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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Farewell CSA

These cabbages took forever to head up. We planted them the beginning of August and finally had just enough full heads to give them out for the last pick up. I love how striking they are. Just thought this an appropriate "title" picture for this post.

On Tuesday, December 15, we had our final CSA pick up for the year. It was a cold day, staying in the low 30s for the entire harvest (8am-2pm) and through the pick up (4-6pm). The wind pushed our cold, wet hands past the numb stage, and straight to aching pain. Even after several good freezes, we still managed to come up with a pretty nice harvest list for our last pick up. It looked something like this:
-Winter Squash (sweet dumplin or carnival)
-Sweet Potatoes
-Red Potatoes (still can't believe these stored so a cave)
-Radish (chinese rose and daikon)
-Chard (large bunches)
-Salad Mix (lettuce, mizuna, arugula, spinach)
-Celery (all you want)
-Amber Turnips
-Parsley (all you want)
-Garlic (all you want)

All this stuff looked pretty good washed, bunched, or bagged, and made for a nice end to the season. The salad mix was the only foolish idea I took on, and I only went through with it because it was the last pick up. Our row covers, the two keeping the lettuce warm enough to live in December, blew off Monday night, freezing almost all of the lettuce to a non-recoverable state. Realizing this Tuesday morning after putting Salad mix on the harvest list, I had to scrounge around to find enough small leaves to make it happen. I ended up robbing the super-late transplanting of fall lettuce, cutting the top growth off of the 200 or so lettuce plants that were to feed us this winter...
We cut all the Spinach, Mizuna, and Arugula and took it up to my house where we double washed, and hand spun the 50 bags of salad mix. Catie did most of the work, and it still took us hours. Never try to accomplish post-harvest-handling projects that you just aren't set up to do. Here's the hard & heavy veg table (things you don't want on top of greens). Wish I had a shot of the greens table.

Anyway, it was a fun pick up, despite the cold, and lots of folks gathered under the shed to hang out after getting their food. Several CSA members stayed for dinner after the farm pick up ended, and even some barefoot guy named Jeff showed up for dinner and a great end-of-season jam.

So the CSA season is now officially over. Where's the relief?! Now I actually have to start addressing all of the things that I planned to "get to in the winter".

What an incredible season, what incredible people...what a bunch of miracles.

(stay tuned for special Farewell Buddy addition coming soon)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Season is Over*

* = probably?

If it's not over, it sure looks like it. I believe it has stayed below freezing for at least two days now in the garden valley. I went into town last night to a going away party for a family in the CSA and checked the garden valley thermometer on the way out. Guess how low?

13 degrees by 8pm! I don't know how low it got, but I can bet it dropped a few more degrees by 5am. I knew our frost pocket here had colder temps than Nashville, but this is a pretty significant difference.

Most plants that can tolerate light-moderate freezes will recover in time with the warming daytime temps. In the field, the puddles on the ground have been frozen even during the daylight hours.

The weather has told us that it's time to start rolling up the row covers, and planning how we can help plants grow again here when the warmer weather returns. This is all well and good, but don't we have one more CSA pick up? I'm hoping we can get enough thaw and recovery by Tuesday to give out some chard, kale, lots of celery, and the staple potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash and garlic. I'll also pull out the rest of the amber turnips, beets, and carrots. We'll also harvest baby lettuce, mizuna, arugula, and all of the spinach, which will make nice bags of salad-mix. We'll also have several types of radishes, kohlrabi, cabbages, and whatever is not frozen. It should be a decent harvest for the last pick up. ...last not including a few weeks of extension for the members who don't mind having their produce pre-frozen!


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Fall and Winter Growing

The fall has been my favorite growing season so far. Above any other reason, it's just easy. The time leading up to fall weather, however, is anything but easy and can cause plenty of worry if you let it. From about September through mid-October, every bug seems to notice the cold weather approaching and decides to invade the garden for one last hungry horrah. Not to mention the plants you must start seeding/growing in August (the hottest time of year)are adapted to thriving in the cool season (now!) If the starts and transplants can survive the wilting heat, the bugs will surly give them a good working over. If the plant can manage to be more leaf than it is holes until the weather significantly cools, you've got yourself a nice fall stand. I'll point out that this season we had remarkably cool and wet fall weather.

To maintain this nice stand, I try to do the following:

- Hoe out all rows as regularly as possible.
My tight row spacing in the fall married with the regular rain makes it impossible to cultivate with the small tractor. I like to use a stirrup or a scuffle hoe to take out weeds. If it's dry enough, I will do this even when it's not weedy. Disturbing the soil this way aerates the soil and plant roots, while killing any germinating weed seeds. This light cultivation also leaves a thin layer of "dust" on the soil surface acting as a mulch to prevent seeds from germinating...until it rains again.

- Roll out row covers when you expect the first frost.
Row covers can extend our season significantly by protecting the crops from nightly frosts and freezes. Row covers can be weighed down with large stones, pvc pipes filled with sand, rebar, posts, logs, etc. I also like Jeff Poppen's idea of weighing down row covers with plastic pots filled with compost. When it's time to remove the cover, just throw the compost onto the field and stack the pots. Using pvc or wire hoops to hold up the cover is another way to create a mini-hot house.

My row covers are made by Agribon and give me about 6 degrees protection. Agribon also makes a heavy row cover that gives 8 degrees. For the first several light frosts, you can cover peppers, basil, and whatever other plants you want to keep producing. When these rows of frost-intolerant plants are winter-killed, simply lift their cover and move it over to the beets, carrots, chard, whatever and get double the insulation.

- Manage Harvests
Things grow slow in the fall and winter due to the cold and lack of sunlight with the shorter days. I try to pay close attention to the growth of each crop, how fast it can regenerate after harvest, how it is holding up against the cold, etc. To give you some idea, crops that can typically be harvested weekly and rebound in the summer and fall (like kale and chard) take 2-3 weeks to recharge this time of year.

I also planted my fall/winter rows close together [about 12" - 18") so they could all easily fit under one row cover. This also makes it easier to harvest and hoe, while allowing you to grow 3 rows in what was only 1 row this spring and summer. I would prefer to mulch the paths separating the rows (I use hay), but haven't done so on every path for a few reasons.

SO, why do most people throw in the gardening towel sometime in August? I definitely relate to the overwhelmed feeling of "I can't go on" during the height of the season, but if you suck it up and get some seeds in the ground you're set. It's mid-December and we're having some of our highest quality harvests this year!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Winding Down

This picture is a fairly accurate reflection of the mood around here. It's cold and wet and no one is doing that much work. There are things to be done here and there, but the garden isn't getting as much attention as it has for the last several months. The fall, and soon winter, garden is doing fine but the growing is slow due to cold, overcast skies, and the significantly shorter days we have now. Overall, a fall garden is pretty easy to manage once the plants get going. If all the seedlings can survive the bug-months of August, September, and even October, than it's smooth sailing. Smooth enough that I'm considering extending the CSA into winter for the members who have requested this. In fact, we've still got a lot of stuff out there. Here's the list:
-Bok Choy - Chinese Cabbage (nappa, michihili)- American Cabbage (purple, golden) -Celery - Swiss Chard (gold, magenta, green)- Fall peas - Spinach - Kale - Beets - Carrots - Turnips - Radishes - Broccoli - Lettuce - Tatsoi - Mizuna - Arugula - and whatever I'm forgetting. There are plenty of sweet potatoes, irish potatoes, winter squash, and garlic in storage, so we're in good shape there.

I was going through some old photos and found a few that really reflect just how much things have winded down since the summer...

Yeah, that's my living room. The other shot is from some day in August. Thankfully, things aren't that crazy and I'm even finding time to worry about next year.

There's also a lot of list-making going on. Here's today's, unedited:
-observations for fall (b. grass, bugs)
-battery for fence (12v)
-clean house/porch
-assign compost bin
-fresh manure - save manure tea?
-Rachel's Bday
-cover rows/double
-Ki/Nathalie order
-order for Sherry
-short mnt. - order for Sandor
-winter squash ravioli
-map of farm

We won't talk about how many things got checked off...

