, scallions, lettuce and greens are available at the farm stand by admissions right now!
In advance of this heavy rain, we focused on weed control. The soil was dry and the sun was shining, so we’ve been hoeing, running the flex tine over established crops, and using the Star hoe to hill up potatoes and fertilize tomatoes, summer squash, and cucumbers. On Wednesday, we hosted a meeting on weed control for area farmers, and demonstrated various implements and hoes. The end goal of our approach is to minimize hand-weeding, which is most costly in terms of time. But there will always be weeds to pull, especially under the row covers that have been protecting onions and brassicas since early May. Now that those crops have grown to a size where they can withstand pest pressure, we began removing the covers last week.
On Tuesday, volunteers from Dell helped us haul in 3 sections of row cover and transport about 400 sand bags back to Rock Island. That was the first time volunteers assisted with that, and they did a great job! They also planted scallions and cucumbers and hand-weeded onions (pictured below).
On Friday, volunteers from Goldman Sachs returned for the second year in a row, again making a donation to help us purchase herbs. They planted rosemary and dahlias, and then really seemed to enjoy weeding in the perennial garden (pictured below). So helpful for us since the weeds are endless there.
On Saturday, drop-in volunteers wowed us once again by planting over 3,000 leeks (pictured below) and then rescuing some spring onions from a scary patch of weeds. All the volunteer help we received this week illustrates one definition of sustainable farming at Drumlin: we provide the opportunity for others to learn about what we do and to help us, and their generosity sustains the farm.
Meanwhile, strawberries. They’re coming! But slowly. Strawberries have been a crop that have been affected by the rainy spring we’ve had. We’ve moved our annual Strawberry Day ahead one Saturday to the 22nd so they have more time in the sun before harvesting.
Snap peas are also starting–and are so sweet! If you close your eyes while eating one this image might arise: green chocolate milk!
A chilly 46 degrees for Tuesday morning’s restaurant harvest. The lettuces and turnips are growing beautifully in this extended spring, and it’s nice to harvest greens without the crops or the team getting overheated. Here we are in the wash station cleaning and organizing produce for the chefs (pictured): from left to right that’s Veronica, Maddie. McKenna and Erica.
This past week was a blur of planting. It started on Memorial Day with eggplant and cantaloupe. The following day we planted out the first round of tomatoes, unfortunately in the rain and mud–ugh! Our thanks to volunteer Fred for joining us in the field and grabbing a post hole digger to make deep homes for hundreds of plants.
On Thursday, we really enjoyed working with employees from Care Dimensions—hospice care providers. They made a donation to help us purchase perennial herb plugs such as lemon balm, sorrel, and chives. We planted those together (pictured), then weeded in the perennial garden, transplanted sunflowers, removed flower clusters from the new strawberry patch, and finally planted a bed of basil. The group went from one end of the field to the other checking off jobs with ease.
On Friday, employees from Axial Benefits helped us plant popcorn and rosemary. They made a donation to help us purchase the rosemary, and we are looking forward to harvesting it for Iggy’s Breads. Iggy’s uses our rosemary on focaccia and pizzas at their Fresh Pond location. Thanks all for your generosity and help!
On Saturday, an amazing group of drop-in volunteers showed up, and, Voltron-like, assembled themselves into an incredible sweet potato planting machine. Some focused on sorting and dropping plants, others planted. It normally takes us a long time to get all 2,500 plants set deeply in the ground, but thanks to theses great volunteers, we finished in about two hours. Thank you!
We had a beautiful Memorial Day on Monday: sunny, dry, and high 70s. Thanks to the Crops Team for planting cantaloupe and eggplant and harvesting lots of greens and radish for the schools, all on a holiday. Many crops got cultivated with the flex-tine (weeding tool) for the fourth, fifth, or even sixth time, in the case of the potatoes and strawberries. We want to keep stirring the surface of the beds to keep them dry and to uproot small weeds, which the flex-tine helps with. It’s basically a large metal rake that attaches behind the tractor and gets pulled right over the crops (pictured below). The goal is to keep the crops clean so they’re not competing with weeds for water and nutrients, and so we can harvest them more easily.
The hoop house installers were ready to finish the job last Thursday, but heavy winds made it unsafe to work with the sheet of plastic. Saturday morning was calm, so they pulled one piece up and over the peak and attached it at the vent, and secured the second piece on the north side (pictured below). The house has roll up sides and a ridge vent, so can be cooled without running fans. We chose this design so we wouldn’t need to use electricity, and there are no outlets at the house. The next step is to install the drip irrigation system, and then we’ll be ready to plant come fall.
It was a busy week in the fields as we began planting out the summer crops. We wanted to plant peppers on Tuesday with volunteers from Dassault Systemes of Waltham, but the high winds changed the plan. Instead, we chose crops with little foliage (scallions and eucalyptus), and did our transplanting in the front field where the trees offer some protection from the wind (pictured below, volunteers taking the eucalyptus out of the trays). The volunteers then pulled weeds in the perennial garden. This is the fourth year in a row that Dassault has helped us, and we really enjoy working with such kind and attentive folks.
On Wednesday, the Crops Team planted the peppers (pictured below). And on Thursday, seniors from Middlesex School weeded peas and planted cucumbers and broccoli. They worked so well and so quickly that we needed to sprint to keep ahead of them—putting water down with the transplanter and dropping plants for the students to put in the ground. In all the hither and thithering, I forgot to take a picture of this fabulous group. Thanks all for advancing the field work!
On Tuesday we’ll begin stocking greens in the display fridge at the admissions area. The containers holding the greens are compostable. If you don’t have your own composter, we’ll be collecting used containers and adding them to the compost pile in the field. You can drop off your used containers at the admissions window. Thanks for your help with this!
Two more downpours Monday, and then the temperature hit 86 degrees when the sun finally came out! Before that, during the cloudy morning, we harvested close to 100 pounds of greens for the Cambridge and Somerville school systems. We’re looking forward to Wednesday when we’ll be harvesting the first Japanese white turnips of the spring for the second CSA pickup. Now that we’ve had a few sunny and warm days, spinach, salad mix and head lettuce are ready for picking and the first scallions are not far behind.
This past Saturday, we planted out the first round of summer squash (pictured below), and we plan to put in the majority of our peppers tomorrow with the help of a volunteer group. In other words, we’re betting that the danger of frost has passed, though we know that we’re not truly safe in Drumlin’s frost pocket until the first week of June.
Over the weekend, Veronica, with the help of Maddie and Jill, ran our first farmers’ market of the year in Union Square, Somerville. They sold out of all the veggies we brought except for five individual potatoes, and in the process set a new earnings record for opening day! Way to go and thanks to the volunteers who helped fill bags of greens as customers whisked them off the display!
Back at the farm, volunteers from medical device makers Boston Scientific helped us weed rhubarb and plant a round of lettuce and sunflowers this past Thursday (pictured below). It was our first corporate volunteer group of the year after a couple of rain outs, and we were grateful for their assistance.
We’re well under way with the the construction of the new hoop house and the installers expect to finish by Wednesday. The only hitch in the process so far was on the first day when they ran into hardness driving the posts at an even 18 inches of depth along the entire length of the house. When they went to excavate to a depth of 26 inches for the concrete footers, they discovered the hardness was caused by a gravelly material that Adam (the head installer, pictured) described as what’s found beneath a lake.
Because of the evenness of the hard pack and the composition of the material, he hypothesized that Boyce was a lake at some point in the distant past–something we often say by way of explanation for how we get by without irrigation: water wants to be there, and by building soil organic matter, we encourage the moisture to linger in the soil’s network.
Those interested are encouraged to get their hands a little dirty by volunteering in the field with us–we could always use more help! And if you haven’t registered for your Summer CSA yet, shares are still available.
After a long winter, it’s time to get back in the field, with thousands of plantings and a few new additions!
Amazingly, April brought us 6.5 inches of rain, falling over 20 of its 30 cloudy days, with an average temperature of 52 degrees. It’s been challenging just moving around the sodden fields and working with the saturated soil. We’re identifying with the turtle, working within our shells of layered shirts and sweaters, all wrapped-up in our mud-covered rain gear; turtling along, we seeded the first greens and carrots of the season on March 28 and have been seeding and transplanting every week since. We’ve harvested over-wintered spinach for Henrietta’s Table in Cambridge, and greens and radish for our first delivery of the season to the Cambridge and Somerville schools.
Despite limitations of weather, all spring planting projects are on schedule thanks to the dedicated work of this year’s Crops Team. During the week of April 15, we pulled back the straw and weeded the half-acre of strawberries we’ll be picking this summer season, then planted 4,000 new strawberry plants for next year’s harvest.
