Saturday, December 13, 2008

Temper Tantrum Turnips

Last season I started out planting most of my seeds with an Earthway seeder (see photo below). My initial impression of this inexpensive seeder is that it looked like a big wheels. Its brightly colored plastic, with those big plastic wheels reminded me of that kids toy which, no matter how fast you pedal, is a completely impractical mode of transportation. However, at least with a kid’s big wheel, you’re moving forward. It may be faster to walk, but there’s still progress. Not only did the Earthway seeder not drop most seeds with the consistent spacing necessary to actually grow crops, it often wouldn’t drop any damn seeds. Instead, it would grind them up in the hopper.

The way these walk-behind seeders work is, there’s a hopper where you dump the seeds which pass through a plate that has holes sized for specific crops. These holes are spaced a distance that allows the seeder to sow in a relatively consistent manner and at an optimal spacing. You then walk behind the seeder, pushing it forward while it digs a trench, drops the seeds and then buries them. It’s difficult to see how many seeds are actually falling, and it needs to be a somewhat exact science, so one must have faith in his or her seeder. For example, when I plant the lettuce for my salad mix, I like there to be at least three seeds per inch. Radishes and sugar snap peas, on the other hand, should be spaced about one seed per inch. My Earthway seeder dumped however many seeds it wanted wherever it wanted, but, like I said, mostly it just ground them up.

I haven’t actually started ranting full speed yet. I first want to make it clear what a disaster this was. In order to grow food one must till up the soil, make sure the soil has the correct organic nutrients for a given crop—often an expensive and time consuming factor—then seeds are planted and irrigated. One then waits anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for germination. When the seeds don’t germinate, one waits longer because plants sprout inconsistently. So…potentially weeks have passed before a grower realizes that, hey, nothing is GROWING. In the meantime, if nothing’s growing, there’s nothing to sell. In my case, I then go to the farmer’s market with NOTHING and I have to explain to EVERY CUSTOMER ALL DAY why I came to market, set up a tent and tables with NOTHING ON THEM!

Okay, I’m being dramatic. That never happened. But, I guarantee you, I stayed up many nights worrying that would happen. Fortunately, I start a lot of my crops in the greenhouse and transplant them out in the field. Also, I had no faith in my stupid Earthway seeder from the get go, so I always planted extra, sometimes by hand.

Some people swear by Earthway seeders, others don’t, but most people have experienced the seed-grinding phenomenon. So, I went online to figure out how suckers who use this implement fix it. Remedies ranged from soaking the seed plates in soapy water and then letting them dry with the soap on, to soaking it in soapy water and then rinsing it off, to walking at a slower or faster speed. There were many other remedies and I tried all of them. The final straw was when I oiled the rubber belt on the seeder, which was recommended by more than one farmer. This last attempt definitely didn’t stop the grinding, which was surprising, because the seed plate barely turned anymore. Apparently, oiling the belt takes away the friction needed to turn the seed plate consistently, which is the action that drops the seeds. So, what happened was, I was trying to plant purple top turnips, and the seed plate wouldn’t turn for a while and then it would LURCH, crushing every seed it could. Then I’d push the seeder further and the plate wouldn’t turn again. After a while of this, and after having spent hours and hours trying to fix this and many more hours replanting crops and explaining to customers why I didn’t have certain crops on certain weeks, and after having wasted way too much soybean and alfalfa meal fertilizer, I finally started just smashing the stupid seeder on the ground, seeds spraying everywhere. I then stormed off, throwing the seeder ahead of me, picking it up and throwing it further and further and further until I made it to the barn, where I threw it and where it rests still, five months later.

Unbeknownst to me, I had, for the first time all season, planted mass quantities of perfectly spaced purple topped turnips. Granted, they were dispersed in a circle instead of neatly lined rows, but they all germinated in half a week and I tilled around them for the next couple months, leaving this incredibly productive crop circle which probably accounted for a quarter of all the turnips I had all season. That may not sound like a lot, but it was. I planted turnips every three weeks for about four months. I’m telling you, there were so many turnips jammed in this space that no weeds could grow, and they weren’t spaced too closely because I didn’t have to do much thinning.

So, to any Earthway seeder owners out there, if you want the seeder to be functional, fill the desired seeds in the hopper, go out to the general vicinity of where you’d like the seeds and smash the seeder on the ground while swearing.

If you’d like a bit more consistency, I recommend the Planet Junior Seeder or the one I bought from Johnny’s, which they call a European Push Seeder (see photo below). While this tool costs almost three times as much as the Earthway, it was the best investment of the season. Not only does it have 39 different seed holes, which accounts for just about any crop imaginable, it also has an arm that marks the next row. For me, this added feature is THE GREATEST THING IN THE WORLD! With this new seeder, not only am I able to plant seeds with relative accuracy and consistency, I can also space each row evenly. The beauty of this is that I space my rows based on the needs of the plant and also the sized hoes I have for weeding. For example, I space my beets and salad greens in rows that are seven inches apart. This allows me to use my wheel hoe (see photo below)—with its 5 inch oscillating hoe—and go in between the plants, weeding entire 200 or 300 foot rows in a few minutes. Trust me, weeding is the bane of all organic farms and the key to having even a chance of overcoming at least SOME of the weeds, is to space rows evenly.

