Grateful to Reopen Next Sat. Dec. 12th!

Thanks to the many customers and supporters who have called and checked in with us on our website and Facebook page, wondering when we would reopen the farmstand. We will see you all at 10 AM till noon on Saturday, December 12! We love that you love our food! Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and are looking forward to this month’s festivities!

A pile of yellow summer squash, one with a blossom still on the end of the fruit.

Yellow summer squash and zucchini have been growing beautifully!

It has been quite a tumultuous year for farm planning. The severe drought that started last winter was the driest season Estate Longford has seen in nine years. (Amazingly enough, other places on St. Croix, including the East end, apparently got more rain than usual during that period.) The pastures and surrounding hills near us dried out and turned gray, and we experienced severe and intense brushfires across the east end of the ARTfarm and neighboring pastures in May, 2015, well attended by the VI Fire Service (thank you!!!).

At this time last year, all of our catchment ponds were topped off with rain. Currently, we are at less than one third of our rainwater catchment capacity.

All of this major rearrangement of weather patterns has meant that we have delayed planting in order to reserve our irrigation water, and hesitated to invest in the season.

But, we finally bit the bullet a few weeks ago and began planting for 2015-2016. We have designed a smaller amount of growing space this year, so we will have perhaps a little less on offer in terms of quantity. We are experimenting with a few new crops, and even some new growing techniques that are going to conserve even more water. We have created a few new areas of permaculture techniques, including some giant Hugel beds, and so far the productivity seems high, although insect activity is higher than we’ve ever seen it all over the farm — we and many other farmers on the island are struggling with record numbers of aphids, caterpillars and other garden pests. We are also not alone in experiencing overwhelming growth rates of noxious weeds, which survived even when more desirable grasses and forbs perished in the drought.

A pasture is full of piles of weeds, pulled up by hand.

Kiko has been painstakingly handweeding the toxic physic nut in the pastures for weeks to try to prevent further spread. There are literally thousands of these growing, and they are poisonous to livestock.

We gratefully welcome our new employee, Katie, who is fitting right in with the crew and learning quickly!

We are waiting another week and a half before opening so that we can have salad greens for your holidays. We’ll reopen Saturday, December 12, 10 AM – 12 noon, (Christmas Boat Parade Day). We’ll have herbs, veggies, salad greens and fruit! See you in ten days!

Love, ARTfarm

Closed for 2015 Summer/Fall Break

Greetings from the farm!

Apologies for the short notice: As we usually do, we are going to take a few weeks at this slowed-down time of the year to do some maintenance work, some reflecting, catching up on projects, and taking a little time for ourselves. So at the risk of seeming a bit abrupt, we are letting you know that we will not be open this morning, Saturday, August 22nd. We will probably reopen in mid to late October, depending on whether or not it rains and for enough duration to help our soil recover from this extensive drought.

Two kids hang out in a grass hut they made from dead coconut trees, victims of the drought.

Making lemonade from lemons. Here’s something fun to do with dead coconut trees: build a shady little fort to hang out in!

Speaking of the drought, we may be on the road to recovery after this weekend with a visit from tropical storm/depression/hurricane Danny, and hopefully with a few more precipative events in his wake. Keep in mind that for us and many other livestock and crops farmers, it will take time after rains arrive for our farms to recover. It is not going to be an instantaneous recovery once water hits the soil. Many pastures taxed by lack of rainfall and extended grazing periods will have to be reseeded. The balance of beneficial organisms in the soil has been altered by months of dry, punishing heat and wind. There is going to be a long road back to good soil, sward and plant health, after not having any substantial rain since February.

Big shout out and thanks to Sejah Farm, who collected donations from the public for drought relief and used the money to purchase hay, grain and milk replacer and distributed it among their production partners. We received two pickup truckloads of baled hay for our sheep. Thanks to everyone who donated. JCC, you should be sleeping well at night! Special thanks for your support for our island farmers.


 

ARTfarm Saturday Stand 10am

A similar lineup to last week, with a slight mango alteration: Sweet salad mix, garlic chives, mint. From our partners: Haitian Kidney mangoes (and a few Nam Doc Mai mangoes) from Alex at Tropical Exotics, and vegan ice cream from I-Sha in summer flavors: passionfruit, breadfruit, jojo and banana. Open on the South Shore Road, 10am – 12 noon. We literally have less than a dozen bags of sweet mix to sell tomorrow morning, so if you arrive later you may only be able to pick up some mangoes, herbs and ice cream.

