After the frenetic last few weeks of wrapping up books for the farm, closing down the potato packing line, mounting snowblowers and plows and dealing with Christmas shopping, I find myself this morning with an hour to kill before going to a huge family breakfast. There is some mellow Christmas muzak floating through the air, and as I look outside it appears to be a perfect Christmas morning: grey, cold and a few flurries in the air. No guilt about sitting around with the relatives and doing nothing today….perfect.
As I was staring out the window I thought about Thanksgiving and about how that particular holiday is about assessing the good things in our lives. For me, Thanksgiving represents a huge meal with friends and family, and marks the transition to “winter mode” here on the farm with the first uncomfortably cold weather, some small messy snowstorms and the darker, shorter days. It is at Christmas, for me, that I reflect on the passage of time, remarkable events past and present, and condition of friends and family, present and absent.
Anne and I went to Belize in November, a surprise gift, courtesy of our children. A reward for mutually reaching our sixth decade alive, intact and still married. While we were there we experienced many different things but nothing as rewarding as making a connection (albeit fleeting) with some native locals. Most of them were connections through our guide, himself a Guatemalan Mayan. All these people were poor as dirt by any American standards. Belize is a poor Third World country. They had the equivalent of a 4th-grade education. Yet they were all extremely knowledgeable about local history, botany or marine zoology and agriculture, were self-taught and spoke English clearly. (Our guide had all the American phrases in his lexicon: “Back in the day….” “Totally!” and “We’re good to go…” ) Yet most grew up riding mules and horses as the main mode of transportation (other than walking), and most spent their childhood in mud huts with braided palm-leaf roofs. All learned and still use a machete fluently, as no one owns a lawnmower or weedwhacker. Yet they were all wonderful company, had great senses of humor, were intelligent and highly motivated individuals with the same aspirations as most of us: a better education for the kids, access to plenty of food, security from fear and maybe one day a motorcycle or used car. Anne and I both came away humbled by the fact that they are capable and hardworking and so intelligent. A couple of the subsistence farmers I talked to were easily capable of walking onto Edgewater Farm and within 2 years time being totally up to speed and capable of running it.
So this morning I am reflecting on the fact that we, (myself in particular) are-as my Dad used to say – “shot in the ass with luck.” As Americans, we really do have all the toys. We who live here on the river are lucky to have our families working close by to us. We are lucky to have good medical care, security from fear and harm and more food than we possibly need to eat (although I will desperately try my best today). So, with that in mind, may you and your family go forth today counting your blessings as well, and have yourselves a Merry Little Christmas.
Yesterday I felt pretty darn good by day’s end. I still had to begin and end my day with the usual fistful of Advil, but I felt pretty chipper because I had spent the better part of the day participating in giving something back to the greater community.
We hosted our fall gleaning with Willing Hands volunteers yesterday afternoon. The organization provides an invaluable link to food kitchens, senior centers, and community groups in need of food. Willing Hands volunteers own and maintain a high cube van, and they pick up donations from many sources in the Upper Valley. They particularly provide a service to Upper Valley farms like ours in that they make the connections and distribution of extra produce to those in need for us. Yesterday they came down to the farm with volunteers and gleaned and washed about a ton of carrots, likewise potatoes and rutabaga. There were about 20 individuals and it was well organized, the day was pleasant, and they got the 4 pickup trucks filled up with our produce as well as apples from the neighboring Riverview Farm in about two hours. It made us feel good to donate the produce, but it also felt good to be associated with a volunteer organization that runs on a “duct tape and baling twine” budget, donates so many man-hours by a small number of individuals, and still manages to make a tremendous impact in the community on such a basic level.
