Bare Naked Farming

Another road trip to a Shared Harvest CSA partner farm is being planned, this time to Riverland Farm in Sunderland, MA. Should be an interesting experience given that  Riverland farmer, Rob Lynch seems to be setting a new standard for farm wear. Here’s an excerpt from the most recent Riverland Farm newsletter, Riverland Currants:

Knowing the power of the wind here on this open plain in Sunderland, we make it a point to close down all of our barn and greenhouse doors in the evening. Forgetting to do that simple task on Wednesday made for an eventful night. As that storm came in Meghan and I both shot out of bed, disoriented but knowing exactly what we had to do. At that time I was so focused on closing everything down that things like clothes and shoes seemed unimportant. Despite our best efforts the wind got to the barn before we did and took a 6’ x 11’ 200# barn door off and threw it into the road like a piece of cardboard. We reached the greenhouse in time preventing any structural damage though the wind did take several of our plug trays and scatter them all over the farm and smash up a solid wood bench that we use for filling trays with soil. The hail that came in with the storm did some minimal cosmetic damage to our first head lettuce, bok choy, and some of the swiss chard and spinach. Overall the storm was mostly just mentally traumatic but ended up being good fodder for comedy when I think back on running around in my birthday suit closing things down.

Visit Riverland Currants for the full newsletter article.

Rain, rain, please delay

Is it just me, or do other people check the weather forecast a couple of times a day? Yeah, that’s what I thought. It’s just me.

The weather for this Saturday’s Winter Share distribution doesn’t look so great. If the prediction were just for rain, well, what’s a little rain when we’ve all got water-proof skin? But thunderstorms? In November?

Join me as I keep an eye on the weather predictions on the NOAA web site. There’s a link to the NOAA site for Boston in the side bar. Scroll down the page and click on Hourly Weather Graph to get the hour-by-hour predictions.

"It’s all good."

That’s what Chris at Vanguarden CSA tends to say about the weather. It’s an attitude I need to cultivate. More rain is predicted for this week. Check out photos from our last rainy spell on Liz’s blog.

Thank goodness we got all of the ripe tomatoes harvested yesterday! Tomatoes don’t taste their best after a rain. They are too watery. They are much sweeter when they’ve had no water for a few days before harvest.

Glorious

I’ve a simple rain measurement system set up at the farm. An empty bucket left out to collect rain. Before I empty the bucket I estimate how much rain it collected and add that number to previous days’ tally. I think the farm got 5 inches of rain in the last week.

The weather affects how much and what types of work get done on a farm. Plants and earth are best left alone when they are wet because disease spreads quickly among wet leaves and soil becomes super compacted when it’s saturated so we don’t want to drive the tractor on it. Big pigweed can be pulled anytime, but since it needs to be carried out of the field to keep it from re-rooting, I often save this task for a rainy day. A bed of carrots is best delicately hand-weeded when the soil is moist. Carrots and cilantro get flame-weeded when there is no wind, no drought and preferably after a good rain. Greenhouse work is nice on a rainy day. Many vegetables prefer to be harvested at a time of day when it’s cool, overcast and the wind is still. Thread-stage weeds and those a bit larger die a quick death when uprooted in the middle of a sunny day. Seedlings are happiest transplanted when there’s moisture in the soil and the sky is overcast. You get the picture ….. to a large extent, the weather determines the tasks that fill our day.

For the past week most of our farming activities have been shaped by the wet, wet weather. Our fall and winter crops have been seeded into cell trays. Pigweed and galen soga have been pulled from the leek and onion beds. When we harvested tomatoes we were careful to minimize our contact with the leaves. There was a short interval when the tomato foilage was dry and 600 row feet of them got tied up at record speed (quick! before the rain starts again!) Harvest was delayed on Thursday because of lighning, so we sat in the barn and watched the weather. Carrots and cilantro were flamed.

It was a wet, soggy week. Even the best rain gear couldn’t keep us completely dry. As the week wore on, it became increasingly difficult to think complicated thoughts or execute a plan with more than one step to it. I’ve always found this to be the most troubling side-effect of working long hours in gray, rainy, muddy conditions. I think it’s not particular to me. I’ve worked with other growers who seem to go into a trance-like state after working a day in the rain.

Yesterday was the first sunny, rain-free day we’ve had for awhile. It was glorious. Sunny. Dry. Bright. Warm. Just glorious. Here’s some of what we did:

Tied 750 row feet of tomatoes. Harvested 300 row feet of storage onions and laid them out to cure. Cut 200 feet of parsley to allow a nice second growth. Harvested 24 pounds of basil for the Preservation Share (bulk produce for preserving). Pulled weeds between the tomatoes rows. Watched the top layer of soil begin to dry and made plans for lots of thread-stage weeding this weekend. Bought buffalo mozzarella and ate it with tomatoes and basil. Happily chatted about everything.

Thanks to Liz (super farm intern), Molly (another local farmer who will be working with me one day a week for a few months), Ainara (wanna-be-farmer and local high school student) and So-Yoen (community service volunteer and kimchi lover). Great folks with whom to work and celebrate glorious weather!

