Monday, May 5, 2014

T is for Transplant

Much like fashion professionals, farmers with hoop houses get to work a good bit ahead of the rest of the world. There may still be snow on the ground, but we're thinking spring. Spring finally breaks and we leap ahead to summer. Come fall, we're eking out even more vegetables after the first frost has cut short the outdoor season. It's amazing what the sun and a sheet of plastic can accomplish!

This past weekend, we transplanted tomatoes and peppers we started back in March into one of the hoop houses. We won't be able to transplant the paste tomatoes in the field for another month—and by then the varieties in the hoop house should be at least a foot tall.

Because we start all of our tomatoes from seed—once you start a few, you may as well go for volume—we offer transplants for sale to home gardeners, as well. We favor indeterminate varieties, for their grace on a trellis, and with each plant we sell, we offer a little tutorial on tomato transplantation and pruning.

This year, we'll offer nine varieties, in nearly every color of the rainbow:

Black Cherry: Purple and perfectly round, a rich burst of flavor in one bite. Beautiful in a salad of mixed cherry tomatoes.

Cherokee Purple: A beefsteak-style heirloom whose brownish-purple, one-pound fruits retain their green shoulders even when ripe. 

Garden Peach: As fuzzy as its namesake—and similarly colored—this salad-sized fruit is mild and juicy. Picked green, it will ripen indoors after the first frost has blackened its vines.

Gold Medal: Bright gold, one-pound fruits streaked with red. A juicy, sweet sunset on your plate!

Green Zebra: The name says it all, but for describing its incredible flavor. Never red, but the best tasting salad tomato you'll try.

Peacevine: The organic, non-hybrid answer to the Sweet 100, a prolific and delicious red cherry.

Pink Brandywine: Famed for its challenging disposition in the garden and its extraordinary flavor, this thin-skinned beefsteak averages one-pound fruits.

San Marzano: a sweet, low-acidity plum prized in Italy for its meaty flesh, easy peeling, and sparse seeds.

Sungold: The only hybrid tomato we offer, this brilliant orange and prolific cherry boasts the sweetest fruit we've tasted. Even sweeter dried for winter snacking.

Yellow Perfection: A perfectly round, thin-skinned and versatile saladette that fruits early and yields heavily throughout the season.

Of course, there's more to summer gardening than tomatoes (we've heard) and so we'll also have available at market: certified organic German butterball seed potatoes, Diablo brussel sprouts, Prisma red shallots, Ping Tung Long and Rosita eggplant seedlings, King of the North sweet and Hidalgo serrano hot peppers, and purple tomatillo plants for sale. Perennial offerings include potted sage, valerian, and an heirloom yellow primrose. We'll offer licorice and horseradish pre-order, only.

Market starts on May 15. Look for us every Thursday from 4–7pm under the red tent in front of Red Feet Wine Market in the Franklin Plaza.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

S is for Support



As this bitterly cold and blustery winter howls on, the Tree Gate Farm CSA is living proof that while the acronym CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, the relationship between members and farmers is about more than money. Here at Tree Gate Farm, the material support our members furnish comes with phenomenal and unstinting moral support. Lucky, lucky farmers we are.

The latest reminder of that support was the CSA fair, a marketing event hosted by Tompkins County Cooperative Extension in a local middle school cafeteria.

Early each March, we update our brochure, put together a slide show of farm photos, assemble an array of colorful produce, display some of our handmade soap (a special gift for new members), and get ready to talk. Over the course of three hours, a few hundred prospective locavores wander through, visiting with purveyors of everything from apples to zucchini (ha, ha), picking up brochures, and asking a LOT of great questions. 

Tree Gate Farm drew a spot between a sprout CSA (best salad ever!) and a mushroom CSA. Also represented: hard cider, bread, pickles, even bison meat. Was there ever any question that we live in the absolutely most fabulous place to eat local?!

Perhaps the highlight for us was the number of participants from our 2013 CSA who came by to say hello and renew their membership for 2014. I can't remember the last time I got that many hugs! Or maybe the highlight was their many friends, family members, and colleagues who explained that one of our members had sent them to learn more about our quirky model for providing affordable access to fresh fruits and vegetables, pastured meat, even cut flowers, vigorous garden transplants, and handmade soaps. Wow -- we're honored!

