On Thursday we transplanted three beds of brassicas – kale, napa cabbage, bok choy and kohlrabi. Then we covered these beds with row cover to protect the seedlings from pests (woodchucks, rabbits and flea beatles). As soon as the field dries out we’ll t’plant all the storage onions and leeks, and the first plantings of beets, scallions and lettuce.

I transplant almost all of the vegetables I grow. Transplanting, as opposed to direct seeding, has a number of benefits. First, it gives the veggies a size advantage in their competition with weeds. That’s important, especially given the galen soga and pigweed-filled seed bank on my acre. These weeds will quickly outgrow and crowd out vegetable crops, sharply reducing yield and greatly increasing the difficulty and time needed to harvest. Second, starting most of my seed indoors means I can start the season earlier than mother nature intended. That means the first fresh lettuce, beets, carrots, radishes, etc. will be eaten in May rather than June; tomatoes, eggplant and peppers in July, rather than August. Third, transplanting allows me to grow more vegetables because it shortens the amount of time (by around two weeks) each crop is taking up space in the field. For example, a lettuce seed takes around 45 days to grow into a full-sized head of lettuce if it’s sown directly in the field. A 4 week old lettuce seedling that is transplanted needs around 30 days in the ground. So, transplanting one bed of lettuce seedlings, rather than direct-seeding lettuce seeds, can free up two weeks of bed space. This season I will transplant 21 beds of lettuce, saving 42 weeks of bed space for other veggies.

Rock harvest

Did I mention that I uncovered a lot of rocks when I was plowing? CSA shareholders, friends and family are invited to help pick rocks on the next shareholder volunteer day, Saturday, April 19, 10:00-noon. Those who really want to can take home a rock. Maybe two. If rock harvesting is not your cup of tea, we’ll also be seeding trays and maybe transplanting seedlings. Let me know if you will be joining us (I want to make sure there are enough rocks for everyone).

Peas and Planet Jr.

peas with row cover peas with row cover March 30

Everyone survived the cold temps last night. The min-max thermometer in the hoophouse read 32 degrees this morning. I’m sure it was warmer underneath all the row cover, blankets and quilts that were over the seedlings. I’m happily surprised the hoophouse stayed as warm as it did.

Farm neighbors Andres and daughter, Ainara, helped me plant the first veggies of the season this morning. Sugar snap peas! Ainara sprinkled inoculant on the slightly damp peas and Andres mixed it in. Then, using my “new-to-me” Planet Jr. seeder, we planted four beds of bush peas. “Fifty-four days to harvest”, that’s what the Fedco package says, but I expect it will take a bit longer since it’s so cold. We covered two of the beds with ag. row cover to warm up the soil and speed up germination.

The Planet Jr. seeder is wonderful. So much nicer than the Earthway seeder I’ve been using. The guys at the Kilpatrick Family Farm decided they didn’t want it anymore and they sold it to me at a third of the price of a new one. What a deal! (Want your own Planet Jr? Market Farm Implement sells them new. Sometimes they can be found for sale on Craigslist.)

Heart-stopping temperatures

I’m a bit preoccupied with the weather. I check the forecast several times a day. I pay close attention to the predicted overnight temps, whether there will be clouds or not, how strong the winds will be, if and how much precipitation is expected. I look at what’s predicted for Boston and Bedford. Based on these forecasts, I guess what will happen in Belmont. I use our government’s weather service through the NOAA website —

This time of year I’m mostly concerned about overnight temps. My hoophouse isn’t heated and when the temp drops below 32 degrees I cover all the seedlings with row cover, old quilts and blankets, say special prayers, make ritual offerings to the weather gods, promise my first-born son, you know, the kinds of things we all do to bring good luck. (Oh come on, you do too!) This method has worked well so far.

I did have a heart-stopping temperature experience one recent morning. I was studying the hour-by-hour temperature readings of the previous evening. (I’ve already admitted that I’m a bit preoccupied with the weather.) I scanned the report and saw that the temp had dropped to 20 degrees at 6 AM. I stopped breathing. I think my heart stopped beating. Visions of dead seedlings filled my mind. I whispered, then yelled, “Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.” The predicted low had been 30 degrees. I hadn’t taken all the super-duper precautions required for a 20 degree night! How could the National Weather Service prediction have been so wrong?!?!