Immediately upon finishing up with Willing Hands, I honored a small commitment to Sam Lincoln, a fellow farmer from Randolph, Vermont, who recognized how devastated some of the Vermont agricultural community had become as a result of Hurricane Irene. Rather than breathing a sigh of relief that his family had been spared, he embarked upon a plan to try to raise money in some small way to give to those fellow farmers less fortunate. He and his brother (Buster Olney, who turns out to be a well recognized baseball commentator) thought they might be able to charge a couple of bucks to get some folks to to a roundtable discussion about the state of professional baseball in the 21st century while raffling off a few pieces of baseball memorabilia. I contacted him early on and asked if he wanted any free entertainement and we agreed that a little quiet acoustic music would be nice. So I gathered three of my musical bummy friends who thought it might be a hoot to play some bluegrass music for free on a Saturday night. As it happened, Sam and Buster’s idea turned out to be a small stroke of genius. The raffle turned out to be a huge silent auction on the Internet, the roundtable brought high-profile general managers from the Red Sox and New York Yankees among others. The audience sang along with a ramped-up bluegrass version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”. The audience also got a chance to see the World Series Trophy up close and personal. The audience, by the way, was enough to sell out the VTC basketball gymnasium. One of my bandmates agreed with me that maybe Sam ought to give up farming and get into promoting bands and producing concerts, as it was a seamless, well organized event. The final tally is not in as of this morning, but they were well on the way to raising $200,000 for Vermont farmers.
It felt good to be associated with giving something back, even in a small way. I sometimes feel guilty about getting myopic while I go about the day-to-day activities. Whether it is harvesting a crop, obsessing about the weather or wondering what to do about the arrival of a new plant pathogen on the farm, I easily forget there is a bigger world out there, and people with bigger miseries and concerns. It felt good to be part of a slice of humanity that actually takes the time to address those problems that are not their own.
This morning I got up to find the thermometer registered 45 degrees. It is only the second time since August that the temps have dropped that low at night. It has been one of the warmest falls I can remember for this time of year. Here we are 5 weeks after Irene blew through New Hampshire and Vermont, and the repercussions are still being felt in different ways. Highways are patched up for the most part, and people are on their ways to putting their lives back together, but the area farmers are still trying to sort out the true cost and damage the storm left in its wake. And the continued tropically warm and wet fall season has contributed to the problems initially generated by the hurricane. These add up to a mounting frustration for area farmers as well as additional losses in incomes.
When all was said and done, we lost about $25K in product and additional clean-up labor from Hurricane Irene. But it pales somewhat in comparison to what has been going on with some of my immediate farming friends. The continuing wet warm weather has brought on diseases to the remaining crops and made it difficult to harvest. Alex MacLennan of MacLennan Farm in Windsor,Vermont, lost the remainder of his sweet corn crop, due to floodwater contamination of the ears of corn on the stalk. What he didn’t count as initial damage from the hurricane came later, when his wholesale pumpkin crop turned up with a disease that came in on the floodwaters that saturated his pumpkin fields. Fifteen acres of pumpkin mush. Bob and Barb Chappelle of Chappelle Farm in Williamstown, Vermont, grow 50 acres of certified seed potatoes (we get our potato seed from him), as well as table stock. His fields are so saturated from the hurricane and the continuing inundation since, that he has lost his entire Yukon Gold crop to water-born rots. His fields remain so sodden that he is in jeopardy of not being able to harvest the remaining varieties this year because his fields may well not dry out enough to get the digging machinery on them. My brothers-in-law at McNamara Dairy had 25% of their field corn crop flooded. They were informed that it would be too great a risk to chop it and use it for cattle feed because there was enough of a risk that a particular pathogen it might contain that was borne in by the floodwaters will kill cows. The same problem existed for David Ainsworth in Sharon, Vermont, and other dairy farms in the Connecticut River Valley. Then there is the odd financial twist that Tim and Janet Taylor of Crossroads Farm in Fairlee,Vermont, face (I am sure other farmers in New England, as well). They came through the hurricane with some soggy fields but were relatively unscathed. But two of their two biggest accounts were shut down for the year when their buildings suffered flood damage, so Crossroads has product, but is struggling to find ways to move it. The worst scenario among my immediate farming friends remains the disaster that Geo Honigford faces at Hurricane Flats in Royalton, where he not only had total crop loss but will spend countless thousands in machine and hand labor to straighten out the debris and muck in his fields that the White River left in its wake.
