What’s been going on?
And just like that the magic of mid August occurs. New transplants to the area always ask “So how long does the heat last?” My standard answer is that it can be in the 90’s and bad from beginning of June until mid September but… in mid August the nights do begin to get cooler and the days get noticeably shorter. I think that it is just the little bit of optimism that is sparked when it is a few degrees cooler and heading in the right direction, towards fall.
The battle with the weeds, particularly the crab grass, wears on. Some years, when the rains come just at the right time, the crab grass gets a foot hold and really takes over. We have been through the peppers several times pulling it out of the rows and the paths get mowed every week to keep it at bay. Even under the Big Tops, where you would think a lack of water would slow it down, it will get up to knee height before you know it. It is like the kudzu of the grass world, seems to grow a foot overnight. In fact the grasses are by far the worst of all the weeds. The broad leaved weeds are much easier to control and manage, they grow from the top of the plant. Grasses are far more cunning. Their new growth comes from down in the stem and when small, from under the soil surface making them much harder to kill with an easy cultivation. Only a few weeks left in the battle for this season, the troops are getting weary.
Don’t forget the Terra Madre delegate Fish Fry fundraiser on Saturday at Johnny’s in Carrboro, starts at 6:00, runs until the fish runs out. Anna, Sarah and Sabrina have been working hard to prepare for this tasty event. Another event on the horizon is our first ever farm dinner with Bret Jennings at Elaine’s on Franklin on Wed. Sept. 8th. It will focus on peppers, especially chiles. Bret has spent a lot of time in Mexico over the years and does great things with peppers. The menu is looking really mouth watering.
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The crab grass is trying to win and it has stunted the peppers some but looks like there are a few red bells
What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading →
What’s been going on?
Thankfully the sun is out today. We need a little drying time to be able to get some things weeded as they are growing before our eyes. Those little weeds and weed seeds had just been hangin’ out during the dry spell waiting. The soil temperature was warm enough, they just needed to have a little water to get going. Wow, here they come! I am afraid to tell the staff what is in store for them today, at least it won’t be too hot to be out hoeing and pulling weeds. Fortunately we have enough blueberry pickers right now so that the guys can work on the other farm chores.
Farm to Fork was big success. The skies dumped rain on Sunday morning but by the time we all got to the field it was puffy clouds and blue sky. The ground was a bit soggy to start but dried quickly as we finished setting up for the event. The event coordinator and the volunteer coordinator had done a meticulous job and everything was totally ready when we arrived at 12:30. Slowly the other farmers and chefs began arriving and what was just a hayfield bloomed into a farmers market/festival site in a hour or so.
Ben and Karen along with their skilled assistants (Amanda Orser and Shelley Collins) arrived and began assembling a beautiful and complicated dish. Much slicing and dicing and arranging on the plates. First a lettuce and spinach sauce/soup ladled on the bottom, then two sugar snap peas, an arrangement of wedges of three colors of beets, radishes and turnips. This was capped with a piece of Ben’s perfectly smoked trout and then a day-glo dollop of fresh ricotta cheese with beets to give it the wild color. We heard much oohing and awing as people ate. Of course Karen’s blueberry compote on cornmeal cake with sorghum buttermilk cream was the ace in the hole to finish them off!
Ben, Karen and staff assembling plates
The final dish
We all had a great time and I think the attendees did as well. It was too much food and it was hard to get around to all the tents. With the silent and live auctions we raised somewhere around $20,000 for the apprenticeship and new farmer programs at the Center for Evironmental Farming Systems and the Breeze Farm. Thanks to all who participated.