Disastrous Earthway seeder with a Delaware hen strolling by.
Miraculous European Push Seeder (it has another name, but that's what Johnny's Select Seeds--which is where I bought it from--calls it). Note the green arm sticking out, which is what I use to mark the next row. Also note that the barred rock hen did not trip on the arm. Below is the wheel hoe that I use to weed between the rows that I plant with the seeder.

Mr. Chili

Monday, December 8, 2008

Off-season Employment

I’m the only person I know who used to strike out in kickball. And soccer…I can’t tell you how many times the ball escaped the real soccer players in my high school gym class, bounced my way—even slowly rolled towards me—and I missed it. As a teacher (during the off-season), I often tell my students that the greatest step towards overcoming something that seems insurmountable is to believe you can do it. I tell myself that, too. There’s no way I would have started a farm by myself if I wasn’t able to tell all those voices—mostly internal—that I can and will make it work. However, in the case of my inability to kick a ball, I don’t think I psyched myself out. It just seemed so easy. Every time the ball rolled my way, I forgot past failures and was so convinced I’d wallup the thing, my positive attitude only made the shock of completely missing that much worse. Mostly, though, I was just baffled. What was genuinely traumatizing, however, were my efforts at head-butting. The bloody noses were bad enough, but they went away quickly. It was the broken glasses and lingering headaches that cause panic, to this day, every time I see that stupid black and white checkered ball.

There was a highlight to my high school gym class soccer career. Unfortunately, that too turned out disastrous. At the time, I enjoyed bonding with the other kid who stood as close to the sidelines as possible without failing gym. He was a tall, lanky math genius who always got in trouble. We had spent several detentions together, throughout the years, and there he would always threaten to beat me up. But, on the soccer field, me and math guy were allies. Mostly we’d pick on other members of our team, but then shout out encouragement—completely opposite to the insults we’d mutter to each other. This kept the gym teacher happy and was mildly entertaining for us. Honestly, I would just say something along the lines of, “Miss it, miss it, miss it,” every time the ball bounced towards one of those star players, and then I’d roar applause if he made a goal or something. I was always a little uncomfortable with what math guy would utter. It was usually more diabolical, like, “I hope he falls and breaks his neck,” and then he'd shout, “Oh, great kick. Oh yeah, keep up the good work. Go team.” Turns out, at that time in his life, math guy was a practicing serial killer, which definitely obliterates that one little beam of sunshine from my soccer career.

But this isn’t about hand/eye coordination or serial killers. This is about off-season employment. I want to be a back-up punter in the NFL. This profession contains the challenge that I like—the potential to better myself, but it also allows me to be profoundly lazy and make a (relative) ton of money. In addition, the timing of this job is perfect! I think. I don’t actually watch football, so I’m not sure the exact dates of employment, but it seems to mostly be in the winter and mostly on the weekends. This shouldn’t interfere with either farming or teaching and it will allow me to maintain both of those less lucrative careers.

While I will definitely have to practice kicking stuff, I believe I can succeed, so I’m halfway there! Of course, if this doesn’t pan out, I may have to quit teaching since I’m known for my boring—though charismatic—soap box lectures on the think positive theme. However, the second part of the thinking positive strategy is a realistic plan of action and a ton of determination. I’m starting out slowly in order to gain experience and confidence. I’ve begun by kicking things that don’t move. Already, in these early days of my professional punter training, the ruthless determination has become necessary. After kicking a filing cabinet and breaking two toes on my left foot (I’m a lefty), I’m now actively kicking things with my right foot. I’ve decided to put my energy to good use and I’m mostly just kicking my attack barred rock rooster. This isn’t cruel. It is completely in self-defense. The bird runs at me—every time I set foot outside--with his spurs up and his beak aiming for blood. He usually comes back for more when I kick him with my right foot—mainly because I miss him and he thinks it’s funny. But, believe me, when the two toes on my left foot heal, Muddy Farm’s going to be a safer place and I’m gonna’ become a professional football player.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

On the left is a row of hakurei turnips covered with agricultural fabric. In the center are two rows that I planted with winter rye that didn't come up as thick as I would like. On the right is a covered row of radishes. Both covered crops are still alive, depsite several nights in the lower teens. This section of the farm is a tiny hidden nook between the pond and some shrubs. Its location, in addition to the row cover, insulates plants from the cold.

To the left is a covered row of hakurei turnips that I harvested yesterday. On the right is a dead row of radishes.
Last Harvest?

It’s ironic that, as the the season is on its last breath—the low tomorrow night is supposed to be 14--I’ve just started documenting its daily travails! Not true. I did a good job, last December and early this Spring, of conveying what it’s like muttering to oneself while erecting a deer fence as a neighbor with a gun is stalking behind me wondering if I qualify as deer or not. But, that whole period where my field is full of vegetables—it did exist. I swear.

True to form, I've decided to write about yesterday, which may have been the last outdoor harvest of the season. A friend of mine who grows similar organic crops in New Paltz, which is just on the other side of the Shawangunk Mountains from me, said that the only thing still alive in her field was spinach. I was expecting that crop and kale would also be alive in my field, but nothing else. Like I wrote the other day, it’s very difficult to predict what will happen at any time of the year, particularly as winter approaches. I was amazed, yesterday, when I uncovered my radishes and hakurei turnips, which are a baby white Japanese turnip, that both those crops look perfect. They are growing in a little nook of the farm, in between the pond and some shrubs, which moderates the cold. In addition, I covered them with agricultural fabric (see above). This stuff protects the plants a few degrees—depending on the thickness. I tend to buy the thinner fabric because I cover certain crops all season. In addition to insulation, it also keeps out bugs. Most of the non-lettuce greens in my salad mix, such as arugula, red Russian kale, all of the mustards, and others would get devoured by flea beetles if not for this fabric. Even the thin stuff helps in the winter. The proof is that the uncovered rows of radishes and turnips were killed by the cold (see above). They are right next to the covered ones I harvested yesterday. In addition to the root crops, the kale, as expected, was also alive. I was surprised that thyme, rosemary and sage were also hanging in there. I got a few bunches of each. Perennial herbs are a crop I will focus on a lot more next year.