Thursday, December 3, 2009


I woke up Tuesday morning feeling unusually calm. Unusual because Tuesday is our CSA pick-up day and subsequently the craziest day of the week during the growing season. I wake up, rush over to meet the interns and Tuesday volunteers, scarf down breakfast, and go over the changes in the Tuesday routine. This usually consists of what needs harvesting, how much to harvest, how much harvesting each row can take, who will harvest what, and in what order (this changes with wet conditions, wind, frost, heat, ect.).

Winter is a time when everything contracts. This is said to be a good time to learn, retain information, and strengthen yourself for the next year. This Tuesday I woke up, thought just that, and felt good. I walked outside to a very heavy freeze and realized the season may be over.

I felt the total calm that you feel in the woods in winter, especially after a snow. No movement, no wind, just calm. I felt a strong sense of relief when I walked down the hill towards the garden, boots crunching on frozen grass and ground, without any urge to eat or speak. The relief did not come from the possibility that this could be our last pick up, but more from waiting weeks and weeks for this natural, inevitable change in seasons to happen.

Everything in the garden was frozen, even the plants under the heavy row covers. Brooke joined me, but we still did not speak, just walked and watched. Eventually I said, "if nothing recovers by 10am, we'll give out the last beets, carrots, turnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and call it a season".

By 10am all the plants were standing up tall and proud as if nothing happened. We harvested, ran the pick up, and checked off another week.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

News from the Farm (CSA)

Everything grows so slow in the cold! This week's harvest list is a bit smaller than it has been, but I need to rest a few things. We've now harvested the largest carrots in the field for the last two weeks, which comes out to about 1,400 carrots for all of you. Along with the beets, I expected the smaller carrots to fill out by now so we could harvest larger carrots until the end of the season. With the slow-growing, however, it looks like I'll have to rest the roots for a week until they get a bit larger. Also, the phrase "end of the season" seems to be highly relative, as most other CSA's have ended for the season. I'm curious to see how long we can keep the garden going and these cold nights are quickly answering that question. I'm also still figuring out the small frost pocket that the main gardens are in. Some of our frost-protecting row covers blew off Friday night and by the time I got around to covering the plants back up at 8pm they were frozen solid... Even with the 6 degree protection that the row covers provide, the tips of the plants still get frost burned. You've probably noticed that some of the lettuce has yellowish-brown leaf tips. This is only from the frost, and can easily be cut off when you get them home.

Also, a special thanks to Dawn Hazen for supplying the CSA with lots of fresh herbs this season. Dawn's daughter Amelia interned on the farm the entire summer, helped us with many projects, and eventually got her family to join the CSA. Thank you Dawn and Amelia!

Take care,


Last week's pick up:

Lord of the Flies

When checking on our remaining collection of winter squash in the shed, I noticed several bushels of squash were filled with what looked like saw dust. I soon realized that these baskets were filled with squash chips, no doubt the product of some hungry rodent. Closer inspection revealed that the rat, squirrel, mouse, whoever had taken the liberty to taste several dozen squash.

Some squash just had one or two tooth marks. Hardly a taste for the rodent, but a gash large enough to send the squash directly to the kitchen. Our winter squash has stored very well, but one nick in the skin and you can forget it. As the picture shows, they seemed to like the Sweet Dumpling variety the best. Overall, 2 bushels lost.

Buddy and I moved the season's remaining bushels to my house to sort the squash. While sorting we noticed several hundred flies at the bottom of each basket, staggering around slowly as if they found their way into a batch of wine. Lethargic from the cold in the shed is more like it, but not for long. When brought into the house, the flies started waking up and launching straight up to the ceiling lights. I nearly went insane from the buzzing, but they all seemed to "disappear" by morning.


Monday, November 23, 2009

New Field

The new field backs up to George West's fence, so he just took down part of the fence to bring his tractor through to plow.

I walked up there Sunday with Martha. The field is beautiful, with a southern slope, and is already offering up old secrets--so far, a handful of points. This patch of land has obviously been crisscrossed by hundreds of hunters over the last ten thousand years, and, every so often, one lost an arrow or scraper right here, for us to find on this clammy, overcast morning in 2009.

On Sunday, though, there was just a cluster of guys, standing around talking, pointing along the fence row, bending over to pinch and smell a handful of dirt, and occasionally leaning back to laugh. George, Odle, Odle's friend, Tom, Jeff, and Eric. Riley was wandering down the furrows looking for those points, and the dogs were zigzagging haphazardly from smell to smell.

Farmers out standing in their field.


The new field is finally plowed! I spent the last three days with Brooke, Buddy, and our neighbors George and Zach working on the new field. First we "bogged" the one-acre plot, which essentially cuts up the roots of the grass with several large disks. After disking, we spread about 20 tons of composted manure on the field. With our manure spreader in the shop, we did this by hand. Luckily our neighbor Zach saw us, and came over with his bobcat, which saved us days of work. The field was then plowed with a two-bottom plow, which flips the soil over, leaving a mat of exposed grass roots. The plan is that the grass roots, exposed to several winter frosts will begin to die. The compost will not only help break down the dead grass, but will begin the transition to fertile soil, a necessary transformation for spring planting!

(field after bogging with manure spread [pre-plow])
This time of year in the garden, veggies don't need to be picked every day nor do they face the insect problems that they do in the summer. It is easy to forget about all the work that is needed for 1 acre, which is why I just plowed up one more...

(post-plow field)

Somehow, Thanksgiving is already upon us. I really do try to think of what I have to be thankful for each year. Above all, I am thankful for this farm--its plants, soil, cows, dogs, worms, and the people who help it thrive.

Thank you!

Out of Town, Out of Pocket, Out of Sorts, Out of Breath, but NOT--praise the Garden Gods!--out of Chard

Current week's harvest:

Acorn Squash
Michihili Cabbage
Sweet Potatoes
Amber Turnips
Chard OR Kale
Mizuna OR Arugula

Monday, October 19, 2009


Liz, Rachel and Brooke are now helping Mike Flowers with his deer-processing operation. First lessons in skinning on Saturday afternoon.

First lesson: experienced people are really, really fast...

Second lesson: deerskinning is really, really hard work...

They came home with some small deer antlers for Eric to use for knapping flint. Brooke says she's going to tan her first hide to make a skirt. We'll see.

Another number to add to our growing stash of Scottsboro statistics (thirty pounds of garlic plants out to about 600 linear feet, 200 tons of compost, 8000 pounds of summer squash, 16 quarts of pesto, and so on): neighborhood deer-processing results in 140,000 pounds of bones each year.

Third lesson: sometimes there is nothing more to say.

Country Store

On the neon sign down at Lewis Country Store on the corner:

New Fall Merchandise...

Scarfs, Hats, Purses...

Live Bait

Not quite haiku, but close. It's a pretty nice store, but we're still in the country!

Friday, October 16, 2009


Jeff Poppen has been here the last couple of days, and, in spite of the rain, worked all day with Zach, our heavy-equipment-equipped neighbor, on compost.

One of the windrows is 225 feet long, 15 feet wide, 5 feet high--just to give you some idea of the scale of this operation.

They layered up fair-doo, old hay, manure, and woodchips, raking it all out and fishing out fair-trash. And dosing it with biodynamic juju preps. And it was all tucked in by the time Tom and I got home from the hospital after seven.

Zach estimates (and he is very experienced at moving large quantities of stuff) that we'll have more than 200 tons of compost for next spring's garden. (There has been some discussion about whether the wood chips will be completely broken down.)

We do give thanks for the gifts we are given, and so offer up gratitude to Jeff, Zach, other workers and neighbors who helped out, Glenn for wood chips, the fair's assiduous manure-producers, and the men who loaded, transported and dumped the 18 or so fairdoo dumpsters in our pasture. Even if there was a lot of trash mixed in. No thanks for rain on this particular day.

(Pic of Jeff on a fairer day last spring, talking about garden plan.)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fall Planting: from EricTheFarmer

Fall Planting!!!

-chard (three kinds!)
-collard greens
-bok choi
-chinese cabbage
-broccoli (pac man)
-turnips (purple top, amber globe)
-radish (watermelon, chinese rose, daikon)

In storage:
-butternut squash, acorn squash, kabocha, buttercup, sweet dumplin, carnival, kushaw, old time tn pumpkin, jarsdale pumpkin, etc.
-red onions!

