Thursday, December 22, 2011
That's about the weight of five elephants, harvested by hand from less than seven acres of mud, using only organic practices. Imagine how many people we could feed if those seven acres of lawn or cornfield near you were put into organic vegetable production. We have over 300 families eating vegetables from our farm. Enjoy the holidays!
WINTER SQUASH: 5,678 lbs
TOMATOES: 5,439 lbs
CARROTS: 5,179 lbs
BEETS: 4,096 lbs
LETTUCE: 3,884 lbs
CABBAGE: 3,389 lbs
POTATOES: 3,211 lbs
SUMMER SQUASH: 2,754 lbs
EGGPLANTS: 2,511 lbs
WATERMELONS: 2,336 lbs
CHINESE CABBAGE: 2,264 lbs
SWISS CHARD: 1,752 lbs
BROCCOLI: 1,721 lbs
CUCUMBERS: 1,571 lbs
GREEN PEPPERS: 1,552 lbs
BOK CHOI: 1,476 lbs
TURNIPS: 1,337 lbs
WINTER RADISHES: 1,100 lbs
KALE: 1,066 lbs
LEEKS: 1,045 lbs
PARSNIPS: 911 lbs
FENNEL: 888 lbs
RED PEPPERS: 613 lbs
GARLIC: 540 lbs
SPINACH: 484 lbs
ARUGULA: 417 lbs
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Friday, November 4, 2011
From the first excited spring plowing, the tiny seeds nurtured in the greenhouse, the hours spent weeding and cultivating, irrigation tape laid out and repaired, water pumped thousands of feet to nourish healthy roots, to the harvest bins dragged alongside plants brimming over with bounty. The mud has warmed and dried, yielded a crop of rainbow-colored nutrition, and now grows cold again. Everything goes back to mud.
I have a few more weeks of digging up root vegetables and packing up the farm. Then the landscape which over the summer saw kids running through fields of flowers and farmers in sunglasses driving tractors carrying watermelons turns into pure tundra. Snow will drift through the fences and gates and dead tomato vines, the earthworms will burrow deep into the soil, and the deer, unhassled, will poke their antlers through the snow to graze on our rye. I will be warm and cozy, pouring through seed catalogs, adjusting the crop map, and reading books about soil health.
I wrote a poem for the occasion:
mourning doves, robins, nervous killdeer in the bean field
another generation, long ago grown feathers and fledged
empty farm without even crickets
sunny morning after a frost
life seems to have gone inside
or south on vacation
leaves are gone and far things seem closer
though open space feels larger, even more open
the urgent need to plow, to harrow, to cultivate
and in its place
a kind of comfort-seeking calm
the need now is to sit down smiling with friends
sharing hot food and drinks
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Also, rumor has it that if you dress like a farmer and go to Chipotle on Halloween they'll hook you up with a burrito for 2 bucks. My question: what if you go as a farmer dressed as a mummy? I have to use up all that old frost cloth somehow...
Deets at http://www.chipotle.com/en-US/fan-antics/boorito/boorito.aspx
Saturday, October 15, 2011
Erin Bullock, a Fairport native and owner and operator of Mud Creek Farm in Victor, will discuss running a sustainable organic farm specifically targeted to feed our local community without the use of pesticides or herbicides."
Saturday, October 8, 2011
Tristan shows off our amazing fall broccoli.
We windrow our winter squash and then pick it up into bins on the tractor.
We lay out the squash in our greenhouse to cure for a few weeks. The pie pumpkins will be ready to give out next week! Get your pumpkin pie recipes out.
We really love our new barrel washer-- we wash carrots, beets, celeriac, and other roots in it. It is built by a farmer up in Pulaski, and is basically a rotating wooden barrel with spray-jets of water inside.
Muddy roots in on one side, clean roots out the other side!
Saturday, October 1, 2011
Please pass this along...
Mud Creek Farm CSA is looking to hire 2 interns for next year's season (April - November 2012). We grow 50+ types of vegetables in Victor, NY, and have a lot of fun doing it! 2012 will be our fourth year of operation, and we expect to have around 250 CSA members. We grow using organic and sustainable methods. We offer many pick-your-own crops to our members, and have on-farm distributions. We grow all our own transplants in our greenhouse, cultivate with tractors, and use lots of cover crops.
