Jones' Farmer Blog

Behind the scenes and lessons at Jones Family Farms in Shelton, CT


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Earth song fills the air in spring

941fc-terryclovers_1173Farmer Terry Jones contributed the following Op-Ed piece for the CtPost recently in recognition of Earth Day 2017 (Apr22).

Resolve this season of Earth Day to be more attentive to the gifts bestowed on us by our beloved planet. If you live near a tree or any spring green foliage, throw open your windows and let the songs of Mother Earth filter into your home. For this spring season, try awaking to the songs of birds as they usher in each new day.

Do you have a favorite? Mine is the wood thrush whose sweet notes always soothe the human soul each evening or at the breaking of dawn. Their songs are the perfect alarm clock.

If you live near a wetland, the iconic sounds of spring peepers provide a perfect choral background to bird songs. My grandson, Sam, says his favorite bird song is the peaceful cooing of the mourning dove, while my wife of 48 years, Jean, loves the syncopated orchestral percussion of wood peckers.

We also enjoy the almost raucous cheeping of our barn swallows as they hasten to build nests in the rafters of our tractor sheds. After their eggs hatch, they take to the air and gracefully swoop over our fields to capture insects to feed their young.

Whatever your favorite, the bird songs of the many species here in Connecticut are a gift we seldom fully appreciate.

Mother Earth seems to conduct the orchestra of bird song in a most pleasing way. The mingling bird languages please the human ear. By the way, there is a human counterpart to the pleasant songs that a mixed population of bird life provides. Just pass by a school yard where children are at play outside and you will hear the same joyful harmony as their diverse happy voices blend together. I am thrilled as the migrating bird species arrive back to our Connecticut fields, forests, parks, and yards. Spring is here!

They have made long journeys but enjoy the freedom to cross oceans and continents without the impediment of man-made borders and restrictions. I am most amazed at the punctual arrival of a pair of Great Egrets who find our pond each year after their long flight from the Amazon rain forest of South America.

Also, this spring give thanks for the sound of “water song.” After a long but gentle overnight rain, the farm brooks and springs begin to sing again. Their long silence was broken after many months of drought. Although life-giving rains began in late September, it had taken many storms to deeply moisten the land. The trickling of springs and babble of brooks is not what most modern Americans long to hear, but for the farmer in me, it is a sweet and beautiful sound! It reassures us that Nature is resilient and is a humbling reminder that life depends on Her generosity.

As May approaches, the rustle of green leaves mixes with our soundscape of birds and water. The grit of mud season is overcome by the growing greens.

As if by magic, our outside view changes as the growing green leaves create a new landscape for us. The winter views of our neighbor’s yard goes clandestine behind the foliage and we now enjoy the glory of trees draped in spring green. All the while, the leaves are purifying our air and fulfilling our human need for oxygen.

This Earth Day (and beyond), let us open our senses to the sounds and sights of Mother Earth. Take care of Her and She will take care of us.

Terry Jones is a Shelton farmer and grandfather. He is chair of Connecticut’s Working Lands Alliance and a member of the Connecticut State Board of Education.

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Spring-ing into action

As we kick away the last piles of snow around the farm, the life of the farm jump-starts into high gear from the “Quiet” season of January thru March.

Staff attended enrichment visits this past winter to become trained for safety, educated at conferences, and certified in various respects at seminars and classes.  It’s always informative to see how other farms operate and the markets they serve.

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Photo from a greenhouse at another farm visited during our winter season.

College interns were interviewed during their spring breaks, and a team is being assembled for our summer Berry Season!  We are even already starting to address what the Pumpkin Season theme will be for October!

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Our summer intern team from a few years ago!  Every year is a fresh set of faces!

The Winery’s Tasting Room opened on on Friday March 3rd.  Plan a visit during its spring hours (Fri-Sun, 11a-5p).  There is a wide variety of gift ideas, and it’s always a fresh experience to visit with new craft items from many of our local artists and vendors.

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Interesting gift ideas for wedding, or other special occasions, available in our Tasting Room.

We have some exciting news regarding current offerings from our Winery!  Our “Seven Generations” port-style wine is back on the shelves!  It proves very popular near Christmas, and our inventory was completely sold before December ended. Never fear!  We had the next vintage aging in oak barrels for 2yrs, and bottled it on March 31st.

