Tuesday, May 22, 2007


It looks like war!

I mean sometime in the night there was a sneak attack.

Actually, the first attack might have been two nights ago but I guess by now we know all about faulty intelligence.

(we are considering appointing a blue ribbon panel to examine intelligence failures but first things first. And the first thing is to assess the casualties).

Casualties were in the thousands.

The thought of it makes me ill.

But there is no time to mourn. This is a time for action.

In fact we held a war council first thing this morning and immediately went into action.

Why, you might ask, why didn't we take action before we were attacked? Of course, its easy to play Monday morning quarterback and yes we are forming yet another blue ribbon panel to get to the bottom of this and other issues but first let's do this weeks farm news.

1. We are down to the home stretch. Less than two weeks until first delivery. It is now time to decide on a pick up location. Last night I went through the information I have from every shareholder and divided the shareholders up into seven different groups. One for each pick up day and one for the people who haven't yet been put into a group. Early next week I will send out an e-mail with your pick up spot. If the information is not correct get back to me (there is no need to contact me if I have the correct information).

2. If I do not have you down for a site I will also send out an e-mail. In that case get back to me with the site you plan on using the first week. (You can change pick up sites every week by giving me a day's notice).

3. The pick up locations are listed on our webpage. I haven't changed it yet but we are going with the Dupont Circle site from last year, the building at 16th and P. This might move a block sometime during the season. The Herndon site, though, has moved. Instead of to the left of the bank as you face it we will use the parking lot behind the bank. Otherwise, all locations are the same as last year.

4. Here is how the pick ups will work:
A. You show up to the location during the pick up times.
B. On the first pick up day I will give you a large canvas tote bag to carry your vegetables in. (it will help if you bring half a dozen smaller grocery store type produce bags. Several people have given me the url's for buying these bags made out of cotton instead of plastic. I will find the url's and get back to you).
C. At the site there will be a board with a list posted of the days vegetables and how many of each, each size share gets.
D. The day's vegetables will be placed in a row in large bins.
E. You line up and file past each bin selecting the amount of vegetables from each bin that your share gets.
some terms you mights see
ayce -- all the members of your share can personally eat in a week)
handful -- terms like this always refer to my mine. I have rather large hands.
some -- less than a lot but more than a smidgen.

The first month there are going to be a lot of greens in the share with some rather inexact measurements. Let's try not to get uptight about my failure to give you exact measurements. The goal here is to divide up what we have growing out in the field amongst the shareholders in a way that satisfies everyone. Part of my job, besides planning and growing the vegetables, is to figure out how much to harvest each day. I attempt to plan for more than enough vegetables for everyone to eat. Here's how it works.

Each year I plan for x number of people to be members (shareholders) in our farm (x this year equals 800. 300 two person shares and 200 one person shares. We are real close to that number right now including the 30 shares that have been requested but not paid for).

Every year I plan for growing the amount of vegetables that x people will eat each week, plus 20 percent extra.

For things like broccoli this is pretty easy. I figure that two servings of broccoli (the amount a two person share would get in a week) is a healthy head of broccoli. Since I can't really divide a head of broccoli for the one person share I also plan for a head of broccoli in the one person share. That's why the one person share costs 3/4 the price of the two person share. The one person is getting about 3/4 the amount of veggies of the two person share (the same with vegetables that can't be divided like broccoli or eggplant, half as much with things like greens and string beans).

That means each week that broccoli is in the share I'm going to need 500 heads of broccoli (200 heads for the 200 one person shares and 300 heads for the 300 two person shares).

Unfortunately, even with the best of planning 'things' happen. And they happen pretty regularly. So, to try to account for 'things' I add 20%, meaning, instead of planting 500 broccoli plants, I plant 600.

Which sometimes, considering what happened last night, isn't always enough (I'll get around to that in a moment).

And this is really one of the things that makes a CSA different than going to the grocery store and paying for your vegetables at the checkout counter.

From my experience, the usual figure for the 'things' equation is 20%. Meaning, instead of 600 broccoli out in the field 'things' happened to 100 broccoli plants before we get to harvest them. Which gives you, the shareholder, the amount of broccoli I planned to go in your share. That's good, everyone gets enough to eat.

But, what if this year's 'things' are really bad. What if instead of the usual there is a plague of harlequin bugs and instead of losing 100 plants we lose 300. What then?

What happens then, with a CSA, is there are only 300 broccoli to divide between 500 shareholders. Which means maybe instead of getting four weeks of broccoli you only get two week. Half of the shareholders get broccoli one week and the other half get broccoli the next week. And so on.

