2012 Archives

 

RE: BRIAN DE PALMA

DECEMBER 17, 2012 

About a month ago, Brian de Palma published an op-ed article somewhere  stating that research  had shown  that certified organically raised  produce had no more food value than produce raised conventionally. I didn’t see the original  article  but it  caused a furor in the  organic community.  Even as a non certified organic grower, I guess I would wonder how anybody arrives  at a blanket statement like that and the criterion that he used to reach that conclusion.   And of course,  the big question in my mind (without having seen the article),  what is  and how broad is his definition of  food value?

Being more concerned with the mundane business of cramming  farming into increasingly shortening daylight hours and colder temperatures as well as the seasonal  hurdle of Christmas shopping,  I never looked the article up. And I  fell asleep long before my curiosity arose to do so. But I caught a second article by de Palma in our local daily  paper  The Valley News, and I garnered some interesting facts from it that made  me stop and think.

Leaving  food value aside,  he compared  the energy consumption of organic farming  practices vs  conventional  farming.    I would have guessed conventional ag would have used less energy than organic ag.  This supposition is born from the fact that there is a fair amount of mechanical  cultivation  in organic ag  coupled with fallowing systems,  flame weeding  and,  up to this point,   very expensive  fertilizers and soil amendments.  Cultivation and organic  amendments  are  areas in which we  at Edgewater have some expertise, although  in some crops we use herbicides  to get some measure of control over the bad guys (weeds)  and conventional fertilizers as well.    But de Palma  points out that the high use of BTUs  in the  production of conventional  fertilizers and  chemicals  offsets the  high cost of organic production.  Upon thinking about it,   I think he may be onto something.   From a conventional  production   standpoint,  we can see  fossil fuel products  have climbed astronomically  the last  five years for both organic and conventional farmers,  we all use diesel fuel and grease.   Conventional fertilizer has risen astronomically.   I know that my cost of potash  has gone up  300% in the past five years,.   Part of this is demand  (with China being a huge customer for US produced fertilizers), but it remains  that  the means of producing  potash as well as conventional  urea form nitrogen  requires the use of fossil fuel.  So my world gets jostled a little because  not  too many years ago it was,  from a  purely economic  standpoint,   cheaper to produce  food through conventional means.  I think that I may have been complacent in my illusion to that fact, but there certainly is a strong statement  by de Palma in today’s economy  to be otherwise.

At the end of our  day this may just be  another interesting factoid.  Edgewater Farm really isn’t  going to be moved by this other than  better understanding the realities of farming in the 21st century.  It wont be a paradigm shift for us because we have always straddled the line of organic farming and conventional farming.  The objective is still  to understand the  systems that produce safe, healthy  food  in a sustainable way, and choose the correct path.  And while traveling down that  path  we will continue to look forward and aft and keeping an ear to the ground to what others, like de Palma ,  have to say.

THE PUTNAM FARM–NOVEMBER 2012

NOVEMBER 7, 2012 

As many of you  remember, we purchased the Putnam Farm and Homestead in Cornish back in May. It isn’t an exercise in empire-building, we just needed the land to continue what we currently do. We currently beg, borrow and lease about 35% of the tillable acreage we currently farm, so to secure a land base we bought the farm–both literally and (somewhat) figuratively.  Lots of  folks ask us about it, and what our plans are for its future.  Perhaps this blog will address those questions.

First and foremost, the Putnam Farm will be an exercise in restoration, not just in the buildings but the fields and woodlot as well.

The house presents a special set of problems.  If done properly, it alone could be a separate project in terms of finance and time. Our goal was to stabilize it from decay, which we have pretty well done. First, some electrical work (in terms of new panels and wiring) had to be completed in order for our insurance company to view the house as insurable. That was completed early in the summer, at the same time the water from the dug well was restored. The plumbing was solid and presented no big surprises when we finally pressurized the system.  After we did an inspection of all the chimneys, we installed a wood stove in the kitchen to supplement the forced hot water system. Then, the ancient and fragile boiler, valves and circulators had to be replaced and antifreeze put in the lines.  Our good friend and chief tractor operator, George Cilley,  patiently took all the windows apart, scraped them, re-glazed all the panes and painted all the window sashes to tighten up the windows. In November we  had  our friends the Skovsteads  (who oversaw our farm stand renovation) help us to cap the attic so we hopefully can retain a little bit more heat in the winter.