Turns out I was looking at the wrong column. Rather than temperature, I’d been looking at the dewpoint. The overnight temperature only got down to 31 degrees. What a relief.

It is predicted to get down to 24 degrees tonight. You better believe I’m ready. Those little seedlings are well protected this evening: Layers of row cover over them, space heaters under some of the benches, barrels of water under other benches (the water has retained the day’s heat and will radiate it throughout the night). Prayers have been said, rituals observed.

Sleep well little seedlings.


Earlier this week I borrowed a seven-shank chisel plow and plowed the entire acre. This implement breaks up compaction 18″ down without turning the soil over. Less compaction creates an environment that is root-friendly due to better drainage and aeration. One reason I like the chisel plow for primary tillage is because it minimizes the number of weed seeds brought to the surface. And we all know what that means.

I began to prepare the first seven beds by tilling the top two inches of the soil I’d just plowed. The first veggies to be planted will be peas: sugar snap and field peas. The sugar snap peas will feed us. The field peas will feed the soil by fixing nitrogen and providing organic matter when they are tilled under sometime in July.

Want a chisel plow of your own? Me, too. Click on the Market Farm Implement link (to the right under Seeds, Supplies and Equipment) to look at chisel plows and other must-have agricultural implements.

Spreading lime

The last two weeks have been busy.

Yesterday I finished spreading two tons of pelletized lime on the field. The process of spreading lime on this suburban farm is a bit different than in farm country where 10 ton lime-filled trucks drop lime directly onto frozen fields during the coldest time of year. Here’s what lime spreading looks like on my one acre.

Ken, from the Agway in Waltham, delivered 100 forty-pound plastic bags of lime to the farm last week. (His 5-ton truck almost got stuck in the thawed soil in front of the hoop house. You’ll see the evidence if you join me for the farm tour this Thursday.) I’d wanted the lime delivered earlier, in February when the ground was still frozen. Since there’s really no demand for lime in suburbia until homeowners start thinking of creating the perfect lawn, there was no lime available until last week.

I borrowed a large, conical-shaped spreader from CY (Vanguarden CSA) and hooked it up to the tractor with the help of WD40 and a big mallet. Then, I filled the spreader to capactiy with 320 pounds of lime and made one pass in the field. Repeated that 12+ times. With the help of more WD40, my trusty mallet and my dear husband’s muscle, the spreader was then detached from the tractor, loaded onto the truck and returned.

The recommendations from the UMass soil lab were for six tons of lime to correct a soil ph of 5.6. I plan to spread more lime throughout the growing season and another two tons in the fall.

My mother is visiting this week. I rushed from my liming duties to the airport to pick her up. I don’t think she recognized me. I waved wildly, jumped up and down, and yelled her name before I got her attention. Admittedly, I didn’t look like myself. I was a bit disheveled, clothed in my favorite tattered farm wear (from the floor of a second hand store in Cambridge), a layer of white lime dust all over me, boots caked in mud. At first I thought she was trying to ignore me, but she says she was just trying to get a little exercise by jogging around the baggage claim area.

It looks like spring …..

It looks like spring in my basement. Thirty trays of alliums have germinated in the lasts two days. A couple of trays of parsely are contemplating germination. Celeriac seeds are basking in 80 degree soil and I expect they will soon pop. I plan to seed another 90 trays with lettuce, bok choy, napa, kale, spinach, scallions and pearl onions this week. No room in the basement for these. They will live in the hoop house on the farm, protected from freezing nights by layers of agricultural fabric and a small space heater under the benches. I’ve never used the hoop house to start seedlings this early in the season and I’m a bit nervous about it. In theory, everything should be fine.

This year I’m growing a number of new-to-me veggies and varieties: fava beans, garlic, cantelope, pole beans, Japanese black trifele tomato, French filet beans (Haricot vert), cauliflower, Asian greens tatsoi and senposal and dry beans. I’ve been advised to exercise caution and restraint when trying out new veggies and varieties. Try a little first and if it grows well, grow more next year; avoid filling my tiny field with new, untested varieties.

Critter update No fox sightings on the farm yet this year. I do hope they return. Lots of Candian geese fertilizing the fields, though.