But on the other hand, what if 'things' don't happen. What if we get all 600 heads and not only that, this year the rain came just when we needed it and there weren't any pests at all and the temperature was perfect and what if this year each head was twice as large as usual.

If that happens with a CSA we now divide up instead of 500 heads, we divide up 600 heads. And instead of giving out heads that weigh x we give out heads that heads that weight twice X.

In other words, unlike the supermarket (or farmers market) in bad years the shareholders get smaller shares because the harvest is smaller. And in good years they get larger shares because the harvest is larger.

But each year, with a CSA, we're all in it together, good, bad and average.

Understand? No? Well, don't worry. I will be trying all season long to make this point and other points that make CSA's different from your average supermarket experience.

Now let's get back to the war.

Out here on the frontier we are constantly in danger of attack. If its not one thing its another. Especially when it comes to something as tasty as vegetables.

It seems that humans aren't the only critters that like broccoli (or sweet corn or beans or... well a lot of things).

In particular there are two critters out there that do not in anyway honor the human concept of property rights.

I think I've mentioned the ever popular white tailed deer several times now.

Unfortunately, last night we had an encounter with another varmint. The groundhog (Marmota monax). Officially called the woodchuck, the groundhog especially loves young tender plants. Things like baby broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, pac choi, string beans, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers. In fact I think it will eat anything we eat and it will eat it at a much younger age.

Last night, while I don't have a picture or even an eye witness account of the dastardly deed, over 2000 plants were mowed, should we say chomped, down.

I'm blaming the groundhog for this act of vandalism. I think a groundhog went out there last night under cover of dark and attempted to make us go hungry this season.

And while we don't actually know the groundhogs motive yet (could it be because we are free to walk on two legs and its forced to travel on four?)

We need to do something now.

If it (they) ate 2000 plants last night, it can eat 2000 again tonight and then next night and the next until we just X out broccoli on our vegetable list for the season.

And while we do have the extra seedlings to repair last night's damage we can't keep it up for ever.

We need to deal with the cause. The root-cause, if you will, now

And, unfortunately posting the garden with no trespassing signs just isn't going to work.

Even if the woodchuck deemed to read human, I don't think it would listen.

And while I have had people in the past suggest I try to come to some sort of a working agreement with groundhogs, you know, grow a field for the humans and a field for the wild animals, that strategy hasn't actually worked.

It seems that Marmota monax as a species refuses to concede the right to define rules of property and behavior to any other species, especially not to humans.

So, what do you suggest I do? How do we preserve the broccoli in the field for us, the humans, and how do we deny it to the woodchuck?

(And before you give me those suggestions, here's another philosophical question for you. Do you really think its fair, you know, us humans, telling all the woodchucks and deer, the species that have refused to come to a working relationship with us, the humans, that allows us to enforce our will and rules on them despite what they think? Do you think that's fair?)


Leigh Hauter

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Blue Jays

(this was another delayed post. It went out on time to subscribers and those on our newsletter list)

We have a heavy duty philosophical question to be answered this week concerning aggression, perceptions, group think and just plain old behavioral psychology.

Of course I'm talking about blue jays.

But, before we get around to a discussion this heavy and possibly uncomfortable, let's go through the bright side and talk about this week's farm news.

First, last weekend was 'shareholders come to the farm, look around, get a tour and pick up seedlings' weekend.

We had set out 6000 various seedlings. A lot of tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, eggplant and a fairly good selection of just about everything else we grow. There was well over 1000 flowers and another 1000 herbs.

These are seedlings we start along side the ones we grow to put out in the fields. Seedlings that are a sort of security blanket.

They are the reserve team incase disaster strikes the fields.

In case a late frost wipes out 2000 basil plants (that happened two years ago).

Or in case a deer or two moseys through a hole in the deer fence and eats 1000 broccoli plants before the deer can be run off and the fence patched (three years ago)

Or if a ground hog happens to dig under a fence and finds several thousand young tasty pac choi to its likings (again, last year).

I've long since learned that a thousand pepper seedlings (or tomatoes or broccoli or... well anything) are not available on short notice.

So we start extras. And if it turns out we don't need them, instead of tipping (turning them over and reusing the flats and trays). We let shareholders pick through them.

So, last Saturday we took out 6000 extra seedlings out of the greenhouse and send out a notice to shareholders.

And while each year this event is becoming more and more popular, we didn't expect last weekends turnout.

Something like 300 people showed up at the farm last week and took home with them over 5000 seedlings.