Do you know the natural indicator to plant potatoes? In early April, 2,500 pounds of potatoes arrived from Maine. We hauled them into the barn loft and arranged them on trays in front of the windows for green-sprouting. By the last week of April, they had sprouted leaves. We cut up the largest potatoes to multiply the seed and planted them on May 1, just a few days after we noticed the first blooming dandelions of the season—our signal to plant.
We were thrilled to learn of the town’s approval for our plan to construct a hoop house by Boyce Field to provide year-round, protected growing space. The potential for increased program offerings and more veggie sales with the help of the structure will be a boon to the farm. Thanks to our staff and our neighbors for working together to identify a suitable location for the structure; construction is scheduled to begin at the end of the month.
By the end of last week had about 40% of the onion crops (24,000 plants!) in the ground–only 33,000 plants to go! Thanks to volunteersAnne, Sheila, Francesca, Sandra, and Anna for seeding the majority of what’s in the greenhouse—especially those onions, where they do not scatter seed, but rather place one seed at a time through a grid, 650 seeds per tray, 88 trays–57,200 plants! We’ve also been using volunteer Fred’s new cold frame to harden-off those onions before moving them to the field. Fred’s design is sturdier than previous iterations and the shed roof design allows us to roll and perch the plastic on the high end, simplifying the process of covering and uncovering the plants on cold or rainy nights—of which there have been too many!
If you haven’t secured your spot in the spring CSA, there’s still time, and we have a few slots still open. If you’re looking to learn more about farm-to-table practices and cooking, we have upcoming programs for adults, teens, and families, where you can get hands-on in the field and kitchen!
The daily news doesn’t often focus on science, but for a day or two last November, scientific exploration took over the headlines as the InSight Lander arrived on Mars. The first mission designed to probe the interior of another planet, InSight traveled more than 300 million miles over seven months. Watching the livestream of those final moments, my family and I found ourselves cheering along with the engineers in the control room as they celebrated their success.
This type of “Big Science” victory is one that my kids and I will remember for a lifetime. But just as important are the “small science” moments that happen every day: a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis or a snowflake crystalizing on a mitten. When we stop to look, we start to wonder. That wonder can begin as a sense of amazement at the “magic” of nature, especially in our youngest visitors, but it can lead to more when presented as a question: I wonder how that caterpillar transformed into an entirely different creature? I wonder why that snowflake formed so differently from the one next to it?
Major scientific breakthroughs may occur only a few times in our lives, but the natural world offers up daily opportunities for us to question, to think, and to learn. What’s more, having a formal scientific degree or engineering background isn’t a prerequisite, only your own curiosity. You don’t even have to know the “right” answer to your or your child’s question; their asking is the most important part. We hope that the inquiries that start here at Drumlin Farm, whether you experience them on your own or alongside our educators, will bring discovery and delight, along with inspiration for all of us to become strong environmental stewards.
Wishing you a year of small-science wonders,
Renata Pomponi Drumlin Farm Sanctuary Director
Our new programs and events catalog for April-September 2019 has arrived, filled with new programs to get you and your family and friends outside exploring. Highlights include:
We are very pleased to announce that Drumlin Farm Camp has a new Camp Director! Meghan Haslam comes to us with environmental education and camp experience from all over the world and we’re thrilled that she will be joining Zach D’Arbeloff in leading our camp and teen programs here at Drumlin Farm. Her predecessor, Becky Gilles, is now the Camp Director at Mass Audubon’s overnight camp Wildwood.
began her career in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, then went on to found and
direct the 4 Walls Project, a housing improvement organization. While
continuing to live and work in Central America, she managed a range of
community and educational programs—including three years as Program Director at
Mountain & Sea Spirit Outdoor Adventures School in
Tatumbla, Honduras. She then returned to the US to become Director of the 100 Elk Outdoor Center in Buena Vista, Colorado.
recently, Meghan oversaw outdoor education and character development programs
for young people and adults at North Carolina Outward Bound School as the Program Director
of their Table Rock Base Camp in Jonas Ridge, North Carolina.
Get to know Meghan and the adventures that lead her to Drumlin Farm with us…
Q: Did you go to camp when you were younger?
A: Yes I did! I attended day camp at Camp Lincoln in NH for years, then an overnight camp in Maine, followed by 8 years as first a camper, then a counselor, at Adventure Unlimited in Buena Vista, CO. I later returned to this beautiful spot in the Rockies to direct school, youth, and corporate programs for the 100 Elk Outdoor Center.
