Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What's New At The Farm? 6/24/09

I'd like to say that being wet is new but it's not. Sunshine, if it ever comes back, would be new or at least seem like something new. The crops would certainly like some sun and heat and just about everyone I know would like some too. These cloudy, windy and cool days do nothing for most of our crops although the broccoli likes it. The melons and peppers don't like it and the green beans don't either. I'm getting rather tired of it myself.

We finished the bulk of the planting last week, and good thing, as field work is definitely out for a few days. I expect it will be Thursday at the earliest before we can get equipment back into the fields. Luckily we spent much of our time last week on weed control so we're in pretty good shape.

I seeded down several fields last Thursday that we're not going to use this year; just in time I'd say. I had one field we wanted to seed down to buckwheat but it was far too wet and now it's even wetter. Guess we'll hold on to that thought for a while.

In deciding which cover crop to use, there are several parameters that I use when picking a crop to plant. If I want to rot sod down like when I rent a new field, I'll plant buckwheat. Buckwheat grows fast and keeps the soil moist so the sod gets a chance to rot down. Old ground (ground that's been in row crops) gets something else. For example last week when deciding what to plant I wanted a crop that will require little maintenance, adds organic matter and nitrogen back to the soil and grows rapidly this time of year. I wanted a crop that would be thick enough to hold the soil in place in our summer downpours and also outgrow the summer weeds. So I chose annual alfalfa and oats. I seeded the oats to act as a nurse crop for the alfalfa. The oats will protect the tender young alfalfa seedlings while they get established, then we'll mow the oats and let the alfalfa take over. I seed ~ 3 acres on Thursday with this mix and the rain will help it germinate. Once we get some sun, the mix will really take off.

There are so many cover crops to choose from and so many uses that I don't get to plant all that I want to. We'll seed down around twenty acres this year but I usually use two or three different mixes and call it good. One new field will get a crop of buckwheat then probably oats and a legume. Sort of a one two punch; we'll rot some sod with the buckwheat, and then add nitrogen and organic matter with the grain/legume mix. It'll have lots of growth before winter to protect the soil.

Soon it will be time to plant the fall cover crops where we can. I think we'll plant our turnips a little earlier this year, say the middle to end of July. We should get some really nice roots before the cold temps settle in. Although the deer will eat the tops, they prefer the roots. They'll feed on them all winter. Maybe we'll do several plantings to see what the best time frame for getting big roots will be.

Until next week, Brian

Since our photographer had hand surgery, here are some older pictures of things that happen this time of year at the farm. Hopefully we'll have some new ones soon! -Daria, the webmaster

Thinning Onion Plants

Laying Row Cover out to protect plants from insects.

Setting up posts for tomato plants.

Weeding Lettuce

Veggie plants growing in a poly tunnel.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Gardening with Dad

My parents moved several hours south a few years back. They used to live in Portland, so we could get togther quite frequently. Now that they are living in Pennsylvania, I just don't see them as often. Now, while my Dad and I respectively commute home, we have great chats about our gardens.

I've heard about his garden from start to finish and start again over the years. This year, he's had rich soil trucked in from a local mushroom farm (they sell it cheap after growing a batch of mushrooms) to amend his stony clay. He's told me about his garden spacing, how things are too close together, because he doesn't have the heart to thin the baby plants. (I'm not sure if that's learned or genetic, but I have the same soft heart.) He describes how the Scarecrow(R) I got him for Christmas squirts the mourning doves, but isn't set off by the little birds, and how its keeping the pesky but cute cottontail rabbits out of his garden. (Most of the gifts I've given to my folks since they moved south have been from Johnny's; we're lucky to have a generous employee discount.) I get to hear scary stories about the day he almost fainted while cultivating (didn't drink enough water in the heat). I also get to hear about things that make me jealous, like the fact that his tomato plants are already blossoming, or how he had a bumper crop of cucumbers, when I had only a couple of plants survive a rodent invasion on the seeds, which were then weakened by excess rain and little heat.

When I was a kid, my parents had a huge garden. They grew 100 tomato plants, along with cucumbers, peppers, squash, corn (which never survived the relentless Portland raccoons), and other veggies, and my mom spent most of her autumn time canning. It slowly tapered off - from about 1000 square feet, to 750, to 500, to 4 raised beds, to patio tomatoes. In Pennsylvania, my dad has created a fairly large garden (to my mother's chagrin; she thought she was done canning when they moved south, and I had to return a bunch of the stuff she gave me). Gardening keeps my Dad "out of trouble" and very busy. He loves working outdoors and watching things grow and change, as I do, and probably most of you readers, too.

I'm lucky to have my Dad a phone call away. I wish I could see him this weekend, but it's just not in the cards. So I'll give him a call and we'll talk gardening.

Here are some pictures of my own garden this summer. I've been busy the past few weeks, as I'm sure most of you have. I hope you like them!

My garden after tilling in April, photo taken 5/03/09. We spread compost last fall and tilled in even more this spring. Garlic planted last November was left undisturbed in the far left corner. Further back, rhubarb grows and bulbs bloom in the perennial bed.

Irri-Gator irrigation system laid out, tested, and ready to go!

View of garden covered in fabric (from kitchen window, 6/02/09). This was the second go-round of garden fabric; the biodegradable stuff was put down mid-May, and, in some windy, wet weather that followed, pulled up its stakes and blew all over the yard, torn up and inextricably tangled. It went into the compost bin, and I ended up buying rolls of non-biodegradable stuff at Agway, since the biodegradable type was so frustrating to work with.

Garden on June 18th. All seedlings have been put in, and I just need to plant a few other things, some sooner (lettuce, carrots, beets), and some later for fall crops (peas, spinach).

The potatoes seem to be doing quite well in their cans, so far. The cool weather and plentiful rain are helping them grow. Drilling holes for drainage in the cans was a must. I lined them with garden fabric, and added compost, potatoes, more compost, and let them grow. This picture is after they grew about 6-7", and I piled on more bagged Vermont compost. As the plants grow, I'll pile on the compost until it reaches the top of the cans, and the plants will grow out of them. These were planted on Memorial Day (5/25/09), picture taken 6/18/09.

From left to right - the edge of the tomato trellis (a few tiny tomatoes seen next to it; eggplant in that row in the foreground), a row with sweet potatoes in the back (those will be trained to vine toward the onions, rather than the tomatoes; I might even set up a trellis for them), tomatillos in the front, then rows of onions planted in slices in the garden fabric about 8" apart, 6" within each little row, shallots behind the onions, tiny baby leeks behind the shallots. The onions and shallots were planted 5/25/09. Garlic is in the back of the rightmost row, behind more onions. It looks great this year because of the compost we put in last fall - some of the plants are almost 3 feet tall. Scapes will be coming soon! Asparagus flowers in the background, behind the short stone wall. 6/18/09

Bamboo tomato trellis with "ringer" storebought tomato seedlings as well as the small ones I grew myself. Well, the ringers were free or very cheap, and we'll have tomatoes earlier as a result. And, with any luck, the Brandywine one (right side of the trellis) will actually bear fruit before October. Hopefully some July heat will give the smaller plants the boost they'll need - at least we know they're getting plenty of moisture this June! And yes, they probably are planted a little too close together, but I'm crazy for the different heirloom varieties. 6/18/09

Trellises for cucumbers, beans, and squash. Cukes and a couple of melons in the row on the left, beans in the two middle rows (I love my dilly beans!), vining squash in the trellis row on the right, and bush squash in the row to the right of that. Again, they are close together, but some will die. I actually thinned the beans, so, after I determine which cucurbits will actually survive being planted outdoors, I'll thin some of them out. I planted the cukes and squash inside this year, because, in the past, a variety of critters have stolen my seeds. Peppers are planted behind the trellises, closer to the house. The compost bin my husband built from free pallets is on the right in this picture (which is reversed from the rest). In the right foreground is a baby sweet cherry tree. I bought 3 peach trees, 3 cherry trees, and a plum tree (all dwarf trees) from the Arbor Day Society last year, and they all survived the winter; definitely a surprise after a stretch of -20 to -30 degree weather. I'm hoping for fruit within a couple of years, but I'll be patient. Taken 6/18/09.

Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there!!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What's New At The Farm? 6/17/09

The rain has stopped and the sun is out and all is well. After over three inches of rain in the past week, we're all set with irrigation for a while. Now we can concentrate on some other things; like taking care of everything we've planted. We've about finished planting, at least the bulk of it. Here on the farm we don't really get done with planting until October then start again in January so we're usually planting something somewhere at any given time.

Last week we planted squash and pumpkins; trails, workshop and some stockseed increases. This week we'll finish transplanting some of the smaller crops like some growout cucumbers, one small increase and the globe artichokes. We transplanted leeks on Monday this week and boy was it wet!

