Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What's New at the Farm? Reflecting on 2010 growing season

Now that the year is almost done, I like to reflect back on the past growing season. What worked and what didn't, and how to make things better for the upcoming growing season.

We had some great plans at work this year and most of them worked out well; well enough to try them again this year.

One thing we did was to hire three part-time people to work strictly in our tomato breeding project. This project takes up over three acres and there's lots to do including field prep, transplanting, and crop maintenance. The Farm Crew does all the prep work including the transplanting out into the field and the setting of the trellis posts and the top wire. The "Tomato Ladies" perform all the crop trellising and pruning which takes up most of the summer months. We currently hire high school or college students for these positions as they start in mid June and we wrap up the project by the middle of August. By having these dedicated people focusing their efforts on the tomatoes, we can continue our other tasks and not fall behind on any projects which can easily happen during the growing season.

Another thing we did this year was to expand our use of floating row covers (FRC). We've been using FRC since the 1980s and continue to expand their use. We now use them on all the vine crops for added heat and insect control. We use them on all the brassicas for flea beetle and woodchuck control. We also use them on our sweet and dry corn for crow exclusion. Other uses include overwintering crops in the field and keeping bees and pollinating insects out of crops we don't want cross pollinated. Improvements for next year include a better way to perform weed control with the row covers on.

Small improvements add up like transplanting the onion trial versus our usual direct seeding. We have always direct seeded the onions then spent lots of time weeding and thinning. In the 2010 growing season we started all the onions in the greenhouse then transplanted them into the field -- much better! We didn't spend nearly so much time working in the onions this year and that freed us up for other things. A word of caution however, if you transplant your onions instead of direct seeding, start scouting for thrips a couple of weeks earlier than usual.

We also improved our seed production processes this year with a conveyor for squash and pumpkins and chipper modifications to improve the harvesting of small lots of tomato seeds. We continue to streamline our processes with some shop projects this winter, which we'll use next harvest season. Jeff has designed and is building a smaller seed dryer so we'll have two dryers available for drying of seed. We can sometimes get backed up with only one dryer. Our yields have increased on many seed productions and we continue to get better predicting them. Look for subtle changes for 2011.

Until next week, enjoy the holidays.

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