As I write this, we are receiving our first substantial snowfall of the season. I love that we finally have a significant blanket of snow, but I have also enjoyed and taken advantage of the clear ground to catch up on some outside work. A couple of weeks ago, I was able to pound 3 foot posts into the fairly frozen ground to make an extension off the side of the greenhouse- a sort of covered coldframe that can also be heated. This will allow me a little more growing space and increase flexibility. I was also able to give the brambles a little love in December and do some nice pruning, something that fell to the wayside the previous fall.
Most farmers up and down the east coast reflect on the 2018 growing season as one of the worst. I have one farmer friend whose PTSD has still prevented him from opening up his seed catalogues and begin planning. I was able to put my trauma aside and dig into my seed order with most of the gusto I feel every winter. In fact, in a couple of weeks I will be seeding most of the herbs for potted retail sales and the first round of tomatoes to be grafted. My houseplants might be a little grateful for some restless farmer attention taken off them.
So what went wrong in 2018?
Well, the rain seemed to fall constantly from the end of July through the fall. This rotted a lot of salad greens, lettuce, and made for ideal disease conditions with the brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts), beets, etc… There is also a little herd of deer that voraciously tore through the Swiss Chard, broccoli, beans, radishes, etc, etc…. etc, etc, etc, etc, etc.
We also had quite a hard time with carrots this year. It seemed impossible to get a nice bed with the new seeder despite multiple efforts to fix it. Other difficulties on the business end was a change of produce management at Green Fields Co-op and the accompanying adjustment that proved a little bit hard for this little farm and this introverted farmer. Still other difficulties are more personal ones that involve a difficult divorce and a good bit of stress. While I try to distance my personal life from the farm business, I can’t avoid that it ends up moving into it in some ways. I also feel like sometimes it is a relief and good practice to be forthright.
What went right?
We had a great crop of tomatoes this year that lasted for many weeks with the help of a new lower and lean setup I installed in the spring. A new method of growing celery went surprisingly well, as did new methods of planting some vegetables and herbs using a new transplanter. And while the eggplant simply refused to set fruit (seemed to be a common problem around the valley), the peppers did fairly well. In the fall, a soil consultant came to do soil tests and share knowledge. I was also able to do a good bit of rearranging and cleaning out in the fall. Farming is a game of trimming labor, increasing efficiency, and increasing production. Despite a disappointing season, I am ready to play again. 😉
What do I resolve to do for 2019?
Carrots, carrots, carrots.
New salad mix formula! More salad mixes in general…
Multiple plantings of sunflowers for u-pick.
More potatoes, sweet onions, and winter squash to be grown at a little satellite plot via Shoestring Farm.
Better communication with YOU.
What would you like to see? Let me know and I will try to accomodate. More beets? Well, okay… 😉
With warm regards,
Happy New Year! I hope everyone is healthy and thriving in the new year. This year has brought many changes for me personally and professionally. In June of 2017 Jeremy and I separated and I moved out of the brick house on Main Road. I am now living happily in Heath, though I will continue to farm in Colrain as usual. I rather enjoy the 20 minute commute to sit and relax a tiny bit, though I imagine it will bring some inconveniences come spring!
This farming season I am excited as I bought an online farm course (funny, I know!) taught by a 1.5 acre farm that specializes in no-till farming. They are highly successful and grow some amazing produce. I’m looking forward to attempting no-till on one of the fields this year and hopefully transitioning the whole farm if successful. For those that don’t know, no-till farming is not disturbing the soil structure by rototilling, disking, etc. In no-till farming, a broakfork is commonly used to break up soil compaction and some light tilling can be used in the top ½ inch or so of soil to mix in amendments. Otherwise, the soil structure remains intact which means microorganisms, earthworms, fungi, etc. can live undisturbed and aid in the nutrient availability, uptake, and disease resistance of plants. I am worried no-till will bring a lot of extra work upfront, but hopefully the benefits will outweigh this.
In December I once again attended the New England Fruit and Vegetable Conference in New Hampshire. This conference is always informative and this year certainly didn’t disappoint. I got to see some equipment that will be beneficial to no-till practices and I am planning on making some investments in some. I also learned some amazing facts about cover cropping, particularly the amount of Nitrogen that certain cover crops make available to vegetable crops was very inspiring. I was proud that some of the information that I learned was actually gathered from a cover crop trial that UMass conducted on Lyonsville Farm!
For crops this season I will once again be growing sweet onions as they were very successful. It’s so nice to have some early onions! And I know I promised sweet potatoes last year that didn’t come through, but I promise this year the “slips”, or plants, are on order and sweet potatoes are happening!!!! We should also get another good year of strawberries I hope. The deer were a terrible problem this year and destroyed our edamame crop amongst others. When they are not physically eating the crop they are trampling freshly seeded beds! I hope to take some better precautions this year to help against the damage. We also had quite a bit of damage done to the potatoes so if you noticed they were not quite as abundant this year that is the reason. But of course, as some crops don’t do well, others thrive! We had a relatively great tomato, cauliflower, and carrot year. Last season I started carrots in a hoophouse so that we could have them earlier by a couple of weeks. As this was successful, this season I plan on doing the same- actually, I will be seeding them in the next couple of days!