What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading →
I’ve been trying to get back to sending out the newsletter on Wednesdays but that day keeps being very wild around here. Gray and green. The weekly rains are coming in today and we have been going like crazy to get things done before they get here. Green because the leaves are really flying out now and the grass and weeds are growing fast. The beautiful weather early this week has finally given us the ideal conditions for weeding and cultivation which has been the main goal. We have cleaned up at least three quarters of an acre in both the flowers and the vegetables, just in the nick of time as some of the lettuces were beginning to succumb the chickweed. When repeatedly surveyed by researchers, organic farmers always rank weed control as the number one problem that they deal with and would like to have some “miracle” research come up with easy ways to overcome these pests. I am not holding out for a miracle, just the hope of a few dry days at the right time so we can do some timely cultivation, that with a few cultural tricks thrown in will keep the weeds at bay. Of course we are thankful for the young backs that work for us and do most of this weeding! Some things have not changed much in agriculture over the centuries, my brother has a book on market gardening from the 1800’s and we always got a chuckle when they would repeatedly refer to some tedious task as “usually being done by young boys”.
We did get the new asparagus planted, finishing just as the rains started, now we wait to see the new ferns coming up. The earliest tomatoes were planted into the sliding tunnels and look to be taking off well. We are running about a week behind last year on all of the tomatoes, we can’t make them grow any faster in the greenhouse than they are want to. The big planting (20 varieties) were moved up from the small cells to the 4 inch pots and are due to go out to the field in 10 days but again I feel that they may be a few days late. Our goal is to have the plants growing vigorously in the pots and then plant them at the right time so they just continue that strong growth. If we put them out too young they can get shocked and delay their growth and if we wait too long they will become too large for the pots and stop their growth and set the first harvest back as well. The other problem that we are having this year in both the tomatoes and the peppers is erratic seed germination in some varieties. We had to re seed some things which is going to put those varieties several weeks behind the others, this is a first for us as we have never had to completely restart a variety. Oh well always a new twist out here on the farm!
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Green and gray, and happy cultivated lettuce
The one good thing about a drought, the weeds don’t grow very fast! This week has been busy with a combination of cultivating for weeds and then setting up the rest of the irrigation in the newly “weeded” beds. Cultivation can mean a lot of things when describing the process of growing crops but for us it means using “stirrup” hoes. Like a stirrup on a horses saddle, the blade slices just under the soil surface no more than a inch deep. The perfect timing is just before the weeds come up or have just germinated, otherwise it is a lot more work and less effective for those weeds that now have large root systems. We joke around here that I am the straight line police because all of the plants run in exact parallel rows, usually three to a bed. The main reason for the straight rows is that it makes the cultivation much easier than if everything was a crazy zigzag. Our secret weapon is a Swiss made “wheel hoe”, this is the Ferrari of wheel hoes. Made with multi adjustable handles on a small pneumatic tire it handles like a dream. Attached to this can be may different implements but the best is an eight inch wide stirrup. A person can walk up and down the rows and cultivate with ease. If the rows are straight and the timing correct a person can cover a quarter acre in hour or so. Rett is the king of the wheel hoe around here, no bending over!
As Betsy now says in Italian “I bambini tacchini sono aravati ieri mattina!” The turkeys arrived yesterday morning! This first batch are all the slower growing heritage birds. This year we decided to do all Bourbon Reds as we like their ease of handling. The handful of Blue Slates that we have had the last two years have been “a handful”. While they generally get to be a few pounds larger they have always been the bad actors, flying out of the fence, showing the others how to misbehave, you know smoking cigarettes and hanging out on street corners. It is still always hard to believe that they were hatched two days ago, put into a box and sent in the mail. They have enough reserves inside them from the egg yolk to not need food or water for several days but they can’t go too long. We notify the post office which day they will arrive and we have them call us as soon as they come in. Usually the call comes about 7:00 a.m. and one of us rushes up to retrieve them. As soon as we get them back to the farm we put them into the prepared and warm brooder house. Each bird gets its beak dipped into the water and then plopped down into the feed pan so they begin to learn where their feed and water is. Everyone asks are they really dumb birds. My reply is if you were taken away from your mother at birth, without anyone to show you how to do things, you might look dumb too! Once they have done something once then they get the hang of it, I’m not saying they are rocket scientists but…
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Eating, Drinking, all singing, all dancing
Rain, that is what has been going on. 7.3 inches this month. Not as much as many other folks have had but wet just the same. When we first moved to the farm in 1982 we lived in a tent for eight months while we began to develop the farm and build the first part of the house. We had planted 5,000 berry plants in March and struggled through a very dry April to keep them alive. We would fill five gallon buckets, by hand, out of the pond put them on a trailer behind the tractor and slowly drive up the hill to the field and hope that all the water wouldn’t splash out on the way. We would then carry those buckets up and down the 20,000 feet of row and pour a little bit of life giving water onto each one. Finally in late April the irrigation company we had contracted with to install our system arrived and we spent three very long days running thousands of feet of two inch PVC pipe up to the field to carry the water to the drip lines that we buried down each row next to the plants. I always joke with folks that we lived in a tent while we put in $6000 worth of irrigation and I am still married to the same wonderful woman! Now we could water all those new berry plants and our future. In May it began to rain. Every day we would stand under our little twenty by twenty tin roofed tractor shed/kitchen/world headquarters and watch as the rain dumped down on us. The dirt track that ran past the tent and shed would run like a river and the lightening would shake everything around us. The month ended with seventeen inches of rain!
