I could never get everything done on the farm alone. Ross (my husband and co owner of the business) works off farm full time as a hardware engineer at Lenovo. He's one hard working dude. He's usually up early before going into work doing farm chores and comes home to time up loose ends at night. Usually Sunday is a big work day for us so Ross can do tractor work and finish up other projects. Even though he's not here during the day, we would be lost without him! I'm on farm full time with my most excellent crew. Raj, Jakop and Sarah help me keep this place running from day to day. Raj has been with us the longest and has been here since the primordial stages of the farm when we didn't have a proper pack shed or equipment or adequate fencing. Give this man a medal of honor for sticking it out with me! Jakop is back for his second year (god bless him too) and it's Sarah's first season with us. They help keep me sane (which is not an easy task) and are really tolerant of all the issues we have as a fairly new farm business. I'm thankful for the hard work they put in and really amazed by how all our hard work is really making this place look like a proper. grownup, for-real-deal farm.
I think it's either the third or fourth time I've tried to revitalize my abandoned blog on my website! It's hard to keep up with (obviously) but I can definitely say that I desperately want to make regular posts so you can see what's been happening on the farm. I'm going to make an honest go of regularly posting this year, fingers crossed I'm able to keep it up! Some updates: We're heading into our sixth year of farming (which is bananas) and have a wonderful three person crew helping us this year (Jakop, Raj and Sarah). We're still selling at the Carrboro Farmers Market and Chapel Hill Farmers Market and are starting to sell more stuff wholesale through Farmers Collective, Root Cellar and Weaver St Market. Overall farm life if going well. Ross is still working off farm full time but with the help of the crew we are really cranking out the veggies and cut flowers and... for the first time ever, it seems like we are staying on top of things (I probably just cursed myself by saying that out loud). One really exciting development this year was the start of the Piedmont Wholesale Flower Market. My farmer gal pal, Kelly, over at Color Fields Farm and I wrote a RAFI grant to start a wholesale buyers only market specifically for local cut flowers growers. We're heading into third month of markets and it's so wonderful to see so many local flower farmers in one place each week with such over the top beautiful, fresh flowers. So far, things are going well and I'm excited/nervous/terrified/but mostly excited to see how the market continues to grow. That's it for this week! Fingers crossed I can at least keep this up for a month and make a few more posts for the year.
Oops! I'm a week late posting a picture for week 18. It's been really busy around here. We're trying our best to keep up with planting while harvesting the spring abundance. We have tons of greens coming in like lettuce, asian greens and kale. We have kale for days people! Last week, we got a special surprise on the farm, BEES! Leigh Bonner, the lovely lady picture above, runs a really great organization called Bee Downtown. Leigh's company provides bee hives to companies throughout the triangle. There mission is to create and foster bee populations in urban environments. So why are her bees in at our rural farm!? Well... Our farmer/restaurant soulmate at the Root Cellar had intended for this hive to live at their restaurant in Chapel Hill. Unfortunately, their insurance company wasn't interested in covering them for any risk associated with bee stings and customers. So... Sera (the Root Cellars owner) asked if they bees could live at our farm and I was like of course!
This year we're very excited to have Raj and Jakop be part of our farm crew. Raj worked for us last Fall and didn't learn his lesson and came back for more punishment this Spring. Raj is a print maker by trade and has some amazing artwork. He also teaches print making at Duke University. Check out his kick ass artwork on his website. Jakop has a background in advertising and photography and is now working on farms with the hope of starting his own operation one day. Check out his kick ass work as well on his website. Both this guys are super hard workers and I'm very lucky to have them helping me out for the season. In the picture above, they are using a Hatfield transplanter to plant cauliflower into white plastic mulch. We really like this transplanter on the farm because it helps me achieve my number one goal which is to bent over as little as possible! The the person running the transplanter punches the hole in the plastic while the other person places a plant into the transplanter shoot. The plant slides down the shoot and lands exactly where it's supposed to be. After that step, someone comes behind the transplanter crew and quickly pulls soil up to the base of the plant to set it in place. We can really move quickly with this thing and can usually plant about 2000 to 3000 plants in half a day. Fingers crossed the cauliflower actually produces heads this season. We totally suck at growing cauliflower but I still plant it ever year for some reason. Cauliflower is very picky and likes to grow in cool conditions, around 65 degrees, which generally don't exist in North Carolina.
This past week we had below freezing temperatures on Tuesday and Saturday. The above picture is of strawberry blossoms that have been damaged by frost on Tuesday night. Even though we covered the berries with a frost protecting blanket, they still suffered some damage. We also had significant damage on a row of cabbage! Cabbage! I was shocked. Cabbage is supposed to be one of the most frost tolerant veggies out there. Saturday we were prepared to cover all the crops again in preparation of a night time low of 28. As if putting down almost one acre of row cover wasn't crappy enough, the wind was howling Saturday afternoon. I did sometime smart for once in my life and had Ross stay home while I went to market and take all the row cover down before the wind started. With all the row covered removed before the wind came, we didn't have a giant knotty mess to clean up when we came home from market. The wind didn't die down until about 7pm on Saturday which is went we started covering everything. We spent all of Saturday night getting up every three hours to check on the greenhouse and the row cover. Definitely not the most fun task but we watched movies and couldn't help but laugh at ourselves at the purely insane life we lead as we're driving out to the field at 3 in the morning. Overall, we were faired pretty well in the frost and didn't lose too much. The damage on the strawberries is spotty, so I'm hoping we still get a decent crop. The weather in the early spring is so uncertain and we're taking a gamble with every plant we try to get into the ground a little earlier than we probably should.