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Seven Generations, a delicious port- style wine.  A “Special Tasting” occurs on weekends.

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In the photo you can see the historic weather vane that used to be on top of the building when it was an active Dairy Barn.  This served as inspiration for this year’s design on the commemorative Tasting Glass guests receive as part of a Wine Tasting Experience.Cheese Tapas Pinot Ripton

We also have Cheese Tapas Boxes available from our Harvest Kitchen!  Learning about how flavors interact to heighten a culinary experience is always a joy!

When visiting the Tasting Room, inquire about our new “Friends Of The Winery” Program.  You will learn about specialty wine events, be the first to learn about new wines, and accumulate points for each dollar spent in the Tasting Room toward earning special discount on a future wine purchase.  Ask our Winery staff about Program details and sign-up during your next visit!

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Our “Summer Garden Series” of Cooking Classes has just been published.  You can register for them online, or in person when visiting the Winery.  All classes are taught on Thursday, 6:30-8:30pm, from mid-July tf2fa9-26448_375371319052_42413034052_3713820_108428_nhrough August.

Other events soon to occur at the farm is the Ecumenical Easter Sunrise Service held annually at the top of our Homestead Farm’s “Candy Cane Hill” location.  (2017: Sunday, April 16th, 5:45 AM)

Out in the fields, our Christmas Tree transplanting activity has begun this week!  We pull trees from our nurseries where they have been growing from a seedling for 2 years.  This video from 2009 shows the same process we follow every year in the nursery.

Once pulled from our nursery we ready them in our trucks for transport to the fields.

Let the Planting Season Begin!

It planting in a new field, or renovating an existing field, we spot-mark each location where a tree will be planted,  and dig a hole to ready for a tree.

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When the tree is transplanted, a good course of composting wood chops on top helps retain moisture around the plant, suppresses weeds, and amends the soil.

The Life Of Your Christmas Tree

Elsewhere on the farm, the straw is ready to be removed from the strawberry plants after having protected it from the harsh colds of winter.  It’s now time to absorb the sun, get growing, and then ripen as we approach a typical harvest start of early June.

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As always, if you want to hear the latest updates about the farm before you visit – Give a call to our Crop Report message at 203-929-8425.  Our website is a great resource to learn more about the farm and all it’s seasons.

 

 

 

 


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The “Quiet” Season

The question often arises – What happens after Christmas Tree season is over?  Simply put – A LOT!!

We remained open for the week between Christmas and New Years for those looking to purchase some wine for holiday parties, and to conduct Wine Tastings for guests wanting to learn more about the breadth of our wine list.
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Now that our Tasting Room is closed (re-opens on Friday March 3rd), you can obtain our wines at a variety of Wine Stores in Connecticut. (link to a listing of the wine stores on our website)
The Christmas Tree fields are evaluated, going through all of them post-harvest.  Where a tree has been harvested, we cut the “whorl” of branches remaining on the stump.  The stump is also cut again as close to the ground as possible with a special chainsaw where the blade will not dull if it touches the soil.  A record is made of how many trees are needed to replant in each block of trees, and then added together by variety across all 200 acres of trees to gauge the amount of nursery and transplant work to come in the spring.
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The stumps from a prior year’s harvest are visible next to the replacement planted in the adjacent spot.  The two trees in the foreground are nearly 4-5 years old.

 If there is no snow and the weather is mild (as it has been), we can get to work on pruning in the blueberry bushes.  By removing the older canes, it allows the plants to put more energy into the growing parts of the plant where fruit will develop
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Pruning blueberries before the spring’s new growth helps the plants produce more berries while staying in line.  These plants show straw at their base to suppress grass growth.

In some fields we will add straw at the base to suppress grass growth.  In some of our fields we will instead add composting wood chips, as this additionally helps to retain moisture in the root zone – a growing challenge in our summers.

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Young blueberry bushes receive a layer of composting wood chips to suppress grass and retain moisture at the plants root zone.