The fields needed some attention. Steve Taylor, our local “ag” historian and friend, figured that the fields had not been turned over in over 40 years. That corroborated with the fact that the soil test showed a low pH and high organic matter, which would indicate that it has been in sod for a long time. So we amended the pH with wood ash and cover-cropped half of the land with a combination of buckwheat, soybean and hairy vetch and winter rye for the winter. The tree lines have been encroaching on the field for a couple of generations, so much brush work will be done this winter. Hopefully, we will additionally clear two acres of field that was let go to woods.  Clearing will generate a  lot of firewood. That is good, ’cause I am sure Ray’s wood stove will be eating a lot of it.  

A key part of this farm puzzle will be trying to get water up from the Connecticut River and under Route 12A to the fields that we want to crop. To that end we have engaged the services of ECI Construction in Burlington who will deal with the permitting process with the Railroad and execute the horizontal bore under the tracks, fields and and road.  The time frame is hopefully early winter, and if  it does come to pass,  we may start limited cropping there in 2013.

After much research and soul-searching, we decided to take the barn down. The  barn dimension is 120 x 34 and is actually two separate  40 x 34  English post and beam barns connected with timbers to make one barn.  It has historical connection and value to the property.  But it is in need of extensive foundation work, and one gable end that has been exposed to weather has suffered a great deal of rot in the framing timbers.  Because of a compromised foundation, the frame is shifting to the south.  We engaged former barn and Ag structures Specialist John Porter from UNH as well as local framing guru Leo Maslan to assess the needed work. Ultimately, it looked like a big money pit that really wouldn’t give us a serviceable structure that we could actually use or need.  If left without the needed immediate  reparation,  it will be sufficiently compromised and might come down under snow load in the near future. Additionally, it may  be viewed  in legal terms as an “attractive nuisance,” and as such presents us with a potential liability issue. So Ken Epworth and his crew at the The Barn People, LLC in Windsor, Vermont  are going to take it down and dismantle it, marrying parts of the two frames into one good frame, saving any additional materials that might be recycled to future job sites, burn the waste and remove all  cement and foundation rock. That will give us room  in the future to  put up some appropriate barn or storage structure that we can actually  use, and at the very least give us another 1/2 acre of land to crop.

This is a highly visible property, and we know that because we are frequently asked questions about what is going on and what our plans there are. If you have an interest or question about the property, please feel free to contact us  at info@edgewaterfarm.com.  Happy Thanksgiving.

OCTOBER 3 ITS OVER!….WELL,, NOT REALLY

OCTOBER 3, 2012 

The farmstand closes Columbus Day, and I am already fielding the annual question:  “Now, what do you do when the farmstand closes?”   My most recently crafted response is simply to say “As soon as we shut down in 2012 we immediately start work on 2013″ and that statement is essentially true.  Yes, we will continue to wholesale fall crops to some degree,  our fall CSA will continue until Thanksgiving, and there will be gleaning and working to get food to the local community pantries in conjunction with Willing Hands, our local distribution service. But for the most part, we will be focusing  everyday on getting things in order for re-opening our doors for Spring 2013.

There is a ton of stuff to do before snowfall (if the weather cooperates), such that there is enough work for about 6 of us full time (40-45 hours a week) through mid-December.  We still have root crops in the field for harvest. Field cleanup is pretty far along at this point, although strings and stakes will have to be removed from peppers and tomatoes. The  raspberries have yet to be pruned.  Blueberries need to be cleaned up and lightly pruned. Strawberries will have to be gone through and perennial weeds removed,  straw mulch applied and protective deer fence put up.   Irrigation pipe will have to be picked up, and fall tillage (plowing, spading) done before the ground freezes.  The stand will have to be broken down and cleaned up so as not to attract animals. The potted plants will have to be cleaned up and brought back to the main farm. Perennials will be overwintered outdoors under protective covering, and the annuals will have to be overwintered in winterized stock plant greenhouses where we hope to start taking cuttings before the holidays. Vegetable and flower seed orders will have to be generated before the first of the year…that takes days. Tax prep work must be collated and completed (farmers’ federal tax is due March 1).
Greenhouses will have to be cleaned as soon as the onions, pumpkins and squash are taken out of them. Many will have to have their protective greenhouse skins replaced and repairs done to fans, thermostats and switches. Furnaces will have to be cleaned and serviced.  If and when we  get a snowstorm that has to be plowed (four to six inches), the snow will have to be removed from around the greenhouses that we have to get into all winter long. A six inch storm generates enough machine and hand labor to occupy 3-4 people a full day.  Flower seeding starts in December and the first greenhouse tomatoes are seeded right after New Year’s Day. Then there is brush cutting around the fields to keep them “open,” firewood to be generated for the families, an irrigation system to be designed for the new farm, a barn to come down, a replacement for that barn designed, more machine repair…

