Thursday, December 22, 2011

What's New at the Farm? A Look Back at 2011

2011 Retrospective

As the season comes to a close, we sit back and look at what worked and what didn't, and make plans for improvements for the upcoming season. Each year it seems that as one set of issues gets resolved, another set of challenges presents itself. With all the challenges facing farmers and growers everywhere, we are no different. Weather, equipment issues, pests, diseases, and insects all compete for our attention during the year, and we must attend to every detail to ensure we not only get a crop, but get the best crop we can with what we have.
So, looking at 2011, let's see what didn't work, or rather what could stand some improvement. 

  • Weeds: Always a challenge, and 2011 was no exception! Stopping the spread of certain weed species from one field to another is always a challenge. I'm thinking Galinsoga here. Fifteen years ago there wasn't any Galinsoga here on the farm, nor at any of our isolation fields. Not so now. Now we have it widespread on the farm and creeping into some of our off-site fields. It needs no stratification or dormant period so as fast as it matures, it sprouts and sets seed again. It will literally become a life choking carpet if left unattended

  • Our use of mulch hay for weed control: We've used mulch hay for weed control in our winter squash and pumpkin breeding projects for the past few years. While this is the best system we have employed to date, it has some drawbacks. Namely the large amount of hay we plow under each year, and the tying up of nitrogen by the breakdown of the hay. The tying up of nitrogen is evident in the crop following the cucurbits. The good part here is the weed control and the large additions of organic matter; the bad thing is subsequent crops tend to suffer. Crop rotation will help address this issue

  • Insects: Here I'm thinking about the onion thrips. We transplanted all our onions this year and the thrips immediately attacked them. For direct-seeded onions, we'd start scouting for thrips around the first of July. For transplanted onions, scout a week after transplanting and continue throughout the season. Once thrips are spotted, it's time to do something about them. If we wait until we see their damage, well, it's too late.

  • The weather: There's not much we can do about the weather except cope with it, and prepare for it. We use black plastic and IRT mulch on many of our crops and floating row covers on many of them as well. We'll predict what our plastic and row cover needs are and have all our supplies on hand well prior to the onset of warm weather.

  • Our land base: Here's a big one. We always seem to have a shortage of good, tillable land. For 2012 we will add twenty five acres of good, fertile land to our land base. This will allow us to drop some of the poorer, non-productive fields and to actively participate in crop rotations and land improvements like we should be doing.
  • Infrastructure improvements: More greenhouses, a seed processing area, new irrigation equipment, another midsized tractor, a new sprayer and fertilizer applicator lots of other things we will need as we continue to add land and crops.
  • Four legged pests: Including but not limited to deer, woodchucks, porcupines, squirrels, and skunks; what to do with them. For several years we've trapped and relocated small critters but there are inherent problems with this: first of all you must move most critters at least 20 miles away or on the other side of a natural border, like a river, to prevent them from returning. Next there is the possibility of spreading diseases unnaturally. If they have diseases when you move them, you move the diseases with them. And finally, in many instances, you're not doing the animal any favors; you're taking them out away from their home and their familiar feeding grounds and outing them in a perhaps hostile area to fend for themselves.
  • Disease prevention and control: Things we can do to minimize disease impact on our crops include crop rotation; cleaning and sanitizing greenhouses, planting flats, and crop aids, and fungicide application planning to assist us in the prevention and control of a myriad of diseases that attack our many crops. Better field planning will enable us to establish spray rows should we find ourselves in need of them.
  • This article: What do you want to see here? What topics would you like me to write about and how much detail would you like? Please email me some topics you'd like to see covered here and I'll do what I can. After writing this column for so many years, I'm running out of ideas. I don't like to recycle articles, and prefer to start from scratch each time. Please email me at with your suggestions.

I'm off next week, so there won't be a column. Hopefully you'll send some suggestions before I return; otherwise we'll talk about field planning for the upcoming growing season.

See you next year,

1 comment:

Michael Kilpatrick said...

Brian- I love your blog and read it whenever it comes out- what I would love to see more of is...

-results of variety trials with pictures

- more pictures of the farm in general

- how you are addressing weed control, the mechanics of the farm

- greenhouse and field winter hardiness results and thoughts

Merry Christmas,