Greenhouse Redo

Justin on ladder. I thought we had weird fire dance pictures, but can only find this one of Liz and Tom looking startled by flash. Pre-combustion.

Greenhouse Redo and Fire Ritual

Our neighbor Sean (a genuine red-headed irishman, complete with brogue and and infinite set of practical skills) re-roofed--well, re-plasticked--the greenhouse, along with a few volunteers. Justin, visiting from Atlanta, sent these pictures, and that is Justin up on the ladder, clicking in the zigzag wire clips into the rails.

Sean's greenhouse rites include the ritual burning of the cardboard tube that was inside the roll of plastic. The tube becomes a chimney, venting hot smoke, and then slowly turning, bottom up, into a column of golden leaves of ash and collapsing into itself. Another moment of bizarre magic. Perhaps enhanced by resident pagans Rachel and Buddy in a less magical moment of dance. Or not.

Edit: Bizarre. And strange. Or not. But it is only the greenhouse we re-plasticked, not a few volunteers. It's safe to visit...

Watermelon and Rain

The incessant rain and gloom paradoxically reminds me of that day last summer when I was home alone, for a change, and went out to look around the garden.

Feeling wonderfully wanton and wasteful (as well as alliterative), I smashed a watermelon on the ground and sat in a patch of sunshiny grass eating untidy brilliant handfuls of watermelon heart. Lulu the mastiff swiped a piece and huddled over it like a bone.

Of course, such self-satisfaction is inevitably short-lived. The calves pushed open the gate I had left unlatched and headed for me, watermelon, beans, peppers and celery, bent on havoc. Fortunately, Eddie and Patrick happened by and the three of us rounded them up and turned them back out into the pasture. Lulu was no help at all.

Like so much that we enjoy: a small messy handful of memory, delicious on a dark afternoon dripping with rain.

Kitchen Picture in Tennessean

Charming article about Tuesday's cooking in our kitchen. Even a kitchen picture with Brooke, wine glass, Chris, Rachel, Kay, and Maddy.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Brook and Pesto and Heresy

This is homage to Brook, our animating gracious spirit, who seems to appear at all the right times to add a jolt of style to the farm and the farm table.

Here she is at last Saturday's potluck with butternut squash latkes--maybe not exactly like your grandma used to make in Brooklyn, but truly excellent.

It was a fine day, in spite of the stormy morning. Around noon the sun appeared and we had a sparkling autumn day, with bright-edged clouds scudding overhead and a little breeze.

After lunch and the garden tour, we made pesto, while Sean and a few volunteers re-roofed the greenhouse for the winter.

I'm not so hot with names, but I know Kathleen, the ricotta lady, came, along with neighbors Kathleen and Jim, and several other households. I know Scott, an ex-surfer from Santa Cruz, and Will, Long Hungry Creek Farm's resident leprechaun look-alike, were here, helping strip basil off the stems, and working on the greenhouse repairs.

Some of Julia's pesto didn't quite get the parmesan included (anyone who knows Julia will laugh affectionately at this point!) but is pretty good nonetheless.

My recipe, adapted from the Silver Palate cookbook:

2 cups washed, dried, packed basil leaves
1 cup pine nuts (get the big packages from Costco, although I must confess they are imports from China)--or walnuts
5-6 cloves garlic

Process above in food processor.

Add 1 cup olive oil slowly
Large pinch of salt
1 cup plus a little mixed parmesan and romano cheese


Pack in jars, using table knife to eliminate air pockets (pesto will turn dark exposed to air, though will still taste good), and cover with a thin layer of olive oil.

This will keep for months in your fridge!

How to eat?

We like it on fettucine. Mix pesto with a little pasta water to warm it up, and use some cream to thin it and help it spread around the pasta. I like a little yogurt, too, but Tom thinks this is pesto heresy. (But the only punishment heretics get around here is a little verbal needling, so heresy abounds.)

Or put it on grilled salmon. Or chicken sandwiches.

More Food and yet more Foodies

Too busy doing--well, other stuff--to blog.

But a legendary Tuesday dinner, amongst all the legendary Tuesday dinners, last week. Chris, an IT guy who likes to cook--clearly a vast understatement for someone who appears in our kitchen with his own Sabatier knives in a rolled-up sheath--showed up. So, in addition to Kay's usual superb turnout, we had Chris' grass-fed steaks, grilled, topped with his own home-cured pancetta. Then, peach icecream and a lovely odd lavender/pear ice cream. (Plus, of course, Kay's peach pie.)

There was a reverent silence in the Church of Outdoor Dining. Prayer can take many forms.

We still think about Chris several times a week, when Tom, who has carefully hidden the homemade bacon from careless and underappreciative consumers, slips it out, and skillet-fries a couple of slices. Which are then savoured with that small-bite, closed-eyes, chin-up concentration usually reserved for an excellent port, really good chocolate, or, minus the bite, sampling the evanescent citrus aroma of a night-blooming cereus.

Chris, wherever you are, come back, come back. Bringing gifts.

(pix from Justin H.)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Farm Report

News From The Farmer
The night I wrote last week's newsletter, we ended up with 5 inches of rain. We had five rows of plants in standing water (two inches deep), which made for a fun morning of trench-digging to drain the fields. Fortunately, most of the fall plantings pulled through, although several couldn't keep their leaves above the water and mud. The rain has been both a blessing and a curse throughout this unusual year.
I write this with dark clouds covering the sky, so we will try to get the rest of the lettuce transplants (over 400 plants) into the field before it rains.
On another note, this week I will be sending a lot of kale and collard greens to whoever wants them. They were planted a little early and did extremely well until the bugs realized this too. What we have now is a lot of great greens with a lot of holes in them. I actually read a study this spring claiming that greens with bug-damage are actually higher in nutrients...mmm. For those who don't mind the buggers, take all you can. I will cut back the entire row to encourage new, undamaged leaf growth
Other than that, tomatoes are on their way out, a new row of crookneck squash is coming in, and we are letting more and more of those super-sweet red Carmen peppers mature. I hope everyone is still enjoying the season, even during the harvest plateau, and is ready for lots of greens!
Eric Wooldridge -Farm Manager

Fairdoo Donor: The self-feeding goat


Great excitement on the home front amongst the compost-obsessed! Through our neighbor Glenn's connections, Sulphur Creek Farm is the proud recipient of this years fair-doo--the bedding and associated excreta from the State Fair.

Carla sent pictures of the proud donors--including a hot chick and a self-feeding goat. Now they should produce quality stuff.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Watermelon Pickles

The two Rachels ("little", our daughter, currently near six feet, and "big", her godmother, a terrific cook and overall foodie), Elaine, Liz, and Tom put in a couple of sessions this weekend on watermelon rind pickles. Tom apparently peeled a whole watermelon (is there a prize for largest naked melon?), and, when I got home from the hospital the kitchen was pungent with gingery smells, the countertop lined with jars being filled with crunchy relish and pale gold syrup.

Watermelon pickles are a bit weird--crunchy, sweet-sour, more on the sweet side. My personal best pairing was at Cochon in New Orleans, where their pickles (not as good as ours, either!) were a perfect complement to small servings of thin-sliced country ham.

The pickles are made from the white rind, so the green skin and red insides have to go. Somewhere. Tom took the cut-up "meat" to the ice-cream booth at our local Scottsboro barbecue (the 53rd annual!) to give away. The skin, I would guess, went to the "boys", Tom's worms on the compost heap.

Leftover syrup, with sugar and vinegar, cinnamon, and nearly-candied sliced lemons went, a little bit at a time, into the weekend's iced tea--much appreciated by those of us slapping mosquitoes as we sorted butternut squash under the shed yesterday!

The lemon slices wound up scattered across the lemon bars that I made for dinner last night.

Good to the last drop. Though I thinkwe might not see the last drop of this round of pickle-making for a long time.

