Archives for posts with tag: orchards

Just before shutting down my computer this evening, I took one last look at the weather forecast.  Some people compulsively check the stock market and others keep close track of baseball (and other sports) scores.  I’m addicted to the weather.

I was rudely surprised to see that the National Weather Service had posted a Frost Advisory for later tonight and into tomorrow morning.  Where did this come from?  Yes, the forecast has been calling for cooler temperatures, with highs in the 70s and lows in the 40s and 50s, but frost?  Really?

And what am I supposed to do with this information, at such a late hour?  The warning was not posted until about 6:00 pm.  That gives me only an hour before the sun sets.

Not that more warning would have been particularly useful.  Although the number of plants remaining in the garden is diminishing, there are still several growing strong.  And all of them are either tall (e.g., the tomatoes and string beans) or spread out (the squashes).  It’s not like I can easily throw a tarp over the entire yard.  (Well, I suppose could do that, but it wouldn’t be easy.)

I imagine that some farmers will be firing up their smudge pots tonight.  A common sight in orchards and vineyards, these oil-burning heaters produce a high-volume of slow-rising smoke—some call it artificial smog—which I always thought enveloped the plants and slowed their cooling.

Turns out they work more like the large fans that other growers—such as an apple orchard we visited last weekend—will be switching on instead.  Both the heaters and the fans circulate the lower levels of the atmosphere, moving colder air at the surface upwards and bringing down warmer air from the overlying inversion layer.

I love the idea of having one of the monster fans in my backyard (I could connect it to my propane tank) but I suspect they are very expensive (no, I’m not seriously considering it).  So this time, we’ll take our chances and do nothing.  Despite the advisory, the forecast low is 44 degrees, well above freezing.  I’m not too worried but we’ll see how things look in the morning.

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It’s almost Halloween and we don’t have a Jack O’Lantern.  In fact, we don’t have any pumpkins at all.  Although the weather outside is less than inviting, a trip to a local pumpkin patch seemed in order.  We haven’t been to one in many years, having purchased pumpkins at the farmers’ market or supermarket the last few Halloweens, and remembered a place just a few miles north of us.  After checking Google Maps to remind ourselves where it is located, we set off in that direction.

Our destination was Fishkill Farms which is located, in what seems to me an unlikely spot, near the intersection of US Route 9 and Interstate Highway 84.  Well, the turnoff is located at this most unfarmlike location at the edge of a commercial and warehouse district typical of highway interchanges.  The farm itself is a few miles away, closer to the Taconic State Parkway.

The small road quickly wound its way up and away from the town, over a ridge and down into the next valley.  After a few turns, we found ourselves at the edge of a large clearing over which the fields and orchards are spread.  The farm is surrounded by subdivisions on three sides where suburbs meet rural farmland.  We parked the car and quickly walked through the farm store (quite busy and crowded only three days before Halloween) and towards the pumpkin patch.

The first thing that struck me about this patch is that it is long and narrow, the equivalent of three rows of trees wide by at least a quarter of a mile long.  The second thing that I noticed is that an incredible variety of winter squashes have been grown here.  They range in size from baby acorns through the traditional pumpkins used for Jack O’Lanterns and up to the humongous varieties that are often entered into contests for largest specimen.  I didn’t recognize half of them.  This late in the season, with the vines withered and dead, it looks like the squashes were scattered around what was otherwise an empty field.

The third thing that makes this pumpkin patch interesting—and another consequence of the late date—is the equally diverse variety of molds that have sprouted on many of the gourds.  The pumpkins have been sitting here for weeks in the rain and damp and many have started to rot.  They make a fertile medium for funguses and other icky growths.

We soon found our pumpkins—they spoke to us in the same way that Christmas trees do—and started back to the store to pay for them.  On the way, we passed a mobile chicken coop (similar to those we saw at Glynwood Farm) and then walked along a row of apple trees.  The fruit had already been picked and the fallen and discarded apples scattered on the ground had begun to ferment.  The sweet (and slightly sharp) aroma added another sensory element to the beautiful fall tableau.

The farmers’ market in my boyhood home has become quite an elaborate affair.  It is located in the town’s Central Park, the southern half of which was a vacant lot when I was in school (my brother tells me the former Central School was located there until just after my family arrived in the early 1960s), under a large steel canopy erected solely for the market.  The structure resembles a long, open barn—such as would be found on a dairy farm, for instance—which I am sure is no coincidence.

The market runs the year ‘round (yet another advantage of the mild valley climate) and attracts many vendors.  The Saturday morning gathering, which we visited during our visit (I’m a bit out of sync here) in anticipation of a later picnic with my brother, was crowded and bustling with more stands than could fit under the canopy.  At least half a dozen stalls extended beyond the north end.  Luckily, the weather was clear and warm (also auspicious for our lunch) and no one seemed to mind being out in the sun.  The market also operates on Wednesday evenings; in the summer, local restaurants set up booths and sell picnic dinners.

Whereas the produce at our market at home is becoming limited to fall staples like squash, potatoes and hardy greens, the fruits and vegetables here are still of the spring and summer variety.  There were strawberries from Watsonville, grapes from Fresno and berries from a variety of towns I didn’t recognize (one complaint about this market is that the vendors are not restricted in the distance between here and their farms).

The grapes in particular caught our eyes both for their freshness and spectrum of vibrant colors.  This bounty also produced similarly multi-colored raisins that were delectably plump and moist.  We purchased a few bunches of grapes for our picnic as well as a bag of raisins to take back home.

Also of note were the nuts and dates.  The nuts arrived from some of the nearest farms—there are large groves of almond and walnut trees immediately to the west of town—and were probably harvested only days ago.  We bought a bag of roasted almonds (with olive oil and salt; yum) for snacking and resisted the urge to buy one of every other variety (our suitcase can only hold so much).