Our town manager wrote a report in a local paper that Plainfield suffered no loss of property and it makes me wince to think about our $25K going down river. It ain’t chump change, and it makes me want to maybe correct him, if it wasn’t just a pride thing. But when I look around at my farming counterparts I am thinking I should be thankful that is all we lost, and at the year’s end this will be a waning memory and that we can look forward to the new growing season. That will be a harder trick for some.
The phone has been coming off the hook. The media has the river sweeping away the Bartonville, Vermont covered bridge on a tape loop. The Disaster Vultures are cruising up and down our road in their slow moving SUVs diligently looking for death and destruction. Our bottom line was that we took a hit from Hurricane Irene. But not as bad as so many other poor folks.
We prepared for the wind, we feared for damage to the greenhouses. So we moved things to higher ground and buttoned up buildings in preparation. But in fact we got no wind to speak of and relatively no rain. However, 10 miles to the west they were picking up 12 inches of rain. Whatever hits the eastern slopes of the Green Mountains of Vermont ends up in the Connecticut River, and when enough of it got there, it ended up in our lower meadow.
We suffered very little damage to infrastructure. We lost an electrical service panel and four propane furnaces, but the current was not strong enough to worry the greenhouses structurally. The water level engulfed and ruined the remaining greenhouse tomato crop there and ruined 2 acres of fall crops in the field by depositing anywhere from a half to six inches of a light Cream of Wheat-like gooey mud. Our losses were significant, but not crippling.
There were homes lost. There were farmers who lost their crops to inundation for a second time this season. It underscores the point that the fate of the farmer’s success is out of his hands. You have to accept the forces of nature all the while optimistically hoping they will work on your behalf, hopefully to your advantage. It also entails accepting them when they do not.
Harry Truman said “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.” We all know that the forces of nature will eventually turn a heavy hand to us. Its part of the deal. We just hope that our turn doesn’t come around again for a good long while.
Supposedly the dog days of summer come in August, but we have been hit with a period of intense heat and dryness. The droughtiness is good because it creates a hostile environment for fungal pathogens, which basically means it’s harder for diseases to establish on the plants and they stay healthier. The bad part about the drought is that the vegetables need water and so we are irrigating all the time to keep things alive and coming along. Vegetables love a sandy soil, they warm up easily and plants grow like mad in those types of soils, but they do not retain moisture well, which on a year like this one presents some problems. So we have to compensate by watering. Which is okay but it entails moving a lot of irrigation pipe (cost of manual labor) and using pumps (all kinds—little ones with 5 hp motors to big ones that require diesel tractors) to move water where needed. There is an additional cost of labor diversion, and by that I mean in a normal year the crew would be harvesting and weeding and pruning. This summer we are not getting much time to do that after harvest because we are moving irrigation pipe and trying to keep pumps running. So we have it in our power to make it rain, but it costs a lot of money and we never do as good or thorough a job as Mother Nature. On the other hand, the plants are not reeling from leaf blights, molds and fungi. So if it’s too wet, you get some problems; if it’s too dry, you get some problems.
What has made this batch of dryness doubly hard is the intense heat that has accompanied it. Not only do the plants suffer, it is tough on everybody in the field, greenhouses and farm stand. It’s enough of a chore just trying to stay hydrated, much less to work in 100-degree heat. I myself got a little woozy Saturday as I wasn’t paying attention to my hydration and I got a little cooked. Except for an annoyingly chipper young lady on the field crew who is from Georgia and loves the heat, the rest of us loathe the extreme temps of the last ten days. I try to remind myself how cold I was back in the winter, sitting on the skidsteer loader, pushing snow away from the greenhouses.
