New Greenhouses & New Challenges

Over the winter, the crew has raised five new greenhouses with one more to go. After putting up greenhouses nearly every year for a decade, the crew has the system pretty well figured out.

In November, the farm got a shipment of greenhouse poles from a large greenhouse supply wholesaler based in California along with a specialized pipe-bending machine. The crew made enough hoops for the six new greenhouses in about a day of work, and then they shipped the pipe bender back South.

Unfortunately during the snowstorm, a few days before the flood in January, two small existing greenhouse collapsed under the weight of the snow. While some of the materials were salvageable and could be used again, the hoops could no longer serve as hoops. In a rush to get the farm up and running again, the pipe arches that were supposed to be for one of the new greenhouses were used to replace the bent ones in the fallen shelters.

Fortunately, John had ordered a number of extra pipes that had been reserved for use as straight sections along the peaks or as horizontal supports along the sides of new greenhouses. Sections from the fallen greenhouse could be substituted for those purposes, but the long straight pipes still needed to be bent into hoops.

Shipping the pipe bender up from California and then back down in order to bend 40 hoops seemed prohibitively expensive, so John (co-owner), Rodrigo (crew foreman), and various other crew members devised a makeshift mold out of plywood and 2 x 4’s left over from another project. The contraption was affixed to a couple of picnic tables and a beam in the packing shed.

Instead of gently feeding poles into a pipe-bending machine, this method required quite a bit of muscle.

The system didn’t work perfectly. There were kinks to be worked out and overly flat sections. The 2 x 4s were reconfigured several times as trial and error suggested improvements.

It was a labor-intensive project. Was it cost effective? Well…maybe.

But at the end of the day, the crew had hoops to work with.

Meanwhile in the field…

Here are the first few farm-bent hoops in the ground. They’re obviously not perfect, but the tension of the plastic and the supports will hold everything together well enough. The only real concern about this DIY bending method is that there may be particular points of weakness that will be extra vulnerable under a future snow pack.

Two of these greenhouses were here last season, but six are new. After two cold, wet springs in a row, the farm management was feeling like it needed to hedge its bets by creating more spaces where the climate could be somewhat regulated. This year, Joelene and the crew will plant greenhouses with crops they’ve never planted under cover before like bunching chard, radishes, etc. More potatoes will grow in greenhouses than out in open fields. These crops will all but guarantee that the farm will have a product to sell at early spring farmers’ markets and will be prepared for a bigger-than-ever group of CSA members expecting produce boxes starting in mid June.

There are also spaces between the greenhouses that serve as small micro climates. Last year, peppers were planted in one such area, and they were highly vigorous and prolific.














Several of the new greenhouses have already been planted with new crops this spring like the one above that’s seeded with radishes and mustards.

Joelene’s primary task right now is rigging up proper irrigation for each of the new greenhouses.














Joelene (seed, irrigation, and greenhouse manager) sets up all new greenhouses for both drip and overhead irrigation, so that they can accomodate a wide range of crops. Also important is accessibility. Ideally, the crew would be able to get tractors in and out of the greenhouses and be able to drive up to or inside them, too. That means irrigation pipes must be buried. Some of these trenches were dug with a trencher and some were dug by hand. Either way, it’s been a super muddy project.

Guy has been helping Joelene with the fittings and set up.

Joelene prefers PVC pipe over metal because it’s cheaper, holds up better, and doesn’t corrode.

Each of the two sets of three greenhouses will be equipped with its own sand filter, and Joelene has planned to have plenty of easily accessible hookups for drip irrigating the adjacent field or setting up irrigation in neighboring greenhouses that may be built in the future. Planning ahead now will take a little extra time and supplies, but it has the potential to save a huge amount of energy and effort years down the road.

The whole process of setting up irrigation has been hampered by the wet weather. The individual pipes leading to each greenhouse will eventually be plumbed into a mainline that is over four feet underground. The mainline has been located, but it is at present so far below the water table that Joelene will have to wait until the weather dries out a bit to have good enough access to hook up to it.

Joelene is the mastermind and the main source of muscle behind the mélange of irrigation systems that cover the entire farm. Thanks to her (and her assistant, Sarah), GTF fruits and vegetables have the needed water to flourish.


Views Around the Farm Stand + Menu for March 1-2

Ana Patty’s croissants in the works.

Here are a few scenes from around the farmstand kitchen shortly before the lunch hour on Thursday, March 2.

Ana Patty’s chocolate chip cookies in the works 
Ricky’s baguettes in the works

The Menu for March 1-2 (may vary depending upon availability)

to start:

country pâte with cornichon and whole grain mustard
mixed greens with balsamic vinaigrette
gtf salad, grilled flat iron, polenta crouton, and a sweet chili vinaigrette
potato and leek soup with artisan bread
parsnip and beet soup with artisan bread


bacon/kale/blue cheese/tomato/mozzarella







































cavatelli with tomato, olive, goat cheese
salt cod ravioli with leek, bacon, and white bean
creamy polenta with vegetables and poached egg
peanut curry of clams, mussels, and rockfish
housemade breakfast sausage for Saturday breakfast

If you ignore the mud in the parking lot, the farmstand feels quite springy. Come on in and see for yourself.

