Friday, May 31, 2013

Summery weather finally!

What a spring it's been!  Compared with last year's hot and sticky weather, so far this season has been really nice and mild.  Good working weather.  Except for those cold nights, where we lost our peppers and our first batch of tomatoes, I can't complain.  We started irrigating in our plantings, and then it rained!  Last weekend we got a whole inch, which was AWESOME.  Got a half acre of sweet corn planted just in time to soak it all up.  Rain really eases a farmer's mind, especially when seeds are in the ground.

The cold and the rain did, however, set us back in some of the plantings.  The harvest might be a bit delayed this year.  Most of the tomatoes are still in the greenhouse, waiting for the soil to dry enough.  We managed to get three rows planted and mulched with straw before the storms pushed us out of the fields.  The reason we mulch tomatoes is mostly for disease prevention.  When the soil splashes up onto the leaves of the tomato plant, it brings with it fungus and bacteria that cause all sorts of spots.  Mulching prevents this!  It also prevents the weeds from coming up, keeps the moisture in really nicely, and makes an easy harvest surface to kneel on.  Hopefully we'll have some nice sunny weather to help these tomatoes grow fast!

Meanwhile, our cabbage-family crops (brassicas) are mostly still under their covers.  We just removed the broccoli, so it wouldn't get too hot.  In a week or two we'll take off the rest of the cloth.  One of our biggest tasks these days is dealing with the weeds underneath that seem to always grow faster than the crops.  We try to use the tractor to do most of the weeding, but sometimes we have to go down the beds on our hands and knees and weed with just the strength of our forearms and fingers.

 And in our dreamy potato field down the road, the potatoes are up!

 Josh and Ruth spent a sweltering afternoon cultivating the weeds out.  We have a Cornell researcher collecting insect samples again in the potato field.  She sets up these little yellow sticky cards and sugar-water bins, and then I guess identifies the unlucky bugs.  She is looking not only for pests, but beneficial insects as well.  We love supporting organic farming research in our fields!

Can't wait for the first CSA member pick-up to start!  The farm is starting to look really amazing, and I want to share it.

Friday, May 24, 2013

An unfortunate pepper incident

We've been busy.
First, working up the ground with our plows and disks, then planting.
Then irrigating because it hasn't rained much this spring.
Now we are cultivating!  That's just a fancy word for getting the weeds out, with a tractor.

Meet Princess Rose III, our 1948 Farmall Cub!  She prances around the farm, going over nearly every 200 foot bed of growing vegetables at least two or three times in the spring, delicately scraping out the "bad plants" and leaving in the "good plants"...  She is especially designed for maximum visibility, so hopefully the driver can make this distinction.  It's tricky.

If you've driven by the farm lately, you might have noticed the big field by the road is covered with a white cloth, weighed down with black sandbags.  That's called "Row Cover" -- we use it mostly for pest control on our farm.  It works by excluding the bad bugs, instead of killing them, like spraying would do.  The broccoli-family plants attract flea beetles something awful, and so we use it for them.  Cucumber-family plants need protection from cucumber beetles.  We take the covers off when the plants are large enough to withstand a bit of nibbling.  These tiny bugs really can do a lot of damage!  We feel that using row cover is more sustainable than spraying something.

The other benefit that row cover has, is it creates a little greenhouse environment out in the field, which the plants love.  The sun gets through, and the rain gets through, but not the bugs!  Moisture doesn't evaporate as readily, so our irrigation water goes further.  

And on cold nights, it can protect the crops from freezing (it's also called Frost Cloth).  Which is what happened last week, to our tender unsuspecting peppers, except it got just a little TOO cold!


We had these awesome pepper transplants, which we watered diligently for over two months in our greenhouse.  We had just planted about 3,000 of them out into the field, when the weather was great.  Then, the weather turned sour.  The temperature was under 50 degrees for several days, and one night it dipped down to about 25.  We had the heavy frost-grade cloth on them, and even then, they succumbed to the frost.  

A few days after "the event", we hesitatingly peeked under the cloth to look at the peppers, to find that all the growing points had shriveled, the plants just looked melted.  How depressing.  And ironically, we had just given away all our extra pepper plants to CSA members!

Luckily, the small organic CSA farmer circuit in New York State is extensive enough and generous enough, that I found another farmer with a few extra flats to spare, and we were able to purchase about 1,000 more sweet pepper plants.  Not as many as we were planning on, but so it goes-- mother nature throwing a wrench in our well-laid plans again.

But so it goes, the adventure of farming.

Meanwhile, daily life on the farm goes on.  
Plants get watered, farmworkers sweat, and baby animals get bigger.

We look forward to sharing our nest with you this summer, our little fields by the creek, bountiful and full by the sweat on our brows, the determination of our souls, and the financial support of our CSA members.  I look forward to that first bite of butterhead lettuce, fresh cilantro, delicate swiss chard, and crisp watery radishes.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Plowing and Planting

Hi all! Farmer Ruth here, with a guest blog post.  This is my first year working at Mud Creek, and I'm   helping Erin run and manage the farm.  Lots has happened around the farm in the past couple of weeks.  Spring has sprung with a vengeance.  The leaves are on the trees, and there are babies everywhere!  A robin has built a nest on top of the cooler and is sitting on it faithfully, despite all the noisy farm workers bustling around her, including tractor traffic and loud speakers right next to her head.  In a rare moment when she was off eating worms, we were able to climb up there and count the eggs.

In the tractor shed, a mourning dove built a nest on old row cover hanging from the ceiling and successfully reared a baby dove, who was awkwardly perched on the fence a couple of days ago.

 Farm worker Anna has lots of pregnant ewes and 2 baby goats at home, and one more baby goat was adopted by farm worker Betsy.  He is still tiny enough that she has to bottle feed him 6 or 7 times a day, so while she's farming, he hangs out at Mud Creek in a pen behind the compost pile, being cute.  His name is Petey (short for Peter Pan.)

And finally, last week, we found an abandoned baby web footed little guy in the cherry field.  We parked him in an unused bathtub for the day, and frantically tried to figure out what he was (a Canada goose), and what to feed him (chick starter and greens).  His name is Charlie.  Or hers.  We're not sure.

Meanwhile we've all been busy getting hundreds of baby transplants in the ground,

running irrigation lines to water them in,

and in some cases, tucking them in with row cover.

As we get early plants in, we are also preparing ground for the later crops.  Most of those fields have been in a cover crop of rye, which is almost ready to head out.  Some of it we plowed under.

This will be our sweet corn field!

In other fields, its gotten a little tall to plow, so it has to be mowed first.  Johnny is braving the storms today to mow everything he can.

And of course, there's plenty of weeding to do.  Here's Josh cultivating the garlic.

We’ve had a nice long spell of sunny, dry weather, which is great for getting things done, but a little rain is essential too, especially for crops we can’t irrigate.  When we saw rain forecast for this week, we decided the potatoes had to go in.  Despite equipment problems and a field 10 miles away, we rallied forces and with a borrowed tractor and a walking plow, we got the furrows prepped, fertilized, and planted before lunch.  

It was perfect timing.  As we worked that afternoon, the ominous clouds rolled in, and we got a small little pour on the commute home.  Right now, they’re getting rained on, and we’re all hoping we have a fantastic potato harvest this year!

Things have been going well on the farm so far, and we have a fantastic crew.  Everyone is working hard, learning fast, feeling enthusiastic, and laughing a lot.  I have a feeling its going to be a great year.