No one group is more tuned in to climate change than farmers. Whether you believe it is a direct result of carbon dioxide emissions, or just natural forces at work, it is impossible to deny that climate change is upon us. When I talked with Steve Wood at Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon, New Hampshire, a couple of years ago, he observed that the number of hail events that wiped out apple crops in New Hampshire in the past five years had exceeded all in New Hampshire for the previous twenty-five years that he had grown apples. Without question, our summer storms in the past five years have become increasingly violent with microbursts, downdrafts and tornadoes accompanied by some mighty impressive lightning. Three years ago Peter Van Berkum’s native-plant greenhouse and nursery in Deerfield, New Hampshire, was hit by a tornado that gave a newly-heightened meaning to the verb “trashed.” Again, this year’s weather patterns have put the hurt on farms throughout New Hampshire and Vermont (check out the photos of the Skovsted’s carnage athttp://www.joesbrookfarm.com). We here thus far have been spared a hit from some of these storm cells that in this modern age we can now watch developing and track on our computers. Not only do we check the computer to look for what might happen to us, but we have the unpleasant advantage now of knowing which of our farming neighbors is getting whacked. On the flip side, the computer allows us farmers the ability to stay connected to one another in the greater agricultural community at a time of year when it seems hard to find the time to get to the store to get toilet paper and dishwashing soap. Farmers now have listserves as well, and this past week some of the more fortunate farmers who had extra field transplants were able to coordinate getting plants to our less fortunate friends who got clobbered.
But it’s not just the dramatic storm events that wear down farmers. The 2011 growing season hasn’t even gotten underway for some farmers yet. Up in the Champlain Valley and Addison County of Vermont, dairy farmers are still mired in the fields trying to plant corn and not being able to cut hay. Steady rains coupled with snow melt have created flooding and tied them up for well over a month. At the same time, farmers in the seacoast areas of New Hampshire and southern Maine are getting their crops shredded by hail. Meanwhile, we are irrigating crops because it’s dry. As the guys in the field would say “We’re eating dust and burning diesel,” trying to keep the young transplants alive. With all the storms, flooding and tornadoes that tore up Cabot and Barnet, Vermont and dumped 8″ of rain, we got all of .3 of an inch of rain and we are less than 60 miles away. Pretty fickle weather.
The important point to recognize is this; we as farmers are not in control. People call up asking when the berries will be ready. They wonder why this farm has good squash and another doesn’t. It’s all about the weather. I can only make sure that I plant the seed, provide fertility, keep ‘em somewhat pest-free. Beyond that is luck and forces that are out of our control.
A couple of weeks ago I was representing the farm at a local food fair. I was chatting with a retired gentlemen I knew, whom we shall refer to as Mr. Celeriac, and a woman came up to the two of us with the purpose of saying hello to Mr. C. After exchanging pleasantries, Mr. C introduced the woman (whom we shall refer to as Madame Greene) to me as the owner of Edgewater Farm, and the first thing out of her mouth after “Hello” was “Are you Certified Organic?” to which I had to reply “No, we are not.” The silence was deafening, and I was on the receiving end of a look that I can only assume is normally reserved for convicted pedophiles. This situation was so uncomfortable that poor Mr. Celeriac felt he had to come to my defense by trying to explain all the things that we do on our farm that are organic and sustainable, and the good work that we do with the local food pantry. Madame Greene seemed unmoved, unflappable and certainly uninterested in finding out any more about Edgewater Farm. After a few minutes of direct discourse with Mr. C and no further acknowledgement of my presence, she moved on.
It grated on me at the time, for it is not the first time I, my family or employees have experienced that kind of response. For the sake of making it easy for Americans to make certain decisions about their food choices, the USDA has come up with the Organic Certification Program and a little green sticker that differentiates products from USDA Certified Organic farms from everything else. So all food choices become, at the point of purchase, either Organic (a good thing) or non-organic or conventional (a bad thing, or at the very least, not as good a thing as Organic). This rubs me wrong. The label and certification grants people (like the sanctimonious Madame Greene) the ability actually to dismiss any further discussion of food production, by over-simplifying the discussion and reducing farming practices to “good” and “bad” as determined by a little green sticker.