Summer CSA This year I’ll be growing 40 CSA shares. I hope to begin distribution the second or third week of May. Of course, what I hope for and what nature allows may not coincide.

Preservation CSA Fifteen adventurous eaters signed up for a Preservation Share this year. The produce in this share will come in bulk quantities and is meant to be preserved for winter or early spring eating. Snap peas (June), green beans (July), cucumbers (August), tomatoes (August), dried beans (September), and cabbage (October) are planned. NOFA is offering a Putting Food By workshop in September that might be helpful to folks wanting to learn how to preserve veggies:

Winter CSA I’m really excited about the 2008 multi-farm winter share. The planned content of the ’08 share has been adjusted to reflect many of the suggestions received by ’07 shareholders. Weather and pests permitting, the share will include more variety, including celery, broccoli, more leafy greens, leeks and hakurei turnips. I’d really like to include 5 to 10 pounds of storage apples, but I’ve no luck yet finding an orchard willing to commit. Lettuce mix would also be an awesome addition, as would honey and maple syrup. As of today, one hundred winter shares have been sold or reserved. I’ll be growing kale, collard greens, lettuce, escarole for the winter share. Bruce and Jenny (Picadilly Farm) will be growing beets, broccoli or cauliflower, Brussels’ sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celeriac, celery, leeks, onions, parsnips, potatoes, rutabaga, shallots, winter squash, sweet potatoes and turnips. Chris (Vanguarden CSA) will supply popcorn, onions, hakurei turnips, and a number of leafy greens, like napa cabbage and bok choy. These are the plans. As always, it’ll be interesting to see what mother nature allows.

There are more winter shares available. It’d be great to sell them all before April 1. It’s hard to do administrative work related to the CSA during the growing season. Plus, it’d be great to get the money to the farmers to ease the early season financial crunch.

Belmont CSA Shareholders join me on Thursday, March 20 at 4:00 for a tour of the farm and an introduction to plans for the season.

Helpers wanted, please contact me if you are interested in helping with either of these tasks.
Saturday morning, March 15 I’ll pick up the bulk ag. supply order at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln. I’d love some help lifting the tomato stakes and 50# bags of organic fertilizer into and out of my truck that day.

Saturday, March 8 I may be seeding in the hoop house. Might be a lot of seeding to be done – up to 50 trays. Space will be tight in the hoop house, and the seeds will be tiny, so this might not be a task for small children.

What are you growing this year?

I am often asked by shareholders and local gardeners what varieties of vegetables, herbs and fruits I’m growing. Liz has compiled a list of most of what we are growing this season. The majority of our seed, and the descriptions of the produce, comes from the Johnny’s Selected Seed or Fedco catalogues. Many thanks to Liz for putting this together.

Storage onions
Prince: Medium-size onion, block globe shape with refined neck. Skins stay tight even after long storage.
Varsity: Large firm onion, nice round shape.
Redwing: Deep purple-red skin, very firm, 3-4” bulbs.

Cipollini Onions
Small onions for boiling and braising. Flattened button-shaped spheres, perfect for soup, stir-fry, and shish kebob; keeps until late winter.
Red Marble: Small flat red onions with a thin neck.
Gold Coin: Very flat yellow small onion, pungent and sweet, deliciously sweet when cooked.

Scallions, Pearl and Green Onions
Evergreen Hardy White: Perennial bunching onion, heirloom from Japan originated in the 1880s.
Pearl Drop: Small, snow-white pearl onions for cooking or pickling.
Purplette: Glossy rich burgundy small pearl onion for cooking or pickling.
Red Long of Tropea: Tall, elongated red bulbs, traditionally grown in the Mediterranean.

Tadorna: Medium-length white shaft with very dark blue-green foliage.
Lincoln: Long & sleek, delicate sweet flavor.

Russian Red: Small bulb and purple wrapper, strong flavor, stores very well over the winter. Seed from Harvest Home.

Sweet: Recommended for drying and all-around great eating.
Thai: Attractive fine-leaved plant with purple stems, strong licorice-anise flavor for Thai cuisine.
Lemon: Often used in bouquets for its intense lemon fragrance. Great for flavoring fish and fowl dishes.

Santos: Classic Mexican herb – great for soup, salsa, and bean dishes.
Delfino: Same flavor as traditional cilantro, but has fern-like lacy open leaves that resemble dill – beautiful for garnishes as well as cooking.

