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Cluck cluck

Which comes first, the chickens or the coop? It’s not your classic ‘chicken or the egg’ question – the coop always comes first right? It would be crazy to get 60 chickens before there’s somewhere to put them.

Chickens

Crazy, indeed, was last week. I was expecting the chickens to arrive right around now, but instead they came a couple weeks early. Nevermind the fact that I’ve known roughly when they will arrive since January, and have been building the coop in my mind for the last 3 months…their early arrival still caught me by surprise. With much help from neighbors and friends, we 95% built a coop in the two days just before the chickens arrived. Unfortunately, that 5% uncomplete included a door and the means to drag the coop out of the barn and into the pasture.

On my second straight almost all-nighter working on the coop, I went to go pick up the ladies at 10:30pm down in Uxbridge. With nowhere safe to keep them at night, and no gas left in my tank, they stayed crammed in dog crates in the bed of my truck in my garage overnight. They got some freedom the next day, but their temporary pen was not predator proof, so we stuffed 60 chickens back in their dog crates and took them home again. The coop was finally ready the following night, but chickens are creatures of routine, so they all piled in their dog crates that night and we had to stuff 60 chickens into the coop that night (and the next).

I’m happy to report, however, that I’ve been chicken stuffing free the past two nights. Having never been outside before, the chickens are adjusting well to pecking around the pasture in the sunshine – it’s almost like they were made for it!

Happy eggs from happy kung-fu chickens coming soon. In the meantime, it’s a meat week so stock up on your happy beef and pork by emailing info@shortcreekfarm.com by Sunday evening. Kung Fu Chickens

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88 Degrees

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No, sadly 88 is not in the forecast. Snow was on the ground and it was only 45 degrees outside Thursday, but it was 88 degrees in the greenhouse until I opened up the door to let some heat out. Despite the unusually cool temps, the sun’s strength really warms up the greenhouse – it’s a much needed and optimistic reminder that spring is (eventually) coming (back) our way.

With the warmth and sun in the greenhouse, my seedlings are growing well and biding their time under cover until May. So far leeks, onions, celery, and celeriac have popped up, with parsley and eggplant coming up any day now. Next week is an exciting one as we’ll start kale, swiss chard, sweet and hot peppers, and all 500 or so varieties of the incredible heirloom tomatoes we grow. All your favorites and more will be back this year. Mmmm…fresh tomatoes!

It’s not an overly ambitious goal to be planting in the fields by May 1st in Massachusetts – after all, there is a farm run by a friend of mine who not only worked their soil, but direct seeded lettuce, radishes, carrots and more already. But May 1st is never a guarantee up on Potter and Brigham Hills. Misery loves company, so I stopped by to groan and grumble with Ken over at Community Harvest Project.  They’ve finally, and likely wisely, given up on the noble goal of planting in late April too. We’ve never really had that option, so right now May 2nd is the dream. Fingers crossed it won’t need to be pushed back…send warm, dry, and windy thoughts up the hill!

Don’t forget, this is a meat week. Get your orders in by the end of the day to Jeff at info@shortcreeknh.com for pickup tomorrow at Potter Hill 4-7pm. Inventory can be found here. Be sure to sign up for his newsletter – if not for the meat, do it for the writing!

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Are you Organic?

That’s the most popular question we get from new customers, and it’s a tough one. And what does organic mean anyway?

Do you want the short answer or the 39-page version? If everything goes well in the next few weeks, the short answer will be yes! No hemming and hawing, no “yes, but”. How liberating! Thanks in large part to a friendly contact who happens to be a Certification Assistance Coordinator/farmer, and an even larger part to Jeff, who’s been doing it organically for 4 years but abhors paperwork, Potter Hill is well on its way to officially being organic.

Organic PaperworkAnd since Jeff’s distrust of pesticides rivals only his distrust of everything else, I won’t have to wait 3 years for certification. Unless an unexpected obstacle arrives, you’ll be munching on certified organic veggies in 2016, which clearly will be much tastier and healthier for you! I am in the midst of the review process, which so far has been easier than filling out 20 pages of the same question asked 25 different ways. Honestly though, I really shouldn’t complain – the certification reputation is all sizzle no steak. Don’t let a farmer talk your ear off about how complicated and onerous the certification process is – if I can do it, with my 5-10 minute max paperwork attention span, anyone can. Imagine that – all bluff and bluster from a farmer!

As the season ramps back up, I will hopefully get back on the weekly update train as there is tons more exciting news that I can’t wait to share with you all. Just a quick note on the upcoming season – up until this lovely April snowstorm, I was expecting an early start in the garden. That’s looking less likely given the 10 day forecast. This time of year it’s very stressful to be stuck inside not accomplishing anything tangible. We should be getting animals very soon, so that should at least give me an outlet for all this pent up cabin fever frustration!

 

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Help Wanted

The 2016 Potter Hill season has officially begun. I started the first seeds of the season (leeks!) yesterday at Joy Nicholson’s house, who generously shares her greenhouse space. It gets cramped come April, but it will get us through until I get a greenhouse of my own.

I’ve been busy dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s of starting a business. I officially registered with the town, obtained liability and workers comp insurance, and set up a business checking account and credit card just in time for the seed order. Next up is finding some reliable help for the season! If anyone out there knows a hard-working youth who’s not afraid to get his/her hands dirty, please share this job posting with them. I’d prefer someone who can commit 40 hours/week during the peak season and can continue to work hours through October…perhaps a recent grad looking to get outside and decompress from all that time cooped up in the library? Lack of farming experience isn’t an issue, just a fondness for physical work and curiosity to learn about farming. Did I already mention hard work will be involved?!

