Welcome to the new Abbey Fields website! Though it’s been tempting to slump down into hibernation as daylight-hours wane and bright summery harvests give over to a thick blanket of winter cover crops, we’ve been trying to stay busy.
Common wisdom has it that farmers ought to spend the bulk of their time engaged in a balance of three tasks: Planting, Harvesting, and Marketing. The idea being that we don’t get paid to weed or fix equipment or untangle drip-tape. It’s pretty easy to make the connection between planting/harvesting and financial success, but marketing’s role is perhaps a little less obvious.
Our hope is that our time spent developing an attractive and user-friendly website will give potential members and customers a clear picture of what we at Abbey Fields believe in, and the quality of our work. We’ve incorporated the CSA sign-up form directly into the new site, to simplify things for our members, and we’ve added a list of Frequently Asked Questions about community supported agriculture for those that might be new to the idea.
So have a look around, and let us know what you think!
The weather man got it right, it was a gorgeous day today, our first community work day of the 2015 season. I crossed my fingers and prayed to the sun gods that this Saturday would indeed be a hint of spring, something to pull us out of the drear of this January. And oh how lovely to work beside all the beautiful people that came out, to see the sun shine on our field and their faces as everyone came together to…
Lots and lots of digging.
The field was still pretty wet from our week of moisture so the dirt was heavy,
these people can tell you so.
Most of our efforts were concentrated on the Spring lot, digging beds, digging in manure to put on beds, digging in mulch to put on the walkways, so many shovels going. Cameron got the fire going early and we had a little premium roast from our neighborhood coffee shop for breaks.
Our fence is going up next week. The eight foot poles that are already in place are a little intimidating on our modest lot. Next week they’ll be cut down to five feet and woven farm fence will be put up to help deter woodland creatures (would you believe we had a deer last year?) and the neighborhood off road recreational driver that tore down our okra and tomatoes last year. The hope is that the fence is as transparent as possible while still giving some lines and shape to the farm.
Our next community work day will be in February, stay tuned to all the various social media outlets for time and day, meanwhile, enjoy the sunshine!
I do love rainy days. This season especially I count on them to get caught up on some needed “correspondence” time. Responding to emails, communicating with share holders, and blogging are on the always to do list; the list that usually gets pushed to rainy days. However, I always forget that rainy days are also great days to nap, or bake muffins, or watch Netflix with the family, and suddenly my ambition is lost to a soft pillow, or numerous Wonder Years episodes. So today I’m trying my hardest to make this work. I’m sitting at my beautiful, antique desk, in a hard chair, next to a well lit window, with a cup of premium roast in my camping mug.
So we’ll start with Liz:
Liz is a canadian goose, lost, apparently. I spotted her and her partner Marv on the roof of the Standard Knitting Mill about a week and half ago. They were humorously out of place against the broken windows and industrial facade; perhaps they were resting on their way to West Knoxville, or Canada? But by the next day they had built their nest, and Liz hasn’t moved since. They will now belong in the archives of other “city birds” I’ve encountered since working on this project. City birds, I’ve found, are tough, curious, bold. They don’t fly away from crumbs when you walk by, they perch on steel cables above swift traffic. They never seem frantic or surprised, they have no where to be other than right there, peering sideways at you. The birds at the field, they’re no different. They walk behind me, picking worms as I dig holes for new plants, they may also be responsible for eating the cover crop seed that has yet to sprout on our fall field. But they do keep me company, and I’d miss the chatter if they weren’t around. Sweet Liz, stoic as a statue, unmoved by the wind and rain in her unlikely nesting place, on an open metal roof, above a dirty creek. Surely I would think this place could offer her some quiet corner, some peaceful shelter to raise her little family this spring, but I suppose she knows better than I on such matters.
It has been a frantic last few weeks covering and uncovering plants, studiously studying the weather forecast to see how much longer old man winter would hang on. To quote a friend of mine: “March came in like a lion, and out like catholic guilt”. The cold did manage to nip a few of our young leafy greens, but most things have weathered well. A word of advice: if you ever need to feel really good about yourself as a gardener/farmer, just grow peas. Peas will make it through anything, they grow quickly, and make a beautiful back drop when trellised. Their taproot is great for breaking up compacted soils and they hardly ever need to be watered. Peas have seen me through some tough times.
