Wednesday, June 7, 2017

REPORT FROM THE FIELDS



What a spring here at Wild Hill Farm!  Our new greenhouse has been wonderful to start plants in this spring, we built it just in time (a warm spell in February!)  Things like carrots, beets, and a few other things need to be direct-seeded in the field, but other than these, we start almost all our vegetables from seed in the greenhouse.  We do this so that the plants have a few weeks head start to get strong enough to “compete” in the field with things like weeds and bugs.  Since we don’t spray chemicals on these competitors, we need to use every trick in the organic toolbox.


All our transplants coming out of the greenhouse have been super healthy and just loving their new home in the rich sandy soil of our fields!  Some get covered with a thin white material called row cover for a few weeks, which acts almost like a greenhouse out in the field.  Row cover keeps the tiny bugs (cucumber beetles and flea beetles mostly) from eating the leaves too much.  


We’ll remove the row cover when we deem the plant strong enough to suffer some small holes… we do pamper our plants but we also believe in tough love!  And by paying close attention to the nutrients in our soil, as well as irrigating with water when it doesn’t rain enough, we can grow strong plants that can actually fight off pests on their own.  This resiliency in the immune system of the plants actually might increase their antioxidant levels and nutrition.


The weather has been cold, unseasonably cold, and very wet.  We are lucky to be on sandy soil so we don’t have a lot of standing water after all this rain, or any problems with plants rotting in the ground.  We can even get in the field with a tractor, after a rainstorm, earlier than most farmers.  But the cold temperatures have been challenging as we started sowing our summer heat-loving crops (squash, corn, cukes) directly in the ground a few weeks ago.


We planted everything according to our grand crop schedule spreadsheet which has been refined over the years.  But Mother Nature does not follow the schedule all the time… in fact, lately, she seems to be writing her own rules!  Sadly, many of the seeds we planted a few weeks ago were lost.

As a farmer who's been growing vegetables for nine seasons now, I still learn lots of big lessons every year.  This spring I definitely learned to pay more attention to soil temperatures when I seed things directly in the ground.  When you put a seed in the ground, something like a big pumpkin seed or a corn seed, you can imagine that lots of tiny critters consider that seed as awesome food:  even humans relish these seeds!  But in the environment of the freshly tilled soil of our fields, I'm talking really tiny critters, like bugs and things you can only see with a microscope.  These critters are all part of a healthy living soil (the soil is very much alive!)  We need the earthworms, and other “decomposers” to break down our cover crop leaves and roots into the rich compost that feeds our crops.  

But what’s keeping all those critters from just munching away on the corn seeds that us humans so lovingly and expectantly place into the soil?  Well, if the conditions are perfect for that corn seed to grow into a corn plant, it will grow, despite all odds!  But if it’s not quite warm enough for corn seed… it might rot (or get devoured by microorganisms). Check out our poor winter squash seed here: 1 point decomposers, 0 points plants.


Conventional farmers (vs. organic) use seeds coated with things like fungicide, antimicrobial chemicals, or insecticides, to protect the vulnerable seed while it waits in the ground for the conditions to be right.  Some of these chemicals have been directly linked to the decline of honeybees!  Organic farmers don’t use this “treated” seed, so we have to just wait for the timing to be just right.  Farming is a gamble, and organic farming is maybe a bigger gamble.  But a worthwhile one, if you ask me.  It just might be an example, though, of why organic costs more:  the consumer is paying extra to keep the honeybees around.  


We lost a whole planting of squash, cucumbers, and corn.  Not only do we need to buy more seed, but we have to spend more time re-planting.  And we’ve even decided to start these seeds in the greenhouse this time, which costs us more in potting soil and labor planting them out, but will assure us healthy plants and a more dependable harvest.  Our CSA members may have to wait a few extra weeks for summer crops to appear in their shares, but we will have food this summer!


And we will have honeybees.  And health.  And happy soil critters.


Thank you for supporting your local organic farmers who work extra hard to work with Mother Nature instead of waging war against her.  However unpredictable she is lately.  We still love her.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Team farming!

 We had a lot of helpers this week on the farm, and got a ton planted!
 Our winter squash and first round of summer squash went in with some volunteer Cub Scouts and their families.  Thank you!!!!!!

We also planted peppers, fennel, scallions, and the rain held off so that we could get it all in!

 We could use the rain though.... farm apprentice Stephanie spent the rest of the evening laying irrigation lines on everything we planted (and got muddy feet!)    We also cover up some of the plants to protect them from the bugs.
Hopefully we'll get rain this week.
 
