The Gentleman Farmer

News and Blog

Posted 4/3/2011 3:30pm by Jessica .

Our babies have arrived! Tuesday morning 6am, we received word via text that the Barrington post office had received our baby chicks and that they were ready for pick-up! Yes, these little ones arrived by post. My step-dad Paul was first on the scene to help us retrieve the chicks so they weren't stranded at the post office until we could make it up from the city.

Even though Dominic had plans to be out at the farm that day, the boys and I were supposed to stay in the city. But we quickly raced out the door with a very excited Henry and groggy eyed Oliver and drove up to the farm. We were welcomed by newborn chirping-- the birds only two or three days old, were huddled together having been given some breadcrumbs and water to tide them over until we set them up with their organic feed. 

The plan had always been to brood them in the chicken coop which is down by the greenhouse, so the day before, Dom had set up the heat lamps, wood shavings and water awaiting the chicks arrival. But when Dom and I strolled down to check on the temperature it was only 80 degrees. Not quite warm enough yet: the chicks need to be in 90-95 degree temperatures for now.

So change of plans. We quickly grabbed our materials and headed back up to my mom's garage which the birds have since called home and will stay for a couple of weeks until they are strong enough to be outside.


Posted 4/3/2011 2:31pm by Dominic .

Good question. It certainly seems to be working with our seedlings. Heat mats – strips of rubber matting laced with fine electrical wire that gently warm up when plugged in – are no secret in the market garden or small farm industry. We considered using them last year, but as we started late and the temperatures in the greenhouse were already high, it really wasn’t necessary. This year however, I’m giving them a go, and the results are obvious.

Clearly, it’s all to do with the temperature of the soil and germination. Seeds need to know they’ll be pushing their vulnerable little sprouts up into a world in which they can survive and thrive. The main signal they receive that lets them know it is time, is temperature. While the warmth of the greenhouse will eventually tell them it’s OK to sprout and start growing, a little extra “oomph” in the form of a heat mat gets them going a little faster.

Small innovations like this fascinate me. The new organic industry is essentially rediscovering the practices our grandparents used to grow vegetables and keep livestock, while rejecting the Big Agriculture approach of “Bigger, Faster, More” through the use of poisons and chemicals. And yet there exist modern, technological advances that can benefit the organic grower, yet not compromise organic integrity. Heat mats represent one tiny, but important baby that we do not want to throw out with the bathwater…


Henry and Seedlings

Posted 3/8/2011 11:20pm by Jessica .

We're thrilled to finally have our subscription open for our 2011 CSA. Its been a big day for us: finalizing our on-line credit card processing, ordered our chicks to arrive in two weeks time and our CSA member Gentleman Farmer jute market bags have arrived! They are great to take to the market or grocery store and are lined so your bag and veggies stay protected. I must admit, I'm a total sucker for cool reusable bags! Sign-up for our CSA and you automatically get one!

Only 35 spots are open this year for our CSA membership so act now!


Posted 3/3/2011 5:57pm by Dominic .

And so here we are - March 1st, and another season is here! As of this week, I will begin commuting from our home in Bucktown, Chicago, to our field in the North West suburb of Barrington. There comes a point when the planning starts to wind down and the planting begins, and these final weeks of winter and first weeks of spring mark the overlap period. The months of January and February were spent researching and ordering seeds and they have already started to arrive. There is still quite a lot to do by way of getting ready for the growing season proper, but the first seeds are ready to be sown. It's a very exciting time, and I'm thoroughly enjoying reaquainting myself with the field, the greenhouse and the familiar sights, sounds and smells of farming.

For many Midwestern farmers, the season kicks off with the annual MOSES conference in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. The Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service is an "education-outreach organization working to promote sustainable and organic agriculture, serving farmers striving to produce high-quality, healthful food using organic and sustainable techniques." They have hosted the conference - the largest in the country - every February for the past 20 years. In 1991 there were 90 attendees. This year, I was one of 2,600 farmers, advocates, educators and community members in attendance. That number should have been 2,602 but unfortunately Jess had to stay behind with little Ollie, who was fighting a rotten cold. The same cold had knocked the socks off of me, Jess & Henry throughout the month of February, so poor Oliver, at just 9 weeks of age, was getting well and truly hammered. I'm glad to say he's almost back to normal. Anyway, the MOSES conference was an inspiring, energizing experience, and I found myself leaving LaCrosse reinvigorated and positively itching to get out into the field to grow something.
Weather-wise, we're still technically in the grip of winter. More snow fell in Chicago this February, than has fallen in any February since records began in 1885 - 28.6 inches! The previous record of 27.8 inches was set in 1896. While almost all of that snow has now disappeared, we will almost certainly have a little more this month. The ground is wet and muddy on the surface, yet still frozen below. And so while March is still too early to begin truly working the soil, it is a month of finalizing plans, dusting off the cobwebs and beginning to sow those first, magical little seeds that will eventually transform from a few ounces of dry pellets into literally hundreds of pounds of fresh, wholesome vegetables.
I can't wait!