Once again, we printed so many brochures we were sure we wouldn't run out -- and then we did. So for folks who didn't make it to the fair or who missed out on the text version of what we offer, click here.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Dinner on the farm

On Sunday, we went to Remembrance Farm to help out with the Health Food For All dinner. Some volunteers help organize, greet, or wait tables. We wash dishes. By pitching in, we support an effort we believe in, (Tree Gate is a participating farm) and I don't have to interact with too many people. ;-)

This time, we got to meet the chefs from the Carriage House Cafe and taste some their wonderful, locally-sourced food. Growing up spending time in the back of the house at the Tarrytown Conference Center, I remember dad creating stunning plates heaped with delicacies "born" from the impenetrable walk-in cooler. At least it was scary to me since I couldn't reach the door handle, and the fear of being locked in was instilled by my big sister, who occasionally threatened to lock me inside .... uh, more on the childhood traumas some other time perhaps.

Anyway, even though the busy summer season is in full swing, we do try to sneak in some good meals with all of the produce coming out of the field. Tonight we gussied up one of our favorite meals, home-made pizza, with some chanterelle mushrooms, kale, and oven-roasted garlic. Each of the four pizzas had something different. One with our hot serrano peppers. They haven't turned red yet, but still probably a three on the Scoville scale. Another had local sauerkraut in place of the tomato sauce. Sounds totally weird, right? Sooo goood.



But now that dinner is done and the chickens are put to bed, it's time for good little farmers to go to sleep, too. We're harvesting tomorrow, starting shortly after dawn, and then off to set up our farm stand outside of Red Feet Wine Market. See you there?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Rhubarb!!!

Holy cow -- the rhubarb my mom divided for us three years ago has exploded this year. Lots of composted manure, sheet mulching with cardboard, and a mountain of wood chips has really paid off.
It's great having all this rhubarb to fill out our booth at market and as something special for our CSA customers early in the season. Among them, Felicia's Atomic Lounge, Just a Taste, and The Good Truck can go through 30-40 lbs a week too!

The pigs moved into their second pastured area yesterday and the chickens are enjoying hanging out under the Mirabelle plums, which have just finished blossoming. Fingers crossed that this year, we'll have fruit!

The bread truck we're borrowing from Red Tail Farm is parked behind the shed these days, while we build out a homemade cooler in the back for our mobile market. The CoolBot -- a high-tech hack that transforms an air conditioner into a veggie cooler -- arrived in today's mail. This weekend, we'll pick up the rest of the components and finish framing and insulating the back of the truck.  Pictures to follow when we have our grand opening -- or at least when we get it washed off. It's been sitting for a while and looks a little grimy.

Time to get back out and finish planting and transplanting. We seeded all of the sweet corn yesterday for our fourth season of Three Sisters planting trials (Here's a link from 2010 where we describe our trials). We're growing 2,000 row feet this year with three different corn varieties (thanks to Michael Glos of Kingbird Farm, for the consult!). After the corn is established, we'll plant a menagerie of squash and beans.

Half an hour until the next wave of rain comes our way and the beet seeds are calling my name . . .

Friday, April 5, 2013

Send in the Reinforcements!

Early in spring, we labor primarily in the greenhouses, where a few swipes of a hoe are all it takes to prepare the soil. That's the joy of the permanent raised bed system we created. Swaths of soil alternate with the strips of grass where we walk and drive. Thick mulch blanketing the planting beds insures that the earthworms and other mini soil movers deep in the dirt have plenty of fluffy organic matter to aerate. Since we keep our heavy feet and the equipment tires in the grass, we refrain from needless soil compaction and the veggies get the benefit of loose, rich soil in which to set their roots.

In the pasture, however, it's another story. To work that soil, we bring in the real digging experts:


Piglets -- and the hogs they'll become over the next six months -- are incredible earth movers. They seem to take no greater joy than rooting about in the perennial weeds that are a legacy of our land's long history of corn and hay harvests. By using electric fence to keep them focused on one plot at a time and moving them frequently, we give the pigs plenty of self-serve salad and tubers to supplement their diet of organic whole and milled grains and they give us weed eradication. They leave behind fresh manure, which we til into the soil before seeding such crops as buckwheat, peas and oats, and winter wheat to further aerate the soil with their roots. And then the following year, we plant potatoes -- or tomatoes, corn, cabbage, kale, tomatillos, or any of the dozens of other veggies we harvest each summer.

But at the moment, we're talking piglets:


Aren't they super cute? That dark skin and hair is no accident. The farmer who raises them knows we need heavy pigmentation for critters who will spend a full summer in the sun -- so much better than pharmaceuticals for killing germs and promoting health -- so he makes sure we get the pick of his darkest colored litters. A white pig with a sunburn is a deeply unhappy creature. And can you imagine putting sunscreen on a hog? Talk about catching a greased pig! 

