I had a colleague, Larry Allen who farmed and Westminster and one time he told me he had no interest in attending a grower conference in Las Vegas. I asked him if the glitz and gambling held no interest for him and he responded “I don’t need to be reminded that I gamble gobs of money every time I fire up a tractor and head to the field”.
This has certainly been a challenging season for farmers in the northeast. Our farm is no exception. Of course, weather is the big trump card in the game. When the weather is uncooperative, you start taking risks to accommodate the problems the weather creates. All standard management practices can be can be cast aside and you can step up and put your money down.
An example from this spring would be during transplant season, which was very damp and very cold. We were behind schedule with getting spring transplants in the ground because the weather was uncooperative and we came up short on labor during the season; due to injuries and labor demands in the greenhouses. Ray would go gangbusters getting stuff out when the few opportunities between labor and weather allowed, and the dampness of the spring initially worked in our favor, because we didn’t need to set up irrigation. Normally we put out a lot of row cover on our vines and pepper transplants to keep them warm and give them climate protection. Because we had so much transplant material backed up in the greenhouse, we opted to not take the time instilling row covers, but rather to get the transplants out before they got too big. We knew if the weather broke hot we would be additionally managing those row covers daily. It looked like a great idea on paper, but then two things happened. First , the spring continued cold and damp. The row covers could have warmed those plant environs and pushed the plants along, and we would have captured an earlier harvest. Instead, when the weather did break we had two days of hot weather with wind. The peppers got beaten to hell and set back. They finally recovered, but fruited later than normal. The risk we took…
Onions are an important crop for us. So in 2018 we consciously made an effort to exercise a best management practice to insure success with the 2019 onion crop. We took a couple acres out of our “good” ground and put in two cover crops of peas and oats to build some humus and break any disease cycles that might be there. Additionally, there was no tillage to oxidize any existing humus or organic matter. That is pretty much textbook J. I. Rodale organic practices. We should be rewarded, correct?
This year, we spaded in the residue into the soil, fertilized, prepped and planted two acres of singulated onion transplants from the greenhouse (approx. 35,000 transplants). We stood back to watch the money grow. They looked darn good for a couple of weeks. Cool and damp…onions like that too, while they are getting established. Then some started to die. Areas of the field showed stress. The problem was that by not tilling the soil last year and adding all the organic matter, it gave the root wire worms (think the little guys who burrow into your potatoes in the garden) a chance to establish a strong hold in the field, and they were living on onion roots. We lost over 60% of the onion crop right out of the gate. Basically because we were trying to do the right thing by our soils and crops. Who knew?
We stepped up to the roulette wheel with our strawberry crop as well. The winter of 2018-19 was brutal on the strawberries. The snow came in early November and although the plants saw daylight in January for a couple of weeks (not good either) they basically remained caked in ice until May 1st (very late to uncover plants) They were not the strongest plants going into the winter, and they were verily hammered coming out of it. The weak plants started blooming profusely and heavily in mid to late May, and there were no leaves to support the fruit load. We were confronted with a season of picking strawberries the size of small blueberries. Trade publications rail against fertilizing strawberries in the spring, mostly for the fact that it makes them more susceptible to disease. Confronted with the possibility of a non crop, we opted to go against convention and hit them with every nutrient we could think of to bolster their development. Nitrogen, potassium, even seaweed extract…we nuked ‘em. The first fruit looked discouragingly small. But about a week in with some warm weather the plants really started to respond and the fruit sized up. Our 2019 crop was not a winner by any stretch, but at least we were able to have a crop to service all our accounts properly and provide some pick your own as well. By utilizing the wrong strategy we produce a better outcome. It could have backfired that the weather turned wet and damp and the fruit would have instantly turned to grey mush, but we gambled, and it work out to some advantage.
Elsewhere it is the usual succession of successes and failures. Tomatoes are a workhorse crop for us, and they are doing well growth wise and sales wise. Good crop of people for the farmstand sales force, and the stand looks tip top whenever I go by on my way to the kitchen to see if Emily has any blueberry scones left over.. A good hardworking field crew doing battle daily, anchored by an aging Jamaican team. Long as they make ibuprofren and CBD oil, they (and we) will go on forever. George still drives up from Bradford NH daily (at 88) to keep the tillage and mowing under control for us. (Also repairs window sash on the older homes) . Keeping our noses down during these hot steamy spells, watching the potatoes grow daily and looking forward to the cooler times. Along with the daily planning , scheming and gambling…