All of this harvesting was for the Rosendale Farmer’s Market this Sunday. While the weekly market season is over, both of my markets still happen once a month. The main crops I should have through winter are eggs and sunflower greens. I grow the sunflower greens indoors. I will also have strawberry fruit leathers, which are like fruit roll-ups that aren’t rolled up. Their ingredients are local apples and strawberries--nothing else. I’ll also have apple chips and my dried heirloom tomatoes from this season.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Typical Day (Sort of)

The fact that I haven’t written since July 23 is one small, unfortunate sign of a successful season. When I started out last spring, it seemed too good to be true that I’d be doing markets again on Saturday and Sunday, and that my week would follow the pattern of weeding and planting early in the week, harvesting at the end of the week and doing markets on the weekend. It had been several years since I’d done that. Another sign that this season was a success is that, now it’s hard to imagine NOT doing this. Even with the challenges of a typical day, or the excessive challenges of a more difficult day, I still have enough perspective to appreciate what I’m doing and how I felt in the four years I wasn’t farming.

For some reason, my mind’s been running through one of my last Friday’s of harvest, in Mid-November, before the regular market season ended. Like every morning, that Friday began with me leaving the chickens out around sunrise. Then I wandered around the field for a sense of what I could harvest that day. By November, it’s hard to know ahead of time what will be available because you never know what will survive the nighttime lows. This year, the cold came early and it was mid-October that even frost-hearty crops—such as mustards, arugula, lettuces, turnips and radishes started dying. Muddy Farm is a bit slopey. (I don’t mind that MS word doesn’t recognize slopey because it doesn’t know arugula, either.) There are also barns and sheds scattered around, as well as entire rows that are partially sheltered by trees. While the downside is shade, all of these things around the field actually moderate the temperature and shelter some of my greens from the extreme cold. As for the slopeyness, (I’m going to forcefully expand Bill Gates’ vocabulary) the crops that are on higher ground survive longer because frost travels like water and settles down low, killing those crops first.

So that Friday morning in November, I established what I could pick for my weekend markets. I also took note of just how frozen the leaves I would soon harvest were. The low had been 21 degrees the previous night and the high for the day was supposed to be in the low 40’s. It’s better to wait until the leaves are thoroughly thawed before they’re picked, so I would only have a small window of time to get everything.

While waiting for the sun to rise above the trees and slowly melt the crops, I took out a scuffle hoe to clear the quackgrass (take that, Billy G.) from an otherwise beautiful patch of Tokyo Bekana (how you feeling now, Microsoft Corporation?) mustard. Tokyo Bekana is frost tolerant and can also handle the summer heat more than most other greens. It’s an excellent tasting mild mustard, which makes an exotic substitute for lettuce when it is either too hot or too cold for most lettuces to grow. However, this particular morning, that noxious, virtually immortal quackgrass was beginning to smother my beloved Tokyo Bekana. Harvest is MUCH EASIER when I don’t have to pick out individual blades of grass from between each baby leaf. Inevitably, a few pieces of grass will sneak through and I’m likely to hear about it from whatever customers get them. Usually this comes in the form of, “That salad mix was delicious, and it lasted all week, but, David, my husband found a blade of grass in it.”

By 10:00 the hose, which I intentionally left out in the sun, had thawed enough that I could give the chickens water. By the time I was done with that, the greens in the middle of the field—the ones unsheltered by trees or buildings, had also thawed--so I could begin harvesting.

The arugula and lettuce up high were still alive, but the stuff at a slightly lower elevation were burnt red by the cold. Next, I cut the scant spinach that had germinated—back in September—ahead of the quackgrass. I plant greens every week, and by the end of the season, each sowing was a race against that one weed. After the spinach, I picked the bok choi (clearly, Bill Gates prefers Twinkies to specialty greens). This crop looked fantastic because it’s sheltered, to the northwest, by the trees. This means it didn’t get much shade, but received a lot of protection from the cold. The problem I found, though, is that little green cabbage caterpillars and slugs took shelter between the leaves and the base of the plant. So, instead of having to inspect everything for grass, I had to pick out worms. (I realize I’m bolstering anti-organic stereotypes out there, but hey, it’s still better than the invisible gross things that are sprayed on leaves. At least you can see your enemy on organic food. Besides, It’s incredibly rare to have this problem, and I warned EVERY CUSTOMER that bought the bok choi). What was possibly worse than the bugs themselves was the poop they left behind. (relax. It’s only the die-hards that come to outdoor farmer’s markets in mid-November). For the record, though, I picked off each worm I could find in each little head of bok choi. The poop, however, was the customer’s problem. Next I went to the broccoli raab. (They’ve heard of Hostess Ho Ho’s but not the raab of broccoli?) This was another crop that looked perfect and, I’m pleased to say, was worm free. The challenge with this green was that it was beneath pine trees, so there were pine needles adhered to every leaf. I carefully picked clean each one. I was pleased to note, though, that in the past week most of the plants had made the little florets that broccoli raab is famous for. Finally, I harvested the collards and kales. I got those last because they are the most cold tolerant.

