Baby Hannah’s First Visit to Painted Turtle Farm

Elizabeth Weller, our farm expert, recently had a baby! Baby Hannah visited the farm late last week. Her eyes were barely open but she smiled most of the time we were out there (a natural!). Seven pound Hannah turned one month old the day she came to visit. As Elizabeth took a look at the farm, Erin was able to spend time holding Hannah and rocking her. Elizabeth was very pleased by the way the farm is coming along! She recommended that we start planning our fall season by ordering new seeds and prepping the hoop house.

With all the rain we have been getting it has been difficult to keep the water out of the hoop house. We will need to investigate ways to keep the mold down and drain the water away from the structure (particularly in the winter). If you have any suggestions please comment on this post! Another difficulty we have been having is an infestation of flea beetles. Despite spraying the plants with a natural beetle deterrent, the beetles are munching on our greens, Joi Choy, and eggplants! One of our farm advisors recommended we try diatomaceous earth. Has this worked for anyone? Do you have advice? Thank you!

What is food justice?

Food justice, as defined by Nikki Henderson, the Executive Director of People’s Grocery, is  “… the belief that healthy food is a human right, so everyone has an inherent right to access healthy, fresh food. Access is a mixture between location, affordability, and cultural appropriateness. Food justice is important for everyone because food is culture. Food is your family. Food is part of how we communicate with one another; it’s a way we share our love. Being able to enjoy and prepare food that actually nourishes the body and keeps us healthy is connected to our ability to stay sane as human beings.” The right to food is a complex and controversial topic. Food justice is not just about the present state of our food system but also encompasses the history of food injustice. Slavery is one of the main issues that has spanned throughout the history of food production, and continues today. Food production has never been just. When we create a more sustainable and fair food system we support a network of fair trade, personal health, education, and individual empowerment.

What do chickens grow on?

IMG_3563Answer: Eggplants!

The eggplants, tomatoes, squash, and potatoes are growing like weeds in the garden. They love the rain and cool but sunny temperatures. Unfortunately the weeds are growing like, well, weeds too. Sigh. We have been trying to get them away from the plants so that they are not sucking away the much needed nutrients and water from our veggies.

This past week we had our Heston interns join us for the summer. Alyssa and Darren were out at the farm at the break of dawn this past Wednesday to help us with our second harvest. It was cool and enjoyable. We harvested so many green veggies that the joi choy did not fit in the bags. Darren sang pop songs at our request and we listened to the top 50 hits while we worked. Alyssa and Darren said that the time went fast when we were all together. I would have to agree. Many hands make the mornings much more enjoyable.

We also had a good time at our potluck on Monday. Darren and I dodged raindrops as we hurried to the Quarry Pavilion with our watermelon cake. As soon as we were under the pavilion it started to pour, with lighting and thunder to boot. The children squealed with delight as the storm raged on and we enjoyed delicious food and music despite the rain. Taylor Bury played some acoustic covers on guitar and the families sang Mexican karaoke. I particularly enjoyed the Mexican dishes that were prepared by the families. My favorite was the corn with mayonnaise, chili, and lime. This classic dish was popular with everyone who enjoyed the festivities. Students who joined the community gathering were shocked by the spicy vegetables! They told me how much they enjoyed the potluck and one student volunteered to help with the farm. It was a successful event!


A New Season


The garden is off to a productive start for the summer 2015 season! The beds are fully planted (with the exception of the winter squash and pumpkins) and the veggies have been growing in the garden for a few weeks. The weather has been cool and rainy which has encouraged all of the plants to pop! This year the garden is blooming with cucumbers, tomatoes, kale, lettuce, broccoli, eggplant, peppers, bok choy, kholrabi, beans, basil, and more. We  caught a few pesky bunnies who were getting a little too fat (see photo). We also installed a new hoop house this spring which has been put to use as a home for new tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. There have been some troubles which the drip line irrigation system which will hopefully be resolved soon.

For the past few weeks coordinators Erin Brennan ’15 and Logan Carbaugh ’16 have been managing the garden. They are anticipating the arrival of the 2015 Heston Interns who will start June 8th. The first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares will be ready on Wednesday, June 3.  This year 20 families are participating in the community garden .They come to the Painted Turtle Farm every Monday evening from 6-8pm. Feel free to  join at that time to tour the farm, work or just enjoy the community spirit! Our first potluck of the season will be Monday, June 8 at 6pm.

End of June

We weeded, we seeded, we defeated. We also read a lot, but the rule of threes and respect for proper grammar kept me from writing “we readed.” Anyway, we’ve done all that and more in the eleven days since my last update.

Erin and some of her students hard at work.

On Friday the 27th, PTF hosted a group of high school students from the Migrant Education Program, where fellow Heston intern Erin O’Connor is working this summer. The 20 or so 15 to 17 year olds stumbled off their bus around 9:30 and tromped to the garden. As we do with all students, we put them to work. Nothing says TGIF like sweaty brows and dirty hands, right? Fortunately for these young’uns, our volunteers from the previous Saturday weeded with such zeal that little work remained for them. So when the rows were cleared⎯after half an hour, I kid you not⎯we went on a tour. Most of them snacked on our kale and Swiss chard, while only an adventurous few tried our fiery arugula. Yes, it really is that hot. Other than leafy greens, our carrots and cilantro were crowd pleasers. The students also harped on our lack of jalapenos and habaneros.
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A student bites into a freshly picked carrot.

Spicy peppers will have to wait until next season, but pumpkins and more beets and carrots are in the cards. Well, they’re actually in the ground. Their seeds are, that is. They should emerge in a few weeks, and the beets and carrots (some of which will be purple!) will be fully grown by mid-September. Our pumpkins will take a little longer, an even 4 months. The seed packet warned that they could grow in excess of 100 pounds, so hopefully we’ll have gorgeous yet immovably heavy pumpkins ready for Halloween.