Gigante d’Italia: Bright green with rich sweet flavor, an heirloom variety from northern Italy with flat leaves.

Zifa Feno: Tender stalks and leaves great for relishes and salads, leaves and seeds excellent with fish. Seeds also can be used for sweets and baked goods. This variety has blue-green stems and feathery green leaves.

Marjoram, Sage, Sorrel, Summer Savory, Dill, Mint

Tyee: A spinach for all seasons. Firm crinkled leaves.
Space: Vigorous big thick wavy leaves, dark green, juicy sweet taste.

These greens are members of the cabbage and kale family. Traditionally boiled or simmered for a long time with meat until very soft, and served with corn bread.
Champion: Rich dark strain, resembles kale.
Even’Star: Very tender and sweet mild greens.

Leaf Lettuce
Crisp leaves from a stalk, rather than a head. Green and red varieties include:
Two Star: Standard green leaf lettuce.
Green Star: Brightest green color.
Salad Bowl: Bright green frilly notched leaves.

Vulcan: Crisp and mild. Ruffled slightly frilled leaves are a vivid, candy-apple red over a light green background.
Oscarde: Attractive intense cherry-red lobed leaves.
New Red Fire: Ruffled leaves, deep red color, tender, sweet flavor.

Boston Lettuce
Large, ruffled outer leaves surrounding a soft, folded, blanched heart. Outstanding eating quality. Varieties include:
Mikola: Heavy succulent red lettuce with large rounded semi-ruffled leaves. Seed from Turtle Tree.
Red Cross: Large, fancy bright red heads.
Adriana and Ermosa: Green leaves, heads are full and dense with good taste.

Batavian Lettuce
Less known in North America, but a lettuce variety highly prized in Europe. The only lettuce we know of that grows well in the heat of a New England summer. Varieties include:
Magenta: Shiny red leaves, with a crispy green heart.
Nevada: Soft crunch, delicate sweet nutty flavor. Forms a unique, jade-green rose-shaped head.

Romaine Lettuce
Grows in a head, with thick, crisp juicy leaves with sweetness unmatched by other lettuce types. Varieties include:
Freckles: Beautiful heirloom romaine, green with red splotches.
Winter Density: Compact, extra-dark green heads, very tightly folded, good salad quality.
Coastal Star: Large, dark green heavy heads with good sweet flavor.
Green Forest: Our darkest green romaine.

Swiss Chard
Bright Lights: Stems of many colors including gold, pink, orange, purple, red, and white, with tender green or bronze leaves. Mild chard flavor.

Musky leafy green that spices up a salad.

Asian Greens
Leafy greens similar to cabbage, great for stir-fry, soup, or braising.
Hon Tsai Tai: Chinese greens with deep purple stalks and buds, pleasant mild mustardy flavor.
Vitamin Greens: For salad mixing and bunching, tender flavorful leaves, brilliant deep green.
Senposai: Grown even through the winter, round medium-green leaves.
Tatsoi: Grown through the winter, dark green leaves make beautiful compact rosettes, mild flavor.
Shuko: Baby pac choi (bok choy) with green stems, beautiful dark green leaves.
Fuyo Shomi: Pac choi with large green, spoon-shaped leaves.

Napa Cabbage
Asian specialty that combines the thin texture of lettuce with the fresh peppery tang of juicy cabbage.
Minuet: Small heads, dark green outer leaves with yellow interior. Light, sweet taste.
Blues: Pungent flavor, tender tasty green leaves.

Natacha: Big, heavy heads with abundant tender green leaves. Great for salads or sautéing.

Broccoli Raab
Eaten for the greens – not the same as broccoli! The small yellow flowers and stem can be eaten as well.
Sessantina Grossa: Large green bud with spiked leaves surrounding it, strong nutty taste.

In the cabbage and broccoli family, but milder and sweeter. Can be eaten raw, sliced in a salad, or cooked in curry or other spicy dishes.
Kolibri: Small and round stems, deep purple outside with crisp white flesh.

Red Russian: Siberian heirloom brought to Canada by traders in the 19th century. Red & purple leaves change to green when cooked. Use soon after picking or chill leaves in cold water.
Nero di Toscana: Also called “Dinosaur kale”. Strong dark green leaves, sweet mild flavor.
Winterbor: Rich blue-green color, curled ruffled leaves, strong cold hardiness.

