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FARMER’S DIARY: Red Planet Vegetables


Red Planet
Vegetables Journey Through a Growing Season
on Mathewson Farm
By Catherine Mardosa Photos by Heidi Finn

Catherine Mardosa and Matthew Tracy started Red Planet Vegetables in the spring of 2004. Growing intensively and year-round in raised beds on a vacant lot in the Olneyville neighborhood of Providence and various West Side backyards, their business grew as they grew food for their community.

As demand for local produce increased, they needed a little more land on which to grow, so they expanded onto an historic farm in Johnston, just five miles from downtown Providence. This will be their fourth harvest season at Mathewson farm, where they now have a 2.5-acre chemical-free garden and a movable henhouse for 40 or so chickens.

As founding members of the Little City Growers Cooperative, Matt and Catherine work with other mini-farms and beginning farmers to share tools, seeds and skills. Through the co-op they sell to their favorite restaurants and at the Armory Farmers Market in Providence.  In addition they host a seasonal CSA program.

Catherine has kept a journal since she was in the fourth grade and has boxes of them in her attic. She reaches for her notebook whenever she finds it hard to focus or when she needs to make plans for the farm.  She refers back to them year by year, remembering when she ordered the potatoes, started the onions or finished trellising the tomatoes. Catherine was kind enough to share selections from her 2011 journal entries and her farming journey with Edible Rhody.

Wed. May 4

65/52° F / afternoon rain

Was intending to PLANT the apple trees, the hazelnuts, the elderberries.  Deciding on WHERE takes so much time—to agree. Finally did get the apples in. Rather than celebrate this little victory while I dug the holes, I thought about how I never wanted to have apple trees.  They’re going to be nothing but trouble—there’s too many cedars around—and the poor little hazelnuts are going to wither and die if we leave them another day.

Then harvest for restaurants while Matt did some harrowing. I was digging up scallions and it started to POUR. Matt spread soybean meal, I picked salad mix, and by the time we were done it was cold and we were caked with mud. Packing up the truck at 4:30 the sun came back out but we just gave up.

Leaving the farm it seemed to be calling to us. The lush new green, and the rich dark brown. It broke my heart. In between thinking about what I should do and contemplating what I did do—it’s during THAT time I want to appreciate the beauty.

Fri. May 13

67/47° F / sunny


–        plant cukes in the hoop house

–        finish transplanting leeks

–        ongoing hoeing: brassicas,1st onion beds

–        Finish POTATOES

Cassie and Phil transplanted 11 cider apples; Reine de Pomme and Wickson. Matt finished clearing the field edge and got the hazelnuts in finally. We marked off an area for the plums but need to clean out the poison ivy.

Planted the Adirondack Blue and Rose Finn in the last potato bed.  The rest will be my Ruth Stout experiment: I dug a trench in one of our leaf piles (4 feet deep in most places and nearly 200 feet long) sprinkled it with soybean meal and planted 35# of the Salems. Matt thinks we have more than enough potatoes and is not confident in this method.  Still have 20# Rose Finn to go! Going to have to sneak them in.

Fri. June 10

78/59° F / p. sunny


–        product list for Little City

–        bank deposits & bills

Weeding peas, favas, leeks, onions, carrots & radicchio. Tomorrow would like to finish peas and do beets and summer squash. Planted hot peppers: fatalli, pepperoncini, habenero.

Picked off potato beetle larvae and smudged eggs on 3 rows. Matt got the tractor going again.

Figure out this week’s CSA share: baby beets, chard, spinach, lettuce, garlic scapes, amaranth and lamb’s quarters. Fava greens? Oregano, cilantro, chives and mint.

Stayed at the farm til 9pm. No rushing tomorrow am.

Wed. June 22

75/64?° F / showers tonight


–        weeding hoop house, new chard, chives, kohlrabi

–        plant basil, transplant whatever’s left.

Ride my bike? Maybe not. Be home to pick up my bread & ask for help with the blog.

Solstice yesterday. I took the afternoon off and napped. Watched some stupid

TV and had dinner at 9 when Matt got home. This morning I looked at entries for the past few summer solstices; where we were in the garden, where my head was at.

Every year is the same—trying to grow enough salad mix, picking peas constantly, weeds are out of control, the BCS is broken, we still don’t have enough money, trying to control potato beetles, cucumber beetles, flea beetles. All of this has brought out my habitual self-doubt.

Last year my yoga teacher talked about “standing in our light” at the solstice, and thinking about how to sustain it.