Opening Weekend at the Farm Stand

The Gathering Together farm stand/restaurant opened for the season on Thursday, February 23, and the staff was pleasantly surprised by how many of our local customers stopped by for produce, pastries, and a hot meal. Alison, the new farm stand manager, spent the past few weeks cleaning, rearranging, and sprucing up the building and garden room, so the place looked great.

Quite a few folks who have turned out in the past two days asked about the farm and flood damage, and we’re happy to report that we are back on track and have most everything cleaned up. Our customers’ support at our farmers’ markets and here on the farm has certainly helped us recover more quickly from  the financial losses associated with the damage, and for that, we thank you.

Spring is generally quieter in the farm stand than on hot summer days, but judging by the turnout this weekend, that may not hold true this year. If your appetite and schedule will allow it, JC (the chef) recommends dining before or after the busy noon-to-one o’clock lunch hour. This will give both the kitchen crew and our lunch guests the to opportunity to take their time preparing and enjoying the food. Larger parties are always welcome to call in reservations ahead of time (541-929-4270).














All the flowers in the table settings came from our neighbors at Greengable Gardens.

This month’s featured artist in the farm stand is Carol Chapel who lives just down the road and stops in at the farms often. Carol’s nature and agriculture-inspired works fit quite nicely into the decor.

The farm stand is newly stocked with organic produce and other local goods. Currently available are GTF’s own cipollini onions, parsnips, beets, rutabagas, onions, carrots, potatoes, and watercress.

Alison supplements the produce selection with fruits and vegetables from Organically Grown Company and a few neighboring farms.

We also offer several books and cookbooks written by local authors.

Local wine and beer is available…

…as are fresh eggs from Provenance Farm.

Other goods sold in the farm stand include locally grown/milled flour, coffee and teas, frozen pork, chicken and fish, T shirts, honey, jams, and pickles.

The coffee is always fresh and always hot.

GTF’s signature potato doughnuts are back.

Plus, Ana (the pastry chef) baked some not-too-sweet maple-coconut-date granola, if doughnuts aren’t really your thing.

The menu from the GTF kitchen changes weekly (sometimes daily) depending upon availability of seasonal ingredients, but here’s a quick guide to this weekend’s fare.

February 23-25 Lunch Menu

to start:

house coppa with capers and whole grain mustard
mixed greens with balsamic vinaigrette
GTF salad beets, toasted almonds, and goat cheese with balsamic vinaigrette
roasted vegetable and barley soup with artisan bread
curried carrot soup with artisan bread




cavatelli with roasted shallot, olive, and spinach
creamy polenta with vegetables and poached egg
brodetto of clams, mussels, and rockfish
country pork pâté sando with potato and watercress salad

JC finishes off a couple orders of brodetto.

Ricky preps pizza dough.

Pizza are made to order with mozzarella and house-made tomato sauce…

…and baked in the wood-fired oven.

Here’s the broccoli/leek/tomato/mozzarella pizza.

The polenta got rave reviews. This one’s in the works pre-poached egg.

JC is particularly proud of the pork pâte sandwich…

…and the house coppa with capers and mustard.

We’d like to thank everyone who came out for opening weekend and encourage other locals to stop in soon. We are currently open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Valentine’s Dinner at the GTF Farm Stand

The Gathering Together Farm restaurant hosted a Valentine’s Day dinner this past week. Chef JC and his kitchen crew went all out to delight the senses of a small gathering of people celebrating their love for each other and of good food.

The Menu:

sweetbreads terrine with sour cherry mostarda

scallop terrine with citrus, fennel, and bok choi

heartbeet risotto with trotter croquetta

duck breast with braising greens and rutabaga

chocolate soufflé

optional wine pairing

sweetbreads terrine with sour cherry mostarda

baby leaves of bok choi

scallop terrine with citrus, fennel, and bok choi














 Alison (above left) is the farmstand manager and serves meals along with Tamara (above right).

JC grates parmesan to garnish the risotto.

JC slices beets.

well seasoned beets









JC (above left) plates up the heartbeet risotto. JC develops most of the restaurant menu items himself, using the best local and seasonal ingredients as inspiration.

Ricky (above right) is second in command in the farm stand kitchen.

 heartbeet risotto with trotter croquetta

searing duck breasts

duck breasts

JC deglazes the pans and saves the sauce for later.

braising greens: mustards, chard, and kale

goat cheese croquettas in the making for a vegetarian guest

flowers from our neighbors at Greengable Gardens

not-quite-assembled macarons made by pastry chef Ana (not pictured) to accompany the chocolate soufflé

The kitchen crew would like to thank everyone who joined us for this special meal. Regular dinners at the GTF farm stand will begin in April, but until then we’d love to see you at Thursday or Friday lunches or Saturday breakfasts at the farm stand, which opens for the season this coming week (February 24, 2012).