As the sun disappeared, my hands were stiff with cold—like the leaves would soon become. Whether or not there was more to harvest, I convinced myself I got it all, just in time to close up the chickens for the night.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


It all started with Gordita and One Eye. They were chickens over at Veritas Farms who got picked on. One Eye would get her missing eye pecked at and Gordita eats too much--can't stop the fattest damn egg laying bird I've ever seen. In fact, Paul from Veritas told me if ever I feel like making 30 million dollars I should just take Gordita over to Monsanto so they can figure out what makes her so fat and they can patent the gene.
Anyhow, like One Eye, Gordita was pecked at ruthlessly by the chickens at Veritas, so I said I'd take the two outcasts and see if they got along with my young birds. As it turns out, all chickens want to eat One Eye's missing eye place, so she couldn't be with them, but, Gordita gets along just fine with my birds. She, in fact, is the only bird that never leaves the coop. She just hangs out by the food and honks whenever I go near her. As for One Eye, I decided she should have a duck to hang out with. You see, chickens need other chickens. It's actually New York State law that you can't purchase less than six at a time. But, poor One Eye is considered food by all her brethren (yes, indeed, chickens are canibals). So, I decided that she should have a duck for a friend. The fine folks at Veritas gave me a duck with a limp. That duck's limp went away and therefore there is nothing all that distinguishing about her, so I call her No-Name. I might start calling her Duckywalky in honor of Duckynowalky, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
It worked out with No-Name and One Eye. They half hung out and half did their own thing. Then, an unfortunate incident happened where a duck down the road got tangled in an electric fence and remained there all night. The owners of the duck, at that time, decided he needed a quieter, safer place to spend his days. So, that's how I got Shock. Shock, like No-Name, is completely healed. Then I was informed of a duck at Veritas that could barely walk due to a deformed foot. Needless to say, the deformed duck relocated to Muddy Farm and henceforth was called Duckynowalky.
Duckynowalky usually couldn't leave the duck coop on his own, so I would, most days, carry him out. Sometimes he'd make it back in by himself, but more times than not, I'd have to put him back. Ducks, unlike chickens, are incredibly kind to one another. Shock wouldn't go back into the coop until Duckynowalky was inside. Shock was very protective and both ducks would run to Duckynowalky when I'd put him out. I enjoyed watching all the duck love.
Then one day a baby raccoon fell from the sky. I left that baby raccoon out all night in the barn, thinking mama raccoon would take it back to the nest. Mama raccoon did no such thing. A woman who rescues them took the baby and it's doing fine. Then, in the middle of the next day, mama raccoon ate Duckynowalky.
Now, ducks getting eaten on a farm is no big deal. I mean, sure, it's sad and all, but it's pretty common, and a duck that couldn't really walk was pretty vulnerable. However, I have a very safe coop for both the ducks and chickens, where they are locked in each night. During the day, the only thing that usually gets fowl are domestic dogs. So, when a raccoon is hunting during the day, that's a big problem. Apparently, though, it's not an uncommon problem. They sometimes do that when nursing.
The next day, two more baby raccoons fell from the sky (by sky, I mean, the ceiling of the attic). Again, I left them out, thinking if mama can drag a duck up to her nest (which was in the loft above the barn) she surely would carry her babies back up. Nope. Again, the rescue woman came.
Needless to say, I'm trying to catch this mama raccoon, using a Havahart trap and Friskies Ocean White Fish cat food. I've been doing this for days. No mama raccoon.
It makes no sense why the mama wouldn't resuce her babies and why she won't eat the damn cat food, but it does get the story of One Eye, No-Name, Duckynowalky, Shock and Gordita out of the way, finally. I will end by saying I am truly looking forward to entering mama raccoon into the Muddy Farm predator relocation program. Further details cannot be disclosed, but I assure you they are humane.
As for the rest of the farm, this week at market I'll have:
Sunflower Greens
Basil (Genovese, Lemon and Thai)
Purple Top Turnips
Hakurei (Baby) Turnips
Buttercrunch, Romaine and Red Leaf Lettuce

Friday, July 11, 2008


No, dear reader, not you. Me. As far as I can tell, there are three possibilities for the lag in blog postings: A. I woke up March 20 at sunrise, on a beautiful late winter day with the weather in the 40's and the sun shining, poised to finish my deer fence and thought screw it, I'm going back to bed. I woke up seven hours later and got a job down the road at the tanning salon. B. I'm totally callous and cruel to my dedicated and faithful following of readers (that'd be my brother Brian and possibly Ron Klassnik--though I'm not sure I believe him). C. I've been busy growing stuff. D. B and C.

I'm not going to tell you the answer. But, I will give an incomplete update in the hopes that I'll come back to this weekly with at least an updated list of things I'm going to have for market.