Jeff's readying the cultivating equipment for as soon as it's dry enough we'll hammer those weeds. Weeds don't stop growing when it's raining. We need a warm dry day with some wind to have the most killing success on weeds. Weeding in the rain is about pointless; the weeds reroot as soon as they're hoed but it does set them back a day or two.

The first hatchlings of robins and killdeer are gone so if they chose to have a second clutch this will be the time. One robin pair made a nest in the Reigi weeder so we couldn't use that when we wanted to. Another one nested in a pile of pallets; when the pallets were moved the nest fell out. Someone moved the nest to the snow plow and she's trying to sit on it. I think I'll move it to someplace she won't feel quite so threatened.

It's always been here at the farm, that we find and flag killdeer nests so no one runs over them. When I first started here I found it very hard if not impossible to find a nest. Now, after much searching throughout the years, they are relatively easy to find. If I watch the bird and see where she's trying to lead me away from I can usually spot the nest. If she's really upset and lets me know it, I know I'm really close. A little hard searching and I usually can find the nest in question. The hatchlings leave the nest immediately after hatching so working around the nest is a minor inconvenience.

Lots of turtles around now; big female snappers looking to lay their eggs. Janika and Rob saw one over the weekend, someone had run it over, that "its shell must have been two feet long". I've seen several large ones on the side of the road but very few that were dead. They looked pretty ugly though.

Along with lots of turtles comes lots of snakes. I went fishing last week and there are always snakes under the boat. We counted five under the boat; four garter snakes and one milk adder. We got them all out, or at least we thought. Once we had launched a small adder came out from underneath the seat. We couldn't coax him out where we could get a hold of him so he went fishing with us; staying up under the seat the whole time. What a story he must have had for his buddies!

Until next week, enjoy the weather.


What's New At The Farm? 6/10/09

We're still planting and transplanting. Last week we transplanted tomatoes; both trials and the workshop along with peppers, eggplant, melons and flowers and herbs. Over 40 thousand transplants went in last week and now they're taking root; they're much happier in the field than in the flats.

This week is the final push to get all the crops in the ground including winter squash, summer squash and pumpkins. Big week! All these crops also need to have row covers installed directly after planting so it looks like we'll be busy.

We have a full crew now; myself and ten people that love farming. You have to love farming and be dedicated to do this type of work. Many people think working on a farm consists of "riding around on a tractor" and "tending the garden whilst getting a suntan". "Riding around on a tractor" is harder than you might think. First you have to pay close attention as to the operation and upkeep of the tractor and the equipment you're using; is everything operating the way it should? Then you really have to pay attention to details and make sure the beds are straight, the plants correctly set and the majority of the weeds killed in the first pass. Weeding is primarily mechanical now so much time is spent cultivating on our assortment of specialty tractors and weed control equipment and finesse is critical.

"Tending the gardens" consists of long days working in often less than ideal conditions planting, thinning, weeding and trellising. Trellising tomatoes takes days and I mean days- many days each season. First there are 1400 steel posts to put in; then a top wire to run; all 23,000 feet of it, then there's the first pruning, the first string, the second pruning, the second string and so on through July and into August. Along with the weekly spraying of fungicides there's constant weed control, critter control and then harvesting, pulling out plants and posts, pulling plastic and seeding down the field before winter. Phew! Tomatoes are a big crop for us but there are many other crops that are at least as labor intensive as them just on a smaller scale.

Ground prep is nearly done; we have one small field left to do. What fields, or parts thereof, that don't get planted to row crops will get cover crops planted. We have ~ 35 acres to go into cover crops this year; lots of oats and red clover along with a fair amount of annual alfalfa and some buckwheat. I've also got some other crops to seed like sweet orange cane, Berseem clover and some pasture mixes I am anxious to see growing.

We rented a new field this year which looks really good. The soil is deep and rich and rock free. It should be fairly early ground as it's on a hill. It's right on my way home so I can keep an eye on it and keep watch for deer and other pests. We rented five acres but there's more available so in the future we could expend the field by up to ten acres or so. We're going to plant some winter squash over there this year so we'll see how this field performs.

We irrigated last Friday as it was getting dry in some areas of the farm, especially in the main trial field where we have many small seeded crops. As we cultivate and weed we lose valuable moisture which needs to be replaced. The crops enjoyed the shower and rain over the weekend only supplemented it.