Gonzales: Baby green cabbage about the size of a softball. Sweet flavor and crisp texture.
Alcosa: Beautiful dark green cauliflower with smaller head.

Indigo: Strong crisp peppery flavor, tight head with burgundy leaves.
Sugarloaf: Green leaves, mild flavor.
Trevisio: Italian variety of red-lined lettuce with white ribs, eaten cooked or raw.

Sugar Ann: A variety of early snap peas, sweet and crisp.
Sugar Snap: Tall vines produce long pods of green pods, sweet and crisp.

Provider: FEDCO Seed’s best-selling bush bean for 29 years, purple seed, rich beany taste.
Masai: Extremely tasty, small green beans, juicy and crisp.
Northeaster: Huge, flat, buttery pods. 8” long and 1” flat wide green pods, rich sweet flavor. Stays tender and stringless.
Marvel of Venice: Big tasty yellow flat pods with white seeds.

Envy: Bright green beans, can be boiled fresh in the pod for edamame, eaten fresh, or dried. Delicious buttery flavor.

Fava Beans
Winsor: Mainstays in many cultures since ancient Rome like Mexico, Brazil, and India. Rich in fiber and iron, highest of all beans in protein. Large wide light green beans in glossy pods.

Red Ace: Sweet early season beet with purple tops.
Forono: Cylindrical, deep purple, sweet taste. Uniform size is great for cooking, slicing, or pickling.
Chioggia: Candy-striped beets! Green with pink-striped stems, sweet flavor.

Nelson: Sweet, tender, and crisp. Smooth and uniform, deep orange color.
Bolero: Sturdy medium-long carrot, good fresh taste after long-term storage.
Kinko: Crunchy, sweet short cones, deep red-orange.
Mokum: Outstanding for fresh eating or juicing, long and very slender.

Diamante: Frog prince of root vegetables! Ugly exterior, clean white internal coloration, nutty parsley-celery flavor, can be boiled, braised, or mashed, enhances meat, fish, and poultry.

Pink Beauty: Firm and delicious, medium size, full rich flavor.
Polbig: Deep red color inside and outside, meaty, medium size.
Pineapple: Very large yellow and red striped tomato, fruity taste, smooth exterior.
Moskvich: Smaller heirloom early tomatoes, deep red, with rich taste.
Green Zebra: Green striped salad specialty heirloom tomato, ripe when green with yellow blush.
Black Prince: Mahogany brown with orange-red, rich fruity flavor.
Striped German: Red and yellow, marbled interior looks beautiful when sliced, smooth texture.
Japanese Black Trifele: Pear shape with burgundy color, excellent rich taste.
Jet Star: Premium quality, full-size, early tomato. Beautiful with outstanding flavor.
Taxi: Baseball-sized, lemon yellow tomatoes, sweet flavor.
Orange Blossom: Medium size, early orange tomato, mild flavor.
Pruden’s Purple: Great sandwich tomato, silky texture, very few seeds, rich tomato taste.
Rose de Berne: French tomato, pink, medium size, robust flavor, round and firm.
Garden Peach: Small yellow fruits with fuzzy skin, like a peach! Juicy and very sweet, with excellent shelf life (several months). Light fruity taste.
Yellow Pear: Petite, distinctive salad tomato, pear shape, lemon yellow, mild flavor.
Tigerella: Bright red with greenish-yellow stripes, when ripe. Rich, tangy flavor.
Nebraska Wedding: Deep orange tomato, lots of flavor.

Paste Tomatoes
Typically meatier and less juicy, these tomatoes are excellent for salsa, sauces and other cooking, or canning, juicing, or freezing.
Amish: Large, thick & meaty, heart-shaped bright red paste tomato.
Hog Heart: Brought from Italy to Massachusetts around the time of World War I. Excellent flavor fresh, canned, or frozen.
San Marzano: Large classic Italian, delicious balanced flavor, long cylindrical fruits.
Juliet: Deep red shiny fruits, rich tomato taste.

Cherry Tomatoes
Sun Gold: Small cherry tomato, huge flavor – both strong sweetness and tart. Bright orange-yellow color.
Sun Cherry: Sweet, small red cherries.