Speaking of market: I've been selling at the Saugerties Farmer's Market on Saturday and the Rosendale Market on Sunday. I love (when I'm not busy cursing and hating) my five days on the farm, but somehow it's the market days that are the treat at the end of the week. I feel like a rock star selling my purple topped turnips. I'm also selling at the High Falls Food Co-op. One of my favorite past-times is bickering with their produce manager, Ryan, and making him think I'm mad at him. Mostly I like doing this because the co-op, and Ryan in particular, is very easy to sell to. They're flexible and go out of their way to buy from local growers, which is challenging because us small growers can't be as consistent as enormous Cal-organic companies. The co-op, however, wants to support us local little guys and also provide their customers with the best produce possible. Seeing as Ryan chooses to deal with 30+ local organic farms, full of hard-headed, bitter, overworked local farmers instead of buying from one pleasant sales representative from an enormous Cal-organic company, why do I, Dave Siegel of Muddy Farm, enjoy tormenting him so? Dunno.

Okay, but before I lunge into what I'm taking to market, I should say that, yes, the greenhouse got finished. With the help of Aaron Phillip D'Orio and Captain Paul Alward and Crew, all went well and the greenhouse has been filled with plants and emptied many times over. however, for over a month it's been empty and I've been direct seeding stuff because it's just too hot in there and I really like planting in the field directly in the summer.

And, on March 26 my box full of 60 baby laying hens arrived. They're now huge and enjoying their enormous fenced in area and coop. They should be laying eggs by September. I'm feeding them grain from Lightning Tree Farm, a local organic farm that grows and mixes a good blend of food. As most of you know, the cost of grain has been sky rocketing and is only going to get worse this Fall, so this local organic food costs a lot and I'm hoping to be able to sell all my eggs at the market directly instead of wholesale. I mentioned that I received 60 chickens in the mail. They came somewhere from out west and the mortality rate, I'm sorry to say, is generally huge for those poor things. I ordered mine from a hatchery called Privett, which has a good reputation. Of my 60 chickens that I ordered, I'm left with 61 and three ducks. I'll blog later about the odd chicken and three ducks, but I'm not going to do that now because those four animals get more attention than me and my vegetables and all the rest of the creatures around here. And so you're just gonna' have to wait. But, I'll tell you their names: Gordita, One-eye, Duckynowalky, shock and no-name. I know, that's five. Again, I'll blog about it later.

To finish other unfinished business: the deer fence is up and working. The cooler, with the Coolbot that UN Guy from the other side of the mountains invented works like a charm. Yeah, I have a cooler the size of a big walk-in closet and it's being cooled with a used 10,000 btu window AC unit that is hooked up to the Coolbot which confuses it so that it runs colder.

Okay. I'm tired now and market is tomorrow, so let me tell you what I'm bringing:

Salad mix (my main crop). This is a triple rinsed blend of baby lettuces, spicy and mild mustards, arugula, red Russian kale, Swiss chard and other weird things I can't think of now.
Sunflower Greens
Curly Kale
Red Russian Kale
Collard Greens
Swiss Chard
Baby Japanese turnips, which are awesome!
Romaine Lettuce...

and I think that's it. In the next few weeks, I hope I have beets, potatoes, tarragon, rosemary and most weeks I sell arugula separate from the salad mix.

That's it. No promises, but hopefully I'll give at least quick updates on what crops I'll have. That'll get boring, though, since it's not going to change that much until the tomato season comes around. And, yes, I'll tell the stories of Duckynowalky, Gordita, No-name, One-eye and Shock.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Progress!!!! Lots of progress thanks to the help of friends. Let me start out by talking about day one of greenhouse construction. It started out like this: Aaron Di Orio (there may be an apostrophe in there somewhere, and maybe a couple more capitol letters) showed up with his tools and a wealth of skills and knowledge on everything from making cars run on used vegetable oil to constructing and repairing everything under the sun. The first thing Mr. Di Orio did was start pounding on a tape measure with a hammer. Please trust me on this one; I may be famous for exxagerating, but I kid you not, stage one of greenhouse construction was Aaron Di Orio smashing the tape measure we were supposed to be using to square the construction site with. I don't exactly know what happened. I offered him the corkscrew from my pocket knife, not really knowing why, but to my surprise he accepted it and started jabbing the corkscrew into the metal thing at the end of the tape. Apparently it was jammed and the tape measure wouldn't open and the corkscrew didn't work so he started pounding it with a mallet. Then he said, "I have to go." He disappeared for a little while and I heard, from the direction of his truck, loud smashing noises which sounded like the possible destruction of my garage. He calmly returned a little while later holding the tape measure which looked none the worse for the wear and functioned none the better. He tossed it aside and we used another one. We had like three.

I would like to note that at no point did Aaron Di Orio appear frustrated or mystified by the tape measure incident. It was all just a part of the process of consrtucting the greenhouse, and not being a construction person, who was I to argue.

Speaking of the greenhouse, our goal for the day was to square the area where it was to be put up and hammer in the ground stakes. As it happened, we did all of that and put up the rest of the structure. No joke. We put up the entire greenhouse. By that, I mean, all of the poles that I ordered. At the beginning of the day, there was nothing standing, and by the end of the day, it basically looked like a greenhouse without the plastic and I have to tell you everytime I looked at the structure, I was incredibly elated! I can't believe how much we accomplished, and it was a lot of fun! I'm pretty sure what we did in a day would have taken me a long and frustrating month to accomplish on my own, so I can't tell you how grateful I am for the help and guidance and for the fact that the process was enjoyable.