Some of our buildings receive their warmth from wood stoves or fireplaces, and we split that firewood from selective tree felling activity during the winter time.
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We keep an eye on all our strawberry fields to ensure that the blanket of straw remains on top of the plants to protect it from the harsh cold of winter.
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There is annual maintenance to do, such as refinishing the Tasting Room floors after being emptied of all furniture and products prior to opening in the spring.
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All the saws from Christmas time are gone thru, with sap-gum removed from their blades and reviewed for sharpness before being put away till next year.

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Over at the Winery, there are preparations for the coming year’s vintage to be bottled.

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The Harvest Kitchen Cooking Studio is experimenting with different recipes to offer during our cooking classes.  (Here is a link to the Preview of 2017 Spring Classes)

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We are creating some delicious dishes during these winter days with our vegetables and squash from last fall.

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That just scratches the surface.  If you want to see some of what goes on across the year, take a look at our Farmer Friday videos on YouTube.

Registration for Harvest Kitchen Cooking Classes begins on Groundhog Day (Feb2) online via our website – www.JonesFamilyFarms.com

The Winery’s Tasting Room opens for the 2017 season on Friday March 3rd.  The Spring Season Hours will be Fri/Sat/Sun 11a-5p.

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Farm – photography tips

Greetings from Farmer Tom.

One of my tasks at the farm is managing the various social media channels for the farm, and create most of the content for them.  This involves a fair amount of photography to augment telling the farm’s story via imagery.  From a single elective class for Photography that I took in college, I never thought I’d be offering tips on what I have found to be successful in photography!

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Panoramic photos should keep a level horizon when being taken

Since one of my roles as a Farm Manager is maintaining our facilities, I am familiar with the numerous landscape locations on the farm property that can make beautiful photos at sunset, or a scene that is great in winter time versus summer; but I’m not walking around with expensive cameras or lenses waiting to capture them.

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Panoramic photos can also be taken vertically, such as this capture of a tree in color at fall

It may surprise some to learn that all of my photo images and videos are taken with my mobile phone while I’m on the move doing other things.  Using an image from my mobile device allows it’s quick utilization on any of our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube, etc).  Many of the images on our website were drawn from this pool of photos taken over the years with a simple phone.

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Consider the infinity point where lines from foreground to background converge upon.

I use a 2013 model Motorola Moto X, which has a pure-Android based operating system.  I use the built-in phone app which has numerous ways to capture an image digitally, such as panoramic mode, or with a depth of focus (see below photo).  Knowing your imaging tool and it’s capabilities is important, be that an SLR camera or simply your phone.

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Use your camera’s depth of focus to bring attention to an area or subject

I believe in creating authentic imagery to illustrate the farm’s activities.  I don’t put filters upon or photoshop any image just to make it look better.  I don’t sugar coat it: If it’s a grey day on the strawberry patch – you will know that.  If it’s a bright sunny day – you will know that too (and don’t forget your sunscreen!).  The only changes I make to imagery is when I “mock-up” photos to overlay text or logos to better inform or watermark the image (see below).

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So, a couple of things that I consider when trying to get a good shot.

  • I try to be thoughtful in what I’m trying to communicate.  Is it the natural beauty of the farm’s surroundings?  Is the subject matter of a crop that is currently in season?  Is there an experience component that would be enticing to feel in person?  I could be taking photos for a training manual, or documenting a scene for later analysis in order to improve the presentation of a setting in the following year.
  • Photography at it’s core is capturing light.  Light at a lower point in the sky (dawn or dusk) is less harsh on the subject (plants, people, landscape).  A clear day in winter will have less haze to effect a long distance panorama than a humid summer day.  Where will the shadows fall.
  • Focus on the subject.  Taking a group photo of individuals, doesn’t always require them to be centered in the frame.  Sometimes, off to the side, or from on high can work quite well.  Consider experimenting with depth of focus so that elements in the distance are out-of-focus.
  • Remember the background.  Are their shadows that fall into your photo’s frame?  Are their other individuals or movements in the background that distract from your subject.

 


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100 Days.

Today, September 16th, is 100 days till Christmas.  To some that may seem like a long way off, and about this time is when folks are upset about seeing winter season displays in stores when it hasn’t even finished summer (that technically occurs on September 22nd)!