But, this weeks forecast looks AWESOME and so it is time to plant, plant, plant. I have a tremendous amount of root bound seedlings ready to be planted and an almost empty field waiting for some color. Potatoes will hopefully be planted this week as well, along with another succession of some direct seeded crops.
We’ve begun to seed a bunch of our summer crops. Our first batch of tomatoes acquired a few of their grown up leaves this weekend. So the greenhouse, literally, smells of summer.
East Tennessee is truly magical this time of year. Roadsides become beds of wildflowers and blue stem grasses, and the hills gleam with pink and red from newly formed buds. Daffodils grace every available urban-scape and even abandoned alley ways become enchanted with ivy and low lying branches. Soon enough the lighting bugs will find their place again along the creek and folks will be occupying their front porches for conversation and good times. You have to have winter to really feel like you’ve earned these walkabouts to spring, this year especially, they’ll be all the sweeter.
To conclude this blog post I’ll end with a poem a friend showed me a few years ago, when Abbey Fields was just another conversation on the front porch of aspirations. It is, of course, by the beloved Wendell Berry, and has been a source of inspiration for me along the way.
In the empty lot
a place not natural but wild,
among the trash of human absence, the slough and shamble of the city’s seasons,
a few old locusts bloom.
A few wood birds fly and sing in the new foliage.
Warblers and tanagers
birds as wild as leaves.
In a million each one would be rare, new to the eyes.
A man cannot make a habit of such color, such flight and singing,
But they are the habit of this wasted place.
They are its remembrance
of what it is.
It is wonderful, this time of year. Especially after our last winter, and while folks still say we’re not out of the woods in regards to weather (things like lightning in February means blizzard in March), I’m done holding my breath. I’m ready to trust the daffodils and the little wrens nesting in our birdhouse.
Things are moving along at the farm. The seeds that we direct seeded a little under two weeks ago have sprouted and next week we look forward to moving some of the transplants from our very crowded greenhouse and planting them, IN THE GROUND! Last week I cover cropped a portion of the farm in white dutch clover in order to add nutrients and of course, to feed our bees, which will arrive on the farm in April.
Tomorrow from 9-12 is our March community work day. We hope to clean off some of the vines from the lower walls as well as start the prep for our future flower beds. Of course, this translates into a lot of rock moving and raking, which maybe feels a whole lot like our other work days. Still, the sun will be shining and you’ll be in good company.
I wanted to attach a link that a volunteer sent to me. It’s a wonderfully insightful read and is also a great description of how Abbey Fields operates. So for those of you who have ever looked at our little farm lot with a head tilt and a “huh.” Just know we’re not the first of our kind:
And, we were able to till in the leaf mulch that had been left to decompose for the last month. Finally, a definitive outline of the farm:
Of course, I outline everything that I’m picturing in my head in orange flags on the field, as not to forget the brilliant image of what will be. When people stop by I proudly point to these flags, thinking they see the rows of crops and the pretty flower beds illustrated by my three cent markers. I’m glad that people are kind though, really, I just need someone to nod and smile.
Sometimes I look at pictures of what this place was just a few short months ago. I still ache a little looking at all of the vegetation, the cedars and golden rod, it may not have been perfect but man, it wasn’t so stink’in brown. However, it is March, and the winds are changing just a little. Today I planted, in the ground (da da DA), beets, turnips, arugula, fennel, peas and radish. That felt really good. And while I’m not so confident in the straightness of my rows, I do feel confident that this ground is more than ready to have some cover again. I also have over 5,000 seedlings growing strong in the greenhouse, just a few more weeks until they’re able to spread their roots in this soil.
We had a share holders potluck on Saturday. It was wonderful to meet some folks, share good food and sit by the fire. I look forward to meeting more of our members as the season progresses, there will definitely be more potlucks to come.
I think that’s all for now. The weeks have been busy but I as I sit down to write I blank at what they’ve been full of. Stay warm this week, spring will be here soon.
