Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Encroachment Maintenance

We have been really bad about taking photos of the field in recent weeks. I am sure this is because we have been demoralized about the weeds and the various dying veggies that are the result of some of the wettest July weather ever recorded. I regret now that we have not taken more photos so that I could have before and after shots to demonstrate the work we have been able to do this week. Today we nearly completed weeding the remaining salvagable beds and it is great to see orderly rows of plants again. I am ignoring for the moment the overgrown potato beds and the four beds of colorful carrots that are totally lost. Those shall be mowed down within the coming week. As we have been using the recent rainless days to weed, landscapers contracted by Vermont Gas have been on the fringes of our field maintaining the green invasion even more drastically by cutting down and chipping the wooded margins. This opens up so much more light and air movement for that end of the field. This year we could tell the blueberries were ripe next door at Adam's Berry Farm by noting the blue, seed-filled bird crap on our tomato trellis. Now we will be able to actually see the fruit-laden plants! So with a little dry weather our spirits have gotten a real boost. Again, most of the plants made it through the crazy weather and it was our will that was the weakest link. Today, we discussed with enthusiasm our plans for the fall planting and tossed around ideas for next year.

The weather is always hard to predict and is one of the greatest challenges facing the successful production of high quality vegetables. This realization frustrates the planning process as I think about next year. We can plan so many aspects of our farm, but in the end, so much relies on the weather. It is hard to plan for a wet year (a dry year can be compensated for by irrigation), but when I cannot get over the idea that we did plan for a wet year. Last year, we bought the Haygrove hoophouse for this exact reason. It is hard not to dwell on the idea that we have already anticipated this problem and spent considerable money to deal with it. Yet due to various bureaucratic holdups, we were prevented from using this tool this year. I am not entirely sure what the current status of the hoophouse hoopla is, but we remain committed to erecting it this late fall for next season. After the semi-favorable decision this spring, we joined the Intervale Center in appealing the decision, due to some overly restrictive language for them and some ambiguous conditions for us. Last I have heard, the state agencies have gotten our appeal thrown out of the environmental court and sent to the state supreme court where it could be delayed for a long time. This may be an attempt to win by financial attrition. As one of the Intervale staff said, it is like trying to describe a diffuse vapor, as it is always in flux. I may not fully understand all the maneuverings that seem to be going on around this minor issue. But we are planning on the Haygrove rain fence for next year. And maybe some chickens and geese to help us with weed control. Next year, as always is the best year ever. For now, we maintain the encroachment and use the pleasant downhill slide toward Fall to experiment and plan and especially harvest lots and lots of beautiful tomatoes.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Feeling the green encroachment, then the light!

OK. This is a blogpost sans farm pictures. A few reasons. Our field looks like crap! I mean, really!! One of the things that Half Pint Farm tends to pride itself on is the tidiness of our farm. This year, all things are conspiring against us to make that tidiness a reality. First it was the rain. Next it was the rain. Then it was the belt on our mower going out - can't mow and keep tidy. Then it was the rain. Then it was the potato beetles thrashing our eggplants... Anyone with a garden can tell you - the rain makes weeds happen, and so....soon the weeds take over. They are like mighty genetically engineered machines - their only job is to find every space not inhabited by other green and take it over with their green. As we drive down to the Intervale everyday down that severely unmaintained road, we try to see the length of the road through the tunnel of green, and can't. The way is shut with green. 5 years ago, our good friend Art Escobado came to visit us during the waning days of July and he fairly unwillingly worked with us for one day on our farm (we had worked together on a farm in Colorado in college, and he vowed never to farm again - HA! Serves you right for maintaining long lasting meaningful relationships with farmers! Can't escape it Art, sorry!). As we bumped down the road to the farm in silence, thinking about the long day of weeding ahead, Art looked around and exclaimed, "So, who maintains the encroachment?" Well, our answer at the time was Mother Nature. Mother Nature maintains the encroachment of oppressive green foliage with frost in fall. Like a hacker with a select all and delete command, she selects all the broad leafed plants and deletes them with a below 32 degree night. BUT. During the season, technically, it is our job to maintain the encroachment. Daily we look at the green that mocks us - the crabgrass marching ever vigilantly towards the carrots, the galansoga that crops up with her multitudes and takes huge hunks of earth with her when you try to remove her from the baby salad mix, the fine grasses that so far have no scientific name in our minds, but show up they do when we least expect them in the paths (who would think that the paths - the places we trod upon most frequently - would be the weediest?) Well, they are, and that's just where it starts. If we don't get the path weeds, then that spells certain doom for the row crops, unless we simply do the deed, cast our pride from our shoulders, bend our knees and scoot along on all fours eliminating each weed, placing it in a bucket to haul it to the fringes of our farm (there they won't get us!) instead of allowing them to re-root themselves in the inviting moist soil. This, at least, feels like we're accomplishing something. Then the rain comes. Then the mosquitoes. Today, we must have killed millions as we harvested the haricot vert and the artichokes. Yes, us organic farmers even stooped to using insect repellent - not the organic kind either, mind you - we had to bring out the big guns; you see, our sanity was at stake. If you want to see semi-sane farmers at market handling your food, you, too, must praise the insect repellent. We promise that we wash our hands before handling your produce. Yes, the hands are one thing that is fair game for the mosquitoes - sacred to us - no DEET shall touch the hands.
SO. We try and beat back the green, we try and maintain sanity as mosquitoes enter ears, noses, throats and bite through three layers of insect-repellent-soaked shirts. We do this and realize: MAN! The plants sure do LOVE the rain!!! It has to be said, everything is growing like you wouldn't believe - the foliage on every crop is not to be imagined! The only thing seeemingly suffering is the turnips, radishes, arugula and lettuce crops - they simply melt in all this humidity. The broccoli, too, is fairly deficient in nutrient uptake (sandy soils can't hold too many nutrients with all this leaching rain!). However, get a load of everything else! This is a BUMPER crop year for baby artichokes, haricot vert, and carrots, carrots, carrots! The onions (though harvested early) are big and wonderful! The peppers and cukes are abundant and the tomatoes are plentiful - with a little more sun, they will ripen and then we can all revel in the bounty of summer! This, my friends, is the light through the green filter - this is why we endure the encroachment everyday.
It is times like this that we need to realize that the weakest link here is our will to persevere in the presence of potential flooding, endless demoralizing days in the rain, the fog of whining and biting mosquitoes, and the persistent weeds and pests (might be a shorter eggplant season than anticipated - potato beetles be vanquished!!!). We must remember that we are the weakest link - the truth is that the plants LOVE the rain, and they will march on in the presence of free water and do their best for us. We must be there to meet the challenge and harvest all they offer us. The season is already too short up here in the north - we will do what we have to do to - make the most of it, manage the encroachment as best we can, and bring the best possible produce to market in spite of it all. Happy August!!! May the next blogpost be riddled with pictures of beautiful produce!