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June 9th, 2013

Not Even the Rain

“Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands” said ee cummings, not anticipating the wet fists of weather that pounded the farm last week, drenching hapless bees an chickens and turning topsoil into a slurry of unworkable muck.

We need water, of course, but not that much, and not so relentlessly. Sitting on a pretty high aquifer here at Stonegate means that heavy rains tend to percolate up and glaze across the ground like a tide.

SGF MID JUNE 2013-7174Mustard greens, trying to hold on to their delicious heat, despite the drizzle.

We’re perched above the Hudson River, so it’s rhythmic tidal push and pull is familiar; we feel it, and we try to plant according to lunar cycles, a form of biodynamic farming that considers the moon’s pull on moisture and nutrients in the soil and in plant cells.

Developed by scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s, The best biodynamic farming looks for harmony between earth and sky, between soil, plant and planet, and tries to score those forces into one harmonic voice. This is no easy task, with all the dissonant pressure from pest and fungi acting against organic growing.  But it feels right here, and we’re doing our lyrical best.

SGF MID JUNE 2013-7294Baby bok choy and frilled mustards, perfect for braising or salad.

The way we interplant diverse vegetables, herbs and flowers at Stonegate in close, careful proximity means we moderate soil temperatures and reduce weed pressure, and we create relationships and dialogue between species that are mutually beneficial.

It’s arcane science, to be sure—the subtle whispering between cells—but the most poetic and meaningful things usually are.

SGF MID JUNE 2013-7522The tender bunching onions loved the rain.

Even some of the nutrients we add to the farm come from deep, other-worldy places. If you ever visit Stonegate midweek, you might feel as though you’re walking  through the salty savor of low tide. We spray with an organic fish and seaweed fertilizer that leaves plants high on ancient minerals unlocked from the bones and bodies of fish, from sea-green ribbons of brine and whatever else the mysterious tide brings up.

This nutrient-rich emulsion is spread across the farm as a foliar feed, where it works its slow, deep, delicious magic.

SGF MID JUNE 2013-7568Sprays of rainbow chard and purple lacinato kale.

“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient,” said Anne Morrow Lindbergh in Gift from the Sea. Patience is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith.”

So too with farming.  Patience and faith are persistent mantras.  Patience in bringing seed to leaf and fruit, faith that it will all actually work, and that weather and pests won’t undo you.

I love bringing the tidal sea back to the farm, the same sea that once moved as glaciers and created the very topsoil I’m farming. It quickens the steady biodynamic pulse of the place, and deepens its wonder. —Mb

“…one thirsts for the magnitude and universality of a night full of stars, pouring into one like a fresh tide.” Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea


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September 5th, 2009

The Weeder

After a cool, rain-muddied Summer, the sun has at last emerged, clear and lovely in September, and a quick amnesia has set in this week at the farm. How beautiful it is!

We’ve planted new mixed gourmet lettuce, baby spinach, braising greens, broccoli raab and chard, and the Brussels sprouts are starting to swell on their tall, ungainly stalks.

But this is the swan song for the farm, a last determined push before the deep sleep of winter.

We are a hopeful lot. We hope for sun, we hope for rain, we hope for fruit-swelling heat. We hope for more of whatever we and our leafy charges may covet. There’s never enough of something and always too much of something else.

Outside of the world within fences, the rest of the property has been brutally annexed by weeds. The wet Summer been a boom time for these thugs. They love excess: too much heat, to much rain, too much dry.


Barbarians at the gates. Given a chance, theselow-lifes would crash any well-kempt ground they could.

Weeds flourish on the exponential fringes of weather, thriving on adversity, sprawling and colonizing in thick, obscene swaths. They have a merciless appetite for self-preservation. Why can’t my heirloom lettuce be as shameless and libertine?

I admit, I’m impressed by their Darwinian vigor; how their root-clenched fists hold fast to the soil, how they skulk in hard-to-reach corners, or colonize and entire field overnight.


A tangled orgy of weeds pulled from the black currant beds. The cats have yet to volunteer. They use weeds to floss.

Of course, pulling these miscreants out by the roots in heavy, pitiless clumps, is an act of exaltation in the garden. Few chores blend a more complex mix of pleasure and dread.

So we weed. We’re not expecting an Oscar nod for our work. After all, In our version of “The Weeder”, no one is weeding to us (although there is something earthy and Kate Winslet-y about my wife). Just keeping ahead of them has to be good enough, one god-awful thug at a time. – Mb

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August 20th, 2009

Good Light

I was spun out from this familiar place last week, on location elsewhere as a photographer, and in the carbon-fueled hassle of plane and rental car travel felt completely unhinged from the goings-on of the farm.But Daisy took good care of chickens and cats and the greenhouse, Heidi weeded and harvested, Miles helped with compost. The little farm trundled on fine without me.


Supper in the garden, umbrellas on stand-by.

I flew in to New York shaking off the usual thunderstorms, and returned before dawn just as the sky began to slowly unfold, blue over black, and the night-lustered scent ofnicotiana was releasing itself into the still air over the farm.

Wakefulness at this hour is magical. From years of shooting gardens for books and magazines, I’m familiar with the secret, transitory beauty of twilight. The world seems to hold its breath, insect legs stop their determined rasping, and birdsongs have yet to be summoned by any indication of morning.

Then the day comes, and there is the usual damage assessment after a storm: The tight purse of the soil again pummeled into a swill by rain, the folds and clefts made by hoes and thoughtful hands all leveled, the tomatoes in a sad, rain-spilt tangle, the small-by-nature varieties of pepper and eggplant – confused by the inconstant weather – reduced to props for my daughter’s American Girl doll.

And despite all that, a smile. The Buddhists tell you that only by leaving your home can you know it for the first time. Knowing this place, with all of its quirks and provocations, is a gift.

Heidi reminds me of that. She reminds me not to become a grumpy farmer, grousing on about apocalyptic weather and the latest Book-of-Revelations pest that’s decided to stop by, and to find the good light (use a photography metaphor and he’ll understand…)

That night, we tossed a big harvest salad ofmesclun greens and loose-leaf lettuce, sweetened with sun-warmed greenhouse grapes, and made fresh pesto with skewer grilled eggplant and pepper. We ate in the garden as the little hens wandered aimlessly about our feet, and – with little effort – found the good light, filtering through the apple trees. - mb

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