Experience not required, just eagerness to learn how to grow vegetables for a living! Must be a hard worker, be able to stick to tasks even if it's hot, cold, or raining. Attention to detail necessary! Organizational & people skills a plus. Must have a strong back and be able to tell good jokes in the field. Farming is continual learning through new challenges every day. We're excited about having you part of the team! Your position will be 40-50hrs a week, minimum wage. Food included: vegetables are free, other staples can be purchased with us if you choose. We have a nice outdoor kitchen & are excited about sharing delicious farm meals with you. Rustic camping on the farm is an option. We have 28 acres leased and are open to any other side-projects you may wish to embark on, as long as they don't interfere with our main veggie operation. Check out our website for basic information: www.mudcreekfarm.com And browse the blog: www.farmererin.blogspot.com If you're interested in applying, please send a resume & letter of interest (why do you want to be an intern at Mud Creek Farm?) -- firstname.lastname@example.org Then come visit this fall! We are harvesting for another 6 weeks, and would love it if you volunteered for a day so we can see how we'll get along.
See you soon, Farmer Erin
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Things CSA members can do to further the "plenitude economy":
-Learn to can, or buy an extra freezer. Lots of farm 'seconds' go to waste - reclaim them for your winter meals, instead of supporting industrial farms, the packaging that goes into aluminum-canned or frozen food, and the long-distance shipping of fresh foods in the snowy season. Properly preserved farm food is more nutritious than most of these options anyway. And cheaper.
-Learn how to grow your own food! Even if you're not a green thumb, having some skills in basic food production could be handy someday. We welcome volunteers on the farm, and feel free to ask me any questions, I love sharing knowledge.
-Use the CSA community to your advantage! Find people in your neighborhood to carpool with, have canning and cooking parties with, and exchange recipe ideas.
-Get involved in town politics & help stand up for farmland protection in your community. Preserving the last remaining acres close to the city is important if we want to continue to have a convenient source of organic food, as well as the experience of participating in U-Pick crops & bringing the kids to a real farm. We need voices~ farmers are always time-crunched, so are not as able to represent themselves in town meetings.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
One of my most satisfying tasks has been tomato trellising. Hopefully you have been enjoying your pounds and pounds of colorful, lumpy, delicious tomatoes in the share recently. We're overwhelmed too! But it's a hugely satisfying reward after many weeks of care and attention to the farm's half a mile of tomato plants. After raising these little guys in the greenhouse, we transplanted them outside, mulched with straw, and irrigated repeatedly during those long, hot days of July and August. Tristan also pounded metal stakes every several feet between the plants, onto which Colleen and I have been weaving successive layers of trellis to hold the plants upright, for better air circulation and ease of harvest.
Trellising is an intense job, requiring whole-body coordination and always seeming to happen on the hottest, stickiest afternoons. When I trellis, I don long sleeves, gloves, hat, and a backpack holding a box of sisal twine. The twine runs over my shoulder and through two holes at either end of a thick wooden dowel. I tie the twine fast at one end of a row, and then walking along, I scoop up the trailing vines and use the "shuttle" to loop the twine tightly around the stakes. The tomatoes are caught between twine on either side, creating a tall, flat hedge. Rows pass more quickly as my arms and legs learn the rhythmic movements of this giant tapestry weaving/ dance/ wrestling match with the tomato vines. Scoop, walk, twist, pull, scoop, walk, twist, pull-- and so the wild jungle is tamed...only to quickly outgrow its restraints with the next week's rain and sunshine. Bending the wills of these living beings to our own purposes is an ongoing task!
As I returned from trellising last week, sweaty and exhausted, a small movement caught my eye in the cherry tomatoes. A brown spider was weaving her web in the highest tomato branches, the fine threads of her intricate pattern glistening in the sunset. How easy it looks for her! I thought. When she's finished, does her body feel as tired as mine does? Does she feel as proud and accomplished? And what striking similarity there is in our designs, our motives, the motions we make each day in a continual dance with the rest of life.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Over Labor Day weekend I got most of our winter cover crops sown-- about 5 or so acres of oats this year. All the bare soil on the farm will now turn green over the next week with sprouting seeds. This is the final epic planting of the year, now we just rest and watch as the rain soaks in our millions of tiny seeds. And for the last few months we just HARVEST. Reap what we've sown.
