Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What's new at the farm? 5/20/09

This week, after some much appreciated rain, sees lots of activity in the fields once again. The plastic is being laid for the tomatoes (lots of tomatoes) and ground is being prepared for pepper transplanting which takes place next week as well. Lots of transplanting next week; around 35,765 transplants give or take a few. We should easily be able to do 10 thousand a day and still perform ground prep and plastic laying at the same time.

Seed production crops transplant pretty easily, especially tomatoes. The transplanter makes a hole and pours in a cup or so of water with a transplant solution mixed into it. Two people riding on the back of the transplanter grab a transplant and push it down into the hole. As the plant is pushed into the hole the fertilized water sucks down around the plant, pulling the surrounding soil around the root ball. A couple of days to get over the shock of being plucked from the tray they grew up in to being crammed into a hole in the field, and they'll be off and running, eager to make seed before the season gets over.

Some crops transplant a whole lot better than others. Tomatoes are easy; you pretty much can't kill them. They like to be buried deeply so you can't plant them too deep. Even if you inadvertently break off some growth they will regrow although not as well as if they hadn't been damaged in the first place. Melons on the other hand really don't like to have their roots disturbed, at all. We have to be really careful with melons as they break easily and will die if broken. Squash and pumpkins are somewhere in between. While you can't handle them roughly like tomatoes, you can plant them quickly; quicker than melons anyways.

"Dropping" plants is the act of pulling the correct plants from the trays and placing them near the hole they belong in so the farm crew can transplant them. Dropping is kind of a particular job as the right plant must go in the right hole. You have to focus on what you're doing while keeping an eye on what's going on around you. One slip and the wrong plant is pulled; sometimes a easy fix but other times not. In trials and breeding you usually know how many plants you have per variety so you can keep count as you move along. Speed, paired with accuracy, is essential. You want to drop plants fast enough so that people aren't standing around waiting, but you also want not to get too far ahead as the holes will dry out. This can be a challenging job, especially when you have six or seven hundred varieties.

In seed production you only have to make sure the plants are all the same kind; plant until you either run out of plants or run out of space in the field and you're done with that variety, then on to the next one.

When transplanting we usually have one person dropping plants, two people planting them, one tractor driver and one person putting stakes in and getting flats for the puller. Then there's another person hauling plants from the greenhouse to the field; that's usually me. The transplanter holds 100 gallons transplant solution which will transplant around 1500 plants so they must return to the pond fairly frequently to fill up with water. This gives the field crew a few minutes to walk through the field and check on the plants they just planted. Every once in a while they'll be a plant lying on the plastic that got missed by the planters. That's the one I usually find and have a comment like "What, you didn't like this one"?

All in all transplanting is a fast paced activity that demands a certain amount of finesse. It's also done once the weather has warmed up so, unless it's raining, is a pretty pleasant job here at the farm. By the way, rainy days are the best days for transplanting, as the plants enjoy it and there isn't much else to do here when it's wet.

Until next week, I'll be in the field.


What's new at the farm? 5/13/09

The farm is abuzz with activity this week. We have an almost full farm crew (one more next week) and plenty of work ahead of us. The fields have taken a whole new look as plastic is being laid; transplanting and direct seeded crops are in and up. The weather, although wet last week, has cooperated this spring. We have more ground prepared earlier than I can remember. The lettuce and endive have been transplanted into the field, the carrots and onions are up as are the peas and some flowers. Plenty of direct seeding next week as corn goes in along with greens and just lots of small trials.

We did a few things different this spring and it's really made quite a difference. The first thing I did was to develop a spreadsheet detailing the field location of each crop and details like whether it needed plastic or not, drip tape requirements and placement, and the number of beds needed. When a field has been prepped there's a map detailing where everything goes and ground prep instructions for each crop. We now have plastic laid for the melons and watermelons, which by the way, have just come up in the greenhouse - we're a ways away from transplanting these. The plastic is now being laid for the tomatoes which are two weeks away from transplanting.

A second thing we did this year was to bed all beds in a field at one time. Like for instance in field 1, which we call the main trial field, we bedded all 43 beds at once. As the beds were planted down the field more were already made up so we didn't have to stop what we were doing just to make a couple of beds. If we get some rain all the better. We can than stale bed the remaining beds are be that much ahead of the game. Stale bedding is preparing the soil for planting, waiting for weeds to germinate, kill them then plant. It takes out the first and usually most densely populated flush of weeds for the season.

