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.