Our farm remains a very busy place year round.  Yes, we will cram some downtime in, a few hikes, day trips to see friends. Our days shorten as the sunlight ebbs towards winter. But we work here with the knowledge that the days will soon enough start to lengthen.   Self employment is not for the faint of heart, and it may be over-rated. But it still works for some of us.

AUG 5: IN THE DEAD HEAT OF SUMMER

AUGUST 5, 2012 

The Thirtieth Olympiad swirls around us, but down on the farm we are in the midst of our own marathon.  As we come to the end of the long hours of what is referred to as “blueberry season” (we still have to weed, water and  harvest everything else) we can mark the end (we hope) of the fairly frequent 14-hour day. Everyone is plodding onward. The college contingent of the crew is looking forward to the comfort of returning to sleeping later and air-conditioned classrooms, and the rest of us will look forward to taking comfort in the cooler weather of September, if and when it finally arrives. We have been slogging through a drought and a lot of 90-degree days this summer. Roy says that the hot days in Jamaica have nothing on the hot days in New Hampshire.  Today we are watching the radar to see if we can pick up a much needed shower, otherwise Mike will be back to wrestling irrigation pipe and priming finicky pumps. We are all ready for a change.

A nice thing happened yesterday. While on one of my infrequent stops at the farm stand I ran into Larry Dore, Plainfield Police Emeritus.  Larry has been stopping by and getting corn at the farm stand for just about as long as we have had one. I looked into his bag and made some remark that the paltry four ears of corn were another one of our mutual concessions to advancing years. (20 years ago we were easy 4-6-ears-a-sitting men). In the course of chatting about retirement, he made some very unwarranted but kind remarks about the value of the type of work that we do on the farm, and the contributions it makes to the greater community. He even thought that what I do for work might have more real tangible value  than his career. I, however, might draw the line saying that I don’t think farming is more valuable than his job of keeping the bad guys behind bars and keeping the honest people honest,  a job he executed professionally and effectively for so many  years. But it was nice to hear, and made me feel good for a few minutes until I got back out into the broiling sun and 90-degree heat. The irony was that we never set out to do something noble. At the end of the day we were just like so many other working stiffs setting out to do a job, have a lifestyle and make a living. And trying not to do any collateral damage along the way to anyone or anything. Glad that it seems to be turning out that way.

JUNE 26- REGARDING LEGACY AND SOYBEANS

JUNE 26, 2012 

We are  wading our way through strawberry season, our craziest time of year. Introduce the fact that we just added an additional 25 acres of tillable land and 45  acres of woodland  at the Putnam Farm to work up, and you might ratchet up the anxiety levels, but so far it has not been the case. In fact, we are settling into our new “home” pretty comfortably.  The fields haven’t  been plowed in over 40  years to anyone’s recollection, so we “broke  ground” by plowing the fields and seeding cover crops just as soon as the soil tests returned from the state lab.  The Macs put in  12 acres of cow corn in the  back half of the land, and we are working on the front half. After the addition of wood ash to remedy a low soil pH and some potassium deficiencies in the soil,  I seeded the cover crops (or green manures); one field down to buckwheat, and the other field to soybeans, a cover crop I have never tried before but hope to capture some nitrogen with.

While I was seeding down the soybeans, I had some time to reflect upon some questions that have been asked of us since we took ownership.  There are the simple questions like “Are you going to  put up a farmstand down there?”  which currently is not our intent.  One that took me off guard, but has cropped up a couple of times, is “What are you going to name your new farm?”