Third we have several new people to the farm doing all kinds of tasks. Matt's been making beds until he's nearly cross eyed and Mike Bowman is laying countless miles of plastic. Jeff and Nick have been spreading fertilizer and doing the initial ground prep along with rotovating and fixing things. Jeff keeps very bust fixing all the things that get broke in the normal course of farming. I get out in the field now and then, mostly adjusting things.

We got our new harrows delivered Wednesday this week. They are a brand new set of Land Pride harrows from Union Farm Equipment. The old ones were at least forty years old and have definitely seen better days. The new ones do a lot of things the old one couldn't anymore, like stay up when going down the road. Nothing quite like having a fourteen foot set of harrows drop onto the pavement coming back from a remote field; wakes you right up! And the new ones don't sway either. The old ones would start to sway at around 15 miles per hour so you had two choices: slow down and take forever to get somewhere or let them sway. Must have been quite a sight if you were in a car meeting a wildly swaying set of harrows that greatly outweigh you along with what you're driving. Imagine how big those eyes might have been.

Until next week, Brian

What's New At The Farm? 5/06/09

As the field work continues the greenhouses are rapidly filling with seedling awaiting their mass exodus into the fields. Thousands of tomatoes and peppers fill the benches to near capacity; makes me wonder if we have room for everything. Planting this week will be onions and carrots in the field and melons in the greenhouse. And lots of "bumping" up. Bumping up is taking tiny seedlings and transplanting them into larger containers, usually planting flats. By picking out the best seedlings, we know we'll have a good stand -sort of like seeding heavy then thinning.

The field work continues thanks to cooperative weather. The plastic from last season has been pulled and now we are working on getting the ground ready for this year's crops. Compost and organic fertilizer has been applied to most fields and worked in. This year we're using some pelletized chicken manure on some of our outlying fields. It's relatively easy to apply and work in. The supply and price of compost makes me lean towards supplying at least some of our fields with other nutrient sources.

The new bird houses I installed a couple of weeks back have stirred much interest in the swallows' community. Most of them have attracted occupants as they get underway raising their young ones. I found that by staining the houses with a solid gray stain they readily move into them; otherwise it would often take a year for their interest to peak. I also face the houses either north or east to keep the hot rays of the summer sun from overheating them. I've got twelve new ones at work and a couple for my garden. We should have lots of swallows near the garden as there is a beaver bog close by. At Johnny's we have an irrigation pond to attract them.

I have yet to venture into my garden, other than dumping lots of piles of manure from my henhouses. Normally I'd be half done planting once the blackflies come out but I seem to be a little behind this year. I'd like to get it plowed before it gets much later in the season and at least get peas, onions and potatoes in. We've still got onions, carrots, potatoes and beets in storage from last year. I'm going to start some seedlings here at work this week for my home garden and transfer them to my greenhouse as soon as they're up. I think I'll start some summer squash and transplant them into large pots in the greenhouse so I can get a jump on the season

Although summer is definitely on its way, we still get nights cold enough to warrant starting a fire in the wood stove. On these nights we get together a pot of soft veggies from the root cellar and cook them down for the hens. They love them; potatoes are their favorite! We'll spend about a week feeding them out and they certainly love their "treats".

The fiddleheads are but a memory now. With the hot temps we had last week they are all a foot tall now. Let's see; we picked on Sunday last week, picked again on Thursday and by Sunday this week they've had it. Short season this year! I've still got half a five gallon bucket in the fridge I'm saving for pickling.

I'm headed out to the field, have a good week.


What's New At The Farm? 4/29/09

Fiddleheads and blackflies; sure signs of spring's arrival! The arrival of the blackflies seems to coincide with when the fiddleheads are ready. We checked our favorite patch last Sunday and, sure enough, the fiddlies were ready and the blackflies were just coming out. We thought we could get enough for a supper or two and wound up with a five gallon pail full. Lugging a pail brimming with fiddlies for half a mile uphill wasn't as much fun as we thought it would be. The streams are low now, and with the warmer temps on their way, I don't think the fiddlehead season will be long. Most of the ferns we saw on Sunday were just coming up, but some were a foot tall already. If we go down Thursday or Friday we should be able to get a goodly amount before they go by.