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


What's New At The Farm 6/03/09

Transplanting, planting and more transplanting!

This week, so far, we've transplanted over ten thousand peppers, twelve thousand tomatoes and tons of flowers and herbs. Next week will see the remainder of the transplanting with squash, pumpkins and melons to name a few. Then all we'll have to do is take care of it; piece of cake.

We got out new tractor Monday this week. Well, new to us but not new. It's a Ford 1710 cultivating tractor with all the bells and whistles like: power steering, 3 point hitch, a canopy and a full set of cultivators. It probably even has brakes! It's a three cylinder diesel and purrs like a kitten. I'm anxious to try it out but haven't had a chance to do more than look at it in passing this week. It's hard to find good cultivating tractors in the northeast as people just don't seem to want to part with them. This one came from a friend in New Brunswick but originally was sold by a dealer in New Hampshire. Long way around I'd say.

The weather continues to be cold and wet. The plants don't like it. The crew doesn't like it and neither do I. It seems like we had May weather in April and April weather in May this spring. A couple of weeks ago it was 31 degrees one morning and in the nineties the next day. I hope it evens out after a while.

The fields are filling up fast with greenery and it looks pretty nice after a long and white winter. The leaves are fully out and all the birds have returned and are raising families now. The geese have hatched and are grazing heavily now. Although with the new deer fence at work we haven't seen the usual goose family. I saw a pair of geese and five goslings at the pond in our front yard last week. I assume they walked up from the beaver bog for some fresh grass on the lawn.

Short article this week; I'm headed back out into the field.

Until next week, Brian

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Helping our friends at Wentworth School

The Wentworth School in Scarborough, ME has shared their newsletter and some photos of their garden with us. We were able to help them out with some seeds through our giving program. Enjoy this fun update!

The Wentworth School
Garden Newsletter

Happy spring! The Wentworth School Garden has been taking shape with work inside and outside. The winter months were spent on lessons about the parts of plants and their functions, experiments with different seeds and research on the history of different vegetables and fruits. Amy Witt from the UME Extension Office did a presentation and introduced the students to many uncommon foods in our supermarkets.

Spring finally begins!

Spring was welcomed by the bulbs that were replanted by the work team in October. Tulips, daffodils, crocuses and grape hyacinths gave us needed inspiration through the rainy beginning of the season. We wanted to start the garden seeds in the middle of April, but the kids wouldn't have seen the beginning growth over vacation. So we set up the lights and seed-starting stands (donated by Lowe's) in the classroom at the end of April. The students planted a variety of seeds, including zucchini, cucumbers, zinnia and sunflowers donated by Johnny's Selected Seeds. We have had fabulous results! The kids have learned to separate and choose the strongest seedlings for the garden. We have also planted lettuce, Swiss chard, beets, and radishes in two of our cold frames. Griffin Greenhouse Supply donated the polycarbonate for the covers, and Robbie Alden volunteered his time to construct them. We planted peas and added branch teepees as their supports. Now we are preparing the plants for the outdoors. We will be ready to plant outside next week!

We are also hoping to plant potatoes in whiskey barrels. If you know of any that are reasonably priced or not being used, please email Joanne.

We are now thinking ahead to the summer. The most exciting time in the garden will be during July, August and September. As requested in an earlier email and in Wolftracks, need your help in a variety of roles. We would like for families to volunteer to be in charge of the site for a week. So far, we have three families that have offered- thank you! If you are interested or would like to find out more information, email Joanne @ jmlstuart AT myfairpoint DOT net.

We also are looking for volunteers to teach lessons from the Master Apprentice Gardener curriculum this fall and winter and help with fundraising. We're looking forward to hearing from you!

Enjoy the photos! Please come and visit!

Jen Winger and Joanne Stuart

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Horror!

It's under the tree, looking out at you. Ready to destroy anything in his path, and make your life miserable.

Anything green, that is. Anything tender, growing in your garden, whether it be a prized perennial or a delicious lettuce. From alfalfa to zucchini, it will eat it all.

Hide the green beans and put the kids to bed! It's coming!!

Yes, it's a groundhog. And it's ready to make every gardener's life a living you-know-what. But isn't he cute?

Quite a prime specimen, this Marmota monax (aka whistle pig or woodchuck).

And it's safe, here at Johnny's. It lives outside our office building, far from the farm, and nibbles on grass and leaves. It is generally entertaining, and not a pest at all. We've come to enjoy its company, in fact.

And it's clearly eating well.