This is a meat pickup week. If you’ve run out of beef or want to try Jeff’s latest and greatest sausages, head over to his new farm’s website and place an order via email.

Seeds

 

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Last Call for Veggies!

We’re having another pop-up party market to celebrate leap day…and the last veggie pickup of the year. It’s been a long ride for our roots, and yet, all good things must come to an end. We still have tons of beets and carrots ($1.50/lb bulk pricing for 10+ pounds), but the celeriac and rutabaga supply is dwindling. I put exactly the amount we have left on the website – when they’re gone they’re gone…until October!

Zach will be selling his fresh-baked breads, Sarah’s chocolate eggs will blow your mind, and Jeff’s been experimenting in the kitchen – there are some new varieties of sausage I can’t wait to try. As is our winter tradition, pickup is on Monday at Community Harvest Project (37 Wheeler Rd, North Grafton) from 4-7pm. See you then!

Choco Bunnies

 

 

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Why Grow Heirlooms?

We get this question a lot at Potter Hill. A lot. I have to admit, sometimes I wonder about the wisdom behind growing only older, fickle, and lower producing varieties of vegetables. Especially the financial wisdom. While planning for an epic 2016 farming season and perusing the various seed catalogs, (Baker Creek, Johnny’s, High Mowing, and FEDCO if you need to know), I came across a great article in the Baker Creek seed catalog. If you are fascinated by unique, colorful, and exotic vegetables, this is the seed catalog for you! The writer’s first bullet point to the heirloom quandary is simple: Quality.

Modern seed breeding often sacrifices quality (nutrition and taste) for the convenience of mechanical harvesting, and shipping yuuge amounts of produce yuuge distances. Heirlooms are selected for taste over many generations, while modern produce is bred for things like tough skin that will survive their trek around the world. Many of our customers tell us that we have the best tasting tomatoes they have ever tried. The old-timers tell us the taste brings back fond memories, because it’s what they remember a tomato tasting like growing up.

But are we sacrificing sales for flavor? One of the books I am reading this winter is called The Lean Farm. A small farm in Indiana, similar to Potter Hill in size, applied the principles of lean concepts, developed by the founder of the Toyota Production System, to his farm. The farmer writes that he grew mostly heirloom tomatoes at first for the complex flavor, better texture, and aesthetics. Over the next few seasons, he realized heirlooms are what he prefers. His customers prefer standard red tomatoes, which he sells for less as they are less costly to grow. Now he grows mostly standard red tomatoes and has seen an uptick in profit.

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Are we losing out on sales to potential customers unfamiliar with a ripe green tomato that would knock their socks off if they gave it a chance? Or unwilling to pay the premium for the extra expense of growing heirlooms? What good is growing what I want to grow if that means I can’t financially support my (also growing) family? Those are the questions I’m pondering as I decide which heirloom tomato varieties to plant this season.

If anyone else is stuck in the Grafton arctic and not traveling somewhere warmer next week, we will be at Community Harvest Project on Monday from 4-7pm as usual. Stock up on your root vegetables, Simple Bread from Zach, and meat from Jeff. You can drop-in for your veggies and bread, but don’t forget to order the meat ahead of time.

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Snow Day!

My wife’s been wishing for a snow day all winter, and finally we have one! Despite the cracking of tree limbs and more coming down overhead, I do love the beauty of a heavy wet snow. And we still have power, somehow.

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I’ve been up to my ankles in alligators lately planning and preparing for spring, and with only a few veggie orders on non-meat weeks, I’m switching to every other week for the Monday pickup. That means this is an off week, so there will be no pickup on Monday. However, you can still find us and our carroty goodness tomorrow from 9am-noon at the Canal District Farmers Market. Hope to see you there!

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Pop-Up Market This Monday

What a way to end January and welcome February! It will be 55 degrees on Monday for our little pop-up market we’re organizing inside Community Harvest Project’s barn at 37 Wheeler Rd in North Grafton from 4-7pm. Maybe we should set up tents outside instead?

In addition to our veggies and meats, we’re bringing in all your favorites from the summer market. Zach from Simple Bread will be selling bread, Corinn will be selling her herbal infusions, AND Sarah from Anna Banana’s will be selling her sweets just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Other than meat, no need to order ahead. Get your order in to Jeff at shortcreeknh@gmail.com by Sunday evening. Inventory found here. Don’t miss out on the best pastured pork and grass-fed beef around!

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Dodging (Snow) Bullets

Whew, looks like we dodged another one! The predicted first big storm of the year looks like it will lose steam and leave us with only a few inches. I’m convinced this winter is politely waiting for me to finish repairs from the water damage we sustained last winter before walloping us again. Be warned – I’m declaring victory this weekend after finishing the trim in the guest bedroom! I’m tempted to wait till the threat of snow has passed, but my wife might divorce me.

Moral of the story…you are in the clear to come get your Potter Hill veggies and other local goodies at the Canal District Winter Farmers Market tomorrow from 9am-noon. If not Saturday, be sure to put your order in for Monday’s INDOOR pickup at Community Harvest Project from 4-7pm.

 

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Saturday Hours, Finally

We’ve been trying to get into the Canal District Farmers Market in Worcester since October, and they finally have a spot for us – come see us tomorrow from 9am-noon to get your roots. We’ll have carrots, beets, rutabaga, celeriac, and maybe even some fresh ground cornmeal. The market has many other vendors, including a great cheese vendor and is just below BirchTree Bread, a great stop afterward for bread and lunch. Plus you get to navigate Kelley Square…good times!

We will still have our Monday pickup from 4-7pm at Community Harvest Project as usual, despite the holiday. This is a meat week, so check out the selection on Jeff’s new farm’s website and get your orders in to him. The pork and beef this year are incredible!

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Eat more beef