As a child I dreaded August. The thrill of summer vacation had faded. It was just hot, humid Kentucky, and school was coming on fast. This year August presents promise and hope that it hasn’t before. It’s been a challenging July here at Stonecrop, and I am thrilled to tear that page from the calendar and wad it up.
The crops that we lost due to the herbicide residue in the supposed organic compost would have been harvested in July. We didn’t have enough harvest to go to market three weeks in a row. Our intern walked out on us in July. We even had to buy flowers from a local grower for a Saturday’s worth of weddings. And for all the days we put in — our family and our awesome crew — we just couldn’t catch up.
But we’re building the dream team in August. Our farm crew is some of the most optimistic and happy folks I have ever had the pleasure to weed with. They bring diverse backgrounds, experiences, and insight to the hillside, and it is a delight and a challenge to match their skills and interests to the many tasks that await us each morning. Daughter Zoe has joined us in the design studio to create some pretty amazing bouquets and wedding work. My partner Bert is the best. He has an amazing gift for analysis and even if I don’t want to hear what went wrong, he’ll present the case for improvement and strengthening that we need. And the crops are coming on strong.
We started pulling onions to dry last week and they are beautiful. We are harvesting the best cucumber crop on record — blemish free, non-bitter, crisp, and juicy. We are gorging on them and hope you love them as much as we do. The tomato plants are loaded with healthy leaves and big, green fruits that will carry us into the fall. The dahlias that were planted in the beds that were amended with the toxic compost are strong and tall and gorgeous. Harvesting them is a joyful game of trying to pick a favorite. The lisianthus that started their precious lives in potting soil laced with that garbage compost are starting to flower despite their initial setback. And the feedback we’ve had from the last few weddings and all the personnel involved has been so positive and encouraging, it gives me the energy to get refreshed and renewed for the next batch of celebrations.
Farming is so much like acting. You give forth so much energy in your performance and the energy you get back from your colleagues and the audience nurtures you for the next night on stage. I look forward to returning to farmers market in August to add to the collective nourishment I get from my family and my farm team. And I thank our tremendous brides, grooms, their families, and our fellow vendors for getting us through July.
Hello, dear August!
I learned this week that 80 percent of flowers sold in this country are from overseas. Slowly but surely this number is shrinking as more and more folks are realizing that — just like their food — local flowers are fresher. They also make a smaller environmental impact as they are not flown from South and Central America and are not sprayed as heavily — or not at all — because of the fear of importing pests.
Stonecrop Farm hopes that you’ll celebrate American Flowers Week by supporting a local grower in your area. We are delighted to report that we’ve been getting weekly orders for baby showers, anniversary parties, retirement celebrations, and receptions. A local church has also decided to go local and seasonal and has asked us to create altar arrangements for their weekly services. What an honor to be part of the events of your lives and part of your daily doings with our bouquets available at the Saturday Blacksburg Farmers market and at Our Daily Bread.
Bert loves to grow head lettuce. It can be such a satisfying crop — a heavy, dense butterhead or a tight crispy leaf lettuce. Here’s one of our favorite ways to enjoy them with all the fantastic produce of the season!
THE MEAT (optional)
1 pound ground sausage boosted with
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons lime juice
5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
You’re looking for about 5 cups of chopped vegetables, a little less if you incorporate meat. Mix and match depending on what’s growing in your garden or fresh at market. Try some or all of the following:
chard or cabbage cut into thin ribbons
chopped snow or snap peas
chopped tomato or halved cherry tomatoes
chopped radish or salad turnip
chopped herbs are essential — try cilantro, basil, dill, or parsley
two heads of Stonecrop Farm lettuce — leaf or butterhead
1. Mix your sauce in a big bowl that will accommodate all your meat and vegetables.
2. Chop your vegetables and herbs and marinate them in the sauce.
3. Cook your sausage boosted with spices.
4. Wash your lettuce leaves and pat dry.
5. Toss meat with vegetables in sauce.
6. Sit down to a plate of lettuce leaves and your bowl of fillings. Spoon about a half cup of goodies onto each leaf and roll.
How resilient is Mother Nature?
We have been noticing over the past few weeks that our tomato plants are growing in a peculiar manner. Thinking we had added too many parts worm castings to our potting soil mix, we figured it was too high of a nitrogen content. Astute fellow farmer Chelsea thought this may not be the case and, indeed, she was right. When we contacted help, we were told that this irregularity in growth was the result of pesticide residue — probably in our compost.
Now, you Facebook friends may remember the day we posted a picture of an immense pile of compost that had just arrived from Rock Hill, South Carolina. Some of you may have even been jealous. Count your blessings that such a pile of toxic waste does not reside on your land. The herbicide residue in this compost may result from bedding sprayed with a broadleaf weed killer or the poison may have been sprayed on the hayfield then consumed by the horses who pooped it out. Whatever the cause, there’s enough that remains in the pile to have an adverse affect on our plants.
The crazy thing is that this compost is terrible. It’s extremely woody and looks nothing like the amazing product created by our former source. We even called the company to complain that our plants were looking puny and stunted when their product was incorporated into our potting soil. We were told that (their) compost shouldn’t be used like that. It has no nutritive value. It is strictly to be used as a soil amendment and it would add microbes that would allow plants greater access to the nutrition in the soil. Those of you versed in growing and amending might be raising voices or furrowing your brows by now.
And so we did. We put this garbage on a few beds. And now it is mixing with our future crops. This pesticide residue might be making these beds toxic and voiding our organic certification.
We are trying not to make ourselves sick thinking about the wedding contracts promising flowers at future dates and the flower share customers planning on our bouquets every week through the seasons. We have given up the hope of early tomatoes. Not only can we not plant these diseased specimens, we will need to find a place to dispose of them. For that matter, we’ll need to make this enormous pile of toxic waste go away, too. Perhaps filling potholes on our gravel road?
This definitely means some bumps in the road of the 2016 growing season and might continue to have effects into next year. We have turned to the third party that sold us this “compost” and have run to our organic certification agency begging for help. We’ll see what becomes of it all.
All this lay heavy on my mind on Friday morning as I walked to the farm for the day’s labors to begin. I thought of all the natural disasters and havoc wreaked upon our planet by us messy humans. I wondered how resilient nature might be. And I found this small sprig of oregano dropped outside in a puddle now turning upward toward the sun.
I am late in trumpeting the arrival of our intern Lauralyn McIntosh here on the blog. Perhaps I was scared that after moving down from Ann Arbor, Michigan without ever seeing the farm or meeting us in person, she might put her possessions back in the truck and keep driving? But I see she’s changed her Facebook residence to Newport, Virginia. I think we’re safe.
I hope you’ll have a chance to meet and chat with Lauralyn while she’s here through September. She’s a fascinating character with an amazing array of life experiences and comes to us chock full of farm and flower experience. I think we’re going to be a great team.
Lauralyn created this masterpiece for last Saturday’s wedding — the first big one of the season — and the event inspired a suggestion for all wedding photographers.
While installing this spray, Lauralyn and I had the good fortune of having the assistance of the groom and groomsmen. Putting up the arbor led us to move two rows of chairs, the shepherd’s hooks (several times) and push back the entire celebration lest the arbor tip down hill. Oh, that I had gotten some photos of these diligent and well-dressed choreographers getting chairs in the exact location, making the lines straight, and mocking up the location of all in the wedding party for precise placement. Thanks to those gentlemen for relieving the tension of wedding preparation and making our day!