Mixing Soil and Seeding Onions

Last week, the propagation greenhouse crew had its annual onion-seeding marathon, 574 flats in three partial workdays with the help of four people. This was the single biggest one-crop planting of the year

Onions are a staple vegetable at the farm, yielding throughout the summer, and storing well into the fall and winter. Gathering Together Farm is growing the following varieties this year (a couple new ones plus tried and true favorites):

Red Storage–‘Ruby Ring’, ‘Red River’, ‘Cabernet’ from Osborne Seed Company

Sweet–‘Walla Walla’, ‘Candy’, ‘Exhibition’ from Osborne Seed Company

White–‘Sierra Blanca’ from Osborne Seed Company

Yellow Storage–‘Talon’ from Territorial Seed Company, ‘Trekker’ and ‘Frontier’ from Osborne Seed Company

Shallots–‘Ambition’, ‘Saffron’ from Johnny’s Selected Seeds














Sarah (above left), Paula (above right), and Leslie (who politely opted not to get her photo taken) do most of the routine seeding and propagation greenhouse upkeep. Joelene schedules all the plantings, investigates any problems with equipment or germination as promptly as possible, and oversees the crew, making sure they have what they need to work effectively and efficiently.

Fine Pumice

Soil is the foundation for healthy and successful plant starts. The propagation greenhouse crew mixes all the potting soil used for spring and summer seeding and transplanting from scratch. The soil recipe is based on a mix recommended by Eliot Coleman (organic farming proponent). Over the years, the mix has evolved into the farm’s current recipe.

Gathering Together Farm Greenhouse Soil Mix Recipe

8 gallons composted rabbit manure and leaves

4 gallons peat

4 gallons fine pumice

2 cups powder mix (a 1:1 ratio of green sand, kelp meal, oyster shell flour, fish bone meal, glacial rock dust, and crab meal)

Sifted Compost

All the ingredients are loaded into the farm’s cement mixer that’s exclusively dedicated to mixing soil. They’re tumbled until they’re evenly distributed. The soil then gets unloaded into a wheelbarrow.

For seeding onions, Sarah, Paula, and Leslie mixed soil and filled 574 flats of “162’s” (flats with 162 cells).

The soil was lightly packed into the flats.














Flats were stacked 20-high so that the soil in each cell got compressed slightly, leaving a depression for the onion seeds. The flats got stickers to mark the variety with which they would be seeded.

This is the electric seeder. It was purchased used from Peoria Gardens many years ago. Sarah is the primary seeder operator these days, though she “studied” under Joelene’s tutelage.

Here’s the base of the seeder. Each flat is manually placed here to start.

This is the hopper with onion seeds. When it’s turned on, this tray is agitated to get a better distribution of seeds, so they can be sucked up by the  seeder tips.

This header with seeder tips rotates down and sucks up at least one seed per tip. (The one on the far right has two.) When it rotates back up, the suction is released, and the seeds fall down the tubes…

…into individual cells. The tips and tubes can be reconfigured to work with different sized cells, but Gathering Together Farm uses the electric seeder on primarily 162’s.

A steady “ca-chunk, ca-chunk” is the soundtrack as the flats move haltingly down the line, stopping briefly for seed deposits in each cell.

The flats are pushed along automatically by several oscillating arms that give each cell wall a shove down the line.

Sarah has to manually grab the flats off the base before they’re pushed off the end onto the ground (which happens on a very rare occasion).

This occupancy gauge signals to the seeder that a tray is passing through, but if it doesn’t sense a flat, it halts the seed dropping mechanism, avoiding major seed losses as things get busy, and Sarah can’t make it back to feed in the next flat fast enough.

Each tray passes through the seeder twice to ensure that each cell gets at least two seeds. When Sarah is seeding something that she knows has a particularly bad germination rate, she will sometimes send each flat through three times.

In between loading and unloading flats, adding more seed to the hopper, watching to make sure all the mechanical parts are doing their respective jobs, giving flats an extra shove when necessary, and subconsciously keeping track of how many times each flat has passed through the seeder, Sarah tops off the sown flats with a pumice-rich soil mix.

These flats of onions will spend the next two months in the warmth of the propagation greenhouse. During that time, they will be thinned once, trimmed once, weeded twice (because the compost does have some weed seeds in it), and watered daily. The field crew will transplant them outside in mid April where they’ll need weeding at least once more before harvest (not to mention lots of irrigating).

Expect to see fresh onions at our farmers’ markets and in CSA boxes in late spring/early summer. Until then, we still have some of last season’s storage onions available.