Q: How did your previous experiences shape your interests today?
A: I’ve had the privilege of exploring the outdoors both professionally and personally, and each environment and culture has taught me new perspectives and refreshed my sense of wonder. I feel like my happiest, best self when I am outdoors. Two major experiences that have informed my development and interests today were going to camp and being a counselor when I was a teenager through college, and serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nicaragua. I am still deeply connected to those communities, and they have propelled my respective interests in outdoor experiences and helping people, whether abroad or in the US.
Q: You’ve had professional and environmental experiences all over the world, how do those compare with the Lincoln area and community?
A: Every ecosystem and its habitats, and each set of culture, language, traditions, etc. shapes a place and its character. I am just getting to know Lincoln and the Drumlin Farm, and greater Mass Audubon communities, but new places and people are always exciting to me. One of the things which immediately drew me to Drumlin Farm was the idea of connecting people and nature through outdoor experiences, and helping people understand the relationship between our food production and natural habitats. My enthusiasm about Drumlin Farm sky-rocketed when I was getting to know several staff members while visiting. I asked them to describe Drumlin in three words or fewer, and every person responded with the word “community”. Other words focused on teaching and discovery, as well as the staff’s commitment to raising awareness of climate change. All of those things sounded fantastic, but the strong sense of community especially spoke to me.
I discovered the importance of community when, at the end of my first year in Peace Corps, I had to evacuate my site in a rural Nicaraguan town due to heavy rains and flooding. I wanted nothing more than to return to my community and help out. It was a pivotal moment which led me to start a community-based housing improvement project that grew into a much larger initiative bringing volunteers from all over the world to connect with families and build homes. Over the years of working outdoors, the inextricable links between nature and communities have become ever clearer. I left my first visit at Drumlin Farm with the understanding that its mission was to develop connections between communities and their environments, and that felt like an ideal fit for me.
Q: What are you most looking forward to in your first summer as the Drumlin Farm Camp Director?
A: I found my voice and self-confidence as a young person at camp. Now, my favorite aspect of camp is supporting both campers and staff as they learn and grow. It is a marvelous opportunity to watch and help young people blossom into their best selves through both challenges and having fun. I’m excited to learn new lessons about the farm, wildlife, and this particular set of habitats, and to share those with our campers. Helping them be happy, healthy, and inspired is a really cool job to have.
Q: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
A: I enjoy being outside with my big, fluffy dog and my partner–whether on a beach, in the woods, on a mountain, or just around town. I spend time hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, and skiing whenever possible. Reading, photography, writing, and speaking Spanish also bring me great joy. I work with two international organizations, the 4 Walls Project, the home improvement initiative in Nicaragua, and a girls’ scholarship program, One New Education (ONE), and visit my Peace Corps town on a regular basis via both of these projects. I love traveling, exploring new places and cultures, and bringing people with me to experience the adventure.
Edie Sisson is a Drumlin Farm superstar. She has been teaching at Drumlin Farm for fifty years, and during that time has opened countless people’s eyes to the wonders of nature. She believes in living sustainably, and her household includes chickens, geese, and honeybees, and for many years she provided many thousands of fertilized eggs for incubation to schoolchildren across the state, while her late husband, Tom, served as Drumlin Farm’s beekeeper. She also believes, passionately, in social justice and in the power of an individual to make a difference.
In 2007, she founded the Drumlin Farm Outreach and Assistance Resources (DOAR) program to provide scholarship support to make Drumlin Farm available to schools, families, and others for whom the financial barriers were too high, as well as to increase the diversity and accessibility of our community. Thanks to the DOAR Program, many people have been able to experience the magic of nature and the farm first hand. Seeing wildlife up close, getting your hands dirty in the garden caring for plants, and observing the interconnectedness of the natural world are lessons that last a life time and have inspired many, thanks to Edie’s push for inclusiveness.
On November 20, Drumlin colleagues past and present joined with Edie’s family to celebrate both her 90th birthday and her 50th anniversary at Drumlin Farm with a lunch in her honor. Just a couple of days before Thanksgiving, it was a perfect opportunity to reflect on all that Edie has brought to our community and give thanks for her!
If you would like to make a gift to the DOAR Fund to help support socially diverse programs at Drumlin Farm, please contact Polly Reeve (firstname.lastname@example.org, 781-259-2239).