The dates, on the other hand, probably traveled the farthest, having been grown in the Coachella Valley in the southern end of the state (at Leja Farms).  I have no idea when they would have been harvested and only know that they take a while to ripen after picking.  After tasting a few samples, we picked out a large container of large medjool dates.  They were the largest I’d ever seen and had a smooth, velvety texture and intense sweetness.

At most, I think I could eat only one or two at a sitting (yes, that sweet) but they will be a wonderful basis for sweetbreads and milkshakes (a favorite, but maybe that’s another post) and a nice addition to salads (particularly with spinach and fennel).

As we were paying, the farmer asked where we were from and when we responded (New York), she threw in another small container of dates as a reward, I guess, for coming from so far away just to buy her dates.  It turns out that she grew up in an Amish community in northwestern New York and spent a lot of time traveling between there and other Amish enclaves in northeastern Ohio (she was growing apples at the time).  We lived in Oberlin, Ohio for a couple of years and mentioning this fact only strengthened the spontaneous (albeit temporary) bond between us.

We thanked her for her act of (near-random) kindness and vowed to pay it forward by sharing the dates when we returned home.

While browsing through the local paper, Rachel noticed that Glynwood, a nearby farm center, was conducting a tour this afternoon.  Looking for an outdoor diversion on what had started out as a gray and dreary day but which was turning sunnier (if not exactly sunny) as the afternoon wore on, we decided to give them a call to ask whether they had room for two more.  It was short notice (less than a half hour!) but they told us to come on over.

We pass the turnoff for Glynwood every time we drive into Fahnestock State Park for a hike and, more recently, when we make a visit to Stonecrop Gardens.  So we were excited to finally make the turn and see where the road led us.  Their driveway is two miles long, a windy one-lane road that follows a meandering stream through the woods before reaching a large clearing (225 acres, we later learned) where the farm, fields and pastures are located.

When we arrived at the farm office, we were told that today’s tour was the last of the season and that we were the only guests.  Waiting for us was Donald Arrant, recently promoted to Farm Manager (congratulations Donald), who was pulling on his jacket and would lead the tour.  He was dressed in layers—clearly someone accustomed to working outdoors—and well-prepared for the blustery weather.  Fooled by the sun, I had only brought a light sweatshirt.  I would have to keep moving to stay warm.  Fortunately, our tour would be on foot.

Donald gave us a brief history of the farm and it turns out that it is no coincidence that Glynwood Farm, Stonecrop Gardens and Fahnestock State Park are located in close proximity to each other.  The surrounding lands—2,500 acres—were once owned by a conservation-minded family.  Glynwood Farm started as the family’s country house and Stonecrop was the home of one of their daughters.

When the last family member passed away, the bulk of their woodlands were donated to the State of New York to become a part of Fahnestock State Park.  The main family home was transformed into the current Glynwood Center, a working farm that develops policies for and promotes the establishment of farming communities to maintain local and sustainable food systems.  Stonecrop is now a demonstration garden and school of practical horticulture.  Originally united by geography and bound together by family, all three organizations still share the principles of conservation, sustainability, education and public outreach.

Walking downhill from the farm office, we passed Glynwood’s orchards, where flocks of chickens were enjoying the sunshine and a late afternoon snack of grubs and other insects.  Beyond the orchard is the original chicken coop, a long and narrow building that steps down the hillside.  (Although still functional, the coop is poorly ventilated and Donald would like to see it replaced.)  Turkeys share the building with the chickens, who also take turns grazing in the surrounding pastures from mobile coops.

Adjacent to the orchard are the vegetable gardens—Glynwood sells its produce through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program—and two hoop buildings.  The larger hoop structure is still half-full of tomato plants which will be protected from tonight’s expected freeze once the sides are rolled down.  Friday is the CSA’s distribution day and as we strolled past, members were arriving to pick up this week’s allotment.

Continuing our tour, we passed the pond we have often visited from the Fahnestock side, most recently on August 12, 2012 (we had previously thought that we were viewing Stonecrop Gardens on the opposite shore).  South of the pond are the pastures (the majority of the farm’s 225 acres) where Glynwood’s herd of cattle graze.  They were in a distant field this afternoon and because the terrain is hilly, we could not see them.

Our last stop before heading back to the farm office was Glynwood’s newest barn.  It is here that the livestock spend the winter, protected from the elements and kept warm in beds of straw and hay.  During the cold season, the accumulating manure is carefully managed and layered with fresh straw (and other materials, on an experimental basis) to produce nutrient-rich compost by the winter’s end.

After the animals move outdoors, the compost is removed and spread on the pastures and in the gardens.  This process takes the entire summer (the compost reaches a depth of about two feet over the entire barn floor) and its completion is celebrated with a gala Barn Dance in September.

Today, the barn was empty except for several huge bales of hay stacked in one corner and an extremely vocal—and adorable—herd of goats.  Besides providing entertainment, the goats are participating in a study of the efficacy of their grazing for controlling invasive plant species, such as multiflora rose, that threaten to overgrow the farm’s pastures.  It’s a simple concept but complicated in its execution (considerations include movement and feeding of the animals, impact on other plants and livestock, and control of parasites).

We were impressed by the smooth operation of the farm, its holistic and common-sense approach (backed by science) and natural (if not officially organic) farming and gardening practices.  As evidenced by Donald, the staff are very clear about, very consistent in and very committed to what they are doing and how they are doing it.  Their success is apparent in the healthy and happy plants and animals (and humans, too, for that matter).  We left in an upbeat mood, buoyed by the positive feelings around us and happy to have found another reason for loving where we live.