The epic day this year happened to fall on a Saturday. I knew it was coming, but I never know just WHEN it will happen. Then one day the weather report tells me the Big Rain is coming, so I better get my planting done BEFORE. See, with 5 acres of cover crops, you really can't irrigate or anything. Seeds planted into hot, dry soil might bake in the sun before they get a chance to germinate. It's only a small window of when I can actually drive in the fields with a tractor (not too wet) and right before a rain to water it all in. And then I have to Act.
I was angry because Luke couldn't help. He had to bake bread and go to the Public Market. I thought about begging him to skip the market so he could help me seed the cover crops. My whole crew was gone for the weekend, happy to have a break after a huge harvest week. I had not had a day off in almost 2 weeks. I was exhausted. But I knew this was the important window, and I finally accepted it. Me, a tractor, and my willpower.
Friday morning, after a full week of harvesting, we staked out three acres of new beds in the Pie Field, which is across the street, behind the hedgerow, and about 800 feet long (and shaped like a piece of pie). I had convinced Margaret to work an extra half-day, and we worked well together as a team. By 8:30am sweat was dripping off our faces. The high for the day was 87 degrees, and the humidity was so great that the air seemed almost solid. The field was dry and dusty, and we wore long-sleeve shirts and sunglasses against the glare. We walked the 300' measuring tape around the fields, using 3-4-5 triangle math to make our right angles, jamming in stakes with pink ribbon to mark the corners. About 45 minutes into it, we had to start over, because I wanted to move the whole field 10 feet to the east. It's important stuff, creating new spaces that will grow years and years of vegetables in an organized system of beds. You have to start with a good foundation. But in the heat and the exhaustion, sometimes it feels quite insane.
I borrowed my neighbor Jack's twelve foot grain drill, and his tractor. This tool would help us get the job done fast. I poured it full of oats. I drove up to the first field, pushed down the lever that works the hydraulics, put it into fourth gear, and went. The oats fell out into twenty or so separate chutes that buried them right into the soil about an inch or so down. A grain drill does exactly that-- drills the grain into the ground. No need to do anything else, just wait for the rain.
I switched into high-first gear, and the dust kicked up by the front tires was horrible without sunglasses. Thankfully I had remembered to wear them, but the sweat from my face would build up underneath and cloud the lenses now and then. Another lifesaving item I had thought to wear for the day was a clean T-shirt wrapped around my neck, to sop up the sweat on my face. This worked really well! The day before I had experienced the "not having a clean place on my shirt to wipe my face" phenomenon... you start getting creative, but sometimes you just run out of places. See, the sweat and the tractor grease somehow attract dirt, and also I always end up with black snot at the end of the day. TMI maybe.
So, over the course of the afternoon, all the empty fields got a pass with the oat-filled grain drill. No major disasters! Except that I was running out of light, and more importantly, energy. It was almost 8pm, and I was still sweating. I was so tired and hungry that I felt myself dangerous operating heavy equipment. I was going to run over something. The weather report said the rain would hold off until Sunday afternoon. But Sunday is my Day Off! I was dreading waking up early again. But my feelings of unfairness paled compared to that strong urge that said PLANT, THE RAIN IS COMING. I still needed to get the pathways in the Pie Field seeded to ryegrass & clover. We do this so we can have nice mowed travel lanes around our fields when we're harvesting. Better than mud, or weeds. So I decided to go to sleep (actually collapse in about ten minutes) and get up early the next morning to just "Git-er-done".
I woke at 6:15am Saturday morning. It was dark. I checked the hourly weather and the radar-- a chance of thunderstorms at 8am, then clear until the afternoon when it was really coming. It looked like the early storm was going North of us. I packed a water bottle and some snacks on the tractor. I crossed my fingers, and peeled back the tarp on the grain drill. I poured the clover seed into the hoppers as soon the first light of the dawn allowed. I started her up, and made my passes around the field edges. From the seat of the big tractor, I saw the storm clouds building in the West, as the red sun rose in the East. The heat and the humidity were stifling. I watched the clouds go North, as expected, and for twenty minutes, a giant rainbow covered the Western sky... I took this as a good sign. When I had to run back to the shed for more seed, a four-leaf clover jumped right out in front of me, begging to be picked. I put it into my dusty shirt pocket, and took it as another sign of luck. This is going well, I thought.
