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Thanks again!



This winter’s first real snowfall began this morning. The first fat clusters of flakes showed no signs of sticking around, but after an hour or so they seemed to get serious, and now we’ve got half an inch of light powder covering the vegetables that lost their covers over the last week.


The plants that are still in the safety of their tunnels look great. Here are some turnips, which brighten the otherwise gray scene considerably:


It looks for now like we’ll get one big harvest out of the tunnels before it’s all over, but the cool weather seems to mean that we can wait and gather that harvest just about whenever we want to. Nothing’s bolting, nothing’s going to seed: it’s all just sitting tight, growing little if at all, as though fall had hit the pause button on everything. Except for mud.

Now What?

The night after Thanksgiving, we drove through snow coming back from visiting a farm near Windham. Then 60-mile-an-hour gusts tore the plastic sheeting from our low tunnels, again, and I spent an hour in sleet trying to get them well enough rearranged to keep our turnips and mache and carrots warm during the night’s freeze. The job of stretching taut 50 feet of plastic isn’t made any easier by the mud as slick as motor oil that’s welled up around every bed. It’s a lot of cold and dirty work keeping a small stand of hardy greens alive–with no greater purpose, it seems, than to see how long we can do it.

Here’s what we’ve nurtured through a month of ice and winds: lettuce (Parris Island Romaine, Speckles Butterhead, Wonder of Four Seasons), spinach, radishes (french breakfast and red beauties), sorrel, mache, white turnips, mizuna, cabbage, collards, Red Winter kale, carrots (carnival & chantenay), and arugula. It’s a great feeling to roll back a row cover crackling with frost and find a row of tender greens growing as though it were April in the Smokies rather than Thanksgiving in the Catskills, but I’m beginning to think that it’s that feeling, rather than the produce, that we’re cultivating–and that maybe it’s time to harvest it. It takes a lot of time and energy to keep these beds going. That’s time and energy we could be using to set up for spring.

At some point, I guess, we’re going to have to admit that we’re not yet Eliot Coleman, and that this year is over. There’s lots to do and plan for next year. We’ve already put in hard-neck garlic to overwinter, and some of our beds are dormant under a thick layer of straw and grass clippings. There are seeds to order and produce boxes to build and rotations to plan and a new field to start preparing.

Krissy, who keeps these gardens going, will be attending the Young Farmer’s Conference at Stone Barns Center this week–keep an eye out for her if you happen to be attending.

Cold Weather

We’re having the best streak of growing we’ve had all year, even with night-time temperatures dropping well below freezing and cold winds shredding any bit of row cover we leave unsecured. Most of the trees around the farm have dropped their last leaves, but inside our tunnels the mizuna and peas and broccoli rabe seem to think they’re on spring break, growing wild and easy with virtually no pests around to hold them back.


We brought a sizable load of our covered crops down for the benefit dinner we held in early November to raise money for the Automotive High School–radicchio, half a dozen lettuces, baby turnip greens, collards, and carrots. We’d thought that event might be the garden’s last hurrah, but even after picking heavily for that dinner we have a lot left, and it’s still going strong. We’ll be bringing things back for at least a few more weeks at least.

Carrots grown almost entirely under cover

Coming Along

A week of sun and temperatures fit for shorts gave our turnips and carrots and lettuces a much-needed boost. Even the kale we thought we’d lost to frost came back nicely and though it isn’t putting up much new growth it’s still withstanding our greedy harvests once or twice a week. We planted two varieties of garlic this week—it’ll lie dormant most of the winter and shoot up as soon as the ground warms in spring, giving us scapes to start with and bulbs by summer.


Low tunnels peeled back for sun.




Parris Island romaine

A lot of what’s growing now is going to end up on the plates of people who come to the benefit dinner we’re hosting for the Automotive High School on November 2nd. Come if you can!


It’s freezing! We spent a frantic weekend in early October fighting with a stiff north wind for control over giant sheets of greenhouse plastic. We’d built low hooped tunnels over some of our newest greens and stretched plastic over them to protect them from the cold and keep those greens growing for fall. After hours of work that involved bringing all the rocks we’d dug out of the garden during the summer back into the garden to weigh down the sides of the plastic, we got the tunnels pretty secure and drove back to Brooklyn hopeful that we’d have something to show for our trouble after a week of freakishly cold fall weather.

So far the plants look great: freed from the stresses of wind and insects, they’re looking hearty and happy and should make their way onto plates here in a couple of weeks. We left some of our mature plants uncovered–standbys like kale, for instance–and they didn’t make it through the ice. But there’s more growing under those tunnels, and with any luck they’ll reach eating size before we need snowshoes to make our way around the beds.

September Rebound

Even as it cools off and the leaves start turning upstate, we’re planting and harvesting more than ever. The big bang of June and July was muted by rain, and that rain cast a shadow over most of August: it took the plants, and the garden itself, a while to recover from the monsoons.

A month of steady weeding and careful replanting has led to a very productive September, so far. The cool rain that did in our tomatoes has been great for lettuces, and it didn’t seem to do much harm to the collards that we’ve just started bringing home this week.

We closed up shop for two days this month and got a few people from the restaurant up to the farm to see where the kale and radishes and beets we’ve been preparing and serving all summer have come from. After a short tour of the beds, some agricultural recreation began: lying in the grass, sitting on the porch, and, after sunset, burning all our blighted tomato plants on a pyre worthy of the Inquisition.

Fall forward

After regathering ourselves after being laid out by the rain and the blight and some bad decisions, we’re back on track, planting new seeds every week, gathering brand new lettuces and radishes, looking forward to September when we hope to gather the fruits of our second try at doing things right.

Some things that seemed to sit still during the monsoon season are now gthering speed and putting up table-ready leaves: chard has doubled in size in a week, as has our second planting of kale. Collards are starting to look like collards and not fruitless radishes.

Yes We Have No Tomatoes

We planted a lot of different things this spring, from herbs to beets to cabbage to corn, but we looked forward to nothing so much as we did the tomatoes. We sprouted them in early April on our roof in Brooklyn, taking advantage of a 10 degree temperature difference that meant the difference between germination and torpor.

The seeds sprouted beautifully-we had about a 95% germination rate-and in late May we drove the little plants upstate to the farm, where we’d made nice beds for them. In they went, rows of small but hardy-looking shoots of green against the near-black dirt of the Catskills.

And then the rain began. Our land drains poorly, we discovered, and when our soil gets a blast of rain, it hangs on to it. But even if we’d had Venetian canal diggers on hand to reroute the runoff, we would have been at risk of what finally wiped our every last one of our plants last week: the quaintly named, brutally effective fungus known as Late Blight.

It’s some consolation knowing that much better and more experienced farmers suffered the same fate, but nothing will assuage the pain completely until we’re slicing sun-warm brandywines from our garden, sprinkling them with salt, and laying them between a couple slices of mayonnaise-slathered white bread…next August.

July Harvest

july harvest, originally uploaded by benghoil.

Mid-July: rainbow chard, Parris Island romaine, Red Russian kale, bull’s blood beets, chiogga beets, chantenay carrots, snap peas, black raspberries, maxibel haricots vert, frisee….