Friday, November 12, 2010

What's new at the Farm? Harvest near completion

The mild fall weather continues and many crops look surprisingly good considering the date. Ample rain has fallen over the past month so we shouldn't have any concerns about lack of groundwater going into next season. Not now, anyway. The view from my office window is of fall lettuce, fall spinach, fall greens and the fall carrot trial. Carrots were dug late last week and look great! There will be lots of fine meals with them as a guest.

The seed processing is done; at least the outside part. Kelly is busy running our array of seed cleaning machines. Several people on the farm crew are working on the bean tables in the wet and cold parts of the week. A bean table consists of a hopper that dispenses seeds onto a conveyor which are then examined and the damaged and broken seeds, along with any pulp and stems, are removed by hand. A labor intensive job for sure, but we end up with the cleanest seed possible.

The only crop we have left to harvest is Sweet Annie. This is one of the easiest crops from which to gather seed. We start it as seedlings in the greenhouse in April, transplant them out to the field in May on plastic and forget about them until the end of November. Once the stems are ready to harvest, we'll cut them off and spread them out on row covers in the greenhouse. After a couple of weeks of drying, we can thresh them. After seed cleaning, they'll head off to the Winslow facility for storage and packaging. Then the harvest for seed will be officially over.

And then we can start looking forward to next year. Well, no, actually we are planning next year's crops and locations now. We predict what we're going to need to meet sales for the next couple of years then decide who is going to grow what and where. No easy task here.

Our Production Coordinator, Mike Brown, is instrumental in finding growers to grow our crops and I work closely with him in placing productions locally and here on Johnny's farm. Growing crops for seed is different than growing for market as seed requires a longer season and , more often than not, growing aids to insure we get mature seed.

Growing aids include plastic mulch and floating row covers. These are instrumental in insuring we harvest high quality seed. Plastic mulch heats the soil and helps control the weeds. Floating row covers heat and protect the plants and keep the insects at bay. They work in conjunction giving the transplants every opportunity to succeed in their quest to produce viable offspring. All our squash, pumpkins, melons, cucumbers, and some tomatoes get this treatment. All the peppers and most of the tomatoes get plastic mulch, and our brassicas and corn get row covers.

Row covers work great in keeping pests at bay. They discourage vertebrate pests like the crows from the corn; woodchucks out of the brassicas; and turkeys from eating the cucumbers. Row covers work equally well in the battle against invertebrate pests like flea beetles, potato beetles, and striped cucumber beetles. They also work well for catching seed from seed pods that would otherwise fall onto the ground and be lost; like in the case of the Sweet Annie above.

Floating rows covers, after their initial use can be used for other projects after their insect exclusion tasks have been completed and are no longer as insect proof as they once were. They have many uses other than protecting the crop. They can store things like garlic – hanging from nails to keep dry. And they can be used solely for adding heat to overwintering crops where insect exclusion isn't a priority. I'm sure you can find uses for used and holey row covers that I haven't thought of – and at least some of those "yard ghosts" before Halloween.

Until next week, Brian.

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