Archive for July, 2008

Garlic all in

Harvesting the last of the garlic

Harvested in three parts over the last week, the garlic is now all in! This crop seems to’ve done well once again (I LOVE growing garlic!). For the first time, there’s a small pile of damaged goods, water-logged from all the rain. But overall, things are looking good. The combination of oat straw (from last fall’s cover crop) and grass mulch worked great (below)—weeds were kept down, and although the paths weren’t as heavily mulched as around the plants, they weren’t bad. We’ve been having trouble starting the riding mower, which means no trailer, so the tractor bucket took its place for transport duties. The garlic is stacked on pallets in the barn. Lynn seems to’ve taken to garlic harvesting and went to town: fork and pull, fork and pull…around 3,000 garlic bulbs hit the local food chain!

Transporting garlic in the front end loader

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Hail damage reassessed

Hail-damaged tomatoes

Three days after the nasty hail storm, and the full extent of the crop damage is more evident. It’s quite a bit worse than it first appeared. The plants will bounce back, but we’ve lost a lot of the fruit that were furthest along. Little nicks in maybe 70% of the toms and eggplant and peppers means that the first harvest of these veggies will be…small. Curiously, but not really suprisingly, I’m quite unfazed by this turn. I can really fret about setbacks that I could have avoided, like deciding not to overnight frost protect with row cover, then getting hit with frost, or not seeding a crop when it’s dry, then getting a week of rain and mucky, unworkable ground. But where it’s purely a Mother Nature play, I’m instantly in half-full mode, seeing the good side of things automatically: well, we’ll have SOME first-round tomatoes…and there are lots of other, undamaged crops… So I’m good. But even from my relatively small (and small-scale) experiences with losses due to weather, I can imagine how nerve-racking large-scale monoculture must be, especially in these crazy weather times, when you have dozens or hundreds or thousands of acres tied up in just one thing. That sounds like really bad stress…and mixed crop tiny farming seems by that measure alone, much…better.

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People in the field update

Lynn and Mike chat

This has been an interesting summer for learning about tiny farming, people, and the ups and downs of growing largely without machines. I’ve had an ongoing debate with Bob over the years about the garden layout, using relatively short, 50′ beds, and hand cultivation, rather than planting long rows and doing most of the between-row weeding by tractor. The tractor approach lets one person, one machine, and some cans of diesel do most of the routine work alone. The hand-grown approach requires lots of labor, and you either settle in and do it yourself with many 10-12 hour days right through the weekfor a good part of the season (as I used to do), or…have help. I’ve found it’s definitely more fun to work with others, BUT, once there’s a bit of a regular crew, there’s the new matter of keeping the group dynamics smooth and making sure everyone’s HAPPY. Long days of often repetitious work, finishing one job only to launch directly into another, and working around the vagaries of the weather—this year is an exceptional case in point—aren’t what most people are used to. And when some of the people live on the farm, for a few days a week like Lynn (chatting with me in the pic), or 24/7 in the case of WWOOFers, things can get even more complicated, like, when is quitting time! At least in the start-up years, tiny farming can be pretty much an all-consuming focus during the growing season, and that’s not something most people really want or can handle, either—you’ve gotta love it! So finding the balance between going all out, and, well, providing a fun taste-of-tiny-farming experience for others, can be a bit of a puzzle. At least, that’s what I’ve found so far. All just another part of the ever-changing TFE…! (Guest photo by Maria)

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CSA share check-in

CSA share at the end of July

Monday morning means a quick small harvest for about half a dozen CSA shares. What’s in each share is my main harvest concern each week. The goal is to maintain the basics, like lettuce, carrots, onions, and also have some exciting new stuff each time. In a year like this one, with slow growth, this can be tough. But we’re doing OK so far. Today’s veggie menu, taken directly from the CSA newsletter: “In your share this week: basil (sweet); bean (Jade); beet (Scarlet Supreme); carrot (Touchon); garlic (Music); green onion (Ramrod); mesclun (all-lettuce); parsley (curly & flat-leaf); potato (Yukon Gold); Swiss chard (Bright Lights).” This season, shares are packed in really nice reusable shopping bags from one of the supermarket chains. They’re big and roomy, decorated with an assortment of veggie and fruit photo blow-ups, cost a buck, and can be replaced free of charge when they wear out. Much cooler than the hundreds of plastic grocery store shopping bags with the farmers’ market logo on ‘em that I used to go through, and we also pass on the bags at cost at the market.

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Three minutes of mayhem

Hail

What at first seemed like a mild three-minute hail storm this afternoon did an impressive amount of crop damage right across the market garden. One of those sudden, short storms that’ve been popping up more or less several times a day built up, rain started to come down quite heavily, this time with a sharp wind, and after a couple of minutes, HAIL joined the action. I went out to check on the trays of seedlings sitting outside the Milkhouse: you could hardly feel the ice pellets on bare arms and the seedlings didn’t seem bothered by the brief pounding. The pellets were pea-sized, in two configurations: smooth, and jagged (the sample in the pic is from a few minutes after the storm ended, with the sharper edges on the rougher pieces already melted off). The hail soon stopped, a few minutes later the rain ended and…sunshine. Great! Not particularly concerned, I went out to inspect (we’ve had small hail a couple of times with absolutely no plant effect that I could notice). Well, SURPRISE!

Hail hits squash

Crops with fairly large leaves, the squash here and more mature beets, had leaf edges sliced and holes punched right through.

Hail hits beets

Snapped stems was the most surprising effect. Here, beets were pummeled…

Hail hits beans

…beans were also quite heavily hit, with severed tops of plants lying in the paths…

Hail hits tomatoes

…and tomatoes took a good hit as well. I didn’t closely examine the developing fruit, like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. It looks like there’s some bruising, but I’ll wait a couple of days when any damage will be easier to spot. Overall, not the end of the world, but a definite setback…not welcome.

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Crowded stand

Crowded farmers' market stand

The farmers’ market stand is getting crowded. Actually, it’s been that way for…seasons. Somehow, plans aside, I haven’t yet gotten around to doubling the table area. It’s about time…

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TFB & the Web

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