Monday, February 18, 2013

Seeking Willing Workers

We are seeking folks who would like to come to the farm for a few weeks during this season (June-October) and offer part-time help in exchange for room, shared meals and free time to relax and explore our beautiful part of Maine. You can see our listing on WWOOF USA if you are a member, or feel free to contact us directly if you or someone you know might be interested!


Sunday, August 5, 2012

High Summer 2012


So my farmer friend Ryan noted that I hadn't updated the blog since April 29th. Yikes! One thing is definitely becoming clear this summer: running a farm is a whole lot more demanding of my time than working on one (or two) ever was. It's exhausting and sweaty but also wonderful. The weather has been very dry here, our soil is a work in progress, and we're fighting off at least seven different bug pests as well as wild turkeys and deer. But we've had awesome crops of cabbage, scallions and herbs, and the onions, melons, tomatoes, peppers, cukes and squash are coming in nicely now, too (not to mention the raspberry patch left to us by the previous owners of our place - three gallons in the freezer and counting!).

Here are some recent photos of what has been happening at the farm and the markets. I'm also excited to note that we'll be adding the Ellsworth Saturday market (9:30-12:30) to our current schedule (Bangor Sundays from 12-3, Ellsworth Thursdays from 2-5:30 and farm stand Fridays from 2-6) starting this coming Saturday.

Enjoy high summer while it lasts - hopefully that includes partaking of the abundance at your local farmers' market or farm stand! We've got some great stuff for you!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Spring Update

Spring has sprung, and somehow the short-form Facebook status update is fitting better into the farm schedule these days than the long-form blog post. I do still hope to write here as often as I can, but I encourage blog readers to check out the Wise Acres Farm Facebook page for more timely nuggets!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pruning Apple Trees

Spring! Or summer? Or still winter? It got so weirdly hot last week (over 80 here)...and then it got cold again and we got several inches of snow yesterday.

One way or another, I feel like I turned some intangible corner about a week or ten days ago where I went from spending most of my time sitting hunched over my laptop planning things out to putting on my grubby farm clothes and actually doing stuff. Feeling satisfyingly body-tired instead of just brain-tired at the end of the day. Running in and out of the house/cellar/garage/yard so often that the cats are all staring at me with bewildered looks on their faces.

I've spent parts of the last two Saturdays participating in two fruit tree pruning workshops offered by MOFGA in preparation for tackling the eight mature apple trees at our place that haven't been tended to for about eight years. I had started to do some hand-wringing, since it's warmed up so early this year and the trees are already breaking dormancy (the ideal pruning time is before that happens but after the risk of subzero temperatures has passed). But I'm glad I did wait until after going to the workshops, because I got some good advice and was allowed to hack away at someone else's trees before having a go at ours. If you walk through the orchard at the Common Ground Country Fair or pass by the elementary school in Swanville this year and think "who the heck pruned THAT tree?!," you might be looking at the work of yours truly and her fellow pruning students. But really, I think we did a pretty good job, and I definitely have a better idea of what I'm doing now.

Pruning is kind of addictive - going to sleep after a day of it, I was seeing tangled branches in my head the way I see Tetris after playing it too much. And it was nice to have an excuse to monkey around in trees, something I was very into as a kid. Also, I got to run around the yard looking like this all day (too bad nobody else was around to appreciate such stylishness!):

Really, the trees have been doing their own thing just fine - but alas, "their own thing" means sending out dozens of vigorous sprouts that grow straight up and block air and light from the lower branches that I want to produce fruit. The rule of thumb is to only remove a quarter to a third of the wood on a given tree in a given year, and I was definitely pushing that ratio with some of them. We may have fewer apples for a couple of years, but they'll probably be bigger and less affected by scab. And hopefully I won't have to spend almost two hours per tree pruning them next year now that the big bad stuff is out of the way.

Before

Then I did this about 200 times...

...although most of the branches I took out weren't quite this big.

After

Pruning trees felt very different than most farm work does for me - you never spend hours fussing over one leek or broccoli plant. It felt like the start of a relationship - a give-and-take in which we do most of the taking of fruit and unwanted branches but plan on giving back some mulch and nutrients along the way (not to mention endless mowing). The vigor and hardiness of these trees are amazing - decades of Maine winters and they're still ready for action. As I was sitting sprawled on the ground after finishing the last tree, I was facing an empty spot where one tree in the planting must have died at some point...and then I noticed a cluster of woody sprouts right in the spot where that tree's trunk would have been. It's the rootstock, still pushing up shoots after having been mowed down I don't know how many times! In case anybody needed a definition of resilience...

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Journeyperson Program and Events

I've been accepted into MOFGA's Journeyperson Program, which offers a wonderful opportunity to connect with other new and experienced farmers and to access events and resources I can use to continue my farming education while beginning to farm on my own. One of the benefits of the program is admission to MOFGA events. During the past couple of weeks, I've attended two, a business planning workshop with Richard Wiswall, an organic farmer from Vermont, and earlier today the Spring Growth Conference.