When their job on the farm is done, the pigs will weigh about 300 pounds -- the perfect size for a butcher to transform into bacon, chops, ham, roasts, and sausage. There's no mistaking the flavor and texture of pastured pork for "the other white meat." For details on how to fill your freezer with this delicious product, e-mail us: treegatefarm [at] gmail [dot] com!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Its CSA Fair season

Our friends at NOFA-NY posted a calendar of CSA fairs throughout the upstate area. In Ithaca, Cooperative Extension sponsors the local event -- this Saturday, March 2, at Boynton Middle School from 12-3pm. We'll be there to tell people about our new CSA pick-up option -- our mobile farm stand will be outside The Piggery and Red Feet Wine on Wednesday evenings. We'll also continue with our Friday happy hour market at Felicia's Atomic Lounge. This year we'll be parked across the street from Felicia's in the Ithaca Foreign Car Service parking lot. Why across the street? We're hoping to leave the pickup truck at home and sell out of a converted 24-foot bread truck equipped with an insulated area that keeps the veggies cool using an air conditioner and a Coolbot.  Here's a picture of Sharon working on pulling out some old plywood and styrofoam insulation, early in the construction phase.

We still have a long way to go to frame in the cooler area and insulate it, but first we need to seal up the old skylights and other holes in the roof, walls, and floor. The truck belongs to our friends at Red Tail Farm and it's a joint project to get it up and running so that both of our farms can use it to haul more to market. Unfortunately for them, the truck is too large to park at the Ithaca Farmer's Market, so for the time being Tree Gate will be the primary user of the truck.

One of the reasons our farm has been able to flourish and expand each year had been through the wonderful mentorship and resource sharing from other local farms. As beginning farmers, we really didn't have the experience, knowledge, or bank accounts to launch a fully functioning farm on our own. So each year we've worked a little more of our land and borrowed a few pieces of equipment from other farms, sometimes for just a few hours or in the case of tools that had been languishing in a hedgerow or at the back of a barn, on very extended loan. We have some friends who've borrowed heavily to launch their enterprises more quickly than we have. For us, our slow progression has allowed us to grow into our learning curve as farmers and ponder how to best steward our land.

Here's one more photo from earlier in the month. Over the past year or so, I've been taking regular pictures from the back porch to give a sense of our progression season-by-season and year over year. This is a shot from that series, taken just inside the back door.

The layer of ice on the glass and the 50mph wind gusts convinced me that working on the year's seed planting schedule -- at the computer -- was of more importance on that day than tractor repair or fieldwork. I'm clearly getting soft in my old age. Those used to sound like the perfect conditions for cutting out of the office to go camping in some remote national forest. Now I get all that and more just walking out the back door. :-)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Seeds and snow

Morning temps in the negative degrees (F) and the last seed order submitted with a group of farmer friends. We're ordering from four seed companies this year (Johnny's, Fedco, Seed Savers, and High Mowing, with some Seeds of Change and Kitazawa seed packets leftover from last season). Fingers crossed that none of the 'winning' varieties are sold out. We spent a lot of couch time over the last few weeks debating disease resistance, customer appeal, and how certain varieties might grow well with others.

We'll again experiment with several combinations of corn, beans, and squash in our fourth year of "three sisters" trials. The Native American tradition of planting corn in mounds, surrounded by trellising bean varieties with squash on the ground at their feet, is one of the multi-species plantings that we're working on. We'll try some recently released varieties of sweet corn that are specifically bred for organic production, as well as some less aggressive vining beans and even a section with fancy soybeans in place of the traditional climbers.

Not much outside work getting done this week. Too cold to replace the Jeep's brake lines in the unheated and windy three-sided shed. At least the chickens have a heat lamp at night in their insulated coop and a well protected area inside and beneath the pig shelter. They also have an electric water heater to keep their water from freezing up. They haven't liked the 40-plus mile per hour wind gusts the last couple of days, but they cluster in the shelter and occasionally peek out to make noise whenever they see me out.



I used a plastic kid's sled to skid a bag of organic chicken feed and whole grains from Oechsner Farms to give them a little extra something to scratch for amidst the hay on the floor of the shelter.

The other fun thing we're doing with our indoor time is gathering together with other organic farmers at NOFA-NY's winter conference. It will be good to catch up with our farmer friends, share dreams of the coming year, see what we can learn to improve our methods, . . . and wait patiently for the seeds to arrive. :-)