Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What's New At The Farm - 9/24/2008

The harvest has started and the tomato workshop was about the first big project to start with. The tomato breeding project covered over 2 ½ acres this year; by far the biggest one we have ever had. Kelly, Mike Bowman and Elisa are busy in the Albion lab squishing tomatoes. I wonder if they'll like them after this project is done. The whole hillside is alive with the reds and golds of ripened tomatoes, awaiting the rotovator when their time comes; it'll be a few days anyway.

Kelly and Mike took soil samples last week from all the fields we use; whether we own or rent them. This will help us determine which fields to use for which crop next year. It will tell us which fields are deficient in nutrients and what to add to correct any problems. It will also tell us what the organic matter content is, which in turn, tells us how much nitrogen will be available and what the water holding capacity is. All useful things when growing crops.

Most of the open ground has been planted to cover crops by now and are in various stages of growing now. One field had cowpeas and Sudan grass in it; it looked so bad after a light frost we plowed in under and will reseed it this week to rapeseed. We planted a field down back to rapeseed about three weeks ago and it's thriving. It’s about eight inches tall right now and will enjoy some rain this weekend.

Speaking of cover crops that like cool weather, we have several patches of turnips planted around Albion this year. Three local farmers are testing the turnips for winter grazing for the resident deer population. Turnips are one of the best foods for attracting deer. And, yes, it's legal. It's legal to plant crops for deer and then hunt those crops but it is illegal to bait deer, i.e. placing apples or acorns in piles in the woods, or tossing pumpkins out into a field for the sole purpose of attracting deer. Deer feeding is becoming increasingly popular. Many people buy pellets to feed the deer in the winter, when they could just as easily grow turnips for them. We'll see how it works out; at least we should get some good pictures.

We've got a couple of really light frosts here on the farm now. One last Thursday night dropped the leaves on the pumpkins and damaged some of the basil. The frost was real spotty and we probably didn't have to irrigate, but we did anyway. We had 30 degrees here on the farm and 27 degrees at one of isolation fields; that dropped some leaves! Basil and Sudan grass are really susceptible to cold temps so we use them as indicators of how cold it actually was. Cowpeas are another crop that is very susceptible to the cold as well.

Until next week, enjoy the sun and warm temps, Brian.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What's New On The Farm 9/17/2008

The hint of fall is in the air; what with the temperatures cooling down, the leaves starting to turn and everybody’s working on their woodpiles. The remaining crops are bearing fruit like crazy and harvesting them will soon be in full swing. Hillary has started harvesting some of the tomato breeding workshop and also some “animal blighted” squash. Even with the fence some critters continue to get through and feed on the squash; mostly squirrels I think.

The fall colors of the leaves are similar to the colors in the tomato workshop. The palate of reds and yellows from a distance looks like leaves in the field. Blight has dropped many of the leaves of the tomatoes so about all you can see in places are the thousands of fruits waiting for their fate.

The Common Ground fair is this weekend; I don’t plan on going this year. I don’t go every year anyways and I went last year but I think I may go and help set up. I’ll get a chance to look around a bit and see if I see anyone I know. It’s so busy at the fair that if I see someone to talk to they don’t have time anyways. I’m going to do what everyone that’s not going to the fair is doing; I’ll be on firewood detail.

It’s been quite a summer! I’m kind of sad to see it go despite the hot and dry days that made it hard working in the field. Of course three weeks of rainy, crappy weather didn’t help matters. Most of the crops did well despite the weather, most except the melons. They were poor at best; too much water when they’re setting fruit and they become pale and tasteless. We plowed them under well before we usually do.

One of the best things about fall is the food. Yes, freshly harvested root crops, squash and the last of the greenbeans and summer squash make for pleasant eating this time of year. The onions and garlic have been harvested and are awaiting the pot. The Brussels Sprouts, chard, beets and a few potatoes are some of the only things remaining in the garden. The poly tunnel is getting a crop of salad greens planted so we’ll have some for the staff lunch in October. So, now is the time to gorge ourselves before the frosts of autumn reduce our gardens to a pile of black and rotting vegetation. Picture this and then picture a garden tilled in with a cover crop planted on it; your choice.

Until next week, Brian.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What's New At The Farm? 9/10/2008

We’ve got some rain; just about time as things were getting a bit dry. We received two and a half inches at the farm over the weekend. I thought it was a nice warm rain as I decided to fix the gutters on the house about the time it started raining really hard. That’s one of those things you never think about until it needs to be done right there and then.

Farming continues here on the farm. The squash are ripening and the pumpkins are turning yellow. The peppers and tomatoes are also ripening at an increased pace now. Mike Bowman sprayed the tomatoes this week; it’ll probably be one of the last times this season.