Out in the field the plants were now happy but so were the weeds that we had unleashed by turning over soil that had held the weed seeds for years just waiting for someone to come along and bring them to the sun. The May rains gave them extra vigor and we saw our berry plants disappearing into the jungle. I carefully worked my way up and down the four miles of rows and hand weeded a cylinder around each plant after I found them first. It was a race as the weeds: lambsquarter, pig weed and ox-eye daisy grew to head high. I finally got on the tractor and stood on the seat so I could look down and find the cylinders I had created around each plant as I carefully mowed the aisles between the rows. The battle with the weeds carried on through out that first summer (and still continues today) but we had saved the crop.
Fortunately we are going to have a dry spell coming the next five days or so and we will be able to get in and start to fight the weeds back. We now have more equipment and tools and more help to do it with. After years of cultivating, hand weeding and rotating crops our weed seed bank is not what it used to be but just letting a few big ones make seed will set a portion of a field back five years, so we are ever vigilant. There is a section in the new Zinnias where it looks like we spread grass seed with a butter knife, or spray painted the ground green. Last year we had Dahlias there and couldn’t till or mow the grass in them and couldn’t keep up by hand so some grass went to seed anyway. We may end up mowing those Zinnias down early so that grass can’t make more seed, better that than making the problem even worse. When organic farmers are surveyed about what is their number one problem it always comes back weeds. It has been that way since man first started farming.
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From the archives. The early camp with tent as bedroom wing, ah the good old days!
It has been some years since we had a wet spring, one forgets what it could be like. So far this one is what I would call consistently damp, not so much rain that you begin to wonder if you will ever get stuff planted but the frequent wet days do make us rush around trying to get things in the ground before it comes again. This week was just such a case. We usually need about three dry days for the soil to drain enough to be able to till and not do any damage to our soil structure. After last weeks inch plus rains it was just barely dry enough to till on Tuesday but the forecast for more rain on Wednesday was 90 percent so off we raced. Three beds of lisianthus (very tedious as they go in four inches apart), two more beds of mixed flower transplants, followed by three beds seeded to carrots, turnips and radishes.
After all of the recent wet weather the weeds are really starting to germinate and in another week it would be scary. So after lunch I set the guys on getting most everything cultivated even though another day would have made the soil conditions just right. By three o’clock we had covered the most egregious areas including thinning the broccoli raab which had come up like hair on a dogs back. Cov and Glenn then headed off to get some planting done in their own gardens before the rains came. Almost two days work in one but with a rain day coming.
Wednesday morning I am at the desk viewing the radar on the computer as it had not started raining yet. While I am making some notes on the crop plan I realize I had forgotten to seed the second planting of broccoli raab, with this forecast I better hurry out quick. Quick means taking down the deer fences so I can get the tractor into the field, spreading a little bit of feather meal for nitrogen, firing the tractor up and lightly tilling the tops of the beds, carrying the seeder down and running it up and down the beds. A light mist falls off and on as I do all this, then it stops. The rest of the day it barely drizzles and we wonder what all the rushing around was for. Oh well, I am looking at the radar again this morning and it looks like rain for sure again, we’ll see.
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The blueberries are blooming like crazy