Farm Journal 8/9/21

Click here to place your order for this week (please give us 24 hours lead time before your desired pick up date/time).

** There’s no longer a limit on the number of eggs you can buy!

You can now find us at: (we will deliver to all the market locations that we attend)

Sundays – Squirrel Hill Farmers Market – 9am – 1 pm

Mondays – East Liberty 3 – 7 pm

Wednesdays – Here at The Farm – 11 – 7

Fridays – Northside Farmers Market – 3 – 7 pm

Saturdays – Mt. Lebonon, Uptown – 9 – 12

Mama hen hatched a clutch of chicks! Ask Olivia to catch one for you !

Field Update – Jen

(skip if you’re tired of hearing about August, no, not the dog)

We’re into pickin’ season now. The tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and beans all need to be picked on a regular (ideally every other day) basis. If we don’t stay ahead of the harvest, things like cucumbers and squash get outta hand (super big), beans get pithy and quit producing and/or future harvesting gets harder.

Take cherry tomatoes, for example. Typically, we’ll go through and harvest all the ripest tomatoes. Based on vibrancy, depth of color and tenderness of the fruit, we know that the sungolds, pink princesses and honey drops are ready. But… if there’s an occasion where we don’t complete the harvest or miss a day, then those ripe fruits start to split. Not a big deal, as we’ll usually eat the splits or throw them to the ground as we’re harvesting. But, the problem with this plan is that we then are using the same movements and energy to discard tomatoes as we would use to put good tomatoes into pints. Do you see the inefficiency? We’re spending time harvesting the same amount of fruit but tossing half of it.

These inefficiencies impact our sanity in August. Remember last week’s Farmer Burnout story? This may be the root of the problem. The trickle down effect of every little project left partially undone, every tool misplaced, every piece of machinery broken, every pig out of place, and every gas tank left empty all just pile on to the to-do list. Then we’re onto putting out fires and/or getting decision fatigue….what problem or priority to take care of first?

If we can strategically ride out the craziness of August, we get to the point of “what the hell” and can throw in the towel for half of the problems that we never addressed. Once September is here we’re well onto the fall crops. The zucchini and cucumbers have succumbed to powdery mildew and the ravages of the striped cucumber beetle and squash bugs; the tomatoes have hit their peak and are finally slowing down; the bug and weed pressure lets up; and everything for fall has been seeded or transplanted. We will have finally hit cruising speed and we’re already thinking about how make the next growing season better.

On Sunday, we hosted an event for the Pittsburgh Food and Beverage Network. It was a blast and the folks were all super appreciative and impressed with the farm. A few of them said that they’d like to retire and have a farm. I’m 100% supportive of people taking a more active roll in their own food production…. but right now… in August? You couldn’t pay me to retire to be a farmer! It doesn’t sound like retirement at all! Who’s ready to make seashell wind-chimes at a beach shack in Costa Rica*?!

*author’s note – I realize we couldn’t make enough money to support our family on wind chime production (it’s a rather frivolous trade, no offense to wind chime producers)…. and I can’t come up with anything I’d rather do than grow nutritious food and foster community around this farm. I’m super appreciative that we have the privilege to do this job and the community support here that is the backbone of this farm. No worries, we’re gonna “keep on keepin’ on”. Thanks you guys!

The Menu – a rough estimate of what you’re getting this week (and what may be available on the webstore front)

Tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, tomatillos, husk cherries, scallions, squash, cucumbers, beans, herbs, garlic, peppers, hot peppers.

Recipe – Pork and Tomatillo Stew

This recipe calls for a pork shoulder roast and tomatillos (which you can get from us) and hominy – which you can find canned in some of the bigger grocery stores or Latin grocery stores – in the strip. The fact that you can make this in a slow cooker, makes it an easier recipe in these dog days of summer.

Click here for a link to the recipe.

Farm Repairs –

In case you were wondering… you’re welcome to hang out in “the lounge” while visiting us on a Wednesday. Evelyn and Greg spent an hour or so improving the Porch Glider, which had a broken support (for the last few weeks). It now glides perfectly. Evelyn used the drill press to create a new steel support!

Pig Wifery – Greg

Meet the Wattles: take a hike down the hill side to meet our 3 newest pigs! Part Duroc and part Red Wattle, these new guys are enjoying their new pasture at the farm! Look at that smile!

A few times I’ve mentioned that we use hogs to create swales on our farm. And since several recent conversations resulted in an explanation, it would probably be a good topic here, since the pigs are CRITICAL to how we capture any and all water and nutrient runoff from our pastures. Swales also help us reduce irrigation in our veggie fields, but those swales aren’t dug by the hogs.

Swales are long ponds that run on contour lines. Contours are imaginary lines following an altitude, or elevation above sea level. They are dashed lines on some maps which show the same altitude. The lines do not travel up nor down hill, but follow the same elevation. They curve like concentric shapes, and studying topographic maps can tell us a lot about how water has been flowing naturally, and where the greatest opportunity is for keeping the rain in place, indefinitely.

Everyone has dug a ditch to control water flow, whether as part of a sand castle or a house gutter, and these ditches cut across contours and help divert water away from something. Swales are ditches on contour and they are designed to keep surface water from going any further downhill.

When it rains and the swales/ditches fill with water, the water begins to soak deeper and deeper underground. It can eventually saturate over 14′ into the earth, and can support large trees on only one or two rains per year in very dry areas of the world.

We receive plenty of rainfall in normal years, and so our swales can be about 6″ deep. We’ve hand dug swales about 24″ deep and I don’t recommend the activity without a backhoe. One of our swales is 300′ long!

For me, the magic was the electric fence containment system for the hogs. Since it’s flexible, we could run it in very wavy lines… Like some contour lines.

The other bonus was that the hogs would regularly dig ditches along the fence lines in every direction. Eventually, I began using a surveyors transit to set my pig fences. This put the fences, and also the ditches the pigs were digging all on contour.

Once the hogs moved to a new pasture, the swales remained. To many of the swales, we added orchard trees, so that we wouldn’t need to water the trees to make them grow, and they would be permanently irrigated. Once the shade cover is established on the swale, the evaporation rate is significantly reduced, which makes the water retention even better.

I was inspired by stories I’ve heard of environmentalists and historians visiting swale sites. This story is about swales built back in the 1930s by the CCC outside of Tuscon Arizona. The swales were 15-20ft deep to handle once a year monsoons. They are supporting a vast diversity of plants and grasses in the middle of the desert.

There’s a link in the article comments to a Google map to see a satellite image of the Swales affect on a desert ecosystem. It’s perpetually a small Savannah/Oasis because of how the land is shaped to collect water.

If you are as blown away by the concept of reversing desertification, then consider watching this 3 minute video by permaculture founder Bill Mollison from Australia:

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