As for preserving them we tried blanching and freezing them one year without a tremendous amount of success. They were alright, a little slimy, but nothing I'd write home about. My neighbor Bill told us how his mother preserves them: she washes and packs them in quart mason jars, then covers them with Italian dressing and stores them in the fridge. They're surprisingly good this way and they'll keep until the fresh ones are back again. I have other friends that can them but I'm not found of canned anything; if I can't freeze or pickle it I'm not going to be eating it out of season.

On our way to harvest fiddleheads last weekend we were privileged to watch the display four bald eagles were putting on. I assume they were looking for nesting sites but perhaps they were just enjoying the windy day. Two adults and two immature were in the area for the two hours we were there. Saw one of the adults on Monday morning as I was checking out one of our fields nearby.

On the farm we're busy starting tomatoes in the greenhouses; lots of them. The greenhouses will be brimming full within a couple of weeks with seedlings of all different species and varieties. Tomatoes, peppers, squash, pumpkins and lots of other crops will be started early in the greenhouses so they'll be ready once warm weather arrives to stay. Direct seedings in the field will start this week with potatoes, peas, onions and salad greens. Next week will bring carrots and some other crops along with more greenhouse plantings.

We've lots of crops this year and it looks like nearly every field at the farm will be full this year. And most of the fields we rent/own will be full too. I think tomatoes take up the most space of any crop. After a couple of years using a modified basket weave trellising system we're going back to the wire and string system. That's where we drive steel fence stakes in every 20 feet, run a wire across the tops of the stakes and run strings from the wire to the base of the tomato plant. From there we train the vine to follow the strings. By using a combination of tomato clips and Ty'Mups we can train the tomatoes in short order. Of course the drawback is that uses well over a thousand steel fence stakes.

Until next week, Brian

What's New At The Farm? 4/22/09

With the extraordinarily dry and warm weather we've had in the past two weeks we've been able to complete much field work ahead of schedule. We've pulled all the poly at the Albion farm and about half of the Benton field; a field we had several acres in to start with. Several fields are still too wet to get into so we'll wait on those. We've spread compost and plowed fields 1, 5, 7, 8,9,11, and the field across from the farm all in Albion. We've chisel plowed 11 and 14 North along with the Higgins field; an isolation field we have nearby. Field planting starts in a couple of weeks; we'll be ready barring and weeks of rain.

It's hard to believe we've completed so much ground prep so early in the season. Many years it would be now before we could get into the highest and driest fields, and this year we're able to get on some of the not so high and dry fields. I'm not saying it's dry everywhere; some fields still have standing water on them or in the road that leads to them - not a good place to drive a tractor, but many fields are workable now.

The greenhouses are filling up fast. We moved the breeding peppers into greenhouse # 2 last Friday: they will get bumped up into bigger containers this week. Lots of seedlings to be bumped up and lots of seeding to do. Crops we have growing are broccoli, Chinese cabbage, lettuce, endive and lots of flowers. The swallows are back in force, checking out the bird houses. The poly tunnel will get greens and lettuces planted this week. Tomatoes will be the next big crop to seed.

On Monday I had a pair of Blue birds (yes, bluebirds) outside my office window. They were checking out a bird house near my office but the swallows were harassing them so I don't know if they'll hang around or not. I think most of the migratory birds must be back by now. I saw two Great Blue Herons over the weekend and I think they round out my list of birds coming back. I've heard loons on the pond behind the house and seen lots of hawks and a few turkey vultures. Tom turkeys are strutting their stuff to a few interested hens.

Since last week, I've spotted more than a few woodchucks; one living in the stone wall on the north end of field 11. We'll have to live trap him and give him a new home before we plant that field. I like to transport them to a place of relative safety; one like the abandoned field near my house. They'll have plenty of friends there as I've released many chucks there over the past few years.

And I saw the first snake on Monday this week; an eight inch long Milk Adder in the workshop. They've been hanging around there ever since I've worked here but this is the earliest I've ever seen them. I put him down next to the greenhouse; he'll be fine. We found a snake skin a couple of years ago from what I assume is his mother; nearly four feet long; a big one she is. We've seen her a couple of times, coming in the shop where it's cool on a hot day must surely feel good to her.

Blackflies will be here shortly as will the fiddle heads. We checked at one of our "secret" spots on Saturday but there's no sign of fiddlies, give ‘em a couple of weeks they'll be up. The water is really low in the stream next to our spot; much lower than it normally is, so whether or not that has any bearing on the ferns is anyone's guess. Nothing like a good mess of fiddlies to herald in spring.

Until next week, Brian