Wow. That was something. It almost overwhelmed us with all the people and cars and questions (thank you Wenonah for taking off from your job to help hand out the seedlings while I went around answering questions and giving tours of the farm).

So, what I'm building up to say is that I have more seedlings.

This past week we've been planting, and planting and we've filled most of our fields, and while a couple deer did break end and eat several thousand plants, those have been replaced. And the seedlings that didn't take have been replanted. And the lone groundhog has been dealt with and his damage replaced.

But we still have extra seedlings with no place to call home.

So I was thinking, instead of tipping half a dozen thousand vegetable seedlings I'd give them away to the people that came out this coming Saturday. (May 19th) Let's make the time 10-12. No earlier than 10 and at 12 I'm going to close the gate, put a chain with a padlock on it eat lunch and go on a bike ride.

Last weekend we had Wenonah help with handing out seedlings but that's not her job. She has a day job. And this weekend she won't be around. It will just be me.

Last weekend I had cut up several hundred dollars worth of flats so people would have something to take their seedlings home in. This weekend you will need to bring something of your own to hold these 3/4 inch in diameter seedlings. (I won't be supplying anything).

Last weekend it was open to only 2007 shareholders, this weekend if you are on the newsletter list you can get seedlings too (don't advertise it on your blogs or newsletters though, let's just keep it between us).

Last weekend I didn't set a numerical limit on the number of seedlings people could take away with them, this weekend lets say the most you can take home is 25 seedlings.

Last weekend there were flowers, herbs and various vegetables set out. This weekend it will be predominately vegetables. The extra flowers and herbs are mostly gone.

This week I'll be setting out a dozen or so varieties of tomatoes, peppers (hot and sweet) eggplant, fennel, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Italian basil, Thai basil, ground cherries, tomatillos, endives,luffas, gourds and probably 5 or 10 other varieties in small numbers.

Finally (I hate to set out rules), last weekend I let people go through the asparagus bed unsupervised and cut their fill. after spending three hours this past Tuesday afternoon fixing the damage to the miscut asparagus plants I don't think that was such a good idea.

Since it will only be me here,and no one else to give help and advise, let's limit this event to a strictly 'come out to the farm and get seedlings' sort of thing.

Of course is you want to go on a picnic, I can point out a place and if you are interested in hiking the mountain, I will try to make it up there tomorrow with a roll of surveyor ribbon to mark the trail.

So, with all those rules and caveats, I look forward to seeing you this weekend. And if you didn't get last week's newsletter with the notes about our road, drop me a note and I'll send it to you.

Other farm news:

Shareholders. In the next week I will be sending out an e-mail confirming which pick up location you are signed up for (yes, you can switch locations but this is to make sure I have you getting your vegetables somewhere for the first week). When you get this e-mail correct me if I'm wrong.

Pick up spots. Two of the sites are still somewhat in the air. It looks like the Dupont Circle area spot will remain where it has been for the past decade. The building at 16th and P, I understand, is still empty. I will tell you the final location with next week's e-mail.

The Herndon site, I've been told, is no longer there. The parking lot we were using is now a construction site with a building rising from the rubble. I will find a new location close by over the next week and get back to you.

Besides that everything out here is going along smoothly. Half of our tote bags have arrived. Ten new bee hives arrived in the mail this last week and have been boxed and placed.

Most of the crops are in the ground. Everything seems to be coming along fine. No late frosts, no horrible diseases, no insect pests, no major mammal misunderstandings (two deer did sneak inside the fence yesterday but we managed to chase them out after they had only eaten several hundred plants The anti-deer fence has since been repaired).

Our subscription list is full. I contacted all the people that signed up but had forgotten to pay. The ones that responded with a new payment plan are still on the subscription list. The ones that didn't get back to me were dropped and their places filled with people from the waiting list.

The only problem I see right now are weeds. Weeds growing in the rows, Weeds coming up through the holes punched in the plastic and, weeds trying to choke our tender young seedlings.

I'm starting to think that we could use some help with the weeds.

How about this? If you have a spare day during the week (we will organize weekend 'farm days' later when we have free weekends) but if you have extra time during the week and can think of nothing you would rather do than to come out to the farm and pull weeks, e-mail me. I can no doubt accommodate you.

And the other thing I almost forgot about, and now that this newsletter has gotten so long will have to give short shift.

What do you think of blue jays?

I have this memory from somewhere. I think its from about 25 or so years back when I lived in Falls Church.

I remember this bird nest outside our door. And I remember this blue jay.