I had already read Richard Wiswall's book, The Organic Farmer's Business Handbook, which inspired me to keep good records of my labor hours and crop yields in my garden last year. His emphasis is on creating enterprise budgets, which track expenses and revenues for each individual crop and help a diversified farm to determine which crops are actually profitable. He also provides training in basic business management and bookkeeping. I'm familiar with those from previous work and life experience, but I know it will be important to stay on top of things in the thick of the farming season and the extra encouragement is helpful. And the enterprise budgets will be a good way to help me find out which crops do well here on our farm and might be candidates for increased production for wholesaling. My main take-away from Wiswall's book and the workshop was that organic farming may be a great way of life, but it also has to be profitable to be sustainable, and there's no shame in making sure that it is on my farm.

Speaking of profitable crops, the Spring Growth Conference focused this year on tomato production. Tomatoes grown under a high tunnel or greenhouse are a key crop for lots of veggie farmers; a high tunnel allows for much higher yields per plant due to an extended growing season and better control of the water and nutrient balance under cover. I don't have a high tunnel yet and it may be a season or two before I'm able to build one, but the conference helped pull together and add to the knowledge base I've gained working with other farmers' high tunnel tomato crops. I also got a few good ideas that I may try in my open-field production of tomatoes this year, including a later succession planting to extend the harvest after the first planting succumbs to the unavoiadable fungal diseases that crop up in the heat of the summer, and possibly using a living mulch/cover crop between the tomato rows instead of straw. That second one might have to wait until I've gotten the grass under control in my new fields, but it's an interesting idea since straw is expensive and seems to sprout weeds no matter how "clean" it supposedly is. It's only 4 1/2 months or so before my first 2012 tomatoes will be coming in...yum!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Farmers' markets!

I have been involved with establishing the new Bangor Farmers' Market, which will be held downtown on Sundays from 12-3. I will also be attending the Ellsworth Farmers' Market on Thursday afternoons from 2-5:30. I am very excited about both markets; we lived in downtown Bangor ourselves before moving to the farm, so I'm looking forward to selling vegetables to some of our previous neighbors! I also think the Ellsworth market will be a good opportunity to spend an afternoon each week reaching beyond the greater-Bangor orbit, and I respect the fact that it's one of the longest-running markets in the area.

Setting up shop at a farmers' market stand may sound simple, and it is in fact one of the easiest ways for a new farmer like me to enter the marketplace, but it involves more investment than one might think. We purchased a pickup truck as our second vehicle knowing that we'd need a way to transport produce to markets, and I just bought a used cap for the truck to keep the veggies out of the sun and rain on the way. I still need to buy a canopy (a.k.a. EZ-Up), a scale (legal-for-trade scales are at least a couple hundred dollars), and buy or build display boxes, stands, signage and produce bags.

Farmers' markets can be more time-consuming than other marketing venues, because I (or eventually an employee) have to spend at least half of a day to load produce, drive to market, set up, sell, break down, drive home, and unload, rather than doing all the tasks that need doing on the farm. On the other hand, farmers' markets are a great way to connect with customers, and they are somewhat more forgiving than CSAs or wholesaling in that I can just bring what I have without being committed to supply a certain amount of any given crop on a given day. However, in order to do well, I'll need to plan to have a respectable quantity and variety of clean, good-looking vegetables to bring to market from June all the way into November. Sounds like a fun challenge to me!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

More Winter Farming (and Eating)

Yes, yes, I'm still here! Planning a farm start-up while working another full-time job has been keeping me a little too busy lately.

Seed orders have arrived! It's amazing how literally tons of food can come out of such a small package:

And also exciting to get some shiny new tools. I'm trying to be conservative and stick to hand tools I've worked with and liked on other farms, like the three-tooth cultivator, the collinear hoe and the soil block makers sold by Johnny's.

We're still eating up our abundant store of winter squash, cabbage, parsnips, potatoes, carrots, beets, leeks, onions, dry beans, freezer veggies, and cans cans cans of tomatoes, pickles, peaches and applesauce. The bulkhead to our cellar has been serving nicely as a makeshift root cellar. I can report that our cabbage hasn't really lasted longer with the roots attached than with the roots detached (and it's a whole lot messier to deal with with the roots on), potatoes with wireworm damage keep remarkably well, and so do brussels sprouts popped off the stalks and stored in a bucket covered loosely in plastic.

I have a number of farmers' market applications in and am trying to get the business and bookkeeping end of the farm up and running. Next up: ordering supplies, putting together a crop plan for the season, applying for organic certification and planning a walk-in cooler! Oh, and building cold frames, applying for high tunnel funding, designing marketing materials, tracking down equipment for a wash station and market stand...and before you know it, it'll be time to start the onion seedlings!