Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Thinking spring, sling bags, and tomatoes

The winter continues with temps barely reaching out of the 20s. The woodpile is looking pitifully small even after adding two cords from my neighbor. A couple of inches of snow bonded to the ice at least makes the walking better. One more week of February and we’ll be into March; then I know spring isn’t far behind.  March brings maple syrup, warm days and cool nights. The birds, who’ve been gone since last fall, start filtering back.

Planning for the upcoming season takes up most of my time now. Greenhouse three will be the first one started early next month. We had the furnace cleaned and serviced yesterday so that’s ready. The potting soil is here as are many of the supplies we’ll need to get things going. Last year we used nine 2-yard bulk bags of potting mix; this year I ordered 12.

Bulk bags, commonly called sling bags, are large woven plastic bags that can be picked up with a bucket tractor and put where it is wanted, in our case in front of the greenhouses. Using these bags eliminates all those small bags that require constant restocking and disposal of the empty bags. Sling bags can also hold fertilizer so again small bags are no longer needed. These bags of fertilizer will hold either 1,000 or 2,000 pounds of fertilizer and can be hoisted above the fertilizer spreader and dumped in all at once. After their initial use, sling bags can be used to hold all kinds of things. I know one grower who used to harvest his winter squash into one; he hung it over the bucket on the tractor and drove through the field; the farm workers tossed the fruit into the bag. Of course these fruit were for seed so the rough handling didn’t make much of a difference. For eating quality you would want them undamaged so they store longer.

They can also be useful for storing used plastic and row covers before going to the landfill; it’s just a giant trash bag. I supposed their use is only limited by ones’ imagination and the ability to handle them. They commonly arrived on pallets so a forklift or pallet jack is useful when moving them. I’m sure there are lots of uses for them; if you know of one please let me know and I’ll pass it on.

The farm plan includes lots of tomatoes for seed and lots more for our breeding program. We like tomatoes and that’s a good thing as we have acres of them. Tomatoes are grown in our greenhouses, poly tunnels. Caterpillar tunnels, in the fields and in containers.  We have early, mid season and late tomatoes, determinate and indeterminates, cherries, plums, pears, grapes, saladette, sauce and cocktail types.  Add a generous selection of heirlooms, and colors that include red, pink, yellow, black, gold, green, purple, white and striped and that about describes our tomato lineup. Taking care of all these tomatoes provides us with much work from early June through September each year; the tasks include seeding in the greenhouses, bumping up to larger cells, growing until mid May, hardening off, and transplanting into the field.

Field work for tomatoes includes fertilizer application, bedforming, laying IRT mulch and drip line, punching the holes and setting and watering in the transplants. Once transplanted, the trellises (a steel stake every 20 feet) are installed, a top wire run and the tomatoes get their first pruning. One string goes up first and a little later the second string goes up. The plants are continuously pruned and trained until they reach the top wire, and then left alone for the rest of the season. Besides pruning and trellising weed control takes a lot of time as does harvesting starting in September.  Throughout the season constant scouting for pest and diseases along with irrigation as needed takes more time. Once harvesting has been completed, the twines are removed, the top wire rolled up and the steel stakes taken out of the field. In 2010 we got this done in early October and had time to get some winter rye established before cold weather settled in.

Once harvesting has been completed, then the majority of the work moves inside where seed extraction takes place. This process usually takes two or three people a couple of weeks to complete; a good job when it’s raining and we can’t get out into the field.

One nice thing about all these tomatoes is that it provides us with plenty of work. On a farm there’s usually plenty of work but typically August is somewhat of a slow period for us -- kind of the calm before the storm period. The planting is pretty well wrapped up and the weeds are primarily under control and the hectic harvest is still a few weeks away so we have some time to wrap up on some projects and get ready for the upcoming harvest season.

Until next week, Brian

1 comment:

alana said...

Hi! just finished reading your blog entry and I wondered where you get bulk and sling bags of dirt, or do you make it yourself? I should move to Maine, because it seems all the cool stuff is out there, e.g. hoop houses, seeds, granite beaches, moose, and johnny's :P