I remember the birds in the nest raising, first eggs, and then little baby chicks, and I remember the blue jay.

It would come around and the parents, not liking it as a neighbor, would attack and peck and run it off. Day after day.

Only I remember this one afternoon. The parents most have been out, searching for food for their babies, when suddenly the blue jay appeared.

Swooped down.

Landed on the edge of the nest, And with one quick movement, reached in, shook the chick, and instantly killed it.

The parent appeared right around then but it was too late. The jay flew off with the dead chicks body.

I think about that these days with the blue bird box out the window, the nest inside, the baby chicks and now, the pair of blue jays hanging around.

The other day one of the blue jays landed on the roof outside my window. There is a bird feeder there with sunflower seeds and an endless stream of finches and warblers and even an occasional grosbeak or two.

When the blue jays landed on the roof even their simple movements when picking up seeds were aggressive.

Quick, jerking, motions.

The other smaller birds looked on in horror and then I don't remember what bird it was, but one of them flew down pecking at the blue jay, catching it right in the neck and flew off.

The blue jays weren't deterred. They quickly, with their jerking aggressive motions, picked up several more seeds before flying off. Disappearing, I don't know where.

And now that I've said it, now that I've described the picture, I don't know how to ask the question.

What is it about the blue jays that makes the other birds just not like them.

Obviously they are aggressive, predators. I mean, I've seen with my own eyes a blue jay in the act of robbing a nest.

But that's not what was happening outside the bird feeder. They weren't being aggressive. They were just their eating, just like the other birds.

Why were they attacked?

Anyway, have a great weekend and maybe see you this weekend.

Leigh Hauter


(this is a delayed post. It went out on time to 2007 subscribers. If you aren't a member of our farm this year, maybe next)

OK, first things first.

We will be having the 'come out to the farm and get free seedlings' event this Saturday. That's 10 am until 1pm, Saturday, May 12th.

As always with these things, the early bird gets whatever it is the early bird is after.

I have set aside about 6000 seedlings so there should be plenty for everyone. I will also have some seedling trays for you to put your selection in.

Directions to our farm are on our web page.

The last mile of the trip out here is on a one lane gravel private road. If you haven't been out before the question that is most often asked is, 'what do I do if I meet a car coming from the other direction?' and the answer is, 'one of you will have to back up to a place where two cars can get by'. There is usually one of these things every 100 yards or so. The rule of thumb (which I don't always follow when meeting someone on the road) is 'be nice.' Yes, it is true, some of my neighbors aren't always good neighbors when it comes to meeting someone traveling in the other directions. But mostly they are.

This is usually a fairly big event and we don't have a lot of parking but that usually isn't a problem. I won't be out there directing parking but there will be enough parking spaces. Try not to park someone else in, though.

To the best of my memory here's the seedlings we'll have out for you to pick through:

About a dozen types of tomatoes, many sweet peppers, hot peppers, various eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi, oregano, thyme, tarragon, sage, epazote, sorrel, catnip, marigolds, salvia, celosia, black-eyed susans, Italian basil, dill, fennel, and pac choi. I'm sure there's another half dozen or so varieties but I can't recall without running up to the greenhouse and looking (and I don't feel like doing that right now).

Other rules?

Number One!
Please don't bring your dog. We have the sweetest large dog, a great Pyrenees, and while she wouldn't dream of hurting a human. She loves people. (children can beat her with sticks and she won't get upset) However, GP's have been bred for a long, long time to not trust strange dogs (and other strange animals) no matter how nice and sweet (or ferocious) they are.. The chance is very strong that Andorra will not be friendly to your dog if you bring her out. Andorra is a working livestock dog.

And that's about it for rules. Everything else is pretty much obvious. Don't stomp on the vegetables. Don't let your child start up the tractor (this has happened). If it looks like poison ivy, it probably is.

Besides that, if you want to go for a hike, I can point you in the right direction. Our valley is several miles long with a number of nice trails.

There is plenty of room to have lunch. I'll try to have lemonade. At least there will be spring water to drink.

If you want to pick vegetables there will be sorrel and herbs to pick.

And that's about it.

I will be showing people around the farm. Explaining our history. Explaining which crops are planted when and give those who are interested a brief run down on our farming philosophy, etc.

Hope to see you this weekend.

Leigh Hauter

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Andorra in the dark

I knew something was out there when Andorra started barking at just after 2 am.

She started barking and didn’t let up.

She might have been barking for half an hour when I finally got up and listened. Andorra’s not the sort of dog to just bark for just any ol' reason.

When Andorra barks, she barks for a reason.