Farmer Luca has not quite made a final decision, but we may close down early for our summer/fall break.

We did get around half an inch of rain over this past week. Consistent winds have caused most of the moisture to evaporate quickly from the soil and plants, unfortunately. Much more will be needed to affect any kind of drought recovery, but we are grateful for and celebrating every drop that falls!

A photo taken in bright sunlight shows a barren landscape of dry soil and dead trees at the edge of a gully. The scattered skeleton of a deer rests in the foreground.

Pastures at ARTfarm, Summer 2015. Extreme drought conditions, including brushfires, have caused a shortage of pasture forage that has negatively affected both domestic and wild creatures. Normally this riparian area of gut bank would be lush with guinea grass, various types of palatable broadleaf weeds, flowering shrubs and trees, and leguminous vines to provide an extensive and diverse diet plus shade and cover for birds, reptiles and wild mammals. Here you see barren soil and the bleached bones of a deer in their stead. While this is generally a dry period of the year, this amount of bare soil and the die-off of so many trees is highly unusual.

Many farmers in the Virgin Islands, particular those who are primarily livestock producers, are really suffering right now. The local and federal government agricultural agencies are working hard to find some drought relief sources for all of us but it may take some time (one timetable we heard about said not until December 2015). Some ideas for helping are in the works, and we will let you know if we hear of a secure and reliable way for the public to donate or otherwise contribute to help bring in emergency grain and hay to keep our island flocks and herds alive. If you have a contact working in the shipping/cargo business, or know of any stateside hay producers willing to donate or discount their hay, please pass their contact information on to us or to Dr. Bradford, Director of Veterinary Services at the VI Department of Agriculture. Also helpful in receiving help would be a fiduciary to collect and hold donated funds and a secure central distribution point for trailers of hay and feed.

ARTfarm Saturday – We’ve Got a Licker

Almost as if by sleight-of-hand: Sweet salad mix, a few dragonfruit, garlic chives, mint, lemongrass. From our partners: Nam Doc Mai mangoes from Alex at Tropical Exotics, and vegan ice cream from I-Sha in summer flavors: passionfruit, mango, jojo and banana, papaya-ginger. Open on the South Shore Road, 10am – 12 noon.

The severe drought continues. Many of the trees we have planted on the farm are dying off. Grazed pastures are not renewing themselves. After being blessed with rain for the last few years it is hard for many farmers on St. Croix to see our long term efforts of stewardship being stressed to the breaking point by this unusually harsh weather. Even as we see visible signs of the drought, there are many more organisms suffering than meet the naked eye.

Water, water, anywhere? A tiny anole lizard licks moisture off of a dragonfruit bud in the dry pasture.

Water, water, anywhere? Look closely to see what Farmer Luca saw: A tiny anole lizard licking moisture off of an irrigated dragonfruit bud in the dry pasture.

Despite the lack of green grass, bugs and other forage, our two surviving heritage-breed turkeys managed to breed this summer. We took a set of ten eggs for the incubator when Mrs. Brownie started to lay, and she took it upon herself to lay another set after that and brooded it. Turkeys are said to have a low hatch rate. The incubator hatched four poults, but the mother turkey hatched nine out of ten! Man cannot improve on nature’s efficiencies, it seems.

A brown turkey hen looks on as nine fluffy baby poults clamber around her in a wire mesh cage.

Mrs. Brownie, who survived the dog attack this past fall, has produced nine poults this summer after 28 patient days on the nestbox. She and her babies are well protected at this bite-sized stage in a coop built to keep rats and mongoose out. Predator pressure is particularly intense during drought times as wildlife and feral animals are more desperate for food and water.

A large grey tom turkey displays his feathers walking along the edges of his pen. The farm and hills beyond are dry and brown.

Proud papa turkey, the only survivor of the stray dog attack last fall, keeps careful watch over his new family. You can see recent brushfire damage on the hills behind him.

A Green Patch of Determination

It's July 2015 and there has been no substantial rain for months. This panorama of the center of the farm shows the contrast between irrigated and non-irrigated areas.

It’s July 2015 and there has been no substantial rain for months. This panorama of the center of the farm shows the contrast between irrigated and non-irrigated areas.

The ARTfarm is brown and crunchy at the moment, (and not in the delicious granola type way) but there is a little patch of green that Farmer Luca is diligently watering and protecting from hungry, thirsty deer. In other news from the Department of Symbols Of Hope, three turkey eggs hatched in our incubator yesterday morning! And our mama turkey Ms. Brownie is brooding on a nest of eleven more hope capsules…due next week.