The last thing I would hope to convey to anyone is that because I may use a conventional chemical in my management practices (as exemplified by our spraying the tomatoes with “conventional” fungicides which incidentally saved us from about a $35,000 crop loss during the late-blight outbreak of 2009) is the impression that I am against organic farming. (That aforementioned $35,000 crop loss would have been pretty much assured if I were certified organic, because some of the materials I use on the tomatoes are EPA-registered for tomatoes but are not OMRI listed.) I certainly am not in any way against organic practices, and I am as familiar with J I Rodale, Arden Anderson and Louis Bromfield at Malabar Farm as anyone. I admire any farmer who is good to his land and who can make an honest living farming without outside income, be he or she conventional, organic, or any shade between the two. We have farmed trying to utilize organic practices when and where applicable on this farm since long before it was trendy and long before the USDA got into the certification business. I find it irritating when people just simply buy into the fallacy that the little green USDA “Certified Organic” sticker automatically signals to them that 1) no sprays have been used, 2) there is less carbon footprint because it’s organic, and 3) it’s completely “sustainable.”
Going to back Madame Greene, I would have welcomed from her a response of “Oh, Edgewater Farm is not organic? Why wouldn’t you want to be?” Then maybe I could have told her why we don’t qualify for certification. Then we could have had a discussion about the declining profitability of offering PYO Strawberries and how we feel the use of conventional chemical fungicides plays a part in allowing us to continue offering Pick Your Own. Or, that in fact, we frequently choose to use the same biological OMRI-certified insecticides and fungicides that are available to Certified Organic farmers. And how land base, green manuring and crop rotation at our farm works. Or how our IPM program of pest management in our greenhouses precludes the use of prophylactic spraying by using beneficial insect releases. Or maybe that buying my lettuce in season makes more sense than buying organic lettuce with a huge carbon imprint from California. Maybe I could have persuaded her to consider all the organic practices we do undertake and why. Then, after our discussion, she might well still have determined to buy organically-certified product, and I would have respected that decision.
How farmers arrive at how they manage their farms is a complex, thought-provoking discussion that we farmers constantly have amongst ourselves and at meetings. It is a discussion with no simplistic “correct way” or “incorrect way” answers. At least Madame Greene wouldn’t have bought into the media hype surrounding the little green organic sticker, without having the discussion and going to the effort of putting some real thought into it. And maybe she could have reserved her glare for a real pedophile.
Today we were going to plant tomatoes in this greenhouse in our lower meadow. Even had extra hands on board so we could accomplish great things. Imagine my surprise when I went to the paper box at 6:15 this morning and found this. The Connecticut River decided to visit the greenhouses in the night. Oh joy…
It’s tough to suffer a paradigm shift so early in the morning – especially before coffee, but it frequently happens in farming. By the time people arrived for work I had managed to rearrange the day for the employees. Although getting the tomatoes in the lower greenhouses was the number one priority in my day, there were a bunch of things that immediately got moved from the back burners.
Frequently these quick “change of plans” occur because weather is uncooperative. If you are putting up bird netting on the blueberries and a nasty storm comes up, you may find yourself sitting in a barn with 6 employees watching it rain while they are on the clock. Sometimes sitting out the storm is the appropriate thing to do, but if it’s early in the afternoon and you sense that the weather is going to remain threatening or inclement for the rest of the afternoon, maybe you should redirect the folks to cleaning out a greenhouse or some other job that exists on the ever-changing list of things to do.
Weather can work against you in more subtle ways. It isn’t always bad weather that can be vexing. Suppose you consult your weather services and you are assured that a soaking rainy system is going to deluge everyone on both sides of the Connecticut River in the Upper Valley. Okay, now you decide to transplant lettuce and cole crops in the late afternoon so they can get soaked in at night. Everybody works an hour late and gets all the transplants in the ground. Sweet. How about when you wake up to cloudless skies the next morning and there is not a drop of moisture in the rain gauge? After some cussing and some more coffee you have to rustle around and make sure that the irrigation pipe gets set up in yesterday’s transplants immediately after morning harvest, lest the mid-day sun burn them all up.