Farm Report: Torrential Rain, Mushrooms, Pesto

EricTheFarmer's current report:

As I type this, the rain on my ceiling is much louder than the click of the keyboard. At around 5pm today I started transplanting cabbage into the field, only to get about 20 plants in a row before the sky fell through. Two hours later and it's still raining just as hard. As you know, we've had a lot of rain this summer, but this one is flooding the entire yard. There are a lot of things to worry about on a farm, and having your fall plantings wash out from 5 inches of rain (and counting) is a bit unnerving.
Usually it's best to just focus on better things like...our shiitake mushrooms are fruiting! The white oak logs typically take a full summer for the spawn run (mycelium inoculation) to move throughout. After that you can force-fruit the logs by soaking them for 48 hours in cool water (like the creek). Well we tested two of the 50 logs and they are both now sprouting several large, beautiful mushrooms. I will make the shiitakes available to the CSA for a reduced price over the next several weeks.
Lastly, we all hope you will join us on Saturday, September 26th for a CSA potluck, farm tour, and pesto-making party. We are still working out the details, but please set that date to see the farm!
Eric Wooldridge -Farm Manager

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

People and Mutant Zinnia

Pretty basic here: Tom, Rachel, neighbor Kathleen outside the fence. And Mutant Zinnia. You probably can't quite make it out from here, but this flower has four heads melded into one. A floral Siamese quadruplet.

Folks, life's really exciting out here...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ellen's Cows

Prettier than ours. And, for organic gardeners, manure machines.


We have always had a few cows to keep pasture grass a civilized length, and as an excuse for fences, tractors, cattle gaps, and so on. Lawrence Smith has been our "cow man" since forever, and the arrival of his old blue truck engenders a stampede towards the barn. He knows every quirk of every cow, how much she cost, how many calves she's had and what they sold for.

We usually have a bull and have never had a speck of trouble. Our bulls have all been gentle giants, or at least gentle mediocre boy bovines--I'm not sure why, in the more than 20 years I've lived here with them, we've never had a single one that fits the stereotype of the pawing, charging, fence-destroying behemoths of legend. Maybe because they always live with the girls. At any rate, kids, cows, bulls, and donkeys have always coexisted peacefully around here.

Ellen's cows are both higher-class than ours--hers are Angus, ours are mutts--and more spoiled. They get hand-fed from a bucket, instead of a blue truck. But ours are art-lovers: one of our huge concrete sculptures mysteriously seemed to shift positions from day to day. Turns out our bull was in love, and pushed it around during the night. That's amore'!


Dinner in the Church of Outdoor Dining is usually a casual affair, but sometimes we pull out the ancient damask tablecloths from the highboy we inherited from Tom's reclusive-while-alive-but-now- long-deceased spinster second cousin (I think!). Tom finally actually bought a brand-new white tablecloth for the occasion here--a dinner to thank our good friend Sherbe and his wife Sheila and support crew for the gate they contributed to our fenced garden. And for everything else they do for us.

DiAnne's green-tomato gazpacho--made with Green Germans (an heirloom tomato, neither unripe nor foreign nationals)--is both exquisitely tart and exquisitely green. Food out here can't help but be beautiful!

Sherbe actually lived here on the farm long ago, in the late 70's, during the days of no air-conditioning and the famous outdoor shower. Perhaps these features were inextricably linked.

And no, I don't iron my tablecloths. Ever. Unless Johnny Hunt happens to be visiting. Then HE irons them.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Beach, Blight, and Barbecue.

We're back at Sulphur Creek after family beach-time--greeted by a lush fence beaded with gold and green gourds, saffron squash blossoms, and those bizarre yard-long pale green tromboncini squash. The zinnias and sunflowers are brilliant. Lulu and Ollie obviously did not suffer from neglect in our absence--we were met by pretty blase' versions of welcoming drool (Lulu) and frenetic tailwagging (Ollie).

My flower beds are vicious jungles of cardinal vine, castor beans, and mosquitoes, and we, along with every other farmer along the east coast, are suffering from tomato blight.

This apparently is a dramatic epidemic of late blight, a fungal disease, closely related to the organism that caused the Irish potato famine. (We're evaluating passage to Australia, especially if we don't get that public health insurance option.) It spreads rapidly in cool wet weather, and has decimated crops all over the Eastern United States. Reportedly, even Martha Stewart's garden has been attacked!

We still have quite a few tomatoes , but overall our harvest will be much less, and we are picking them a bit earlier.

Dinner was fettucine with a fabulous marinara sauce left in our fridge by Brook, and our own squash and canteloupe.

We're glad to be home, looking at shed-building, the Scottsboro barbecue--put it on your calendar for September 5-- and discussing general plans for fall crops and projects.

EricTheFarmer: Report

News From The Farmer
After about 5 months of spring, the summer is finally here and a lot is going on. After I finish writing this, I will climb onto George West's tractor and plow up enough potatoes to provide the CSA for the rest of the season. Half will be stored in my home-turned-cooler, which I've had to keep at a constant 60 degrees to keep our vegetables fresh until the shed is built. The other half will be stored in a huge cave down the street. The landowners won't let anyone in the cave, but they'll let us put potatoes in it (a basket of organic veggies sweetened the deal for them).
To ensure a steady crop of greens in the fall/winter, we are planting now. Obviously this is challenging, as we're planting cool-weather crops during the hottest part of the summer. Our first two plantings have been wiped out completely--first from too much rain, then from the heat. Regardless, we're still seeding and transplanting every day until we can get a few standing rows. We have also developed a rather worrisome squash bug infestation in the winter squash/pumpkin rows. The fruit just needs to hang in a couple more weeks until they reach maturity and can be stored. The list goes on and on, but I thought it important for our members to understand that the baskets, thankfully, do not reflect the immense stress and challenges of the season. On the bright side, we still have tomatoes when many do not, and we will not have cucumbers and squash for about a month! (don't get too excited--I planted another 1/2 row of each last week)...
Your Farmer, truly,

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Food for the World

Well, maybe not the entire world, but we are certainly providing veggies to a lot of Nashvillians!

This article in today's Tennessean is about EricTheFarmer and the Bells Bend cooperative's donations--1500 pounds of squash and cucumbers to Second Harvest last week, plus a weekly give-away at a Jefferson Street church, and donations to a number of other organizations.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Baby Farmers

These baby Smiths' great-grandaddy Lawrence has been our "cowman" for many years, buying, selling, hauling in and out, and generally tending to the needs of our little herd. His detailed memory is simultaneously remarkable and inscrutable: "That little red heifer with the white tail and foot, you know, bought her a couple of years ago. Pregnant, had that big black calf, and the little one with the foot that wasn't quite right, sold them so she's paid for. Think I'll take her down Tuesday, prices looking good, maybe can find a couple a yearlings, not gonna calve this year. " We've done ok just taking his word for it.

Miss Nancy, his wife, was the crossing guard down at Wade School in Scottsboro for about 35 years, and is known around our house for her great good humor and those squash pickles. Miss Nancy called one afternoon many years ago, commenting on the blistering weather, and asked if her friends could come swimming. They came--about five ladies in dresses and pantyhose--and jumped fully-clad, panty-hose and all, laughing hysterically, into the pool. Pretty wild bunch.

Lawrence told me that he had never lived more than 5 miles from our place his whole life. His daddy was a sharecropper--the family even lived up in our own holler for a while.

Farm maintenance--and our survival!-- has only been possible these many years because Lawrence and his clan were out here. And, I must say, they have had the cutest grandbabies and now great-grandbabies I've ever seen. A couple of the Smith granddaughters were excellent bushhoggers in their day--could put a tractor across our pastures as well as anybody.

Farmer's House/Cabin/Cute Box/Excuse for Porch

Our little house-let where EricTheFarmer resides, along with a clan of brown recluse spiders (let the warfare begin!), and, last time I looked, about eighteen bushels of cukes and six or eight of squash.

With the A/C cranked up, the cabin has been pulled into occasional service as our walk-in cooler.

The big side porch (no, you can't look) seems to effortlessly be creating chairs, old sneakers, bugspray cans, towels, and music in its afterhours job as communal center for the farm crew. Clearly a parallel universe.


That's really his name. As far as we know.

