Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Fall Farm Update: Reflections on the 2019 Growing Season

By Farmer Richard

Harvest crews working to gather harvest before the storms hit
Recently we came up on the one year anniversary of the 2018 fall floods.  While we are thankful we have not experienced another major weather event like that in this growing season, the weather patterns of 2019 have made this season another extremely challenging year to be farming.  We started out with a cold and wet spring which made planting seeds and transplanting plants from the greenhouse very challenging!  We are all avid weather map and forecast watchers and our crew is 110% with us.  We made good planning decisions and when a hint of dry weather looked imminent, we pulled out all the stops to prepare ground, plant and transplant.  On those days, we worked until it was too dark to see and if the forecasted rain missed us we continued the next morning.  We pushed the limits, we transplanted in the rain, we harvested in the rain.  We had to take some time off when the storms were severe.  When we did get some fast, heavy rains, the extensive repair work we did to creek bottoms and berms last fall proved to be effective and mostly held and protected fields!

Black Futsu Pumpkin plants starting to
flower earlier this season
Despite the challenges, we did manage to plant all our crops fairly timely, even when it was wet and cold.   In late May and early June the weather shifted to the other end of the spectrum and became extremely hot and humid!  The heat loving plants took off and made up for lost time!  Unfortunately, so did the weeds.  We had to play our cards right to make weed control a priority when it was dry enough and pushed the limits at times to complete some critical cultivation.  Hot and wet weather also brings its own problems with disease, poor pollination and even nutrient problems.  In early summer we were seeing some disease and fertility problems in some of our crops.  We collected leaves from some of the affected plants and sent them off to a laboratory for a sap analysis (kind of like a blood test for plants) to diagnose the problems.  With results in hand, we set out to correct some nutrient and microbial deficiencies likely caused by the excess water.  We applied copious amounts of beneficial organisms, soluble nutrients and trace minerals that the plants needed and saw some dramatic responses in our pepper, eggplant and squash crops.  We also had several weeks of growth during that hot period where plants that should have been setting fruit were not doing so (tomatoes, melons, squash and watermelons), which resulted in low yields.  Despite our best efforts, only one of our five sweet corn plantings was the quality we had hoped for.  Sadly, the cold wet conditions followed by the hot and wet weather not only took a toll on our crops, but our native pollinators as well.  We rely on their services and were concerned that many of our native pollinator creatures were very late to show up.  Thankfully the populations seem to have recovered.  While we all would’ve liked to have seen more tomatoes and sweet corn in the box, we have been able to include most items we had planned for in the CSA boxes.  So, while you may have been just minimally affected by our crop deficits, our bottom line has taken a hit with some of our crops that we plan to have in quantities that allow us to supply CSA boxes and then have extra to sell to wholesale buyers.  The good news is, we did have some better weather in August and our fall crops actually look quite nice!  Time and again, Mother Nature continues to provide for us, even when she’s at times a bit cantankerous.

Farmer Richard inspecting cover crop
As we head into fall, we’re happy to report our cover crop plantings have been timely and some fields have well-established cover crops that we’ll reap the benefits of next year.  Some of our fall crops are coming in ahead of schedule, including celeriac, carrots, parsnips, rutabaga, turnips and winter storage radishes.  We’ve already started harvesting many of our root crops and will continue doing so until they’re all in.  The sweet potatoes look promising, but need a couple more weeks of growth.  Fall greens, such as escarole, look very nice, but the recent 80°F weather has them coming in earlier than we had hoped for.  Sadly, we did lose 50% of our spinach stand last week when we had 4.5 inch or rain, but we have more plantings coming and they look promising.  In the midst of vegetable farming, we’ve also managed to get sufficient hay put away for our animals despite forecasts of hay shortages in the rest of the farming community.  If Mother Nature will afford us just get a couple of dry weeks to get our roots harvested and plant garlic, sunchokes and horseradish for next year, we would be most grateful.

Despite the challenges of this season, we are proud of the CSA boxes we have delivered this year.  The boxes have been plentiful, colorful and delicious.  If you’ve been pleased with your shares this year, we’d appreciate your help in spreading the good word about our CSA to your friends, family members, work associates, etc. We’re hopeful that our membership numbers will grow for the 2020 season, but we need your help to make that happen!  Yes, we’re already laying out plans for next year!

As I reflect on the past few months, I realize we have learned a lot from this season!  As we’ve dealt with crop challenges due to fertility, etc, we have all became more aware of the very subtle differences in the many shades of green of our plants which will help us care for our plants better in the future.  We watched for blossoms, pollinators and fruit set as we learned to observe and listen to our plants more closely.  As we learn more about the value of our microbial communities in the soil, we have gained a new appreciation for the role they play in our environment and still have trouble fathoming the billions of micro-organisms that surround us!   We realize we are all part of a living organism.  There is a life force that emanates from the soil, the plants, the animals and people.  The many families that depend on our farm and the many that we provide nourishing food for are all a part of our farm and community.  I want to close with a quote from an interview with Michael Phillips, an organic orchardist growing in New Hampshire.  He wrote a book entitled Mycorrhizal Planet and was featured in an interview in a recent issue of Acres magazine.  He says “The plants and fungi have always sung what I think of as a soil redemption song—and they’ll continue to sing it—and that is what makes life possible on earth.  Our job is to emulate all these good teachings and to make it part of our agriculture, part of our communities, part of our innate understanding of what it is to be a caring human on this blessed planet.”

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