That all happened on Sunday. What was left was to make end walls, which means, to buy lumber and construct some sort of wall and door at each end of the greenhouse. To the rescue came Paul Alward and company--yes, that's the famous Paul Alward, AKA Dr. Landscape, AKA Veritas Farms. All I can say is that him and his helpers put up the endwalls and doors in a day while I tried to help but mostly just stood around and scratched my head in amazement. So, now that's done and all that's left is the plastic, which I actually know how to do on my own though I'm told I'd be crazy to try and do it on my own because it takes more than two hands. So, I won't be crazy. But I'm so thrilled that the greenhouse is up and soon I can start all of my seeds!

The only other thing to say is, when I decided to call this place Muddy Farm, I had no idea how accurate I was. This place is MUDDY! And it's taking a long time for the dirt to dry. That's kind of a funny thing to say since we're expecting two inches of rain today. But, really, I won't be able to till until the dirt's relatively dry because this soil is on the clay side. When soil is more clay than sand and it gets tilled or plowed it tends to dry like cement. It's great soil, overall, and it will probably dry out more quickly in future years after it's been loosened once or twice, but this year it's really really wet. So, planting may be delayed. But, you know, the weather's never gonna' be perfect. It's always either too wet or too dry or too humid or too cold or too hot for this or that or the other thing so I ain't gonna' complain. HA! Of course I'm gonna' complain. But not just yet. Not completely, anyhow.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Farm Update
Tomorrow, Aaron's coming to help me get started putting up the greenhouse! That's big news. My number one priority times ten is to get that greenhouse up. All my seeds have arrived and they're organized into categories of what needs to go in the greenhouse two weeks ago, what needs to go this week, what needs to be started in April, May, etc.! Honestly, I won't feel behind at all if this thing gets up in the next two weeks, and I think that's realistic. Paul--of Veritas Farms (who still hasn't gotten rid of the misleading s) has also graciously volunteered to help, and my gratitude for both of their skillful assistance is enormous!
I also ordered 60 baby hens from a hatchery called Privett, which is in New Mexico. So, get this, the chickens are born and at one day old, they're shipped 2000 miles to Muddy Farm where my goal will be to be sure that life only gets better after their first two days spent in a postal truck. I will most certainly take pictures of them when they get here later in the month. Basically, their home for the first month will be in my chicken coop in a little round pen that is about six feet in diameter. There will be three heat lamps hanging above their heads. The first week, the temperature will hopefully be about 95 degrees, and then, every week from then on I'll subtract about 5 degrees until it levels off at about 70. At this point, I'm planning on getting my food from Lightening Tree Farm, which is a local organic farm that grows and mixes their own chicken food. And yes, once they're old enough, they'll be happy free range hens. I ordered 20 Delaware's, 20 Barred Rocks and 20 Rhode Island Reds, which are my three favorite chicken breeds. First of all, they're nice, which is a big plus. They're also mellow--they don't fly around the neighborhood complaining at the top of their lungs. And, finally, they lay lots of eggs, especially when they get to wander and are happy!
What Else?
  • I'm almost done with the fence. I'd have long ago finished if it wasn't for the snow in one section of the field. But I've definitely finished the hard part.
  • I'm still waiting for local merchants to start selling air conditioners so I can finish the walk-in cooler. There's no big hurry with that, though. I won't need the cooler until late June, at the earliest.
  • I get picked on a lot by farmer types for blogging (including and especially Paul, who has no right to talk because of the s).
  • I'm going to be doing the Saugerties Farmer's Market on Saturday and the Rosendale Farmer's Market on Sunday, starting in June. I'm thrilled about doing these two markets.
  • Wish me luck on this greenhouse thing.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Frozen Ground

The problem with starting a farm blog in the middle of the winter is that there’s not much new happening and the blogger runs the risk of being all talk. The other problem is that the three people I bribed into reading this thing have all completely forgotten about it due to lack of updates. However, I’ll try to give you an in-depth account of what’s happened, what’s not happened and what needs to happen. I even have a picture!


I have a greenhouse! It’s in boxes, though. I started to read the assembly instructions and began to have heart palpitations and promptly set the literature in a safe place. Please allow me to repeat this call for help: I have a greenhouse. It is in boxes. I tried to read the instructions and had heart palpitations. I expect every construction proficient person reading this to cause a traffic jam outside my house the moment the ground thaws. I won’t be home. The boxes are in the garage. Thanks ahead of time.

I plan on growing a lot of greens this season. Sunflower greens and pea shoots can be grown indoors under the cheapest possible fluorescent lights (meaning you don’t need any fancy grow lights, just regular fluorescent tubes). I found a seed source for these two seeds called Ferris Farms (there’s that damn “s” again. Maybe I won’t use their seeds), which is a 250 acre organic farm in Michigan. I like that I can buy the seeds direct from the farm. My test batch, to test this seed source, my system of lights and the organic topsoil I’m using, worked very well. I ate a salad with them the other night and will have another tonight. There's a second batch started. See the picture above!


I feel a bit stalled since the ground has mostly been frozen and there’s just enough snow along the tree line, where I’m putting the deer fence, that it doesn’t make sense to put up more of the fence. I’m about a day’s worth of work away from finishing it, but alas…that day will have to wait. It’s storming now and we’re supposed to have 20 below wind chills starting tomorrow, so I don’t think much snow is going to melt in the near future.