A real reason. A threat. A predator. A marauder. Some creature creeping in the dark toward our farm.

Sometimes, maybe, she will see a scary moon beam scurry through the forest and she’ll bark. Once. Or twice. But she’ll immediately follow the bark up with an investigation. Running across the field, stand at the edge of the forest. Watching.

Looking around, Investigating. checking it out.

And if nothing moves, if, whatever had first spooked her, is gone, she'll turn and walk back to the farmhouse.

This time, though, she had run up the hill, barking as she ran, and stopped.

Still barking.

That’s when I sat up.

I really didn’t want to get out of bed.

I opened the window and listened.

Now if she was over by the chickens. In the far field. We call the cemetery field (in the middle of the field is the old walled family cemetery) If she was over there and barking and barking again, that would mean there was something over there going after the chickens. Going after the geese and the turkeys. And whatever it was, it hadn’t run away when Andorra had appeared.

And if that was the case, if something was over there that wasn’t afraid of a 150 pound dog barking in the dark.

If that was the case then I better get up, unlock our gun closet, take out the shotgun, throw on some clothes, put on my boots, put some shells in my pocket and get over there real quick.

Andorra needed help.

(News flash. Right now, in the middle of the day. Outside my window, the post on the edge of the field with the bluebird nest box. A blue jay has landed on top of the post and the bluebirds, both bluebirds. The couple. The two of them are swooping down, one at a time, and pecking at its head. One of the couple just pecked the jay hard in the back of the head, knocking it off the post and its flying away. Both bluebirds are chasing. I’m watching but the action is over. All three birds have disappeared across the field and into the forest).

But back to the story.

If she needs help I better get up and go out there. But the bed is nice and comfortable and it’s the middle of the night.

I pulled up the window and listened.

She was still barking. Something was definitely out there. What? Something was still out there, but barking wasn’t coming from the cemetery field.

She was up around the greenhouse, up on the hill. Up there I couldn't think of anything a predator was going to hurt.

If it was a deer eating vegetables Andorra would have run it off by now.

The only other thing I could think about were dogs. Two dogs in particular. I have a wildlife camera up there and in the past a shepherd and a pit bull have tripped the camera.

Those dogs belong to a neighbor.

He lets them loose at night and they've been coming over here. They cut through the forest and up there, behind the greenhouse is a gate.

It must be open and the neighbor’s dogs come through looking for trouble.

I listened a few moments longer.

If it was those dogs and they didn’t run away when Andorra barked then it was their problem. Two strange dogs are not going to cause our Great Pyrenees any trouble protecting her farm in the middle of the night.

If they were foolish enough not to turn around when she barked and go home than Andorra didn’t need any help. She could handle that situation.

I turned over and went to sleep and didn’t realize what had happened until the next morning.

(News update. I see the bluebirds have returned. No sign, however, of the Jay. One of the bluebirds quickly looked in at the nest opening then came out and landed on top of the post and looked around. Thinking, I imagine, all is well).

Which returns us to the other night.

Andorra continued barking but I went back to sleep. And in the morning, we were going to put about 1000 tomatoes into the ground. 100 each of ten different varieties (Roma, Celebrity, Italian paste, Rutgers, German Johnston, Big Pink, Lemon Boy, Zebra, Early Girl and Sungold)

And as I walked up to the greenhouse, right about where all the fuss from the night before took place, there were hundreds, maybe thousands of bees circling in the air.

This is where several bee hives had been.

I stopped and looked. One of the few hives that survived the winter had been attacked the night before. Sometime during the night someone or something had picked up the hive, one box at a time, and threw the boxes as far apart as they could.

I've seen this before. Several times. And once you’ve seen it, you know what has happened.

The first time, thought, the first time I went out to my hives and saw them scattered like this I thought it was vandals.

“Someone during the night,” I wrote to a bee list-serve, “went out to my apiary and turned over all my bee hives.”

But, that’s not what happened.

“It’s not people,” someone wrote, “it’s bears. The first night they turn over the hives. the next night, once the bees have been scattered, the bear comes back and helps hersel"f.

So, that’s what all the barking was about. The night before,Andorra was busy confronting a bear. The bear had come out of the forest and decided that a beehive would make a tasty meal.

Only, there's a small problem getting to all that honey and larva (yes, larva, a bees first choice in gourmet dining). Stinging insects. But bears have learned. The way to deal with bees is to first break up their hive.

Then come back the next night and eat the honey (and larva).

(next week I’ll tell you what a beekeeper can do to dissuade bears from eating one's honey)