It is a VERY busy time for the farm now.  We post regular photos of our farmers at work behind the scenes on our Instagram feed, and long-form videos on our Youtube Chanel. Here is a sampling of what is occurring here this week.

Pumpkins:

IMG_20150916_141454199.jpgWe are busy harvesting the pumpkins as this crop has become ready.  Beyond the traditional jack-o-lantern carving pumpkin, we have many other ornamental squash and gourds, and harvesting these fields allows us to disc the soil and seed it with a cover crop of grass to get established before the winter.

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Sugar Pumpkin Flower Wall (1).jpgHarvesting pumpkins now and placing them in our barns to “cure” (the outer skin hardens a bit) makes it tougher for the skin to avoid being blemished or nicked.  We have MANY edible squashes and delight in the many recipes that utilize them over the colder months of fall and on into winter (squash can store very well if kept in a cool dry place).  Our website has many recipes for your inspiration.

Staff have been busy creating a new theme for the Pumpkin Season!  This year’s theme is a new one for the farm, and it incorporates many educational elements that are also entertaining!

Pumpkin Season begins on Saturday September 24th at our Pumpkinseed Hill Farm location: 120 Beardsley Road.  Follow our signage as your phone or GPS is often incorrect.

Winery:

The Winery aspect of the farm is one enjoyed by more people every year as new vintages of our wines are produced.  Currently, the Winery’s Tasting Room is open Thu-Sun, 11a-5p.  Stop by an see why we like to say “Memories Are Always in Season”!  There is much information on our website regarding a Wine Tasting Experience, the various wines we offer, and most other aspects related to a visit.IMG_20160914_122339126.jpg

2016 is the 100th anniversary of the Big E Exposition where this year our wines were judged as some of the best!  Our Pinot Gris was awarded a Bronze Medal, with a Gold Medal going to our Woodlands White, Blueberry Bliss, and Ripton Red.  Our First Blush received the 2nd highest ranking of all wines at the entire competition, and was awarded a Double Gold Medal!  Our staff will be at the Big E again this year, so give them your congratulations if you stop by!

IMG_1530.JPGThis is the time of year when our vintner has completed the process of production in our fermentation tanks, and the bottling begins!  All of our fermentation, finishing, aging and bottling is done right here at the farm, and there is great satisfaction to see all the hard work come to a conclusion with the bottle sealed and labeled!

 

IMG_20151015_145740262.jpgThen of course, there is the current year’s harvest of grapes from the vineyard!  Thankfully the different varietals become ripe and different times, and not all at once!  Removal of nets that have protected the crop from birds is the first step, then the harvest begins in earnest to collect the grapes into large bins which we put into refrigeration units to chill them down.

The Winery’s Tasting Room is located at our Homestead Farm location: 606 Walnut Tree Hill Road.  Please note that our pumpkins and winery are separate addresses.  Our website has detailed information for visiting either of our farm locations.

Christmas Trees:

IMG_20160907_150657340.jpgThe Christmas Tree season will be upon us shortly after Pumpkin season, and some preparations for that winter period are already underway!  We have done some regrading in the barnyard, painting of buildings, and replacement of sub-grade pipe infrastructure.  With the Winery’s Tasting Room open Thu-Sun, that gives us a short window of Mon-Wed to do this work.

You may have noticed the refurbished stone wall along the parking lot at our Homestead Farm.  That was all part of this year’s improvement to the Homestead Farm’s setting for arriving guests!

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Miscellaneous:

The popular Harvest Kitchen Cooking Classes have a few openings, but many are fully subscribed.  There are many exciting offerings as each class is a unique experience.

The fall school programs are fully subscribed and our educators are excited to welcome the students to learn about how we grow pumpkins, squash and gourds!

As always, our Crop Report Message (203-929-8425) is the current and regularly updated information for what is occurring around the farm.

Our website is an excellent resource for information about most every aspect about the farm.  That URL is http://www.jonesfamilyfarms.com

 


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Winery Opens 2016 season

Today, March 4th, is the opening day for our Winery’s Tasting Room!  We look forward to seeing some familiar faces visit again this year, as well as introducing ourselves to new guests.  The spring hours for the Tasting Room are Fri-Sun 11a-5p.