Heat Wave

The three- (or was it four?) day heat wave we experienced a week ago continues to haunt us. While Liz and I have recovered from it, the trellised sugar snap peas have not. Peas don’t like hot weather and our trellised peas suffered tip burn. I expect very few peas from these plants. Since they were the main planting of peas, shareholders won’t get as many as I’d hoped.

Other lingering consequences of the heat wave: bolted cilantro, flowering marjoram, some bitter lettuce and very stressed and dying eggplant. The first planting of eggplant was fending off an attack of flea beetles when the heat wave hit. Flea beetles had been nibbling on the eggplant leaves for a few weeks, but the eggplant was still growing and there was a good chance the seedlings would out-grow the beetle damage. I think the stress from the big temperature fluctuations were just too much for the eggies. Liz and I pulled many of them out and planted eggplant donated by a fellow grower, Judy Lieberman of Brookwood Community Farm. Following the suggestion of Greg Maslowe, grower at the Newton Farm, I sprayed a mix of Surround (koalin powder), Safer Insect Soap, and fish emulsion on the eggplant. Just wanted to give it a little protection from the flea beetles. Two days later and there’s not a flea beetle in sight. Well, at least not on the eggplant that I sprayed.

On happier notes, our tomatoes and peppers look spectacular! The first small plantings of summer squash and cucumbers are flowering and fruiting. The watermelon and cantaloupe are growing well. All love hot weather. The fava beans, which are a cool season crop and are planted in partial shade, are doing well and will be ready for harvest soon. Swiss chard has sized up, as have the pearl onions, leeks and torpedo onions. Green beans have flowered and we should see beans soon. Our basil …. it’s just lovely! And the beets — these babies sweeten up when it’s hot and dry and are they ever tasty right now!

We’re sharing our crops with a teenage woodchuck living under the land owner’s garage. Not much I can do about him there except set up a trap baited with carrots. (I don’t know why he’d go into a trap to eat since he’s got an acre of veggies at his disposal.) He seems to like carrot tops. Since the carrots are full sized I’m reluctantly willing to give him the tops. He also likes green bean tips and is very slowly nibbling his way through our third bean planting. He seems to have forgotten about the baby lettuce. He started eating it two days ago, but is leaving it alone now that I’ve deployed the flash tape that Amanda at the Waltham Farm gave me.

Liz has posted some nice photos of our vegetables on her blog. Check them out: www.LizGreen.blogspot.com

Rainy Days

field, tractor, and houses spinach in the rain rows (can you find the robin?) alliums in mud

These farm photos were taken on April 4, after we’d had a bit of rain. You can see evidence of soil compaction: water drains poorly between the beds, where the tractor tires traveled.

spinach spinach close up

The newly transplanted veggies love this weather.

seedlings vulcan? inside hoophouse

The overcast skies and cool daytime temperatures aren’t so great for the seedlings in the hoop house. They are germinating and growing more slowly than I’d like and there’s some damping off in the lettuce. The vulcan label you see in one of the cell trays marks a variety of lettuce I’m growing for early sales to some wholesale accounts.

The photos were taken by Kathy, Skippy’s mom. Kathy lives just around the corner from the farm and graciously shares her photos with us. Thanks Kathy!

Heart-stopping temperatures

I’m a bit preoccupied with the weather. I check the forecast several times a day. I pay close attention to the predicted overnight temps, whether there will be clouds or not, how strong the winds will be, if and how much precipitation is expected. I look at what’s predicted for Boston and Bedford. Based on these forecasts, I guess what will happen in Belmont. I use our government’s weather service through the NOAA website — http://forecast.weather.gov

This time of year I’m mostly concerned about overnight temps. My hoophouse isn’t heated and when the temp drops below 32 degrees I cover all the seedlings with row cover, old quilts and blankets, say special prayers, make ritual offerings to the weather gods, promise my first-born son, you know, the kinds of things we all do to bring good luck. (Oh come on, you do too!) This method has worked well so far.

I did have a heart-stopping temperature experience one recent morning. I was studying the hour-by-hour temperature readings of the previous evening. (I’ve already admitted that I’m a bit preoccupied with the weather.) I scanned the report and saw that the temp had dropped to 20 degrees at 6 AM. I stopped breathing. I think my heart stopped beating. Visions of dead seedlings filled my mind. I whispered, then yelled, “Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.” The predicted low had been 30 degrees. I hadn’t taken all the super-duper precautions required for a 20 degree night! How could the National Weather Service prediction have been so wrong?!?!

Turns out I was looking at the wrong column. Rather than temperature, I’d been looking at the dewpoint. The overnight temperature only got down to 31 degrees. What a relief.

It is predicted to get down to 24 degrees tonight. You better believe I’m ready. Those little seedlings are well protected this evening: Layers of row cover over them, space heaters under some of the benches, barrels of water under other benches (the water has retained the day’s heat and will radiate it throughout the night). Prayers have been said, rituals observed.

Sleep well little seedlings.