A friend of mine maintains that having ADHD is a prerequisite for a career in farming. Probably so. You start out with a daily plan, with a long list of back-ups. You constantly are looking at your paper and rearranging it to accommodate employee sickness, machinery breakdown, changes in weather and a myriad other surprises. Rarely does a day come by that Anne or I are actually able to check off more than half of the things that initially were penciled in on our daily lists.
So I am making tomorrow’s list. I really want to get those tomatoes planted, but I doubt I will be able to do it, with the river being so high. But then again, I might be surprised when I go out to get the paper.
Some of you may have read about our farming practices, and noted that we have been trying to regulate our pest problems in both our vegetable and ornamental greenhouses with biologic pesticides and the introduction of parasitic and predator insects. Our motivation for this type of insect control are a couple of reasons. It is environmentally safer and cleaner for growers and end users. The downsides are many, not the least of which is that it is a very expensive form of control. It is more complicated than just reading the label and spraying a pesticide for a pest. The product (good or “beneficial” bugs) do not have a shelf life as the bottle of pesticide does. And when a problem arises, it can take six to thirteen days for the product to arrive after ordering it. You have to know the life cycle of the bad bugs as well as the beneficial insects. That makes things yet more complicated. (I wanted to be a farmer, not an entomologist…)
So it’s a big deal, it’s expensive and complicated. It is an art as much as a science. But we have been trying to do it this way for fifteen years. We have now developed an annual plan of prophylactic releases, based upon when we open greenhouses, what plants go in them, the crops, and the historical problems that have cropped up and when that has occurred. All this, knowing that at some point in the spring aphids, white flies and thrips (the horticultural equivalent of President Bush”s “Axis of Evil”) will show up. Hand in hand with the prophylactic release of beneficial insects there comes a monitoring or “scouting” plan that weekly makes you systematically assess insect and disease problems by observing trends in insect populations. For example, you are never going to be totally”pest free” so by observing and counting pests weekly on a yellow sticky card that attracts the pests and understanding the swell and ebb of populations, you can make a pest control strategy. Sometime things run like a top, sometimes they go to hell in a hand bag. You can always tell when the latter happens because you can read the lines of frustration in Anne and Pooh’s faces. But when its working right,there are enough predators to keep the populations of bad guys surpressed but enough bad guys to support a healthy population of predators and beneficials. Its a balancing act. See? I told you it was tricky.
We didn’t come up with this kind of control on our own. We weren’t that smart. Some forward-thinking individuals from the Extension Services of our land-grant universities in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire got together about 15 years ago and said “There has got to be a better way than hammering away at an insect pest problem with chemicals until the bug develops resistance and we have to find another chemical…besides I hear that Pooh Sprague hates spraying his greenhouses weekly…” Well, maybe not the last part, but they were savvy enough to realize there might be a way of mimicking the way the natural insect populations are kept in check in an outdoor environment, and adapting that to a greenhouse environment.
So when you come to the greenhouses this year you will see little yellow cards again and you will know that we are monitoring pest populations with them. UVM is doing some experiments here, and you will be told that certain plants can’t be sold. And you will know that the tiny parasitic wasps we released at dusk on Tuesday are going about their business as you go about yours. And you can, we hope, appreciate the fact that we are trying to reduce our biologic footprint in our own corner of the world.
The weather of late has been grim,with little sun,seasonably cold temps and more snow that in recent memory. Admittedly, it is such small potatoes when one looks at the suffering perpetrated by the recent collection of natural disasters and wars. Reminds us of the saying “I cried because I had no shoes,until I saw the man who had no feet..” Nonetheless,the weather is pretty crappy even while we are still proceeding as though spring is going to come . At this time of year there are seeds to be sown, plants to be potted, tomatoes to be grafted and planted. There is usually a last flurry of educational and grower meetings that occur as well before farmers get into their brisk seasonal pace of activities. In our circle of grower friends, we get together for a potluck dinner in late March each year that has come to be called “The Last Supper”, because it is the last time so many of us can be found in a room together until after the killing frosts of fall.
Many of the recent meetings have been generating a lot of angst in the small grower community about the impending food safety regulations that will be implememented by the FDA. Many smaller growers feel that they are shouldering the burden imposed by the FDA from a problem that was a result of large corporate agriculture. But the general consensus among the small New England growers is that it cant be a bad thing to review how you wash and handle your produce and modify your production practices to further reduce what little risk there may be for the end user. Mike, Ray and I attended a work shop put on by UVM that helped us look at and develop a simple food safety plan for our farm. Initially it is a pilot program for interested farmers but perhaps could be adopted regionally. There were a few very interesting take home points for us. 1) the investment is stainless steel sinks in which you might wash greens is important because it sanitizes the best of any surface. 2) a regular testing of wash water is a good practice to insure low levels of pathogens (something I never thought about much because its the same stuff I drink and brush my teeth with) 3) If you triple rinse lettuce,the dilution rate of pathogens is logarithmic. Wow. Not a dilution rate of 3 times. Thats pretty huge. So,thats s huge impact and all for the cost of a used 3 bay sink. Thats the kind of change one can embrace. We see food safety as a work in progress,so we will annually review the farm plan and see how we are doing.
I have rattled on too long. Time to put the ice grips on the boots and venture out to the greenhouses…
Monday morning, Valentine’s Day…..where are the cards and chocolates? Most likely under the towering piles of snow that line the dooryard. The nicest gift I could get would be a snowless week with some nice sunshine. This has been the coldest winter in the last 10-15 years and we have gotten a lot more snow than normal. We are burning through our propane contract trying to keep our two big stock-plant houses going. We also use a lot of propane melting snow on and away from the greenhouses in a storm so it doesn’t pile up on top and collapse the greenhouses. On top of that we have to supplement light levels with HID lites to bring the plants along so that we can take cuttings. There are 700 tiny little tomato plants struggling to grow in there as well. Hard to imagine that those same plants, when planted in the soil in a greenhouse in April, can sometimes put on almost an inch a day in height. Not so now, but their presence in the greenhouses and the slowly strengthening sun assures us that spring will come.
The new farmstand renovation is coming along pretty much on schedule. I am told that there is a painting party to be held there this afternoon and I am required to show up with a roller in hand and some crappy old clothes. After that gets done, we will be ready to put the flooring down and start moving some basic appliances into the kitchen part. Wooden shelves still need to be constructed for the farm stand part, exterior doors and windows installed and a large counter constructed. It appears that this will not conflict too badly with the opening of greenhouses in early March and potting season, but there will be lots of little stuff that we overlooked that will have to be done. Ray and Mike have been reassembling the coolers, with many “farmer modifications” added to make old panels fit together in odd spaces. Fortunately we have gone two weeks without major snowfall (over 4″). Snow removal from around the greenhouses and driveways is a full 2-man job that takes a full day or better, so not having the expense for two weeks seems like a gift. Maybe that’s what I got for Valentines Day this year….
Last night we had a cold night; it was -21 Fahrenheit here at 6:00 AM. That leads me to believe that Mother Nature effectively thinned the 2011 peach crop here at the farm. Fortunately for the raspberries, blueberries and strawberries, we have good snow cover so they will be unaffected by this event. But as I look out the kitchen window at the upper greenhouses I can see dollar bills going up in smoke as the furnaces struggle to keep the greenhouses temperate.
I have been taking cuttings and sowing seeds (the greenhouse tomatoes are up). Mike, Ray, Leo and Eric have intermittently been plugging away at the the farm stand renovation when materials are available and the weather moderates. Griff has been trying to resurrect a pile of damaged irrigation pipe to some level of functionality and we all have been moving a lot of snow. Our greenhouses and barns are not set up to handle winters with lots of snow, so we have to deal with snow removal on several different fronts, several different ways. A five inch snowstorm will take 2 people with two machines a full 10 hour day to clean up, so just moving snow around gets to be an expensive proposition. Global warming is looking good to some of us….