Wednesday, it was 90 degrees, or so said the car's external thermometer, as I made my way up the Taconic, almost racing to get to Katchkie Farm. It had been at least 5 weeks since my last visit and I was desperate for a farm fix.
I found Bob in the farm workshop working on what we have fondly labeled 'the menorah' - a multi-branched cooper creation that will direct heat from the boiler through the wires that have been 'planted' in the soil of the greenhouses. The fuel is the discarded cooking oil from the Great Performances and Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola kitchens. The miracle is that the oil will have a second incarnation, and in that way, last longer. Bob the farmer, Bob the builder, Bob the Macabee - joining the timeless pre-technology art of farming with the inspiration of modern invention, radiant heating. The soil temperature in each greenhouse is controlled by sensors in the soil. This sends a signal to the thermostat (different in each of the 3 gh's), then to the master boiler. The soil temp is 55 degrees, the air above the crop is in the 40's. The boiler water temp might be set at 200, the water circulating in the greenhouse floors, 100 - 110 degrees. Complex stuff.
"Put that Blackberry away," he chides, as I pack my pockets with my electronic devices, preparing to walk the fields. He chuckles remembering how I planted a Blackberry last year amongst the tomatoes in the greenhouse. It was found several weeks later, and too bad we did not discover how to grow them.
In spite of the brilliant spring weather, it is an illusion that fields of green are just around the corner. There is another 4 weeks of potential frost should temperatures normalize, not worth the risk of being lured out to plant too early. The nursery greenhouse is where the action is. Tomato plants destined for greenhouse #3 are ready to go, allowing us to dream about local delicious tomatoes a full 6-8 weeks before the field tomatoes will bare fruit. There are hundreds of seedlings getting their start in the controlled environment - chard, broccoli, herbs, brussel sprouts, beets, lettuces, kales, flowers and more. Nonetheless, Bob is preparing the fields, plowing, laying black plastic and will plant some seedlings this week. Fingers crossed!
Other spring chores at the farm include clearing the woodland trail of fallen trees (the crazy weather the past year plus has felled many trees), readying the children garden for the Sylvia Center visitors, finalizing details on the location and base of the pizza oven (yes!!), pruning trees, planning fencing, equipment maintenance, and...finding a good spring spot for the mobile chicken coop. Those girls are ready to get outside!
Being on the farm is transformative. The hustle of the city fades instantly despite the intrusion of an hour-long conference call. (The sound of the wind at the field house was interfering with the audio from my end!) But work was accomplished including a planning session with the Columbia Land Conservancy who will partner with us on our annual dinner in the field on July 17th. We recalled the unpredictable weather patterns of last summer and said silent prayers to the sun and rain goddesses in advance.
Restored and sated with visual images of the farm in mind, heart and camera, it came time to turn around. The Taconic was dark, empty and peaceful. A victory - to escape the work that would wait another day; to connect with the rhythm of the impending growing season; to hear Bob's latest plans; to bring the spirit of Katchkie Farm and our dreams back to our chefs, co-workers and friends. I am one lucky girl!