Behind the scenes, we always use the period between New Years and March to revitalize some of our spaces – such as the Tasting Room.

FBCover02g-IMG_20150131_145154762During the first weeks in January, the holiday decorations were put away and furniture moved to storage.  All of the counter tops in our room were sanded down and given several coats of urethane finish.  The wood for all the counter tops came from the farm, and we want to make sure they last for many years to come!

The building was historically a Dairy Barn, and although the guest foot traffic isn’t as heavy as the cows of days gone by, the floors were stripped and re-finished to maintain a fresh appearance.

IMG_20150922_122518453The spring furniture is brought back in, shelves get restocked with our award winning wines and farm made jams, local honey, maple syrup and other farm goodies are arranged for guests to choose from.

We look forward to seeing you back at the farm this year!


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New Website

Several years ago, the farm created a website which provided information about our farm that guests could readily view to prepare for a visit.  Much has changed since then, and we have updated our website in response to how our guests have used it.

Screenshot_2016-03-01-19-46-50Over 75% of our viewers now visit our website via a mobile device.  Our new website is now “responsive” so that your experience is optimized for how it is being viewed, be that a desktop, tablet or mobile phone.

If you are on a tablet or mobile phone, the manner in which you hold the phone will cause the website to respond with a landscape or portrait orientation to fill the screen.

If you are familiar with mobile website viewing, you may recognize the bars in the upper right corner of the photo on the left, to be a menu drop-down, providing quick access to deeper pages of our website.

In a laptop-view photo, it’s easier to illustrate some of the new features added to our website.  Follow along below with some screen-shots.

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Our menus are now a drop-down style, and if you hover over a top level menu item such as “Kitchen”, you can go deeper via a direct jump to a particular webpage.

The top of our page will have upcoming events at the farm.  In the above illustration it shows the times our Winery is open for the spring season, and an upcoming event at Easter.

Social media wasn’t a facet of society when we first constructed our website, but we now have a presence on all the social media platforms.  Our site provides links for you to follow/like our feed/channel on some of the top platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).  Of course we are also on Youtube, Pinterest, Google+ and many others, but we had to stop somewhere on our page!

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Speaking of social media, our homepage shows our Twitter feed (the last several tweets), so even if you aren’t a member of these various social media platforms, you can see what we are posting upon them!  Please understand that we do not have some far-off dedicated social media team in an office, but rather we farmers are often in our fields attending to crops or guests, so we may be delayed in some of our responses, but they will be authentic!

We have a dedicated paragraph we update seasonally to let you know generally what is going on at the farm at this time.  In the above example, we are looking forward to opening our Winery for the season in just a few days.

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Maybe you have found our webpage you want to share with others, such as the recipe to our popular “Trail Mix Holiday Cookie”.  Sure you can copy/paste the browser’s address into an email, but now you can directly pin, tweet, share or like a particular page from our website!  For example, if you are looking to visit our strawberry fields in June, you could head to our “Plan Your Visit” page, and immediately share it with your social network of friends (assuming you are logged into your social network) to co-ordinate a visit together.

If social networks and regularly visiting our website isn’t convenient, how about receiving an occasional newsletter from the farm?  We now have an easy method for subscribing to the three newsletters we offer (Jones Family Farms News, Jones Winery, Harvest Kitchen), as shown to the right of the above screenshot.

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Do you need driving directions to the farm?  People often forget that our activities occur at three distinct locations across the seasons (and it can often change daily as to where we are harvesting our delicious berries).  We have feature pages for each farm location with directions in text form, or a link to take you directly to Google Maps and automate your mobile device’s audible instructions guiding you to the specific farm you are visiting.

The website also has e-commerce capability and is the place to visit if you want to register for our cooking classes, or purchase gift certificates online.

Of course,the best way to experience our farm is to visit in person.  Despite all these technological marvels – we still have the old reliable Crop Report Message to call and hear the guaranteed updated message from our farmers regarding what is currently happening at the farm. During our harvest seasons, Farmer Jones updates that message daily (sometimes again during the day as weather can change) to give you the current crop conditions.  That Crop Report number has been the same for many years: 203-929-8425.

We look forward to seeing you out at the farm, where “Memories Are Always In Season”!