I’m drinking tea right now from a recipe a student of mine told me about, and that student got the recipe from Rachel Ray. I guess I embarrassed myself when I asked who Rachel Ray was, but apparently she likes tea. All you do is make whatever tea you like, pour it in a glass jar and cram that glass jar of tea with fresh cut chunks of whatever fruit you want, screw the lid on the jar and shake. It’s good hot or cold. I tend to prefer it luke warm. That’s relevant because fruit is an agricultural product—not one I’m growing—but one that’s grown nonetheless. And it’s really good. The tea, I mean.
Speaking of students…I once tutored this amazing fourth grade student and I refused to teach him any vocabulary words other than anthropomorphize and lugubrious. I was supposed to be teaching him math. Furthermore, I wouldn’t put smiley face stickers on his math papers unless he used each of those words correctly at least twice an hour. This kid had (has) the best sense of humor in the world. Well, I should say, the most generous sense of humor in the world in that he got all of my jokes and at least pretended to think they were funny. As a result of my impractical vocabulary instruction, however, his parents sold me a car that self destructed last Friday.

Okay, the car only self destructed after I ran into a series of trees in an ice storm, which I really shouldn’t be joking about because in reality the car performed incredibly well and probably saved my life. But maybe none of it would have happened had I not insisted on wasting valuable tutoring time cementing the words anthropomorphize and lugubrious into their son’s mind. Carma. (Get it)?

Oh, and by the way…it’s official. I’m going to be doing the Rosendale Farmer’s Market this summer!!!! Woooo Hooooo!!!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Live Wires

When I called Aaron, he was balanced on scaffolding, but he must have had some sort of sixth sense that this was a CALL FOR HELP! So, he answered the phone, and the conversation went like this:
“I’m going to tell you what I’ve just done and you tell me if it’s safe to turn on my electricity.”
“Oh Jeez.”
“Well, you know, I don’t know much about electrical wiring, so I have some questions.”
“Don’t touch it.”
“Already did.”
I then explained, in great detail, what I had just done with the wires hanging from the ceiling of the soon-to-be walk-in cooler. These conversations are difficult when one participant doesn’t know any of the correct terminology and everything spoken of becomes a “Thingy”. But, finally, it was determined that I had done everything correctly and turning on my power was safe. My number one evidence that I correctly capped off the wires is that my computer is not solar powered and when I began typing this entry I did not get electrocuted.

All of this dangling wire business relates to my continuing efforts to turn a strange, hidden room in the corner of my garage into a walk-in cooler. I’m done. Well, other than that hole in the wall (see photo below) is still a hole in the wall. You see, the air conditioning unit that came with this house won’t work with UN Guy’s AC gizmo ( As a result, I found myself calling every hardware store and big box chain store in my area for a suitable air conditioner. Incidentally, it was literally 3 degrees outside when I was making these calls. The four local hardware stores near me explained that at this time of the year they sell heaters but if I call back in the spring they will have air conditioners. The countless big box stores questioned me six times to make sure they heard correctly, were exasperated and told me to go online. As it is, they don’t even sell them online in January.

Progress was made, though, in insulating the little room, and I’ll just have to be patient until spring, unless someone has an 8000 btu LG window air conditioning unit they want to sell me.

Deer Fence and Other Updates

Yesterday I was grateful to be doing something a lot more fun than hanging insulation. All of the snow had melted, the sun was out, and I didn’t have to work my day job—at the nuclear plant—so I had the opportunity to hang the deer fence on all those posts I scrounged around for and bolted together and almost got shot over (see previous entry). Yesterday, with the sun shining, I put up more than half of it and the whole time I was aware that there was nothing I would rather be doing.

The fence is 7.5 feet tall and made of a durable black plastic mesh. It’s going to go around most of the five acres. Deer can jump 12 feet, but they’ll usually only do that if they’re being chased by something, so 7.5 ft. should work most of the time. They can also bash into it and knock it down. Basically, I hope to keep out about 93% of the deer out.

Not only is putting up the fence the kind of task where you can actually see the accomplishment, but every step I make towards turning this place into the small farm I’ve been envisioning is exhilarating. It’s not that I want to quit my day job—feeding nuclear rods into the reactor—but I think starting a small organic farm will be a great compliment to my work in the nuclear industry. I actually think I’ve convinced NOFA, the organic certification organizing for the northeast, that plutonium 6623, which is a by-product of my job, can be a certified organic fertilizer, which is great because I have a garage full of it and the heat it gives off is making the neighbors suspicious since I never have snow on the roof. I can’t wait to work it into the soil!

In final and further news: I’m hopefully going to make my seed order this week. It’s an act of faith to do that…an assumption that everything’s going to fall in place enough that I’ll get to plant the seeds, let alone the even bigger act of faith, that they’ll grow. But I’m a believer, despite my anxiety about whether my field will dry out enough to till it, and whether the tiller will work well enough to actually loosen the soil. But these are all just passing worries. It’ll work out if I have to dry the dirt by wicking moisture with a loofa sponge and loosening it with a pitchfork. Besides, growing food is nothing if not humbling. So, what have I got to fear? If the tiller breaks and the field floods and I plant the wrong kind of lettuce and I accidentally step on it once it starts to grow, I’ll still grow from the experience. And... there’s always more seeds to plant.

I’ll take a picture of the bags of seeds when they get here.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Why Muddy?