Nadia: Dark purple fruits from tall sturdy plants. Classic large Italian eggplant.
Orient Express: Attractive, slender glossy black fruits. Tender, delicately flavored, quick cooking.
Diamond: Elongated dark purple, firm flesh, mild flavor with no bitter taste, imported from Ukraine in the 1990s.
Applegreen: Beautiful pale green round or oval fruits. Extremely mild flavor with white flesh.
Clara: Unique, large, white Italian eggplant.
Fairy Tale: Small purple and white-striped fruits, wonderful flavor with no bitterness and very few seeds.
Beatrice: Round, bright violet fruits.

Cubanelle: Semi-sweet frying pepper.
Islander: Light lavender skin, pale yellow flesh with mild light sweet taste.
Purple Beauty: Very deep purple skin, beautiful for all kinds of salads and cooking.
X3R: A large green pepper.
New Ace: Early green pepper.

Hot Peppers
Anaheim: Traditional, semi-flattened fruit for roasting, chili rellenos, and stir-fry. Not the hottest of our hot peppers.
Carrot: Orange and cone-shaped like a carrot, but a hot pepper!
Early Jalapeno: Very hot, sausage-shaped green hot peppers turn red as they ripen.
Ancho: Southwestern hot pepper, heart-shaped with thinner walls, turn red when ripe and called “poblanos” when still green. Large enough for stuffing, and famous for use in mole sauce.
Cayenne: Very hot, bright red and thin.

Marketmore 86: Dark green 8” fruits from vigorous vines. Not burpless.
Lemon: Rounded 3” lemon-shaped fruits, yellow, sweet and very crisp.
Poona Kheera: Imported from India, crisp, sweet, juicy, and refreshing. Shorter and yellow-brown.
Cross Country: Blocky straight dark green white-spined fruit, crunchy and cool. For pickling.

Radish Pods
Rat-tail: grown for its tangy seed pods, not its roots. Add a mustardy zing to salads and stir-fry.

Sugar Baby: Dark green rind, deep red inside – the standard northern icebox watermelon.
Peace: Yellow watermelon, sweet and very juicy.
Cream of Saskatchewan: Sweet juicy melon with cream-colored flesh and abundant seeds. Light green rinds with dark stripes. Brought by Ukrainian immigrants to Canada early in the 20th century.
Quetzali: Dark green rind with dense pink flesh, almost seedless. Thick rind needs a good knife and a strong wrist to cut open.

Earliqueen: Medium-size cantaloupe with thick sweet orange flesh.
Arava: Extra sweet tropical flavor, thick lime-green flesh with rind like a cantaloupe.

Husk Cherry: Also known as Ground Cherry. Like tomatillos, the fruit ripens inside a papery husk.Ntty flavor great for raw snacks.

Toma Verde Tomatillo: Early-maturing green toomatillo. Use in salsa or Mexican cooking.

Summer Squash
Jackpot: Dark green slightly speckled zucchini, tender, mildly flavored, and sweet.
Eight Ball: Round, attractive, shiny dark green fruits, just larger than billiard balls!
Magda: Sweet, nutty flavor. Small, blocky pale-green tapered fruits, for stuffing, stir fries, or pickling.
Zephyr: Yellow with green tips and straight necks, faint white stripes. Delicious nutty taste and firm texture.
Sunburst: The most appetizing of summer squashes, bright yellow skin. Small and shaped like a pie tart – round with a flat top and scalloped edges. Also called “patty pan” squash.

Gypsy: Medium-size, excellent for eating fresh.
Arcadia: Frosty bluish-green heads with very refined small beads, big and rugged.

Fremont: White cauliflower, surrounded by wrapped green leaves.

Winter Squash
Butterbush: Small butternut squash, smooth flesh with unique sweet flavor.
Sweet Mama Buttercup: Grey-green buttercup squash, outstanding sweet flavor.
Sunshine: Spectacular scarlet color, bright orange flesh. Dry yet tender, sweet yet meaty. Can be steamed, baked, or used for pies.
Delicata: Unique long and thin cream-colored fruits with dark green stripes and flecks. Very sweet, excellent for stuffing and baking.
NE Pie Pumpkin: The standard pie pumpkin for generations.