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!

Meet your farmers!

Keys have changed hands, seedlings are in the ground, and cut-off shorts have made a rather conspicuous reappearance. That’s right, the Summer 2014 farming season has begun! Taking over for Becca (and following in the footsteps of several wonderful student farmers), are Katie McCrea and the author of this post, Sean Pethybridge. They’re hip, they’re young, they’re casual, and they can’t wait to serve you up a big bag of fresh veggies. Here’s more about them:

Katie is a recent graduate who hails from Fairfield, Connecticut. As a student, she majored in environmental studies, lived in a community-focused theme house, and studied abroad in India. Nowadays, she’s all about bartering, giving meaningful gifts, and preserving heirloom vegetable seeds. Katie also works in the historically accurate Sherfy Garden, which exclusively grows heirloom varieties. Her ravenous appetite for agriculture has led her to intern for local farmers Thom and Judy Marti of Broad Valley Orchard when she is not engaged elsewhere. This summer, she hopes to pick up some Spanish skills and master the weed whacker.

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Katie, hard at work with a fresh-picked head of tatsoi.

Sean is a rice and beans kind of guy. He is also a member of the Class of 2015, a native of the Garden State, and a history and Italian studies major. His extracurricular involvements include living in Farmhouse, working at the Center for Career Development, and serving as an Italian department peer learning associate. His extra-extracurricular interests are just as varied. Quesadillas are Sean’s bread and butter, and he is likely to be found reading non-fiction or talking about public space when not getting down and dirty in the garden. This summer, he hopes to read a lot, learn even more, and go on a fun field trip or two.

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Sean, wrestling with the rhubarb.

If you’d like to meet Katie and Sean in the flesh, feel free to stop by the farm. You’re most likely to catch them in the morning, before the afternoon sun, or in the evening, when the frogs begin to sing. They would love to get to know you!

Thank you for reading, and welcome to the Summer 2014 Season.

Preparing to Plant A Garden: A Group Effort

Last Friday, we finally left the confines of the greenhouse and did some work out in the garden, and man did it feel good to be outside. With an energetic team made up of employees from the EES division of the college and students from APO (the service fraternity here on campus) we accomplished two seemingly impossible tasks:

Completed Task 1) The family garden plots have been weeded to perfection! Now we just have to spread some mushroom soil inside the beds and lay mulch around them and they’ll be ready to go for planting.



A beautiful mother-daughter duo of gardeners!



Completed Task 2) The mushroom soil has been spread over the entire extended garden area. Now that we’ve added some fertility to the soil, it’s ready to be planted with all sorts of squash, cucumbers, melons, and herbs!

With a bit of help, this GIANT pile of mushroom soil…


…Turned into a few smaller piles of mushroom soil

I was quite pleased

And then before we knew it, all of the mushroom soil was spread, and I was quite pleased!


After all of the hard work was done, we took a quick stop in at the greenhouse to check in on the seedlings; they’re growing beautifully!13538194465_4ac82f998f


Take away of the day: preparing a garden is truly a group effort, and I want to thank all of the people involved in that effort- From the families who started seeds in the greenhouse, to the student volunteers who tirelessly washed seeding flats.  From Kim and Elizabeth who were involved in all sorts of logistical planning, to the campus facilities department for getting us the materials we needed. And of course, to our friends from EES and APO who got the ground ready for planting. With such great support around me, I am certain that this will be Painted Turtle Farm’s most productive season yet!

-Becca, one of many Painted Turtle Farmers




Planting season is fast approaching!

“I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden.” 

-Ruth Stout, writer and gardener

Although it may be hard to imagine amidst the cold and the flurries of this late February morning, planting season is in fact rapidly approaching, and I could not be any more excited. Seeds have arrived, the greenhouse is stocked with materials for seeding, and community gardeners have begun planning out their plots. 

What better way to welcome in the spring than with a vegetable garden? We will begin seeding broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and other brassicas in the greenhouse next Wednesday March 5th at 6 pm. Hope to see you there!

Planting fruit trees: the preparation

At the end of September, Thom Marti came out to the Painted Turtle Farm again, but this time to teach us about digging holes for fruit trees. We will be putting in 4 trees, two each of apple and pair, in the spring, but needed to choose potential sites and prepare the holes for planting. Thom brought some of his digging tools along and taught us the proper method for getting into the ground and went over some basics, such  as how far apart the trees should be planted and how large the holes would have to be to accommodate for the root masses.

The holes were approximately a foot and a half down, and about two feet wide.

The holes were approximately a foot and a half down, and about two feet wide.

Becca digs into the ground with Oscar & Sandra

Becca digs into the ground with Oscar & Sandra

The holes were then filled with organic material and covered with pallets to prevents animals from getting in. The soil will be kept and used to fill the holes when we get the trees in the springtime.

 Additionally, we had some volunteers who come out every week harvest some produce and do some much needed weeding. Thanks guys!


Taming the berry patch

Taming the berry patch

Harvesting the green beans

Harvesting the green beans

Adrienne gathering some harvested produce

Adrienne gathering some harvested produce

look at those carrots!!

look at those carrots!!