A morning meeting of three freshly hatched turkey poults in the incubator at ARTfarm.

A morning meeting of three freshly hatched turkey poults in the incubator at ARTfarm.

For this morning’s Saturday farmstand, from 10 AM to 12 noon, we have: Lots of sweet salad mix, passionfruit, plenty of mint, lemongrass, garlic chives, tarragon, Cuban oregano, recao, Ethiopian kale, and papayas!
From our partner growers and chefs: we have dragonfruit from Solitude Farms, Viequen Butterball mangoes from Tita, Haitian Kidney mangoes from Denis Nash, and vegan local fruit ice cream from I-Sha.

Don’t forget about the 19th annual Mango Melee on Sunday at the Botanical Garden! You won’t find the Viequen Butterball at Mango Melee, but there are a lot of other fun and delicious things on offer over there (call 340-692-2874 or www.sgvbg.org for more information). Be sure to support our long-time neighbor and loyal customer Lisa Spery as she competes in the Mango Dis, Mango Dat contest with a recipe incorporating fresh ARTfarm mint! Good luck, Lisa!

Madame Francis and Butterball Mangoes!

ARTfarm Saturday: 10am – 12 noon. Mangoes like crazy today! Summer solstice arrives on Sunday, hopefully dragging some rain clouds with it for Father’s Day! Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there. From the farm this morning: Small amounts of sweet mix and microgreens, a few pineapples and papayas, lots of passionfruit, fresh mint, Italian basil, garlic chives and lemongrass. Don’t forget the lemongrass – steep in hot water to make a very cooling and slightly sweet, refreshing brew to keep in the fridge!

From our partners: vegan ice cream from I-Sha in a rainbow of flavors, honey from Errol, and lots of beautiful mangoes, including Viequan Butterballs from Tita and Nam Doc Mai and Madame Francis from Dennis Nash. Farmer Luca, a mango connoisseur, claims that the VBs have even less fiber than the buttery  NDMs. Their velvety texture is a triumph of mango husbandry! Enjoy mangoes now, as the drought may possibly make this a historically short mango season.IMG_9559IMG_9561IMG_9560

Still pretty dry out here… We’ve heard some farmers remark that we are in a fifteen-year drought (meaning that it has not been this dry since after Hurricane Hugo – not that it will last fifteen years). Two years ago at this time of year we were able to grow a lot more summer crops. We know it has been an extended campaign, but please keep rain dancing! Your efforts have brought a few decent showers to the farm, but not enough to yet quench the thirst of the rock-hard topsoil. So keep on getting your groove on if you love local food!

ARTfarm Q&A Wednesday! 3-6pm

Today at ARTfarm down the south shore we’ll offer a fairly small selection of items: Pineapples, a few tomatoes, sweet salad mix, microgreens, basil, chives, and a few cucumbers.

The lignum vitae is an important food source for honey bees in drought times.

The lignum vitae is an important food source for honey bees in drought times.

Q: What do you farmers do when it is so dry? What can grow in this extreme drought condition?

A: Not too much! We do our best to conserve water when conditions are this severe.

One plant that remains green and healthy with no watering in this dry weather is the highly drought tolerant lignum vitae tree. Slow and steady is how lignum vitae grows, rain or no rain. This tree species will probably outlast all the other trees that we have planted over the years. Most of the 30+ lignum vitae trees established at ARTfarm came from Kai and Irene Lawaetz at Little Lagrange. Kai was always a champion of the lignum vitae for its beauty and ability to withstand drought times and there are many prime individuals of the species on the Lawaetz Museum grounds.

Even in drought times when most vegetation is brown, the lignum vitae tree's evergreen leaves remain deep green and provide dense shade.

Even in drought times when most vegetation is brown, the lignum vitae tree’s evergreen leaves remain deep green and provide dense shade.

While it does not produce any edible products, the lignum vitae is a beautiful dense shade and ornamental tree and a food source for honeybees, particularly when nothing else is flowering. The wood of lignum vitae trees is so dense that it has traditionally been used to make ship pulleys.

The light purplish blue blooms and showy red and orange fruit are unique mainly because of their color. There are not too many blue colored flowers in the tropics. The tree sheds very little leaf litter and its leathery paired leaves remain a beautiful deep green year round.

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