Even though I am busy during most pick ups, I want you all to know that I really appreciate your continued support throughout the years! I always welcome feedback and strive to make the CSA a positive experience. I hope to see you in June! There is an early bird discount active for those that sign up by March 15th.
This winter I am enjoying some good play time with Wren and Milo as well as planning for the season to come. Today I unpacked and organized all the new seed that has arrived ($6000 worth! Can you believe it?! I can’t either…). I have also planted the first tomato seeds to eventually graft onto disease resistant rootstock. These plants will be put into one of the little hoophouses that held tomatoes last year (near the herbs and parking) that now has HEAT. Ta-da! So if all goes well, we should see some early tomatoes next year.
What else is new for next year?
I am experimenting with a bed of sweet onions (these come as plants that are over-wintered in Maine, dug, and shipped in the spring) and a couple beds of sweet potatoes. I had attempted sweet potatoes a few years back, but found most of them had wireworm damage. As sweet potatoes are one of my favorite foods, I decided to give them a shot again in a better location.
I am also planning on growing more green beans, carrots, and edamame.
Oh, and fruit! I have heard some feedback that more fruit would be welcome. Of course! We planted a couple of beds of strawberries back in June and can’t wait to see and taste the results. I am also planning on growing more watermelons and cantaloupes. In addition, I have hired new help this season and she tends around 700 high-bush blueberries on her landlord’s property, so these will be available to purchase. I will also see about bringing in some apples from my friend Ben Clark’s farm for purchase.
Oh, and flowers! Many of you were so happy to pick sunflowers last year that I have decided to expand on a cut flower garden for you to pick from whenever you’d like.
It is hard, with limited space, to pick and choose crops sometimes. If I add something, something else must go… But by trying to make existing beds more productive I hope to offset what I want to add. I haven’t plotted out maps yet, but will do my best to squeeze it all in!
People often ask what there is to do for the farm over the winter. You wouldn’t believe the amount of work there is! There is the fun part of pouring through seed catalogues and picking out some new items to try this year. Then making spreadsheets and maps of when and where to seed, plant, etc…
I spend a good amount of time researching and applying for grants. This year I applied for a small grant to help fund an electric salad greens spinner. I am also in the process of obtaining an energy audit for the greenhouse to make energy improvements there. Speaking of greenhouse, I installed a fan and shutters this winter to help ventilate it. This is very exciting because prior to this year, I had to open and close the doors to adjust the ventilation with two kids in tow! Not good when you are running errands and the sun unexpectedly pops out!
I also spend a good amount of time educating myself on different farm related things. I spent three full days in New Hampshire attending the New England Vegetable and Fruit Conference. There I learned a great deal, especially about growing hoophouse tomatoes. I have been having trouble over the past few years and have been trying to troubleshoot the issue. Unfortunately, when I think I have it all figured out and make the necessary adjustments, I find it is not the problem. But I now have to wait until next year to try and solve them! I am confident I have it all figured out now, though, and plan on doubling the amount of tomatoes grown under cover. As you may know, Late Blight is an annual disease that comes in on the wind from the south and can level a tomato crop overnight. More and more farms are choosing to grow under cover because the hoophouse creates an environment that excludes the disease (dry leaves). I am planning on growing 20 different varieties this year and am so excited for them. I also plan on grafting my tomatoes! This is a relatively new practice of grafting a desired tomato variety to a disease resistant and precocious rootstock. If done right, you can see an increase of yields up to 50%! So, if all goes right you should be seeing a good deal of tasty, nutritious tomatoes in your shares!
For the 2016 season, I am planning on a few positive changes to the farm. I hope to extend the weeks I have green beans available and will be trying my hand at growing edamame. With the investment of insect netting, I also hope to have a more consistent and abundant supply of greens and arugula available to you. And the brussels sprouts! This crop is so frustrating as it grows beautiful all season and then succumbs to a foliar disease, making the sprouts un-edible. I hope to combat this with wider spacing (better airflow) and with hot water treating the seeds. This is a practice of soaking seeds at a very specific temperature for a length of time to eliminate bacterial diseases that can be found in the seed. I am also using this technique on spinach, tomatoes, peppers, and other brassicas. I am trialing new main season carrot varieties, growing more baby lettuce, and trying more organic sweet corn varieties (with names like ‘lucious’ and ‘who gets kissed’!).
Farming is exciting and challenging because there is always room for improvement. There are new crops or varieties to grow and different ways to grow them. There is also better ways to take care of them. With the addition of full-time help this year, I hope to be caring for the plants in the best way I can for better yields of healthy and nutritious crops!