Often when I'm walking back to the house from the fields, I'm taken aback by the beauty of our farm house. We bought our property in December 2013 as a land purchase only. The house was free with purchase. It sounds too good to be true right? Well the house was a total wreck. Everyone thought we were crazy for thinking we could renovate the house and eventually live in it. The house was full to the top with rotting furniture, clothes, paperwork and food. But once we pulled all the garbage out, the bones of the house were not so bad. My uncle Jeffrey so kindly agreed to renovate the house for us and within 6 months we were moving in. My uncle and his crew and Ross did such a good job and we love our house so much. The house was built in 1913 and we able to save the original bead board ceilings and hardwood floors. It's a small house but is the perfect size for me and Ross (and the cats and the dog and the fish). Our property is 43 acres total which is more land than we ever imagined we would own. We were able to afford the land because it was (and still is in many ways) in rough shape. The pastures are grown over with saplings and many parts of the farm aren't easily accessed because of overgrown trees, downed fences and mud holes. But for all the issues, we are beyond lucky to have land in such a wonderful farming community. We've only been here for 1.5 years and have already gotten so much done. We are slowly but surely whipping this place into shape. If you'd like to visit the farm, we're on the 21st Annual CFSA Farm Tour for the second time this year. One $30 button gives you access to 38 farms in the area. The farm tour is so much fun and it's a great way to see farms in the area, ask questions about growing practices and often buy some awesome farm products. Definitely consider stopping by and checking out our beautiful/messy/crazy farm.
These beautiful lovelies pictured above are called ranunculus. This is my first year growing them and I'm totally in love. We've been growing flowers on the farm since our second year but I still consider myself an amateur flower grower. I'm certainly not an expert vegetable grower but I have a stronger understand of planting details for produce crops. Growing veggies and flowers together can be really challenging. It's like keeping up with two completely different systems with unique seed germination needs, planting dates, harvesting techniques and storage. Still, I love growing flowers and hope to slowly increase the number of flowers we offer on the farm as our business continues to grow. I would encourage you to buy locally grown flowers always, always, always over imported flowers. Locally grown flower are beyond superior in so many ways. They are fresher, higher in diversity and uniqueness and generally grown without harsh pesticides and herbicides. Additionally buying from a local farmer helps support small businesses and local economies. There are so many wonderful flower growers in this area, there's no excuse to buy those sad looking bouquets at the grocery store (unless they're from a local grower of course). So next you're at the farmers market, grab a bunch of flowers (or two or three) and brighten up your house with beautiful, fresh, local blooms.
There aren't many pictures of me because I'm the usually the one taking all the pictures. Ross is taking a week of "vacation" off of work to help me get ready for Spring so he actually took a picture of me. I often say that Ross is the brain and the braun on the farm, so I'm not so sure what my role is supposed to be! While Ross does most of the tractor work and organizing projects, I'm in charge of the day to day operations of the farm. I do most of the greenhouse work including starting transplants and microgreens. I also take care of all the field planting and weekly harvesting (with my awesome farm crews' help of course). Running the farm while Ross is away at work is tough, tough, tough. But I really do love it (no matter how much I complain). I couldn't imagine doing anything else! For the first time in my short farming career, I finally feel semi-organized heading into our fifth season. Instead of being overwhelmed and ridden with anxiety, I'm really excited to see what this year has in store and I feel we're going to be successful in meeting many of our goals. Don't get me wrong, I still have my panic attacks/why am I doing this/someone help me moments. It's just this year my freak outs are balanced with more hell yea/this is awesome/we kick ass moments. So even though you might not see me very often in pictures, know that I'm behind the camera working hard, trying to maintain composure and geeking out over my job as a bad ass farmer lady.
At the end of last week and the beginning of this week, we were very busy getting our spring transplants into the ground. Usually we're not the best at growing transplants, but this round of plant babies looks amazing. I think we're finally settling on a good system to create healthy transplants. This spring we're planting tons of broccoli, broccolini, fennel, kale, swiss chard, cabbage, cauliflower and asian greens. Planting is a two to three person job on the farm. We use a Hatfield transplanter when planting. Click here to see a cool video of it in action. The great thing about using the Hatfield planter is that it puts the plant in its "home" in the row without the planter having to bend over. It's also a lot faster than making holes with a stick and then placing all the plants in the holes and covering them up. In one afternoon, we were able to plant 300 heads of lettuce, 650 kohlrabi plants and 1300 broccoli plants! This week will be more transplanting, prepping the beds for rainbow carrots and weeding the fall planted strawberries.
This Sunday, we were excited to get a visit from our sweet nephew Forrest. My sister brings Forrest to the farm from time to time to run around and burn off some of his crazy toddler energy. Forrest helped Ross set up the irrigation system we will be using for the season. Setting up irrigation on the farm is a total brain buster! Some of our crops (broccoli, potatoes, tomatoes, etc.) are watered using drip tape that is placed at the base of the plants while other crops (like salad mix and radishes) are watered using an overhead sprinkler system. We have to accommodate for both set ups in addition to our crop rotations when we're planning for the year. Ross is usually in charge of doing work like this in addition to taking care of most of the tractor work. I generally focus on planting in the greenhouse and the field and harvesting. I work on farm full time while Ross works off farm full time. Often Ross is up working early in the morning doing chores before he heads into work and then comes home to continue working at night. This picture is a perfect example of how he spends most of his weekends, doing chores and working on big projects to help me get through the upcoming week. Ross is the hardest work man I know. He's also the kindest, sweetest man I know and does everything with great energy and positivity. The farm would certainly be lost without him!
Ross and Jillian Mickens are the owners and operators of Open Door Farm located in the North Carolina Piedmont.