I filled the hoppers with ryegrass, and changed the setting (it's a much bigger seed), and went over the same ground. I contemplated how I would seed the edges of the fields, where the stakes were... what I did last year was just walk around the edges with a hand-held seeder. With my energy level where it was (I was a little bug-eyed, talking to myself and making up songs about silly things), I decided against this. Instead I plowed right over all the stakes with the drill, overlapping and pushing down our carefully-placed markers, not needed after this pass anyway. I was ready to return the tractor to Jack's barn, before any giant storm clouds decided to surprise us. I high-tailed it down the road, going almost as fast as the tractor could go. I waved to the guys on the golf course. It was Sunday morning, there was almost no-one on the road. I drove under the Thruway overpass. That was busy... lots of folks going somewhere for their Labor Day off. All I wanted to do was go to bed.
I did get the rest of the day off. Of course, I couldn't feel completely at ease until the raindrops started, much later that evening. And now it's rained over an inch in the past few days, with more expected tonight and tomorrow and the next day. There is an immense satisfaction in getting a job DONE, right when it should have been done, when the timing is so critical. And now I get to sit back and watch my fields turn green.
I'd like to celebrate Labor. Free and glorious labor done for the sake of itself, for the sake of joy, and for the sake of feeding hundreds of people. Labor that comes with dust in the creases of your neck. Labor that results in very deep sleep, healthy hunger, and large biceps. Romantic? Yes. Farming is really tough-- I still strive to earn as much as a teacher makes, have weekends off, health insurance, save for retirement, and go out to dinner sometimes. I'm not quite there yet. I hope that all CSA members realize just how much they are truly and actually supporting their farmers. We are a crazy bunch. Its about more than just getting paid. It's about a making a Living.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Watermelons look AWESOME - they are huge and beautiful, we just need to be patient for another few weeks until they get super-sweet. It won't be long. Can't wait till the melon-tossing (our most fun harvesting technique) begins.
Onions have been curing in the greenhouse, which hardens their papery skins so that you can keep them on your counter. We're giving out the sweet white onions first, and holding the yellow storage onions for later. Red onions will be handed out next! Overall, not the biggest yield this year, due to the lack of rain, and late planting.
Garlic though, was an awesome crop this year, huge heads. It's hanging in Jack's barn right now, and we'll start giving it out soon. Since garlic keeps well, we might hang on to it for a while (and give you lots of onions in the meantime), and hand out lots of garlic later in the fall, with our potatoes and squash!
Potatoes-- also not the biggest yield this dry year. Next year we'll have to figure out a way to irrigate them (difficult due to our hilling techniques) if it doesn't rain all summer again! The vines on our early plantings are starting to die, which means harvest is imminent-- Maybe next week. Digging potatoes is also a fun kids-helping activity.
We got more leeks! We got lotsa leeks! Get out your leek & potato soup recipes. You can use the whole plant, from just above the roots all the way up to the green leaves-- I like to saute in butter, and add to anything.
Winter Squash look amazing, the field is a sea of green jungle-like vines. I've seen spaghetti squash larger than some of our watermelons. We're keeping them irrigated well, and they look happy. Powdery mildew, the disease that usually means their demise, has just landed on some of their leaves, and now it's a race to the finish: can the squash ripen before the fungus kills the plants? Hope for many days of dry sunny weather, as moisture on the leaves helps the enemy.
Beets and carrots will be plentiful throughout the rest of the season. We really love growing these crops... and eating them!
Celeriac, our delicious fall soup staple, is doing okay, but hasn't gotten as much water as it wanted this summer, so may be smaller, and earlier too.
