NEW FARMER JOURNAL: Stoney Lonesome Farm, Gainesville VA

A new farmer takes stock of successes and failures mid-season…
…with two-thirds of a season to go on the big ball he calls ‘farm’.

By Pablo Elliott
Posted July 14, 2005



Stoney Lonesome Farm
Gainesville, VA

Farmers: Pablo Elliot and Esther Mandelheim

First season: 2004

What they raise: Mixed vegetables (always lots of tomatoes)

Location: 35 miles west of Washington, D.C.

Marketing strategies: CSA, farmers' market

July, 2005. Tropical storms are moving up the East Coast, dropping their treasure trove on the parched earth here at Stoney Lonesome. I’m loving the rain, a chance to relax indoors and cool off. I would have been happy if the rain had stopped at an inch, but it has no intentions of doing so. Some of our beds will become mini ponds by morning. Oh well.

We are nearing the end of week 6 of our CSA program, and so far we’ve had full bags of veggies each week for our members. Many things have not been perfect, like the holey cabbage and Asian greens, but our snap peas and broccoli came through great, and the lettuces have been going solid up to this point. Early plantings of squash and cucumbers, which I thought were goners because of the cool weather and cucumber beetles, miraculously bounced back and are yielding nice fruits. The red, white and blue potatoes came through for the Fourth of July, and now we bring in the bouquets of sunflowers, marigolds, and zinnias. The “lovely bouquet” gives us room to breathe if our weekly share feels light.

Just in case you think I’m proclaiming the season a total success so far, I’ve got a whole list of stuff that ain’t so purty. Our beets remain the size of a quarter and refuse to grow. The carrots are doing well, but there’s only one bed of them, enough for a week or two of distribution to be followed by a couple-month carrot gap. Our garlic was basically a total failure; this is particularly hard to stomach because everyone knows it’s hard to kill garlic, and apparently I did this with resounding success. How exactly does one manage to over-mulch garlic? Is such a thing possible? Yes. Some things have been out of our control, like the cool May and its effect on our tomato bounty, or the particularly dry June, but I’m realizing that the weather is too easy an excuse; after all, I’m responsible for the fact that our irrigation system remains a lengthy garden hose. Or that my bee hive boxes remain an unassembled pile in the barn.

So I suppose that every season has its long lists of good and bad, and we trudge through as best we can and hope that at the end of it all we have a good portion of our CSA members left, as well as a small reserve of sanity to prepare for the following season. Perhaps the most important addition we have made to the “good” list has been our three amazing apprentice-intern-assistants who have provided an incredible boost to the flow of farm work. We get more done in a day than I would get done in a week last season. Last year, we left all of our wash bins out, baskets everywhere, and food scraps all over the ground in the rush to deliver our stuff to Washington D.C. This year we have the whole place cleaned up, the truck packed, and we even do a small garden project before heading out! A garden project on harvest day makes me feel temporarily atop the big rolling ball we call ‘farm.’

That our farm crew will begin to leave us over the next few weeks for school and other obligations will be tough to handle, but the knowledge of working with a crew and what a difference this makes will stay with us. As I write this article, the crew seeds flats of cabbage, cauliflower and pumpkins in the greenhouse. That’s what it’s all about this season; just keep the big ball rolling.