Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What's New At The Farm? 11/4/09

This week we've been involved in pulling miles and miles of plastic. What more can I say? Well, I suppose I can elaborate on this subject somewhat. Over the years we have increased our use of plastic to the point that most of our crops are grown on it. This means we have lots to pull in the fall, before the ground freezes. Peppers, tomatoes, melons, squash and pumpkins get planted on plastic as well as cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant and okra. The crops do better and weeding is generally reduced by using plastic. This also means we have to buy, install and pull up more poly than ever before. It's important to get all the poly; often strips are left in the field which clog up cultivators and other field equipment in subsequent years.

Pulling plastic up is never a fun job. If I had my druthers I would prefer to pull it in the spring. The weather is warm as is the soil. Add a gentle breeze and you have the recipe for a good day in the spring when you'd rather be nowhere else. However, if the spring is wet and cold and field work may be late, pulling plastic is just one more task we don't really have time for. In the fall it is the final task that is accomplished after a long and tough growing season.

Over the years we've tried many different methods of pulling plastic; to speed up the project while getting all the poly out of the field. The first method was pulling by hand; this method basically sucks. It's fine if you have only a few hundred feet but we're talking thousands of feet. The next method was to use the rockpicker with the gate open. The rockpicker will pull up the poly, run it up the conveyor and deposit it out the back. Better than pulling by hand but it had its drawbacks too. Often it wouldn't go up the conveyor smoothly and instead land in a big bunch of plastic, soil, weeds and plant matter in the field - lots of fun pulling that apart.

Next we bought a plastic puller. This was a three point hitch apparatus which operated by pulling two shears through the soil lifting the poly up and depositing on top of the soil; that was the theory anyways. More often than not it would leave large amounts of soil and plant material on the plastic as well so it wasn't much better than the first method.

While in Aroostook several years ago, talking with a grower, he mentioned he used a potato digger to pull plastic. I had always wanted one for digging potatoes and Jerusalem Artichokes. I found one locally for the right price and purchased it. After installing a new bed chain, we're off and pulling poly. We can now pull 5-6 acres (that's upwards of 45,000 feet) of poly a day without too much of a problem. The digger pulls all the poly up, including the strips and the drip tape, and lays it on the soil surface where the field crews simply walks along and gather it up. Once the poly is pulled and piled up on the ends of the field, it is picked up with the loader and dumped into the dumpster. Much better! The only issue is the occasional breakage of the bed chain but we've become experts at fixing this in a hurry.

After pulling plastic our last task of the year is chisel plowing the fields. It's too late to plant cover corps now so we chisel plow following the contours of the fields. Chisel plowing makes deep furrows in the soil preventing winter erosion. The field is left with these deep ridges until next spring. Once they freeze they won't allow water to run down the hills, but rather hold the water allowing it to permeate the soil. It's not as good as having a lush cover crop planted there but does keep erosion to a minimum.

The last of the crops are being harvested now. Leeks, Brussels sprouts and the last of the onions are being evaluated and harvested. The Kale and Collards will stay in place for harvesting through the winter. The poly tunnel has been planted with lettuces and mixed greens and will sprout and grow some this fall, then really take off next spring; nothing better than fresh greens in March and April to get the season off to an early start.

Until next week, Brian

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