Fall brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, greens, turnips, radishes, kale) are bursting out from under their row cover. We have had a hard time with the flea beetles this year-- they are hopping tiny black beetles that make all the tiny holes in the leaves. Usually they are just do superficial damage, and our row cover prevents them from munching too much. But this summer they are voracious! Our kale and brussell sprouts are almost toast. I'm hoping that the kale will push through, because it's usually so robust. But I finally broke down, and ordered some expensive certified-organic spray-- Pyganic, it's a pesticide made from chrysanthemums. To save the kale. And to save all the broccoli and cabbage that is about to become flea beetle salad bar. If you see me out in the back field with the sprayer, know that it was my very last choice. I hate spraying. But these tiny little bugs finally got the better of me. Ah well, one of nature's humbling lessons again.
What else... tomatoes! We're in the peak of their production now, and we'll get another good month hopefully. Then we'll harvest green tomatoes before the frost sets in to kill the vines (yes, it's coming--- mid-October usually).
Eggplants will continue to come in, although less production this year than last year for some reason.
Peppers are turning red! Soon we'll stop harvesting them green, and just let them turn red. I love roasting red peppers on the grill, and putting them on sandwiches.
The cucumbers finally are succumbing to downy mildew, the disease which blows in on the wind, and kills them fast. They had a good show, though! What a year for cukes. Summer squash will produce for a few more weeks.
There will be fall fennel in late October. It gets bigger and sweeter in the fall.
Fall parsnips will be big too... but we don't harvest these until November usually. They get sweeter once they're kissed with frost!
NEW PICK-YOUR-OWN CROPS STARTING SOON...
Lots of sunflowers! Make sure you find them, they make such nice table decorations!
Ground cherries (look them up on our website)
More cherry tomatoes... in a few weeks it will be unlimited...
Monday, August 15, 2011
Tomatoes are ripening-- including the cherry tomatoes, which will start producing by the thousands really really soon.
The lettuce has been soaking up the rain, and we've enjoyed the break of not irrigating for a while.
The flower garden is OUT OF CONTROL. Pick a bouquet for a friend! Bring some to work! A good chance to spread the word about Mud Creek Farm-- we'll be starting sign-up for 2012 memberships in a month :)
You might notice that Luke and Erin are not around this week-- we're up in Vermont, on Lake Champlain, at Luke's family reunion! This is a rare chance for us to leave the farm, and give the interns a chance at managing harvest. We have complete trust that they will do a great job. Let them know what you think of everything this week, your words of appreciation are sure to go far. We hope they will use this week of managing as a learning experience to help prepare them for their future farms!
On the way to Vermont, we stopped by the NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) Summer Conference, in Amherst, Massachusetts. Instead of attending workshops, I spent the weekend at farm visits, and learning about using draft horses to do fieldwork instead of tractors!
It was a beautiful sight to see. These photos are from Natural Roots CSA Farm -- they have about 300 members, 5 giant Belgians, and no weeds at all.
We were totally impressed by their set-up.
Here, the farmer cultivates a row of tiny spinach seedlings.
Now they are planting broccoli with a horse-drawn transplanter.
We dream of one day having horses on our farm. Eli, our intern who also works at Small World Bakery, has two seasons under his belt apprenticing at horse-powered farms. He knows the basics of harnessing and driving a team, and feels just about ready to take care of his own. We hope he sticks around the area, and helps us bring horses into our operation
While horses might seem less efficient and require more time, land, and patience, in the long run we think they might be a very sustainable solution. With the price of gas and diesel so high, they might actually be cheaper. And then there is the quality of life consideration. Working with animals is highly rewarding-- who doesn't love horses?
And the unpleasantness of working with tractors (the smell of exhaust, the noise, the gas and oil) is out of the picture when you're working with horses. Any task becomes quiet, peaceful work-- no earplugs required. I am smitten.
Taking our farm to the next level (horse power) will take a bit of rearranging. We have lots to think about. First order: finding a land base with enough pasture and hay fields to support animals, and getting a barn. If anyone has thoughts about this, let me know!
Friday, July 29, 2011
We hang it up to cure in our neighbor Jack's barn for a few weeks-- it dries down to get those nice papery husks which help it store at room temperature for a long time. We'll start clipping it down and cleaning it up to give out with our CSA shares soon.
