Wednesday, June 6, 2018

June Farm Update

By:  Farmer Richard

It’s been 7 weeks since the last farm update we shared with you on April 19, written with a foot of snow on the ground!  In that update we reported that this year sets the record for the coldest and wettest spring in the forty plus years since I started farming!  Despite that crazy, wet, snowfall in late April, we were able to do our first spring planting on April 24 which is one full week later than any other year I’ve had farming.  The late start to the season would suggest that all of the crops would be later and heat loving crops like tomatoes, sweet corn and peppers would be equally late and have a short season, barely making it before the first fall frost!  Well folks, keep reading as I have some good news!!

Onions in the greenhouse
We had to plan our greenhouse transplants for a “normal” year.  We started planting in late February and actually had some really nice, sunny days in March.  We have new plastic on all the houses, so our early seeded crops took off nicely and even when the days became more cloudy, the crops continued to grow and were ready pretty much on schedule.  As soon as the skies cleared (and the snow melted away), we seized the few dry days we had to prepare ground, lay plastic (for some of our transplants like onions and tomatoes) and tried to keep our field plantings on schedule.  When greenhouse transplants are ready, they really need to get to the field!  However, just because you get a plant to the field it doesn’t mean it’s going to take off and grow, especially when it’s cold as it has been this spring.  

Antonio, Jose Luis & Carlos laying out hoops to cover zucchini
We decided to invest the time and energy into covering some crops with row covers to help trap heat and accelerate plant growth.  We cover some crops every year, but this year we had so many fields to cover that we had to fill an extra 1,000 sandbags and cut 1,000 new wire hoops to put over the beds to keep the covers from damaging the transplants under them.  Without the hoops we risk giving the plants cover abrasion and we need the sandbags to hold all the covers in place!  We couldn’t have covered all of these crops without our amazing crew!  When we had only a few dry days to plant and cover, they were asking “can we work late to finish?”  They repeatedly tell me, “if we don’t plant it and take care of it, we don’t have a crop to harvest!”  It’s important to get the big picture! 

Strawberries right after the covers were taken off.
We are well aware that it is our crew’s dedication to getting the crops planted on time, covered for protection from cold and storms and willingness to work late some nights that has changed the picture from coldest/latest spring to bring us pretty much back on schedule!  Does anyone remember that heat wave we had at the end of May?  We went from cool growing weather to blazing hot!  Those covers we had on everything…..most of them had to come off because now we ran the risk of the crop getting too hot!  We had to uncover the zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.  When we did, we were really happy to see beautiful plants that now appear to be growing at a normal rate!

Zucchini plants thriving after being uncovered!
Vicente and the irrigation crew members receive some acknowledgement here as well.  They have worked diligently to set up all the drip irrigation making it possible to give many of our new transplants a small drink of water mixed with fish and kelp fertilizer shortly after they were planted.  The combination of water and nutrients followed by a week of unseasonable, warm temperatures and we really saw some growth under those covers!  We are now ahead of schedule for zucchini, cucumber, melons, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers!! 

We have two crops of sweet corn and beans up and growing and one planting of edamame.  We lost about 25% of the first planting of corn to the Red Wing Black Birds.  Unfortunately they found that they could dig up the corn seed that was planted shallow because the soil was cold and we wanted the seeds closer to the surface so they would receive heat from the sun.  These were pretty determined birds that didn’t seem to mind the “scare eye” balloons and shiny streamers we put in the field to try to deter them.  They ignored our tactics and continued to dig up the seeds.  So our solution was to feed them organic corn on the edge of the field.  That actually did work as a decoy and and we still have 75% of the crop!  It’s hard to get upset with these birds, after all they have babies to feed and we’re always encouraging parents to feed their young ones more organic vegetables! 

Luis and Felix G mastering the new cultivator
If the weather cooperates we can still have a great year!  Right now we’re working really hard to battle the weeds.  Rafael has done a superb job of flaming crops to kill weeds just before a crop comes up.  Our local Cenex crew has been super cooperative in keeping our flamer filled and repaired.  A few gallons of propane used on the precise day saves hours and hours of weeding later!  The result of being diligent and staying on top of flaming is the main reason we have two beautiful crops of early carrots and five acres of parsnips, cilantro & dill!  Rafael has also done a lot of mechanical cultivating and has been instrumental in directing other cultivating crews.  Luis and Felix G have become masters at operating our new Kult/Cress German cultivator.  They’ve learned how to work together to use this machine to mechanically kill a lot of weeds! 

HVF crew hand weeding parsnips.
Andrea gets huge credit for keeping ahead of our frantic spring planting schedule.  Simon has also been a key player in helping us keep the greenhouse plantings on track and has helped with our “hot water” seed treatment for some seeds and biological seed treatments for others.  Andrea has also worked hard to maintain our seed inventory and provides planting plans for each crew every time they go out to plant.  Gwen is now learning the ropes of managing our records once a planting is done.  It’s super important that we have good, complete records both for our own use as well as for maintaining our ability to trace crops back. 

Our Strawberry Day event is coming up on June 17, and yes it looks like we’ll have strawberries!  We hope to see you at the party, or join us for the weekend and do some camping!  We have had a few CSA member visitors this spring and we welcome more.  If you’re interested in camping, we’d love to offer you a spot in one of our two campgrounds or reserve our cabins for your stay. 

Bee pollinating the strawberries
As I write this article on my back porch, I have marveled at the dozens of hummingbirds and the many bumblebees that I see coming to visit the columbine flowers in our yard.  Our strawberries are being pollinated by small bees I collectively call “sweat bees.” As the light dims and the day turns to night, I am in awe of the whippoorwills singing to me.  After a five year absence when we didn’t hear them in our valley, we’re very thankful that they’ve returned!  Every night we listen as they sing us to sleep and every morning they wake us up like an alarm clock, right outside our window.  Despite a challenging spring, life is good!

No comments: