2009 Archives


NOVEMBER 28, 2009 

We have had a merciful November allowing us to get our machinery serviced and  stored away and fields and buildings cleaned up for winter. This past week saw the crew shrink down to five of us full time 3o-50 hours) and one  part timer. Roy and Willie  are warming  up and planting gardens back home  in Jamaica while Mike puts the plow truck in order and mounts the snowblower on the tillage tractor  in preparation  for the first winter storm. We hope the ground gets a good freeze before that first snow in hopes that it will control some of the disease  and insects that plagued us this summer. Wouldn’t hurt knocking back the wood and deer tick populations in the woodlands, either.

Our next few weeks will be devoted to the  piles of deskwork that stand before us, the business part of the farm that we all dread doing. Mike has been doing a great deal of greenhouse repair as well as mulching the strawberry  plants. The deer fence is up and running in the blueberries and the last of the fall tillage has been completed.  Ray has been busy organiizing the wash and packing area for the vegetables and putting the various washing  machines and tables in storage to make way for the greenhouse operations that will start in earnest in February. He has done a great  job of organizing the colossal chaos of the machine and storage barns and sheds  that we turn a blind eye to during the growing season. I am trying to refocus my  efforts in the  two  greenhouses of overwintered stock plants and am even starting some plant propagation for next spring by taken some vegetative  cuttings. Soon Mike, Ray and I will work on the vegetable seed and plant orders, although Sarah and Anne are well along the process of ordering them for the greenhouse end of the operation as well as ordering the hardgoods . Anne this morning  is working on the farm books in preparation for meetings with the tax accountant….our taxes are due  March 1 as opposed to April 15 for the rest of you.

There are meetings to attend. I sit on a couple of  committees and boards and there is the  usual battery of off -season meetings that the University Extension folks organize for we farmers so that we can  exchange information and get exposure to the latest and greatest ideas. This years testy topic will  once again be food safety regulation for those of us that grow it. The federal govenmen tnow  wants to regulate how we  wash and prepare food ( and to a great degree how we grow it) to make it safer to the consumer. All which is well and good, I think we can all agree that safe food is a good thing. But you cant legislate a one size fits all program that works for all of us. There  have been repeated abuses  and food recalls that have been traced to the industrial agricultural complexes: Mr Barnels peanuts, baby food out of China, a recent recall of hamburger at  our local grocery chain..  and the list goes on.None of which,to date , has  originated  from  the multiple small farmily farms of the Upper Valley.  For some reason the federal government thinks that we ( small  family farms)  are all complicit in the problem. The federal government would, under some proposals, want small farms to essentially capitalize and build  “processing facilities”  like the ultra big boys to come  into compliance with food safety regulations…..which most of us cannot  afford to do. And  by  proposed definitions, just cutting a head of lettuce  out in the field might well be viewed as “processing” by the government. It has gotten a little crazier for vegetable growers in New England, and so  we spend our time  trying to get somebody to listen or lobby for us. We aren’t  much of a  lobbying constituency when  you figure that  one  corporate farm  in the  Salinas Valley crops more acreage that  all the small CSAs, berry growers and vegetable farmers in New England. So there will be time in the winter devoted to that…too much time as far as I am concerned.


OCTOBER 5, 2009 

We are winding down the harvest season,the farmstand will close this weekend. Although sales  have been strong this fall, weather continues to make it difficult and the damp cool nights, foggy mornings and considerable rain events continue to  ruin  things, most recently playing havoc and spreading fruit rots in the  fall raspberries. This year we have have seen more new diseases on the farm than we  ever figured possible. And generally in the fall, the vegetable crops start to decline anyway before the frost finally takes them out. We will remain extremely busy with the full crew for at least a month and a half with fall clean up. I am already focusing on machinery when I get a minute, and the  stock plant greenhouses need to be  readied for the returning plants, which  will have  to be brought in, “de-loused” and cleaned up for the winter.  Brush to be be cut, plant stakes retrieved, greenhouses to be repaired…..and hopefully a few  last hikes up Cardigan Mountain. We will have some  meetings with our  CSA groups, lots of  plant material and seeds to be ordered for the greenhouses and there will be plenty of informational meetings to attend…I am sure that  this years diseases will be  the hot topics. One of my personal goals is to get in decent physical shape so each summers work load doesnt keep landing me in physical therapy…. but that goal maybe a “bridge too far”…

AUG 17

AUGUST 17, 2009 

Here it is two weeks from labor day. As  one ages, the time literally seems to fly by, and  you end up standing in the middle of the week wondering  how  you got there without without the ability to remember what transpired on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. This summer has been a blur, and despite the fact we lament the passage of  time that goes by  unnoticed, I  and many of my farmer friends look forward to the passage of this  particular growing season. My usual chant starting about now is ‘Bring on the frost”, but I have heard it from others  this year, long before I dared open my mouth.  By far, this  has been the most challenging season for  most of us. From the pressure from wildlife, the problematic weather( lack of  heat and sun for most of the summer) and onslaught of various plant diseases  that we are seeing for the very first time (bacterial canker, late blight).

The upside is that  demand is good this year for what we grow, mainly at the expense of home  gardeners who were ill equipped to recognize and deal with the problems facing  all of us growing  vegetables and small fruit. Their early failures have created market demand for our tomatoes, corn ,melons and I suspect fall sales of  potatoes will be brisk.  Later this week (if the weather cools down) we will start harvesting onions and red potatoes…some of the early fall storage crops. So although the first part of this week will be unusually hot, the clock on the wall is ticking and we know that the number of sweltering days are clearly numbered.  I was making up a list this morning of projects to get done before winter settles in.

Where did the time go? Weren’t we shoveling snow  away from the greenhouse doors  two weeks ago….?


JULY 22, 2009 

A most unwelcome visitor has come to settle down among us since my early July blog: the nasty disease that cause the  Irish Potato Famine called  Late Blight of Potatoe and Tomatoes (phytopthora infestans) showed up  in our potatoes and tomato greenhouses.  The early arrival of this disease is not only complicating life in our little world  but wreaking  untold damage to farmers  in New England as well as New York State.  Late blight will not survive freezing conditions so  it  works its way north on weather systems coming up from the south and makes its ususal appearance  here in Late September or  October. This year, it was introduced on tomato plants for retail sales that the  big box stores brought up from  down south.  This   disease  is highly contagious  and spreads in the wind once it sporolates. The box stores  sold the plants region wide, gardeners took them home and innoculated  the region. Add to the “perfect storm” that the weather has been perfect for the growing and spreading the disease (lots of cool damp evenings in the last month and Voila:  instant  epidemic.)

For us it is not the end of the world, we have a few more tricks in the bag (as well as different food sources) than did the Irish back in 1847, but it is causing some economic hardship and stress nonetheless. We quickly had it positively  identified by our state plant pathologist at the University of New Hampshire and we  immediately embarked upon a program  of pruning and disposing of  the badly infested plant material, and embarked upon the University Extension service recommended program for spraying fungicides. The prognosis is not great because the only real way to make the disease abate is to freeze it out, but we definitely have slowed the march of the disease down in hopes of  salvaging a high percentage of what looked to be a great crop of both potatoes and tomatoes. We are living day to day, hoping for dry hot sunny weather to help us curb its spread. I  hope I can tell you by the time I write the next blog that our efforts were not in vain.

Instead of talking about the ramifications of  the global economy as I did  in the blog 20 days ago,  we are now having the dubious honor of  being victmized by it.


JULY 1, 2009 

If you are to believe the weather models for global warming, then this weather is certain confimation that global warming is here. The weather pattern this year has been similar to the past two and fits the models perfectly for the northeast: cooler and damper.   All which has been great for he  lettuce and greens, but not so hot fot the strawberries, corn and vine crops.   We started picking  our first strawberries back June 7, and I bet we havent  had  two full days of sunshine since we started. We havent gotten all the rain that many of  my farmer friends in New England have experienced. As a matter of fact, despite the cloud cover, we were dry enough  so that we drip irrigated our peppers,tomatoes and vine crops last week. But in the last two days our moisture  issues have been  addressed with 2.5″ of rain and more in the forecast. Hmmmm….not so good with the fourth of July coming and the last  half of the strawberry season in full swing. The good news is that the outside crew are champs in getting the stuff  harvested for the stand and bulling through a full afternoon of catch up farming. They are working 12 hours a ady at least 4 days a week. The guys at the stand  and at the greenhouses (where we have a plant sale going on) are short handed as well, yet things still look pretty fresh and  kept up. A good crew, indeed…

Speaking again of global issues,we got notification and call from our extension crop specialists informing us that  the disease Late Blight of Tomatoes and Potatoes (the same one that caused the Irish  Potatoe Famine in the mid 1800’s) has shown up in New England  2 months early this year. The damp,  sunless, weather is perfect for spreading it and  it usually works its way northward  on weather systems from the south in a normal year. By the time it gets here in late  September  the growing season is well over, and harvest is already underway. But this year it seems many of the box stores in New England that carry garden  starters have been buying their tomatoes from southern growers, and the NH University Extension pathologist has, as of yesterday, identified  garden tomatoe plants in 4 different box retailers who had  plants covered with late blight that they were selling to home gardeners. Despite her request that they pull  pull them from the shelves, they would not. (She has no legal powers to make them)   By not doing so they are going to sell diseased plants out into the communities and help spread the disease around. As if the weather was not enough of a problem.  So the commercial growers, organic and conventional, can look towards a summer of spraying  their tomatoes and potatoes  more than ever, all while hoping the  weather  improves and the disease doesnt show up in their fields.  Farmers trying to figure out reprocussions of global warming and a global econo


JUNE 9, 2009 

The  last few weeks  have been a  whirlwind as  the rush of planting season has been coupled with some abnormally  late frost events and  cool nights. Nonetheless, Mother Nature  marches  on as we start harvesting  the first early fruit from  our strawberry beds on black  plastic. This system of raising berries is an adaptation of  a method that comes to us  from California and the deep south originally and  like  all good ideas,  it has its drawbacks. The drawbacks are the plants  bloom very early in the spring and are subject to frost damage, meaning more nights of pumping water to protect them. There is  additional expense in the  plastic mulch and drip tape that is used in the system of developing the bed, and  an upfront  cost of   additional plants   because  the way the system  functions depends  on a much higher plant population per acre  as compared to a traditional matted row system, (which constitutes the  majority of what we still do here on the farm.) The plus side of the equation is  twofold for us;  earliness is the main factor, but  there is another subtle benefit for us. With plasticulture we can  bring a given acreage of land into meaningful production in half the time, essentially allowing us to double crop our land in the summer.This is because traditional matted row strawberry beds take a full year to establish, whereas a matted row system allows you to fall plant, thus allowing  you to produce a short season vegetable crop on the same land as well. So it fills a void for those of us with limited acreage, allowing us to utilize our already short season here in the northeast. We  still do both traditional mattted row as well as  some plasticulture…. they both have their places.

People often ask about  how the crop looks, and I usually  respond  given the  amount of winter injury that I can see in the plants as they come out of the winter. The truth is, not only is  this a  guessing game, but it has little bearing on the profitablility of the crop for us. The plants  can  be  in the best of  shape and loaded with  fruit going  into the harvest season   only to loose a high percentage to fruit rot if the weather  turns dark and damp. This is  particularly a problem with a dependence  upon  Pick Your Own for harvesting….the  PYO crowd  only works  on nice sunny days.  So, you can have a great crop only to loose it at the very last  minute due to  uncooperative weather. On the other hand, you can have a  rough winter and light fruit set and if the weather is relatively cool,sunny and dry during the harvest season you might  harvest a higher percentage of good  berries  harvested between the farm and PYO crews and actually make out better financially.It is really a crap shoot.

So this tempers our enthusiasm  as we enter our  33rd strawberry season. It’s early in the season and the  plants  endured a fair amount of winter injury.  But the weather of late has been good for the  plants with no extreme heat and a fair  amount of sun despite the unseasonally cool nights. The  birds and ground varmints havent really  arrived yet to extract their  pound of flesh from the crop, so their is an air of anticpation about here. We shift our focus as greenhouse sales wind down a bit and we ready ourselves  to open the farmstand in a couple of days and the strawberries will be on the shelves when we do. If you see  me and and ask me if it looks like a good year for the strawberries,  don’t be surprised if I shrug  my shoulders. I am a believer in the words of  that  great Yankees baseball catcher Yogi Berra who said “It aint over till it’s over…”


MAY 29

MAY 29, 2009 

Ray brought the first ripe strawberries to me today.  They came from the rows we  planted upon the black plastic, but it surprised me none the less because the spring has been pretty cool thus far with the exception of a couple of scorchers back in  April. We may have a few to pick by next weekend, but I don’t see us wading in them for a couple of weeks. We got lots of things planted out this week, thanks in part to the arrival of our two Jamaican workers, and the arrival of the college help. This is their eighth year they have come and they pretty well know the ropes at this point, such that they can work with the green college kids. Despite getting a frost three nights ago we were able to put out the  peppers, tomatoes, cukes, and summer squash. We cultivated and hand-hoed  the onions (about an acre’s worth) this week, but up until two days ago irrigation was a major activity. Thanks to the 2″ of rain that we got, we can focus on weeding, which will really pop up  once we get some heat after this rain. Field preparation is still an ongoing activity, but the initial heat of getting land prepared is behind us and George Cilley, our tractor operator who does the lion’s share of it, can take a well deserved break to mow his lawn and do a few things on the list that has been growing while he has been up here the last month or so playing in the dirt and manure.

Memorial Day is behind us, and the weather has been kind to us, such that greenhouse starter sales have been pretty good despite the dimmed economy. It hardly looks like we sold much at all when you walk through the greenhouses, but Sarah assures me that the  plants that remain are just spaced a bit more apart because they are larger. The stuff looks really good, so if you are in need of  ornamentals please come down and give us a look as the selection is still very good.  We haven’t set a date to open the Route 12A farm stand yet…but I am sure Mike will tell us when we get close to harvesting greens and lettuce and berries.

MAY 16

MAY 16, 2009 

It never ceases to amaze me at how entitled customers think  they are or perhaps it is the depth of their  lack of knowledge concerning things remotely horticultural.  This  years best story to date is about a customer who came in and bought some rhubarb roots that  were still dormant. The  pot  contained the dormant root, it was the 23rd  of April and there was no foliage yet showing.  I  heard his  somewhat indignant voice on the message  machine about a week later (May 4) saying that there was no  harvestable rhubarb yet and what were we going to do to make it  right. I think my wife politely informed him  that we would make it right if something turned out to be wrong with the  product, but that he should be a bit more patience.  This was probably the correct way to handle this…not the way I would have approached it had I called the indignant fellow back when I first heard  his message.

I understand that we are a society that has come to  expect to get everything we  want, and that  we want it now. Fast food, wide screen televison, hi speed internet–whatever.  Gardening demands a bit more patience and a bit of knowledge. As far as the knowledge goes,  a recent interview was done of us in a local paper, and one of the angles the reporter was charged with was  to get  simple steps to guarantee  success with heirloom tomatoes. I had to inform the reporter that in my neighborhood their were no gurantees to having a successful gardening experience  year in and year out.  If was all that easy to be successful in farming  wouldn’t I have a 2nd home in some exotic locale to which  I could fly my plane  after thirty five years in business?  I tried to give her a list of things that were important to do to be  susccessful with growing heirloom tomatoes,  but that phrase  –guarantee success”— seemed to smack of more of entitlement. The reporter got a story, I guess….probably just not the story the editor wanted.

Me, I currently feel that I am entitled to no more frost until fall  and I would like about an inch of good soaking rain in the  next 48 hours. It would surely simplify my life as it it is very dry and difficult to get things transplanted out  in these conditions.  Mike was harrowing up some ground yesterday and it was surprising how dusty it was. Last spring was  verymuch like this until the middle of June when  the rains came and took a month to go away. Hopefully we will not experience that again, but that would be  a better choice than to continue on thiis dry spell that we are on.  Not too far south of hear they are getting more than adaquate rainfall (Bellows Falls/ Brattleboro) and I have  a friend in Rhode Island whose back teeth are floating because of all the rain he is getting.  But despite  the dryness, the potatoes are bounding up out of the ground, looks like a good stand of 1st planted carrots and so far the deer have stayed out of the lettuce. Nobody’s sick or hurt and the machinery currently is running like a  Swiss watch.  And these are the signs of good things  that  we can take heart in.


MAY 2, 2009 

Interesting weather we had last week. We hit 90 or very close to it for four days running, and a couple of those high-temp days were accompanied by a 30 MPH wind. It was pretty tough on trying to  transplant anything–in the greenhouse or field—and we spent a lot of time watering. As a result, the dogwood blooms are gone by (they bloomed for about 20 minutes in that heat) and the daffodils are on the downside of their display. Even the maple leaves (which usually don’t make their appearance until the 15th-20th of May) are unfurling. Welcome to New England.

Now that we are back to more seasonal temps the work continues at a more measured pace. The onion transplants are in, some lettuce and beet transplants out, and carrots, beet greens, and greens like arugula have been seeded in the field. We are trying to nurse the strawberries along with supplemental fertilizer and extra water (we are pretty dry here and haven’t gotten the showers that our other farming friends have gotten) by irrigation. The winter was pretty tough on them and it puzzled us until my brother-in-law, Pat McNamara, revealed to me that they lost every stitch of alfalfa in their fields, that the same went for other dairy farmers up and down the valley. We  went out to field dig some field-grown perennial delphiniums for sale at the greenhouse and found that very few survived the winter. Best we can figure is that although we had good snow cover early in the winter (open winters can raise hell with perennial crops) we  experienced an ice and heavy rain storm back around Christmas and must have caused some problems at that time.

The greenhouses are filling up and we are struggling to find places for things. It’s too dicey to  start leaving displays up at night outside the greenhouses, as there is still a high incidence of frost for us for the next 3-4 weeks. So a lot of moving of plants (we have a fairly inefficient layout of greenhouses and space) in and  out. When somebody transplants something and the call goes out on the radio as to where the transplants might be located, there are often voices coming back that say “Don’t bring it over here, I have NO Room in my greenhouse…”  Hopefully, after Mothers Day some space will open up.


APRIL 20, 2009 

The greenhouses have consumed vast amounts of time over the last four weeks. As we open the greenhouses for trade this coming Thursday, we have additionally had to straighten up the pottery barn and organize the driveway and parking  areas in preparation for opening. A few folks have already meandered through, picking up some lettuce and onions and pansies, but by next weekend we will be  retailing in earnest. The temperate and sunny spring thus far has dried things up in the fields so that we are actually hoping to pick an inch or so out of the next forecast rain event in a couple of days.

We got underway with field work about ten days ago with our tractor guy, George Cilley, getting  much of the winter stockpile of dairy manure spread and incorporated. Some chisel plowing, fertilizing and harrowing has been started and by tomorrow we should get a spring cover crop of field peas and oats planted on a field that will ultimately be planted to late fall sweet corn in July, when we incorporate those peas and oats. Although we don’t have any peas, greens, onions or potatoes planted, we should have some small veggies in the ground by mid to late week. Blueberry pruning is finished, the strawberries are de-mulched and Ray, Mike  and Jenny have been laying out irrigation pumps and pipe in the strawberries, just in case we don’t pick up any moisture this week. People are working longer hours and the heat is on….

APRIL 3 2009

APRIL 3, 2009 

Well, here we go again.  Yesterday it was 60 degrees for the first time since November. It felt great. A little too good, in fact, as the freshly transplanted tomatoes in the greenhouses wilted a bit, because of the intense light and heat inside the  greenhouses. No complaints, it sure beats the ice and cold of the winter and the rumble of greenhouse furnaces burning propane. We had nine  unannounced people drive by looking for jobs yesterday, indicated they were stirred both by the springlike conditions and a need to get some employment. What most folks don’t understand about farming is that farmers who do this for a living just don’t come out of dormancy like bears the first warm day in April, stretch their arms, yawn and say ” I guess it’s time to start growing something for this year..”  We are in full swing this time of year, and do most of our hiring in February.  It is truly a year-round activity for the five core family members here. In between dealing with snow around the greenhouses, there are furnaces to clean, thermostats to fix, greenhouses to maintain, hard goods and seeds to inventory, stock plants to maintain, field machinery to service and a mountain of paperwork that has to be dealt with that seems to get larger every year. The 2009  greenhouse season actually started in December 2008 when I took my first begonia leaf cuttings and geranium slips.

So now we are in the thick of planting season in the greenhouses. Perennials potted up, annual seedlings being transplanted, moving about flats of leeks and onions for the field and the first of the grafted greenhouse tomatoes planted. Mike, Ray and Jenny have pruned the finicky peaches and we have been pecking away at pruning the blueberries when we can sneak away from the greenhouse responsibilities. Saturday is supposed to be nice, so I am in hopes of sneaking off with the little tractor to beginning removing straw from the strawberries and rhubarb. Sarah, Donald, Anne and the rest of the crew continue to plug away at the mountains of trays of rooted cuttings and seed flats  that keep appearing at the doors of the greenhouses. The welcome hum of activity is back after the dark winter.

Flavors of the Valley will be held this year on April 21st from 2-7 PM at the Hartford High School Gymnasium.  For those of you who don’t know about this event, it is an opportunity to meet farmers, producers and folks  related to the local food scene here in the Upper Valley.  We will have a booth there to discuss with anyone interested what it is that we do down here and the products we offer. Drop by and say hi.