Friday, July 22, 2011
We often grow winter rye as a cover crop, to add organic matter into the soil during the times when we're not growing a vegetable crop on the ground. Instead of harvesting it, we plow it under just when it's at its height of growth. Basically we are composting right on the field-- but composting needs moisture to activate the little critters (fungi, earthworms, bacteria, etc.) that decompose the rye straw and turn it into rich soil organic matter. No rain = no composting. The hard soil chunks and the dry rye straw just sit there until there is moisture. So we put up with harsh planting conditions, hoping that our little cabbage seedlings are strong enough to hold on. We keep them on life-support: our 400 foot drip irrigation lines provide enough immediate moisture for their roots to venture down into the deeper subsoil, where they can access more hospitable conditions. We blanket them with row cover, which keeps the moisture in and the cabbage moths out.
But here's the exciting news from last week: we are grain farmers now!
We had a back field of about four and a half acres (across the street), which we planted to winter rye last fall, to prepare the ground for future vegetable crops. Until May, the field had standing water from our incredibly wet spring, so we couldn't plow it, or even bush-hog it, until it got to be five feet tall. The rye started "heading up"... and Luke and I took a walk through the field a few weeks ago, discussing what we should do with the field. Luke is a baker... and he got an idea in his head.
Our neighbor Jack, who farms a few miles down the road from us, grows corn, soybeans, oats, hay, and wheat. He is always extremely helpful, stopping by at just the right moment when something is broken, and always having the right tool back at his barn to fix it. We asked if he would harvest our rye for us with his combine. He said sure!
Here's a few photos from the exciting morning. As he entered the back field, I noticed the humorous contrast between this huge green machine and our eggplant field.
Once in that great big sea of golden grain, I quickly realized that this was indeed the tool for the job. He got the whole field done in less than an hour-- imagine how we would have done it before machines like this!
We all crowded around to watch his first few passes!
I climbed up in the hopper to see what it looked like-- our very first grain harvest!
We ended up yielding about eighty bushels.
Jack even baled the straw for us. Now we're more than just vegetable growers-- we're grain farmers.
Luke plans to make a whole lot of rye bread. Check it out Small World Bakery's booth at the market in a couple of weeks!
(Neighbor kid Gracie enjoying a few raw turnips)
Friday, July 8, 2011
People often ask me what brought me to Mud Creek. I think there are a variety of reasons I decided to join Erin’s team this summer. For one thing, as a farmer’s daughter, I had experienced how my family farms, but I wanted to experience other, different farms. Erin’s farm is about as far away from my family’s farm as you can get. For one thing, Erin’s farm is organic, and it is a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture.) My father’s farm is also a vegetable farm, but he grows food on a commercial scale, he sells most of what he grows at auctions, and he is not organic (although he is moving in that direction.) I have also farmed on Rivka Davis’ Road’s End Organic Farm, in Starkey, NY. Rivka’s farm is a lot closer to Erin’s farm in many respects, except she wasn’t a CSA either, she sold all of her produce at farmer’s markets. So it’s been a great experience being able to work on three very different farms, all of which are very different scale of production, and managed very differently as well.
Besides farming, my interests are wide and varied. I attended Birthingway College of Midwifery for three years, and see myself as a midwife someday. Farming will probably just be something I do as a side thing, maybe three acres at most, enough to feed my own family. I think I’ll primarily want to focus on attending home-births, growing herbs for my midwifery business, and making herbal medicines. But I do think farming and midwifery can go hand in hand, since many of the midwives I know are also small-scale farmers and/or homesteaders. I think this is because midwives tend to know the value of good nutrition, and because both midwifery and farming are about being good stewards of the earth, while helping people be healthy and heal. One of the most famous midwifery authors, Michel Odent, a French man who started revolutionary water birth centers in France, was a farmer before he became an OB. He wrote a book very well known in midwifery circles called “The Farmer and the Obstetrician.” I need to read that book.
