With the solstice behind us, it is now truly summer, and we’ve got the produce, and the weeds, to prove it! The last two weeks have seen a flurry of activity around the farm, and although it has been alternatively pouring rain and hot and muggy, we are still full steam ahead. We have been spreading a lot of mulch hay, hand-weeding, and hoeing to try to keep ahead of the weeds, as well as finally harvesting garlic scapes, basil, and tomatoes!
With heavy rain on a number of days, we once again had the opportunity to spend time in the greenhouses giving the tomatoes some TLC. In addition to pruning suckers and training upwards, we also finally went through and trimmed up the base of each plant. We tried to clip off ant leaves touching the ground or with visible fungal growth on them. Tomatoes are notoriously susceptible to bacterial and fungal disease, especially soil-borne pathogens. Farmers usually try to avoid heavy disease (and pest) pressure by rotating crops and trying not to plant the same vegetables in the same fields year after year, but since you can’t move a large, heated greenhouse, some disease is inevitable. By pruning up the base of each plant, we reduced soil contact, and we also opened up more space that should allow air to more-freely circulate and keep the leaves from staying too moist, which promotes leaf molds. All our hard work is finally beginning to pay off though, as at this last market (July 4th), we brought almost 60 pounds of heirloom and slicing tomatoes and another 15 pounds of cherry tomatoes!
On sunny afternoons, we continued to spread mulch hay. We polished off the winter squash, took on the onions, and moved on to completely mulching the eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, and zucchini in the lower field. In addition to suppressing weeds, the mulch will hopefully also keep dirt from splashing up onto the leaves in the rain, which should reduce soil-borne disease, as well as keeping fruits up off the ground.
When we had dry days we tried to keep up with the weeds! Over the last two weeks, we hand-weeded the celeriac, kale, chard, peppers, eggplants, and most of the carrots and leeks, and we hoed scallions, lettuce, brussels sprouts, melons, and zucchini. We had been harvesting a small amount of zucchini from the same greenhouse that houses cherry tomatoes, but a few weeks ago we took the row cover off the field zukes and they’re producing like crazy! On the 4th of July market, we brought over 75 pounds of zucchini in addition to summer squash, broccolini, mesclun, spinach, head lettuce, chard, cherry tomatoes, red tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, garlic scapes, herbs, basil, beef, pork, and fresh chickens.
For this week’s CRAFT gathering, we visited Crossroad Farm in Fairlee, VT. Started in 1980 by a husband and wife team, Crossroad now farms over 40 acres of vegetables for farmer’s markets, wholesale to restaurants and the Hanover and Lebanon Coops, and at their farmstand. Tim and Janet, the owners, don’t certify their produce as organic, but they try to minimize their use of fertilizer, insecticides, and herbicides. Instead, they annually spread manure from a nearby dairy, and use a variety of mechanical tools (and a crew of local highschoolers) to control the weeds.
We began by discussing a method called stale seed-bed preparation. The basic idea is that you plow and prepare the beds weeks ahead of planting, sometimes even before its warm enough for most crops, and you allow the weeds to germinate. Then, usually more than once, the farmer kills the very small weeds in a way that doesn’t disturb the soil and bring up more deeply-buried weed seeds. The idea is to exhaust most of the weed seed bank in the top few inches of soil before planting the crop, which should reduce weed pressure later in the season. By allowing lots of weeds to germinate, but not mature and set new seed, the overall weed seed bank should be reduced over a number of years. At Crossroad, the main implement used for stale seed beds is a tine weeder, which is a tool mounted on the back of a tractor that has dozens of lightly-sprung metal tines that scratch the soil surface and disturb very-small plants. The tines can be sprung to different tensions and moved around on the bar, so it can be used both on empty beds and to weed around some types of crops
Crossroad Farm is very fond of mechanization. They have (at least) 7 tractors that each have one or two implements that live on them permanently, and we got to see their tine weeder, basket weeder, and in-row cultivator in action.
Each of the last two weeks granted us a chance to learn about beekeeping. Two weeks ago on Wednesday and this week on Thursday, there was a swarm on the exact same apple branch! Earlier this season a swarm went right up to the tippy top of a maple tree, where we could barely see it, let alone try to capture it. When a queen bee gets old, she lays a few new queen eggs in cells and then leaves the hive followed by a swarm of drones and worker bees. They were all swarming on a low branch of an apple tree, and Tim set up a hive box on a table right under the swarm. He then grabbed the branch and shook the swarm down into the box, hoping that the queen would end up in the box and the hive would thus reassemble itself. We were all standing in the middle of the confusion, bees surrounding us, but they are so intent on finding the queen that they are completely docile and won’t sting unless they get caught in your hair or shirt. The first week that they swarmed, the queen was still on the branch after Tim shook it, so they got confused and eventually went back to their old box. This week, though, we found her and put her in the new box, so now the hive is all settled. Suzanne and Brian are actually petting the bees in the photo below.
We have been harvesting all sorts of fun things like garlic scapes, tomatoes, and basil in large quantities and the CSA share is becoming more bountiful and exciting with each passing week!
Last weekend, Brian’s parents visited us! We showed them around South Royalton and then went out for burgers, beer, and deep-fried bacon at The Worthy Burger.
Last Tuesday, we killed and processed 84 meat chickens, with more to come next week. We are going to do an in-depth post on the whole nitty-gritty, but we’ll get to that at some point later. It will be linked in such a way that folks who don’t want to see pictures of buckets of blood and guts (separate buckets) don’t have to.
We have also been moving the 2 groups of cows that are up on pasture each once a week and doing some transplanting here and there– mostly things like spinach, fennel, and flowers.
Also! We got some new farmers! Sarah the WWOOFer left after an admirable 5 weeks on the farm, but we still have Christina working 2 days a week. In addition, an old apprentice of theirs named Russ who is probably 35 now is coming 2 days a week, a local high school kid (Chris) who is an amazingly fast and happy worker is coming 3 days a week by bike, a middle-aged woman named Karen who just moved from Orono, Maine is 3 days/wk, and we will soon be joined by Lily, our age, who will also work 3 days a week.
-Brian and Sidney