Some of our farmers

Eric, Evan, Amelia, and EricTheFarmer

Pictures! Today is CSA Pickup Day

Maybe I shouldn't even be blogging, given age, occupations, and current lack of ability to provide blogable pix. But Montana, our effervescent WWOOFer (i.e. farm intern) has fixed at least the pix-lack.

In return, I taught her a permanently useful life skill: how to set up a double sink to wash a large batch of dishes with relative efficiency.

Again, we tribe are all about mutual: here with knowledge, skill (however you might snicker at dishwashing as a skill--wait until you see someone who hasn't got it), food, work, care, entertainment.

Anyway, thanks, Montana, wherever you are.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Farm Party

Farm party. Or something.

Sandor Katz talking about fermentation--sauerkraut in all its many varieties and forms. Kefir. Yogurt. Instead of the 15 people we anticipated, we had 50. Or 60. More trickling in for the farm tour.

And then food--India and Brooke made three gigantic batches of squash casserole, and the biggest apple crisp I've ever seen. And more. Two beer kegs. Music: song, fiddle, sax, dobro, guitar, mandolin, harmonica, in endless configurations on porches front and back, and around the bonfire.

Great kids who (mostly) cleaned up the vast quantities of pots, bowls, and plates. Only one popularly acclaimed bad-behavior-never-to-return. And he was an old guy, more my age.

In the early light of dawn, person on couch I didn't know. The person. I am quite familiar with the couch. Though perhaps we should suggest BYOC next time. Bring your own couch. If there is a next time.

All we wanted was a garden. What we got was a tribe. Everyone should have one.


Six kinds of tomatoes (DiAnne's, not for CSA, this year, at least):

Aunt Ruby's German green, Dr. Wyche's yellow, Black Krem, German Johnson, a Bradley variety, and a German yellow.

Heaven hath no secrets beyond the smells and tastes of a Tennessee garden in July. OK, that's a bit hyperbolic. But not much.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Real Business of Bells Bend

What in the world are us Bells-Benders (that sounds like an undiscovered species of newt, doesn’t it?) doing, now that, along with Maytown, council meetings, letters, phone-call marathons and policy papers are—at least temporarily-- a thing of the past? Lying on our laurels like lizards in the sun? Attractive though that sounds, no. The Bend is a busy place these days.

The biggest thing going on is the glimmer of a start of a beginning of a return to farming in the Bend. We’ve always had cows, sodfarms, big turnip fields, and several dozen of the best-looking backyard gardens in Nashville, but seventy years ago there were 8 dairy farms out here, sorghum, and a wide variety of other crops. This year two young men, raised in Scottsboro, are back after college to start new farms.

It’s hard to preserve a cynical newsblogger face about this: I come home every day to a lush truck farm in our front pasture with young folks all sweaty and laughing out there, picking cukes (we have slicers and picklers), squash, and celery. We cook dinner—maybe our own potatoes, roasted and tossed in our own garlic—well, the garlic really comes from Millwant’s farm up the road—and mint, our own basil for pesto, our own squash in someone’s grandmother’s casserole recipe, and our own tomato-cucumber salad.

Usually there are ten to fifteen around the table in our backyard pavilion, known as the Church of Outdoor Dining, including Dan and Evan (Chicago), Montana (that’s really her name, and she’s from Pennsylvania), the Lauras (Reston, Virginia), Nate (Minnesota), Buddy (Oak Ridge), and Nashville’s own Sabina, Amelia, Ian, Sule, and more.

These young folks are here to learn something about farming at Bells Bend Neighborhood Farms, a cooperative project involving, so far, four landowners and advice, assistance and counsel from many more, with EricTheFarmer managing and coordinating the troops.

More than thirty families so far have bought farm shares, and collect their baskets of produce each week. Yesterday’s pickup at Sulphur Creek Farm featured a beautiful display—two kinds of potatoes, cukes, squash (pattypans, yellow, and zucchini), chard, beets (have you priced fresh beets lately?), green onions, garlic, sage, basil, rosemary, parsley, plus Julia’s eggs and DiAnne’s spunky zinnia bouquets. (There’s iced mint tea and chairs in the shade, too.)

We’ve just started selling at the farmers markets downtown and in East Nashville, and started a weekly food giveaway at a church on Jefferson Street. Bushels of squash have gone to Second Harvest, and some of our workers are cooking for Food Not Bombs, which feeds people downtown every Sunday. EricTheFarmer calculates that so far we have harvested and eaten, sold, or given away more than 2000 pounds of squash alone!

Dennis, from up on Bull Run Road, has two hives of bees on our front lawn, so eventually we’ll have honey, too. And we’ve delivered two trailerloads of bamboo forage to the elephants at the zoo.

Last night the Community Club—one of the few remaining in the county—fed our volunteers dinner, and other neighbors are pitching in with food and beds. The Community Club, by the way, has scheduled its legendary fall barbecue for September 5. Mark your calendars. Come early, and pull barbecue, or late, and wash pots and pans.

We’ve had workshops on bamboo, biodynamic gardening, and one coming up on fermentation. (Don’t call the revenuers—think sauerkraut, not hooch.) We’re talking about doing some canning and pickling—Miss Nancy left her squash pickle recipe on my kitchen counter last week. (Never one to take undeserved credit, Miss Nancy says it’s really Emma Byrd’s recipe, and carefully noted that fact on my hand-written copy.) This heavenly combo is the about the only thing—other than caramel cakes from one of Tom’s patients—that our family actually begs for, otherwise keeping to the better manners of silent hope with regards to gifts of food.

A couple of weeks ago I remarked to Jeff Poppen, the Barefoot Farmer and our gardening consultant, that George’s Bells Bend potatoes were a surprise, crisp and crunchy like good apples. He just laughed, and said simply “Well, they’re alive, really alive”.

That’s just it. This place is alive, really alive. Our baby girl, home from college, looked around and said “I see you’re suffering from overfull-nest syndrome!” . But it’s not just us. This is a neighborhood vibrant with particular knowledge, about bees and barbecue and canning and computers and tractor repair. It’s not about nostalgia. It’s about what we need right now, in 2009, in a world roiling with war, starvation, unemployment, anger, and soundbite politics—independent hardworking people pitching in for the common good. Maybe that’s Bells Bend’s best crop, produced in selfish civic hard times—citizens.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

CSA. And the ineffable More.

We're getting the CSA thing down pat. More or less. Anyhow, we are happy, and our members seem to be happy--when I come up the driveway at the end of pickup time there are always folks standing around in the shade of the blue canopy just talking. Talking about eggs, celery soup, fences, the mayor, our kids, their kids.

And then, dinner. Brook might be up in the kitchen just putting squash casserole--her grandmother's recipe--into the oven, DiAnne doing parsley'd potatoes, and Sabina chopping parsley.

Usually we have about 15 gathered around the copper tables in the Church of Outdoor Dining, and somehow there is always enough. Enough dirty dishes, too!

I always end up meditating on--well, not exactly meditating, but considering, then re-considering--the idea of abundance, that, at least some of the time, we are in the thick of glory, surrounded by light, glowing through leaves and saffron squash blossoms, flavor, friends, good sweet dirt, lightning bugs glittering in the dusk, and, as I head up to bed, what sounds like the breath of summer, the kids playing guitars and harmonicas on EricTheFarmer's front porch.

This whole farm idea is crazy for a couple of old docs looking at retirement. But it's a crazy that keeps on giving.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Maytown Nixed

I’ll spare you the suspense: Nashville won! The Planning Commission voted against Maytown zoning last night at 10:45. (Now last Thursday night at 10:45).

It was an unbelievable scene: dozens of citizens sitting silently for six and a half hours, listening carefully to last night’s Planning Commission hearing, the last of the Maytown debates. And our volunteer Planning Commission, heroically and politely paying attention. I’d like to send them all roses, but a sixpack of Red Bull would probably be more welcome.

We actually learned something new: the Maytown site lies directly under the approaches to John Tune airport, and, as we heard from an experienced pilot, there will be noise complaints. (Tony G. has also been admonished in a letter from airport authorities dated weeks ago that he should mention this in all presentations to the public. Well, he’s been busy. Maybe he doesn’t read his mail.)