I also like adventures of all types, everything from epic bike trips, to dancing, to hiking, traveling (often with little or no money,) trying to tan animal hides, making home-brews, swimming, fishing, hunting, punk rock shows, eating wild foods, bonfires, canoing, and all sorts of other adventures. For example, I once hitchhiked all the way from Portland, OR to Minnesota to meet up with a group of people, most of whom I didn’t know, to harvest wild rice from lakes in the northern woods. That turned out to be a great adventure! And by the way, freshly harvested wild rice is the best tasting grain you can imagine!
I’ve lived a very unconventional life so far, but it has been very full and imaginative. I’m so glad Mud Creek Farm has become part of my adventure this year!
Saturday, July 2, 2011
The days are long, and the sweating starts before 8am and doesn't stop till the sun goes down.
It's about this time when I start thinking that growing vegetables is kind of a battle. So much is invested in each plant, from planting the tiny seed, preparing the soil, keeping it watered, weeding, pruning, thinning, hoeing, cultivating. I begin to feel motherly tendencies, and I want to protect these plants with all of my might.
But vegetables, especially the kinds that have been bred to be most sweet and tender, are delicious. And word gets out, among the non-human population. Critters on four legs, critters on six legs, critters that fly, critters that slide on their own slime. Critters that metamorphasize. They all approach the buffet table and ready themselves for a nice meal, on someone else's tab. It's hard to fend them all off!
Times like these, it's easy to see how some farmers who find themselves feeling vulnerable against all of these "pests" choose to use chemicals as an effective tool for vegetable warfare.
Even the nutsedge, velvetleaf, purslane, and quackgrass seem to march into the territory with bloody axes swinging, ready to push out our tender helpless cucumber seedlings. Having the easy option of herbicide might be a sizable axe to swing back at them.
But here at Mud Creek Farm, we recognize that chemically-created death potions are not the answer, because of long-term negative effects on both us and the environment.
So our tools for battle? We have to be creative.
For weeds we use a variety of techniques, which we are still honing and perfecting. When it comes down to it, we hand-pull. But this is a last resort! We have a cultivating tractor just for weeding. And different kinds of hoes. We are even experimenting with flame-weeding! And timing cover crops correctly help us lower the overall weed seed-bank.
For bugs, we mostly use rotation. This means that cabbage doesn't get planted in the same field where cabbage was last year. Certain insects require special consideration. For Colorado Potato Beetle (CPB), we have to hand-pick the larvae off the plants a few times. We are experimenting with interplanting buckwheat in our potato field to attract the "good bugs" that will parasitize the CPB's. We let the ladybugs and lacewings keep other bugs in check. Usually a big outbreak of a pest will be quickly dealt with by a food web that is healthy and diverse.
Larger, furrier pests, can be more difficult because the food web that keeps them in check is partially broken by the strain of Victor's over-development. We do have a few resident hawks and foxes that prey on meadow voles, rabbits, and woodchucks. Our job is to keep the area thirty feet around the fields mowed low, so the predators can do their hunting. Occasionally we set traps, when severe nibbling is occuring. For the deer, we have the electric fence, which works about 80% or so. We still see hoof prints in the field, but it is only the brave souls. I am hoping my neighbor's soybean field down the road will distract them soon from our green beans! We also do enjoy our venison steaks. We might also try spraying hot sauce on some of their favorite plants, and spreading dog hair around the edges to dissuade them.
On these cloudless, really HOT days, sometimes the sun seems like a pest. Slowly drying the soil out to the point where the plants get stressed and will produce less, or fail to produce an edible harvest. Lettuce bolts (check out our "Christmas tree lettuce") -- it turns bitter before it makes a big harvestable head. Broccoli gets weird, staggered crowns. Arugula and bok choi make flowers. Forget those crops, let's save the rest of the farm-- and then the farmers get stressed! Hours are spent under that blazing sun, fixing and moving irrigation lines, turning on and off valves, and trying to get the pump started. Wouldn't it be so much nicer if it just rained?
For this battle, we have no chance of victory at all really. We just have to make do with what we are given. Half an inch of rain? I'll take it! Three inches of rain? Okay, I'll take that too! No rain? Sure. The ground has survived worse.
Farming-- what a profession to be in! Experiencing a direct connection with the climate and the natural ecosystem have their benefits: we get to work outdoors and have nature all around us! But the realities are that vegetables are just really pretty vulnerable. It takes all our might to protect them.