The blueberries are blooming!   I've plowed up most of the ground that we'll be planting this spring, and the sand polished the plow nice and shiny.
Also, I  took the little 1953 Farmall Cub out for the first time this season to cultivate the onions!  It is a very fun tractor to drive.
It's hard to see the onions in this photo, but they are there.  Some of them got accidentally buried, but the weed control was easy in the sandy ground with the Cub cultivators.
This week we also finished seeding 17 acres of pasture and clover with a nurse crop of oats!  It's been a busy week.
Getting that field ready for planting
Breaking some equipment on rocks
We spent a whole day picking rocks out of this field.  Did I mention it's been a long week?
We rented a friend's grain drill to seed the oats, grass, and clover, and it was so satisfying to get it all done!  Now we just wait for rain.

We still have lots more to plant this week, like our first sweet corn field, lots of lettuce, and more covering and irrigating to do.
 Not to mention weeding!  I'm trying to be in denial of all the tiny little crabgrass seedlings that are coming up right now in all the planted beds, especially the ones under the covers.  I don't see them!  Just kidding, I'll be tackling them tomorrow morning, and likely all day tomorrow.

We've been so blessed by getting volunteers.   The farm really is going in fast.  In a few weeks, when the covers start coming off, the plants will really shine.  I'm looking forward to the view from the hill when the mosaic of vegetables starts to come in.
 
Do you want to help out on the farm?  We always need more hands.  We also have CSA shares available still, Full and Half.  Go to www.wildhillfarm.com for more info.  Thanks folks, and happy full moon!








Thursday, May 5, 2016

The sport of May Veggie Farming


There is a long gravel driveway that leads out to our vegetable field.


We've started plowing, tilling, and planting, and that's why I haven't written a blog post in a while!  


Did I mention that besides the 2 acres of veggies we're growing this year, we're also transitioning an additional 50 acres of conventionally managed corn fields into organic pasture and future fruit/veggie ground?  I've been on the tractor a lot.  Dreams coming true can involve lots of work.


There are some rocks in these fields. 


Fortunately for us, though, the fields we're planting vegetables in this year don't have hardly any rocks at all-- they are just like heaven to work in.  Actually, like heaven was a beach that was growing organic vegetables, and had friends helping.


 We've had 2 volunteer planting parties so far-- onions and broccoli.  The onions were a big haul to get in, but they are all in now!  They look a little sad for a few weeks, as they establish themselves in their new surroundings.  But they will perk up and we'll keep watering them once a week if it doesn't rain enough.
 

There are a lot more plants coming out of the greenhouse soon to plant as well.   Farm apprentice Stephanie has been busy helping seed trays of lettuce, peppers, basil, scallions, and more!


  Also we have 600 lbs of potato seed to plant this weekend.  We are always looking for volunteers, and potato planting is one of the easiest jobs.  Last night I spoke with 12 excited Cub Scouts in Rochester who want to come out and help plant something on a farm.  I love the possibility of including kids more, teaching them about real work, that involves their whole bodies and not just their thumbs and fingers on a screen!


Water!  We have a great well on the property, and have run a large flexible hose from the barn where it's located out to our field.

 

From there, we run drip irrigation lines down the 200' rows of veggies. 


It's an efficient way to get the water right to the roots of the plants, without losing a lot to evaporation.

 

After planting and irrigating, we will sometimes cover our plants with row cover to keep the bugs off--- in this case, the broccoli/cabbage/kale crop is protected from flea beetles.  We weigh down the cloth with sandbags.  Lots of sand available!  The cover also creates a little greenhouse environment for the plants, letting in rain and sun, keeping out bugs, and raising the temperature by 5 degrees or so.


We spent a long day setting up a high voltage deer fence.  Two fence lines with three hot wires, baited with peanut butter to teach them to stay away... hopefully it will work!

 

The blueberry bushes are starting to think about blooming.  


We are transitioning this quarter-acre patch of berries from conventionally managed to organic, so we spent the early spring mulching with wood chips, pruning, fertilizing with organic Fertrell fertilizer, and now we've planted grass and clover in between the rows.


And things are starting to pick up at the EquiCenter Farm again, with a tractor safety class to kick off the spring season-- a professional safety trainer came out and showed us how to avoid potential dangers around tractors.  Managers and apprentices from several other farms gathered to learn.

 

 The weeks ahead promise to be exhausting, with planting, planting, planting, and everything else that comes with it.  Of course the weeds will start growing too soon!  But for now, this rainy day has allowed me to take a little rest, and prepare myself for the olympic sprint that May is for vegetable farmers.