But the most riveting thing was the Commission debate. As best I could tell, Maytown’s main attraction was that it is Bold! and Audacious! I would have felt better about the votes for the project if those commissioners had been convinced it was Sustainable! or Will Attract Rich Executives Who Want to Drive by Prisons and Don’t Mind the Drone of Airplanes!
The potential for destruction of adjoining neighborhoods, the opposition of the corresponding council members, the low odds for success, the effect on downtown and other business areas, the likelihood of domino development through the rest of the Bend—none of this seemed to matter much. Maytown was the Bold! and Audacious! plan that would protect Nashville from sprawling suburban development in the Bend, though generally businessmen only put suburbs on cheap land, and the Mays have priced themselves pretty much out of that option.

Nitpicking aside, we saw some very thoughtful struggles with the contradictions of putting intense development in a cowpasture, reality wrestling with wishful thinking, and we heard some quiet but well-informed oratory on Nashville’s future, fairness to existing commercial property owners, and the need to slow down and consider the Third Vision—neither suburban lots or highrise condos, but incremental change in an agricultural and rural area.

And we thought we had lost! The Commission refused to vote the plan down in the first vote, but then did not vote it through in the second. Yep, we had a hard time figuring it out too. My neighbor Kathleen couldn’t stand the suspense, thought we had lost, and was driving home in tears when she got the phone call to join the mad throng at our house for an endless series of toasts and analysis. I finally went upstairs at 2, to restless but contented dreams fueled by the sound of song and laughter.

Now I want to do something Bold! and Audacious! Like take a nap.

Shameful Lapse

Have we been away? Only in a metaphorical sense--away in the echoing halls of political machination. This whole Maytown proposal--remember the giant city-in-a-pasture?--has become an obsession, entertainment, gossip, and source for endless self-righteous indignation and activism.

But we won! Not that it won't be back in perverse permutations again and again. I am going to post my victory column separately.

Meanwhile, sadly unchronicled, Sulphur Creek Farm has prospered mightily. EricTheFarmer has been organizing our volunteers-- Dan and Evan from Chicago, the two Lauras from the Reston area, and Buddy, our Knoxvillian, plus locals Ian, Amelia, Sabina, Sule', and some I've left out--through weeding, harvesting, and CSA pickups.

Tomato cages are filling up with spiky leaves--maybe tomatoes (of the "fried green" variety) available as soon as next week.

Another bamboo harvest plus Buddy's nice eye for a straight row, and we have the geometries of bean trellis marching all the way down to George's corn patch. (Which doesn't look so good this year. More compost.)

Speaking of which, the third compost pile from the left in the right-hand pasture sported three speckled brown killdeer eggs in what is euphemistically called a nest. I've seen the mother bird many times in this spot, so have reason to hope that the triplets are scuttling around the pasture in good health.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Lulu: Farm Dog

Lulu: our sweetheart of a teacup mastiff ( even though she can eat off the table without standing on her tiptoes, she's small for breed)--now garden Persona Grata (or would that be Canina Grata?), since her capture and kill of a marauding groundhog.

The Barefoot Farmer

Jeff Poppen, the Barefoot Farmer, is a bit hard to explain. Some people, who ought to know, claim he's the best organic farmer in Tennessee. Seems like organic farming is more of a team sport-- cooperative, rather than competitive, so I'm not sure exactly how we would decide, but a few things are known for sure.

Jeff's been farming at Long Hungry Creek in Red Boiling Springs for 30 years, and currently feeds a large CSA membership here in Nashville, plus whoever else seems to need feeding. His five acres under cultivation produce more than 50,000 pounds of produce each year, with Jeff and a couple of part time workers plus whatever volunteers show up. I'm sure he'd list as co-workers the cows that are pastured on the rest of his 300 acres, since it's that manure that fuels the garden.

There are a few other pertinent facts about Jeff: he's certainly what used to be known as a hippie, with flying hair and a twisty long beard, he is certainly barefoot, and is known as much for his celebratory shindigs ("Poppenstock") as for his farming. Music and laughter and a crazy good time seem to follow him around, even while he is laying out the finer points of compost, which varieties of corn and tomatoes produce best, why a disk plow doesn't work well for clay soils, and on and on.

It's all about the dirt, for Jeff--"If you take care of the earth, it will take care of you". Seems to have worked quite well, so far.

Jeff's darker side: well, you pretty much don't know exactly when he'll show up, driving his rattletrap Mercedes, or when he'll go home. Or who exactly he'll bring along. Which pretty much doesn't seem to matter. Or, if you are a groundhog, he would be pretty much all dark side, a roaring god of garden revenge and sudden death.

I ran into a neighbor last week--a lady, like some of us (not me, of course), of an age where most people are considering retirement. She's pretty remarkable in many ways, but I had no idea that she even knew Jeff. "Oh, yes," she laughed, " I went up there to his place and that's when I decided to quit being a military wife and become a hippie!".

Jeff's quite excited about farm property down in Bells Bend--lush, accessible, compost nearby, old hay, and a young farmer. He sketched out his plans: party farm farm vegetables party farm hay cows farm farm party music party. This is resonating very favorably with our pack of young workers.

It doesn't sound all that bad even to us old puritanical fundamentalists.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Bells Bend Neighborhood Farms' first CSA delivery is scheduled for this Tuesday! We have pickup points in Sylvan Park and at our place, Sulphur Creek Farm.

I don't have the full list of items, but the lettuce has been fabulously tender. EricTheFarmer is also tied into what seems to be an organic potlatch: farmers adding excess produce to the delivery baskets of other area growers. We couldn't get early spring crops in, since our brand-new garden wasn't ready, so we are mostly on the receiving end.

Jeff's philosophy is that we shouldn't keep track much, when it comes to food. People who are here, people who work here, our neighbors, our CSA members, and pretty much anyone else should just eat. And so they do--we usually have between 2 and 10 extras at our table every night, generally producing gales of laughter rolling into the night from the Church of Outdoor Dining.

Last night: turnips and apples (this is actually really good--tastes like it ought to be dessert), beet tops (we roasted the beets for today), sauteed spring peas, and tag ends of chow-chow.

Last time I looked our CSA still could accomodate a few more members. Alan is our distribution manager--you can reach him at Or bring your checkbook by for supper.

groundhog war

Our garden has a whistlepig plague. These cute creatures, otherwise known as groundhogs, are eating our sprouting bean plants, and the war is on.

Lulu the English mastiff, strictly banned due to the size of her footprints in the lettuce row, is now very much Persona Grata, after she dropped a mass of groundhog fur at Jeff's feet. And Jeff, that pacifist hippie biodynamic farmer, launched an anti-groundhog tirade, complete with wardance and demonstrations of his slamdunk pitchfork lance-throw--"I just pinned that sucker". (Note to self: Do NOT threaten Jeff's vegetable patch.)

Even EricTheFarmer, striding up the driveway, is now armed with George Wests 1908 Remington.

But the word went out to the neighbors for the ultimate weapon, and DiAnne's HavaHart trap is now in place, baited with canteloupe, which research indicates is the ultimate groundhog comeon.

The groundhog war is now all about relocation of enemy forces. We will hold our territory against all odds.


Yr frontline correspondent

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Maytown: Still. And Yet.

Maytown, the fantasy of a gigantic city-in-a-pasture, an Emerald City producing an endless stream of taxpayer dollars for Metro coffers, is up again before the Planning Commission, and soon before the City Council. There's a new traffic-study-of-the-old-traffic-study--you can read it on the Planning Commission site on underlines what we have been saying about the absurdity of putting a city in a pasture. Especially a pasture with essentially no roads going nearby.

Here's one response--send your own to

For more information:


There is an old saying amongst city planners—or there should be: Cities can only be built where people can get to them, and successful cities only happen where people already are.

The fantasy of a money-generating Maytown—currently accessible by canoe, helicopter, and a tiny road at the end of a 16-mile trip from downtown—is unraveling as folks look a little closer. The new traffic analysis says two bridges would be needed, and adds that no one has calculated the taxpayer costs of interstate expansion, new cloverleafs, road widening, and the extra bridge.