We have received our second set of soil tests back, I wanted to post the results for all that have inquired. The first test was done back in November before we had removed the vegetation. We took about five different samples and mixed them into one, we had a normal nutrient test done as well as testing for arsenic and lead. Here are the results for that one:
The second we had done just a few weeks ago, after we’ve tilled. We had some concern about the chemical creosote that is used to preserve railroad ties. We focused our samples towards the railroad wall and also took a few sample from within the heart of the field. The lab technician said that the dangerous chemicals in creosote are going to be arsenic and lead, but that it would also be good to look for chromium and cadmium. So, we did that and everything has come back well under the average of what normal, non toxic soils have. Here are the second round of soil tests:
Anyone who has ever ordered seeds, especially a large amount of them, knows how this feels. I shouldn’t be surprised, after all, just a few short weeks ago I poured over these catalogs, hand selecting varieties to start this little farm with. Southern Exposure is great in that the seeds have been tried and tested for southern climates, taking out some of the guessing work and leaving you feeling confident that the plants might actually grow the way the catalog says they will.
And so January 23 I did our first spring sowing; broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, kohlrabi, kale, collard greens, chard, mustard, onions (both bulb and bunching), cabbage, and spinach. Mid to late February we’ll do direct seedings of radish, fennel, turnips, beets, carrots and peas. Most plants we’ll plant will be preceded with additional seedings of the same so that we are sure to have spring crops for an extended amount of time. Fun stuff.
We’re working on the greenhouse, soon to be up in our back yard, but for now this is where all the growing takes place. I love walking into this muggy, tropical room, it’s a stark contrast to our heater induced dry air in the rest of the house. And the best part: Things are growing! The chard was the first to breach the soil, tiny heads uncurling for the first time under the care of our grow lights.
This Thursday is our first official work day! It promises to be the warmest,driest day of the week, and so we’ll proceed to spread the rest of the leaves on the remaining acre (it’s as big as it sounds) so come! Bring the kiddos so they can roll in the leaves, bring a metal rake, pitch fork or anything else to spread the piles. Look forward to seeing you all there.
It was 22 degrees when I got up this morning, 25 when I got to the farm. Everything shimmered with light of frozen dew, the final traces of a long, cold night. We began right where we left off yesterday, prying frosty bricks out of the frozen ground, leaving their perfect shape in the earth. It was kind of like playing tetris, backwards.
My body ached from the day before. Pushing a wheel barrow full of rock was not something I’d done in awhile, or, let’s be honest, ever I think. It was rewarding though, watching the sunset last night on a field a little less clunky. We rented a bobcat for the weekend, with a rototiller attachment in high hopes to get our seed beds somewhat ready. The bobcat rental guy was leery:
“I don’t often rent the rototiller. People tear them up.”
“I totally get it, we won’t push it.” I say
“Really, it’s only good for mixing topsoil.”
“Totally. That’s what we’re doing, pretty much.”
And so today, I unnervingly watched my boss friend bravely run the tiller through our field. He seemed un-bothered by the racket made by the small boulders hitting the guard, completely confident in the machines ability to not break. I kept my head down, and admired the fluffy soil in his wake. Killdeer birds walking with me, I hoped we hadn’t destroyed their nest.
It looks different down there. Thanks to the prior vegetation we have dirt that doesn’t really look like our normal, red clay, Tennesee dirt. It’s a good texture, full of worms and easy to work with. Tomorrow we’ll begin the process of amending. We’ll take the accumulating piles of nutrient magic (leaves) and work them into ground.
Then the following days we’ll broadcast a cover crop mixture of hairy vetch and rye to add nitrogen, suppress weeds, and continue the process of adding biomass above and below the surface.
I love this part. This time where biological systems take over and take advantage of the death and life of this place. Where simple leaves and dead plant matter decompose to feed the micro and macro organisms in our living soil, where the sun acts as a catalyst for both decomposition and bringing green out of the earth. Roots meander, finding their way through tough soil and soon we’ll get to join the whole shi-bang by planting into this perfect system the food we’ll eat. If we play our cards right (by cards I mean patience and good stewardship), this could be awesome. This resting part, where we “grow in personal simplicity while appreciating biological complexity” (Bahnson), is needed, for the ground, and also for us.
So now, after I’ve finished my Mellow Mushroom pizza and beer, I find myself in a blissful daze. My face burning from sun and cold, and my hands tired and shaky as I type. It was such a wonderful day, encouraging as people stopped by to express their support. Another shout out to Daniel with Urban Homesteaders for lending a hand today, what a guy. Come down tomorrow, spread some leaves, or sip a warm beverage and chat, either way, I look forward to meeting you.