After spending months, bordering on a year, obsessing over what to call the soon-to-be farm, I decided to just not name the thing. Seriously, after cycling through every imaginable farm name—from Chili Dog Farm (Chili’s my dog’s name) to Orange Dog Farm (Chili’s orange) to Weed Me Farm (I woke up with that in my mind and cracked up and kept laughing for over ten minutes. After deciding on that name, I forgot why I found it so funny). Oh, and then there was Chainsaw MassAcres, Clear Cut Organics and a few others too dark to mention. So, I came up with Muddy Farm because, after trouncing around the fields here, I realized it’s as default as it gets. There are sandy farms, there are rocky farms and there are muddy farms much in the same way as there are males and females in the plant and animal kingdoms. Calling this adventure Muddy Farm is like calling your son “Human Male” or daughter “Human Female”. I think I may do that if I ever have kids. I hate giving names.

I moved here on October 12, 2007. At that point, the soil was dry. I brush hogged the field, tilled up a plot for the garlic, spread some lime, and then it rained for a day and a half. From that point on, it’s been nothing but mud. Dark, rich, fertile organic mud that, when it dries up next Spring (hopefully), will grow some amazing veggies.

I can’t say I thought of the name myself, which is odd, because there’s really nothing else to call the farm. But, it all happened when I was walking around New Paltz with my brother, Steve, who was visiting from out of town. We were commenting on how there are two coffee shops within a couple blocks from each other with mud in the title. Steve was saying how he liked that so I said, well, that’s what I’ll call my farm. At that point, I had long given up on naming it other than some vague idea of following Prince’s lead, but I couldn’t call it “The Farm Formerly Known As...” because it wasn’t formerly in existence. You can see that I was really in a bind until my brother mentioned his affinity towards mud and of course, Muddy Waters is as good as they get anyways, so there you have it. A farm is named before a vegetable hath been harvested.

About the second word in the farm name: Farm. Why do people call their farm "Farms!" I don't want to name names, but Bradley Farms? Veritas Farms? We all know I adore those two establishments, but where’s the second one? The third? There’s only one! Seriously, I always ask, “Are you a chain? If I buy this bunch of broccoli raab here in Rosendale, NY, can I return it at your location in Waco Texas?” They get mad. But they’re asking for it. So, anyhow, that’s why there’s no S at the end.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Ray Bradley has just informed me that it is Bradley Farm. Apologies to all. I have mislead my reader. It will happen again. Most of the time, you won't even know it.

Fence Post Massacre

The root of the problem is that, anytime I do any kind of project, I always think I have all the supplies I need yet, no matter how simple the task, I end up making three trips to the hardware store. The first thing anybody who wants to grow veggies has to do in this area is keep the deer out. While deer can jump 12 feet if they’re being chased, usually a 7.5 foot fence will keep them out. My deer fence, which isn’t completely up yet--but the hard part is over with--was not a simple task. Honestly, it could have been, but I decided I didn’t want to spend any money on fence posts, and so far I haven’t. The first part was simple. Somebody gave me 50 eight foot fence posts and 50 four footers, which I bolted together, over-lapping them by two feet, so I had a bunch of really strong ten foot posts which I hammered in two feet. Easy. Then, I decided that I was going to salvage every rusty piece of angle-iron surrounding this property. The previous owner had horses and other projects that needed fencing throughout the years, so there were, in some places, several layers of posts, all strung together with rusty wire. I rolled up the wire, pulled up the posts of all different sizes and tried to figure out how to get them to be ten feet tall. Each post seemed to come from a different era of fence making, with different sized holes. How was I to bolt them together to make ten foot posts? I came up with a bolt size that would fit through all of the holes, found it at the hardware store, came home, began bolting and realized they were ALL TOO SHORT! I got the width right, so I went back to the store and just got them twice as long. PERFECT. Then, of course, it started to rain. I should mention that it was late November, at this point, and I was in a hurry to get the posts pounded in before the ground froze. So, after spending days cutting, untangling and rolling up rusty wire, then pulling up rusty iron, much of which was camouflaged by over a decades worth of thorn-filled shrub growth, I was ready for some progress! I then realized that about every seventh post had a hole size just barely too small for the bolts I had purchased. This is when I started swearing. When a guy is putting up a five acre deer fence on the cheap and it's raining, there is nothing unusual or worth noting about a little fit of profanity here and there. But, for whatever reason, I was having a whole curse-filled dialogue with myself and my otherself about how the entire universe had just veered off-course and all was lost and, really, most of the words rattled off I don’t want to mention because this is the internet and the internet police don’t allow profanity (right?). So anyhow, I’m cursing up a storm while also arguing with my otherself who was telling me that while the universe was, as of that afternoon, forever and totally off-kilter, I shouldn’t complain because it was all my fault and whatnot and I, Dave Siegel, had ruined everything for everybody for all of time, but also at the same time I was aware of the sound of a deer walking a very short ways behind me. At some point I decided that this deer was awfully close and sounded nothing like a deer, so I turned around and within ten feet of me was a middle aged man pointing a gun and slowly stalking through the woods looking for the deer I hadn’t been hearing. He was my neighbor I’ve still not formally met, but who was well within hearing distance of me. As I sit here writing this, it occurs to me that possibly I should have feared for my life, but at the time I was only concerned with fact that I had just made a complete ass out of myself in front of someone I will live and work next to for many years to come.

I then quieted down and figured out how to bolt all of the posts together, without making yet another trip to the hardware store.

My neighbor didn’t shoot any deer that day. I had scared them all away. So, we have a happy ending. And also, my otherself was wrong and the universe is not forever off-kilter, and if it is it’s not my fault.