I also liked the one-bridge scenario with a “non-repeating event”—i.e. wreck, traffic jam, or barge running into bridge—forcing Maytown’s projected 40,000 workers to use tiny Old Hickory Boulevard to drive home. That’s one lane heading north the 5 miles to Highway 12. Parked bumper to bumper, this road would accommodate 1320 cars. You do the math—20 feet per car, 5280 feet per mile, 5 miles. Add a repeating event, such as George West on his old Farm-All tractor, or a deer bolting across the road, or a tree falling in an ice-storm. I think you get the picture.

Maybe this is why Maytown needs a 15-story hotel. It certainly is part of the reason why, if we need Maytown, we need it somewhere else.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


This was really an ethereal morning, damp, sliding clouds, and the barn swallows darting everywhere. The exceptional rains have called into being a lush subtropical paradise, at least temporarily. The catawba tree is fully leafed out (I predict a bumper year for catawba worms), and the peonies along the drive are ruffled double handfuls of pink and glowing white. Clarkie Belle's (that was Tom's grandmother) white roses are arcing along the fence, the clematis are out in full lavender force, and the iris, dianthus, catmint, and thyme are all puffed up with the arrogance of a generous spring. DiAnne's love-in-a-mist would have taken over, had I not pulled up at least half of the lacy little plants, but no blooms quite yet.

Harvey Lyles, Jeff's 93 year-old biodynamic guru, was here, vivid and charming, on his way to visit a lady friend in North Carolina.

We had a morning meeting in The Church of Outdoor Dining over breakfast, with Harvey talking about the history of biodynamics. I have to confess that a lot of it sounds like slightly crazed hocus-pocus to me, but I must also confess that Harvey is definitely NOT slightly crazed, and his calm, matter-of-fact prayer, calling on the spiritual essences of the planets and the constellations to protect and bless our land, and the land of the friends of Bells Bend, was a powerful moment. I found myself mentally walking the boundaries of our farm, and the properties of our neighbors, considering the people, the plants, and the animals who live in each place.

Harvey also placed a band of protection against verroa mites around the two bee hives on our front lawn, and talked and demonstrated dowsing--not just for water, but for other forces he feels he can detect around living beings.

While he was talking about angels guiding us from life to reincarnated life, the three vultures standing with spread wings on a bare tree down by the creek looked over their shoulders at us.
Not particularly expectantly, I didn't think.

Well, I'm a hard-headed no-god sceptic, and still don't believe in angels, and that's ok with Harvey, who is simply confident that things change in their own time, perhaps even those of us who are less evolved.

It was an extraordinary morning, spent in the presence of something extraordinary, and somehow Bells Bend has indeed been blessed, and we, the Friends of the Bend, can't help but think that kindness and generosity and joy will unfold, a jungle of spiritual biomass, along with the peonies, beans, and tomatoes.

Planting Tomatoes

Yesterday: home to the warming sight of tomato plants being laid in. Kathleen, Jim, Sule', Copper, Tom--plus Tim, who lives in Oak Hill, and Katie, who's newish to Nashville from Michigan, and Katie's friend. I'm sure I missed a few!

Jeff Poppen is here, an elfin hippie dervish, laying down the law about straight rows and the dogs (out!) from his tractor seat throne.

Then down to the potato patch.

Wet weather still a drag on farm activity, but the rain held off until the plants were in.

Eight people for dinner (our lettuce, our herbs in the spaghetti sauce, and Eaton's Creek strawberries, and May wine that DiAnne concocts each spring), dry but the sighing rain filtering down around us in the pavilion that has been christened The Church of Outdoor Dining.

Jeff has brought with him Harvey Lyles, a gentle saint with 55 years of biodynamic gardening experience. More tomorrow. Well, today.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Rain, rain, and more rain

Rain, rain, rain. Damp cloudy days, thick misty drizzles, downpours sluicing along the roofs, overflowing the gutters, and carving deep runnels in the driveway gravel. Sometimes, along about sunset, a wedge of blue, luminous white trimming the navy clouds. Then more rain.

The hills behind George's house blur in the fog, and the pastures are knee deep in green. Cow-knee deep.

We've found a wet-weather spring, alas, in our garden pasture--Tom can't figure out why he hasn't noticed it sometime before during the thirty years he has lived here. Me, neither--it runs right down the driveway. Pastureland must soak it up better than plowed fields.

Our little lettuces, celery, and onions are sitting in water in their furrows, at least the part closest to the fence. And planting that we had planned for next week might have to be postponed.

On the other hand, when we drove in last Sunday afternoon, the little green heron was parked right by the road, and the great blue flapped slowly up the creek, looking, as always, a little bit like a pterodactyl.

Sound is muted in the damp evenings, with the ribbed croaks of the frogs flattened to a murmur, a bit like a slow zipper pull in front of a decent sound system. Uh-oh, the unbidden visuals there remind me that, after all, this is still Music City. This is clearly getting out of hand.

Rain. More rain. Zippers as simile only. Do not tell me otherwise.


No, not a dog (though we have two of those). Thanks to our hyperactive jefe, EricTheFarmer, Sulphur Creek Farm is now a registered WWOOF farm. You cool dudes out there already know what that means--we know because two of our daughters have WWOOFed in New Zealand and Thailand.

But for the sadly underinformed rest of you, this stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, started in the 70's in the UK, and now truly world wide. WWOOF provides descriptive listings of organic farms and gardens that host volunteer workers. In exchange for work (usually about 20 hours per week) host farms provide food and shelter.

We've already had 3 applicants--a New Yorker and a couple of Brits--in the first two weeks. I've duly informed the offspring that they need to book their bedrooms if they plan to be home this summer. Already the old home place is looking more attractive!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Somehow I missed the too-adorable-turquoise-egg stage of our first bluebird family this year, and the first time I swung open the hinged door of the nesting box and peeked into the nest, there was a jigsaw pattern of brown and black, accented with white stripes, and a bright eye or two staring back at me. The nestlings are all feathered out and just about ready to fly away already!

The second nesting box had no family at all. I'll have to check the third one, further down the drive, and keep an eye out for those heavenly little eggs. The miniature naked chicken pinfeather stage is much less attractive, and these teenagers are a little bit intimidating, even if, like teenagers of all kinds, mostly what they want is just feeding.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Last evening, home from the hospital day, I went down to the farm to help Jim, Sule', and Jeff with planting our first official crops.

George and Tom were working the field again with the rebreaker--we're doing our best to unearth and kill every devilish bit of bermuda grass, with the same success given mankind for every effort over the centuries to eliminate evil. That is, not much, but hopefully enough so we can live with the result.

We planted a long row of celery (although the transplants were a bit rootbound), a row of onions, and this morning, under a flat gray lid of threatening clouds, Tom and Jeff added a row of leaf lettuce. Each leafy cluster was doused with a cup of manure tea/creekwater mix.

We've really had too much rain for the ground to be as thoroughly worked as Jeff would like, but, as he points out, dealing with imperfection is the nature of farming. Last night's imperfections, in addition to bermuda grass, included the effects of stoop labor on the aging sacroiliacs and an evening's crop of mosquitoes. Still, at dusk, an inverted fingernail moon was cool and sharp in a darkening cobalt sky, the dogs followed me and the water buckets to the creek, and I heard the liquid murmur of wild turkeys in the Baker's pasture across the road.

And at the end of the driveway was the golden rectangle of kitchen light calling us, and our aching sacroiliacs, to supper again.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Morels--the poor man's truffle.

We've had two small gifts this spring--one from Joe, from his woods in Williamson County, and one from Jeff at Long Hungry Creek. What a treat--dredged in egg and flour, cooked in butter, served with scrambled eggs from Julia's flock. One supper included our first asparagus of the season, the other our own Sulphur Creek watercress salad.