The turkeys are still getting in. I saw a family group of about 12 and six jakes Monday morning on my weekly walk around the farm. We didn’t put 2 bys under the gates because we don’t know exactly where they’re getting in. Had we out 2 bys in it would have prevented the foxes and other small animals from getting in as well. The turkeys won’t do any damage now and pretty much stay down back, feeding in the cover crops we have in the ground. I think they’re flying over the fence anyways.

Speaking of animals around the farm I was thinking the other day of what I have seen around the farm in the past 25 years. Saw a moose once; it was around 1990; a cow moose standing on Rob’s front lawn mid-morning. Rob and the directors were having their weekly meeting on Rob’s office with the door closed – it was well known at the time that this wasn’t a good time to interrupt. I did anyways. Everyone came out and watched the moose amble down along the fence row until it was down over the hill and out of site.

Although we used to see a lot of deer sign around the farm – before the fence- we seldom saw any deer. Sometimes early in the morning we’d see one or two feeding in the pumpkin patch but not often did we see them in the fields; too much activity I guess.
We had a couple in field nine some year back that would stop tractors by standing there watching us. They’d move when they got around to it; no hurry.

We’ve had a catch and release program for many years now and have caught all the usual animals including skunks, raccoons, porcupines, squirrels and the occasional cat . All have been released unharmed somewhere in Albion or another neighboring town, except of course the cat which was released at the place we caught him. He didn’t waste any time hanging around to thank us once we opened the cage door. I’ve taken many squirrels and chipmunks home over the years but they don’t seem to hang around. I have red squirrels out back and I don’t think they all get along that well.

Until next week, Brian.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The good, the bad, and the ugly

For the sake of pleasantry, I will start with the bad and ugly, and leave you with the good.

In the next picture, you can see both the adult form and the larva of the black sheep of the ladybug family, the Mexican Bean Beetle. Originally from the central plains of the United States and Mexico, these beetles have clearly adapted just fine to the Maine climate. Clearly I didn't get my organic beetle control spray on in time, and they took advantage of my lenient nature. Notice how the leaf they are on has been reduced to the lacy veins. I ended up buying beans to make my annual supply of dilly beans.

From bottom left to right, adult and larva of Mexican Bean Beetle.

Now on to the good! At least, it's good to me. I planted some fennel last year, and it never did much of anything, so I left it and it regrew this year. Of course, since it is biennial, it flowered and did not form the large delicious bulb for which I grew it. The flowers did attract something though: black swallowtails. I had four caterpillars on my two fennel plants at one point, and I am hoping the three I could not find when I took these pictures wandered off to form crysalises. These caterpillars will feed on most plants in the carrot family (aka Apiaceae). Why I never see them on the Queen Anne's Lace I let grow wild in my perennial bed is a mystery, but I'm glad they are enjoying the fennel. If you don't mind letting a few veggies go, these pretty butterflies are nice to have in the garden.

Caterpillars like licorice too!

Some more good... the Super Chile plants I started from seed back in late March seem to be fulfilling their name quite well. If they are as tasty as they are prolific I'll be all set!

My pepper plants haven't looked like this before!

And one more picture... of pending tomatoes. Will they come to fruition? Well, at least I can enjoy the picture.

Here's hoping for a late frost!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What's New At The Farm - 9/03/2008

I'm back………………….

All is well on the farm; the remaining crops look good, pests and weeds have been controlled and now we advance on to harvesting.

I went for a tour (self guided) Tuesday morning upon my return from vacation. I could find little that needed to be done but still found a page and a half of what I called "Fun things to do around the farm". Well, in reality, many of them aren't fun, but they're not that bad either. Mostly things to do that fit in the "If we had time" category. Things like:

Installing padlocks on the fuel tanks – with the price of fuel this is probably a good idea.

Seeding down grass on the area they dug up for the well and to run the water pipes

Stenciling the greenhouses with numbers so everyone knows which greenhouse we're talking about when we say Greenhouse 3. And by stenciling the corresponding numbers on the fuel tanks we can track how much it costs to heat each house. The fuel delivery companies can put the greenhouse fuel tank number on the bill instead of getting a fuel bill marked "Greenhouse behind house"; we have none there now.

We're going to install pressure treated planks under some of the gates to discourage the turkeys. I saw at least a dozen on my walk around the farm yesterday. They sneak in under the fence where the gates are. They were sampling melons when I happened upon them. I don't think they're intelligent enough to fly over the fence to get in, not at least a whole flock anyways.

There's a little bit of seeding down to do although I must say Kelly and crew did a tremendous amount of cover crop seeding last week. They seeded around thirty acres in my absence. A few more acres and about everything we have that could be seeded will be seeded.

The next couple of months will have us doing more projects like the ones above, then we'll move on to more fun things; harvesting, pulling plastic, and grinding spent crops. A few more fields to seed and we'll be closer to laying the farm to rest for another year.

Until next week, Brian