The Swiss chard is almost ready!

We’ve also been doing our fair share of reading. We started with Kristin Kimball’s The Dirty Life, a memoir whose popularity has continued to increase since its 2010 publication. In it, Kimball recounts her initial, dizzying forays into farming and her ensuing transformation from city-chick to farmwoman. She traded her Greenwich Village apartment and freelancing gigs for a run-down farm and a husband, with whom she now runs one of the nation’s first full-diet CSAs. Her journey is remarkable, and her husband’s antics make for great lessons regarding rattraps, the Amish, and getting into farming. Next on our list is Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, which Elizabeth recommended to us. Berry is sort of a grandfather figure within the small-farm movement, so it was only a matter of time before we read his works. He also wrote the foreword for Masanobu Fukuoaka’s The One-Straw Revolution. That’s on our list, too.

Our Ruby Perfection cabbage is living up to its name.

With luck,  I’ll have another post for you within ten days rather than eleven. Until then, we’ll be weeding, reading, and (hopefully!) defeating some rather persistent insects. Thanks for stopping by!

Week Five

The heat has arrived. Not the most profound observation, I know, but it’s the truth and that’s good enough for me. Katie, Sarah Beth, and I have been heading to the farm at 8:00 am to avoid the sun’s midday intensity. By 11:00, beads of sweat threaten to run down our foreheads, our shadows have begun to disappear, and we’ve already taken a water break or two. We hold out for another hour or so before retreating to CPS or home, our skin hot and our tans deepened (the three of us have developed some rather unsightly tan lines.). We might start setting our alarms for 7:00, or perhaps even earlier, as the summer winds its way into July. Many a Gettysburgian has warned us of the seventh month’s oppressive heat. I’ll think of this past week as conditioning for what waits around the corner.

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Volunteers weeding the walk-paths.

The evenings, however, have been pleasant. The farm abuts the eastern side of Oak Ridge, whose shadow begins to creep across the main plot around 5:30, ushering in a heady coolness and a sweet prelude to nighttime.  A few dozen friends experienced the farm in this state on Monday evening during our first potluck of the season. What a success it was! About 75 CSA members, community residents, farmers, and students joined us. We caught up with old friends, made several new ones, and piled our plates high with delicious food. A handful of children even performed a feat of magic by turning our pile of mushroom compost into a slide! Maybe they’ll make all of the weeds disappear during our next potluck, to be held a few weeks from now.

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Weeding the Swiss chard.

Until then, we will rely on ourselves and on our volunteers to keep the weeds at bay. Just this morning we hosted a group of Baltimore-based high school students who are on a weekend retreat at the Lutheran Seminary. Their twenty-six hands made swift work of our weed-ridden walk-rows, which are always the last part of our garden to be cleared. Weeds are awfully good at their job, however, and the walk-rows will soon return to their previous state if we don’t keep on top of them.


A portion of the weekly harvest.

I just realized that I have thus far failed to mention the rock stars of PTF. They’re pretty darn hip, incredibly young (we’re talking a few weeks old), and much more casual than I’ll ever be. That’s right, I’ve failed to talk about our crops! I could devote hours (pages, days…) to describing the garden, but I need to cook dinner, so I hope the highlights will suffice. Our lettuce have grown into human-sized heads, while our kale, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower plants are of such size that their leaves obstruct the walk-rows. Cilantro is so abundant that hints of it perfume the wind, and our tomato and pepper plants have even begun to bear fruit! We might need to invest in bigger bags for our weekly CSA pickups if everything continues to grow at this rate.

That’s about all for this week. Thank you for reading­, and we hope to see you again soon!

Mystery afoot!

Mysteries abound at Painted Turtle Farm. Katie and I arrived at the farm on Sunday morning to find the grass neatly clipped and the fence devoid of weeds. The cut was perfect­–short grass, straight lines, and not a missed spot in sight. The job far exceeded my technical abilities, so naturally I thought Katie did it. She did, after all, profess her unabashed love of mowing to me during our first week of work.  To my surprise, Katie thought I was behind the cut. So there we stood, equally confused and trying to figure out the identity of the Phantom Mower. We suspect it was one of our family gardeners who has a zeal for lawn work, but we haven’t had the opportunity to ask him. If you’re reading this, Phantom Mower, thank you for so kindly lending a hand!

Of less monumental scale, but of equal intrigue, is the Mystery of the Disappearing Crayfish. While Katie and I were puttering around after the lawn mower mystery, we spotted a rogue, one-clawed crayfish crawling through the grass near the raspberry bushes. (note: we do not think the Phantom Mower is responsible for the missing claw). Those of you who have been to the garden know that the raspberry bushes are pretty far from a source of fresh water, so you can imagine our confusion. Wanting to return the little bugger to a more hospitable environment, we scrambled to find an adequate carrying container, but, in our panic, the crayfish disappeared from sight. Maybe it took refuge in the bushes, maybe it found its way to the fence, or maybe it vanished into thin air. The world may never know.

Unfortunately, not all of the goings-on at Painted Turtle Farm are the stuff of mystery novels. Being inspected to maintain our status as Certified Naturally Grown, while integral to our operation, doesn’t make for an exciting whodunit. Sara from Fulton Farm and one of her summer interns graciously sacrificed some of their valuable time to inspect our land. We spoke about everything from crop rotation to wind barriers, took a short tour, and dug in the dirt to assess the health of our soil. The approximately hour and a half long process ended with some wonderful news: we will remain Certified Naturally Grown during the coming year! Remember that as you chow down on our hand-picked veggies. Thank you for tuning in, and we hope to see you soon!