Morels--they look a little bit like your brain would look if you were a conehead, and have a clean loamy smell. We savor each tiny bite, and always--even if we're talking about gates, or taxes, or tragedies at home or abroad--stop to consider how large our small gifts are.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Meet EricTheFarmer. Yes, he is outstanding.
Eric was one of the kids next door, and practically grew up on Sulphur Creek Farm, running around the yard with the other kids, and we have the embarrassing photos to prove it. He spent many hours with our girls catching tiny fish in the creek (they called them "gelbers" in neighbor-speak), cannonballing into the pool, and chasing the dogs, who were chasing the cows, and many hours in the back of my car during our long-lived carpool days.
He's all grown up now--knows a lot about Native American artifacts, has traveled throughout the United States, including time spent living with Eskimos in Alaska, and working on farms in Wales, England, and Scotland, and is just about to graduate from Appalachian State. Eric's been very involved with the farm project since the beginning--just had to convince Tom that he was serious about becoming our farmer.
When school's out he'll be here full time, working under Jeff Poppen's tutelage. In the meantime, Eric's constructing a volunteer e-mail list, starting tomatoes in the college greenhouse, and organizing weekend workdays.
Hard for us older folks to express our delighted amazement, surprise, and happy gratitude without sounding sappy. Impossible, actually. But just about now, after the kids are in college and before the grandkids, you sometimes look back and wonder if you did ok, and if somebody like EricTheFarmer wants to work your property and live nearby, you wonder a little less.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Spear point

EricTheFarmer on serendipity:

We now have proof that there is more in our gardens than bermuda grass! While shaking the topsoil and worms out of a clump of grass, this large point fell out as well. Identified as a Table Rock point, this chert spear point would have been made during the Late Archaic period, over 4,000 years ago. Due to the size of the point (2") and an impact fracture at the tip, it is likely that this was a spear point that was either lost during a hunt or discarded afterwards.


EricTheFarmer--well, studying up to be--sends this message from Tomatoland, aka college greenhouse at Appalachian State:

These are our 150 tomato seedlings being raised in the greenhouse. In a few days these seedlings will be transplanted into larger pots to allow for extra root growth. In these first few weeks, the seedlings are carefully cared for. Every few days the tops of the leaves are brushed over lightly, which encourages the plant to grow a strong and sturdy stem and to produce higher yields once in the field. We are growing 8 hybrid and heirloom varieties this season, which include Golden Jubilee, Homestead, Celebrity, Cherokee Purple, Big Boy, and Juliet.

My poke at the city-in-the-pasture proposal down the road: Tomatown, no Maytown. OK, so it's not very euphonious. Topical counts for something, doesn't it?

Thursday, April 16, 2009


DiAnne and Martha are responsible for our glossy new signs--we all stand a little taller when we walk by!

Bamboo workshop

So you grow bamboo and are wondering what to do with it?

Matt English, of Solar Springs Research Farm, is hosting a workshop at Sulphur Creek Farm on April 25, 9 a.m until mid-afternoon--about bamboo, especially harvesting and using bamboo for construction and crafts.

Cost: $60, lunch provided, limited to 20 enrollees.

Contact Sydney at for information. Oughta be great!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Bermuda grass: the myth, the reality

The plowed field stretches for miles across the prairie--well, really, only a couple of acres, but still-- packed with the roots and runners of Bermuda grass. We have rotating shifts manning the pitchforks, and have conquered only a few strips in this endless universe of dead and dying Bermuda grass.

All well-educated farmers are versed in the classics, and we have just uncovered the backstory of Sisyphus, that clever knave, King of Corinth, who, for a variety of sins, was doomed to endlessly roll a boulder up a mountain, only to have it roll down again.

The actual story has an angry Zeus pointing first to a field of Bermuda grass, and then to the boulder at the foot of the mountain, and saying to Sisyphus: "OK, you choose".

All farmers, at the mercy of the elements and developers and balky tractors, have an existentialist bent as well, and, like Camus' version of Sisyphus, there is some meaning to this life of one forkful after another, then bending over to pick out the lumpy strings of roots, then another forkful. Some is the Zen of no-thinking, and some of the sailing piled-up clouds, rimmed in glory, and what a blue is the sky, and that musky mushroomy earth. And the childish pleasure in just plain getting dirty.

Well, having pretty much touched on all of the no-faith traditions at this point, will salaam my way out. Shalom, on this Easter weekend.

Bermuda Grass

Another Saturday workday: Here's Kay, our volunteer cook, who, unfortunately for some of the rest of us, has raised our lunch standard impossibly high.

So, cutting bamboo at DiAnne's, planning for a bamboo workshop in a couple of weeks, fixing a tire on the trailer, getting our signs up (a shoutout to DiAnne and Martha--they--the signs, that is, and also, DiAnnne and Martha--look fabulous!), and, as always and forever, digging out Bermuda grass.

Ellen, Sandra, Louisa, myself, Eric--all spent time with a pitchfork turning over the plowed ground, sorting out the clumps of roots and runners. It's still a little wet and heavy, but we worked around the edges, so as not to compact the field too much. The earth is sweet and loamy, with fat earthworms in nearly every forkful--already a different thing than it was when first plowed a couple of months ago. Jeff's juju inoculations (more soberly known as biodynamic preparations) and a lot of compost are working their underground magic.

Stove Explosion

So, it's the middle of another Saturday workday, peacefully making sandwiches for Millwandt and Upinder, and -- Boom! the stove explodes. Really. The glass stovetop shatters into thousands of tiny pieces, the control knobs blow off, and I, calmly, after ascertaining that I am not aflame, turn the burner off.

Millwandt, shaking his deceptively saintly-looking head, surveys the debris, and says "After living with the Mau Mau, nothing is panicking".

So there: after living with the Mau Mau, Maytown isn't much.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Jeff at our table dissing the disk: There's too much contact between the metal and the dirt--it just schmears, makes a smooth clay surface like a pot. I would never use a disk plow here--it's great for sandy soil, but not for this clay.
I now can't remember the names of the kinds of plows that he says ARE appropriate for our garden, but this one, which has deep curved tines, is fine. "You just want to break it up deeply enough, then just fluff it up."
A lot of the plowing and re-plowing of our patch was to turn up the bermuda grass and expose it to the weather, especially over the winter. Bermuda grass is going to be our Achille's heel, our Waterloo, our sword of Damocles, our natural disaster, our plague. We're going to have to pick out as much as possible by hand, and keep picking and weeding. Forever.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Saturday we went down to Ellen's big old barn to help with seed potatoes. This barn has the proportions and dignity of a cathedral, striped inside with the diffuse cloudy afternoon light coming through the spaces between the timbers along the ends.

Our worktable was a flatbed trailer painted along the end with the legend "Soggy Bottom Boys"--presumbably a less-than-successful bluegrass group forced to sell. Or maybe a highly successful group moving up to fancier stuff. We--Ellen, her sister, their three little girls, Tammy, Tom, George, and I-- cut up 800 pounds of seed potatoes--Kennebecs, Pontiacs and Cobblers--and spread them out in the barn.

Each piece has at least one "eye", which will be the start of a new potato plant.

Not a bad way to spend a bit of Saturday afternoon: funny (commentary on wit, not peculiarity) people, an old white boxer (dog not shorts) and a little bulldog underfoot, good clean dirt, a red tractor--no, TWO red tractors--in a green field, kids falling in the creek, and seed potatoes ready to plant at the end of it (day not creek).


I am but an humble amanuensis here, recording what has transpired. Or some of it at least.

Last night, far into the dark, a tiny light marked the tractor's grumbling path back and forth across our field, spreading manure--40 truckloads, according to Tom, although there are still manure mountains in place beside the driveway. Rockdust was mixed into the compost today.

We had a very late supper of our approximation of a muffaletta, with Central Grocery's olive salad. Tom and Jeff were there, but Scharko (white-bearded old hippie from Georgia) and Steve (carpenter from somewhere in Tennessee) were new at the farm table.

Tom had inadvertently locked Steve in George's pasture, where he had been sprinkling biodynamic "potentiating juju" (his description) across the potato patch with a whisk broom--a zen state accompanied by random meditations on the meaning of life, the contents of his business card, and what was really in the bucket. Steve declared HIMSELF potentiated, since he had inhaled some of the mix--a condition we tactfully did not explore--but still required phone calls and rescuers to unlock the gate.

This bunch, plus at least Jim and George, had also planted potatoes and lettuce today and I don't know what all else, and I know for a fact that manure spreader envy ran rampant and unchecked, as they watched Jeff's machine in action.