Our work is “sustainable agriculture” so why do we kill ourselves trying to make it work? To a certain extent it IS working. In fact, we would be making enough money if we had been a little smarter about debt, and better planners!

Take the doubt out of all this and it’s still really fun. After eight years of struggling, nothing else makes sense but to stop thinking, “I can’t do this!” The fact that we’ve been able to do this in the chaotic way we have is hilarious, and I don’t want to stop.

Now we have to finish the summer planting, start fall brassicas, weed the hell out of everything, and start making money.

Mon. June 27

84/64° F / Sunny


– Pick for CSA and restaurants?

– or weed lettuce, onion

Picked and weeded.

Tue. June 28

82/65° F / p. sunny

Picked and weeded again

Matt mowed and planted Flowers on cukes and squash finally!!

Thurs. June 30

82/65° F / sunny,


Good market day! Tired.

Fri. July 1

80/62° F / sunny,


Weed leeks and scallions.

Pick peas.

Fri. July 8

76/?° F / RAIN

Day off. Housecleaning slowly. Dinner: oysters with tomato and cream, salad with new potatoes, peas, eggs and beets. Rest is never so nice as when you are this tired. And food is never so good as when you are this hungry.

Tue. July 12

89/70° F


Restaurant deliveries then? Got 100 lbs. of Red Norlands [potatoes]

from half a row. Peas are DONE. Garlic is big and it needs to

COME OUT. Weeding is an EMERGENCY.

Tue. July 26

85/66° F / hot and humid


– Clean out first two beds of haricot vert and yellow wax. feed plants to chickens.

– Harvest remaining purple and red potatoes.

– Pick sungolds and black cherry tomatoes, kohlrabi, salad turnips, cukes.

– Weeding short beds by the barn: blueberries, flowers, jalapenos, chard, basil.

– Matt mowing.

Last night I argued with Matt and had no dinner. Nonsense with the NRCS. Why should it take three years to work out the plans for drip irrigation? What are we waiting for? It brings out what Matt calls my “libertarianism.” I have trouble believing that the contracts mean anything; that we would ever really get PAID by the government to do something we were going to do anyway. I think it’s just the different places we’re from; in a civilized town like Litchfield, CT, you must grow up with a vastly different idea about what government agencies actually accomplish. Today I pulled a muscle in my back. Made the day hard. No dinner again.

Sun. Aug. 21

82/62° F / sunny, pm rain

CSA day. Big share: lots of tomatoes, onions, potatoes, carrots,

peppers, and herbs (someday we’ll have greens again).

New CSA members are nice.

Matt went and got the turkeys. 8 Bourbon Reds, one Tom. Turkey deposits totaled $160, $40 per bird. They arrived at the end of my rather strenuous day, they were big and freaked out, and I was not the best helper getting them into the coop. 6 of the 8 escaped.

The one thing farming is most effective at teaching: failure. How

to accept it as a constant companion.

Wed. Aug. 24

82/62° F / sunny


– bank deposits & pay property taxes

– NRCS drip irrigation project: Pay a couple people to help? 4 days?

– email CSA about possible tropical storm?


Sat. Aug. 27

80/?° F / clouds, rain

Hurricane forecasted. Pick tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, raspberries.


Matt will close up the hoop house. Clean up around the field, around the barn.

Chicken coop?

Impossible to know what to do. Could be nothing but some rain.

Or everything could be blown away.

Didn’t get to the eggplant. Hundreds of pounds of tomatoes and

peppers. Only 7 pints of raspberries. 2 people came out to help. Tired.

Sun. Aug. 28

76/60° F / Hurricane Irene.

Can tomatoes?

Make raspberry jam?

Sat. Sept. 17

66/50° F / sunny



Sunday, Monday and Tuesday

All a blur of harvesting, harvesting, harvesting.

A blur because it doesn’t stop and it’s heavy.

And because my sinuses are completely blocked up and I’ve resorted to taking Benadryl.

Wed. Nov. 2

58/37° F / sunny

4-inches snow last Sunday but nothing froze. I didn’t

pick anything but the cherry tomatoes. Frost killed tomatoes and

mouse melons on Tuesday. Take an inventory in the garden and the

basement and make some decisions.


– extend the CSA another 4 weeks? yes

– decide which beds get covered with Remay, maybe start that process. no

– clean out the hoop house and/or put the chickens in there. chickens clean!

– work on a survey for CSA members. … tomorrow eR

To learn more about Red Planet Vegetables,

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