It is a curious question  to me, because I never questioned that it would or should be called anything but the Putnam Farm.  The Putnam family farmed that ground for over two hundred years. There is a legacy there that deserves some recognition because of the emotion and sweat equity a family puts into a piece of ground.  I think it would be pretty presumptuous of me to rename the farm, and a display of egotism.  Jon Satz in Brandon, Vermont,  a fellow farming buddy, kept the name of his farm (Wood’s Market Garden) the same, out of respect for the family that came before him.  Yes, land is a resource, but if you look at land only as an income-producing tool, you probably missed the point of being a farmer, and in the long run are likely to be a pretty shitty steward of that land.  The home farm where we live was owned by the Colby family from 1832 until we bought it in 1974, and  I knew Stan Colby, the gentleman who ultimately sold it to us. I got to know him better over the remaining years when he was living in Cornish.  It had always been known as the Edgewater Farm.   He gambled a bit and took less money for the place than he could have gotten on the open market, so that two kids could get a crack at having their own farm.  He lived long  enough to see that gamble pan out, for he was just as pleased as we were to see us developing a successful strawberry business and fixing up the old homestead.

Frank Brock,  a fellow ski patroller and longtime friend I worked with at Mt. Ascutney, once jokingly said  “We’re not here for a long time, we’re just here for a good time.”   Our stay on the land is not a long time, and we do want it to be a “good” time.  But we are just one in a number of families like the Colbys and the Putnams who are using this house, this land, this water for a while and we should never leave it in anything but better shape than we found it. So when I work in the fields I ponder questions about the families who stood there before me, and it connects me to them. Did Stan Colby’s grandmother really plant a box elder tree in the front yard of the house that eventually spawned all these weed trees encircling the lower meadow?  How did Link Putnam farm this wet area of the field?  Could my Dad ever have imagined that when he bought this 2-cylinder John Deere tractor to plow and bale hay in 1956 that his kid would be using it to plant soybeans in 2012?

I am never alone on a farm.

 

MAY 27-MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND

MAY 27, 2012 

For most everybody in the Upper Valley, this is traditionally the big weekend to plant the gardens, although many of the more hardcore types have been  pushing the envelope for almost a month by getting their perennials in, seeding  their hardy vegetables and annuals while covering their more tender transplants from the frost. But if you need to follow a clock, now is the time to get the garden in.  Here at Edgewater, as well as at  other farms in the Upper Valley,  the first planting of everything is in the ground.  Because we are shooting for earliness, we oftentime make two  plantings  of crops you might not consider.  We actually have two  chronologically staggered plantings of  cherry tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons and cukes to name a few. I usually  make my last  seeding of radishes the second week of  September.  Planting goes on all summer long with lettuce, herbs, greens and cole crops.

We closed on the purchase of the Putnam Homestead in Cornish earlier this month and are  hard at work there, both in the house and the fields. We are going through the necessary electrical upgrades in the house and  trying to improve some of the drainage about the foundation. As it is such a huge old house, windows need glazing before winter and that is being attended to on rainy days when  George isn,t mowing or having field tillage to attend to. The fields, which haven’t been plowed in anyone’s recent memory, have been turned over and the ancient sod broken.  Wood ash is being imported to correct the PH of some of the field as well as raise potassium levels, lime will be used  on other blocks. The MacNamara family is growing  fodder corn on some of the acreage, while we retain over half of the tillable land to cover-crop  and perhaps actually plant to vegetables as early as spring of 2013.  In any case,  the new property is another task to integrate, figure out and manage. So far, so good.

We seem to be getting more calls about U-Pick strawberries earlier in the year, with more frequency,  than ever before. This illustrates the huge disconnect that the average population has with its local food system despite all the recent press of the last couple of years.  The earliest call that I ever answered was from a woman who wanted to pick berries the third week in April.  It was three years ago, it was the first day that our greenhouses were open for the season, and there were still chunks of ice  on the river bank. In the “old days’ we used to notify one another (the other Upper Valley berry growers) to see who would have that first ridiculous call among us and I am now the record holder.  But now it is very routine to field e-mails or calls from people who want to pick berries in early May.  In discussing it with other growers the consensus was that if people  never grow a garden and they see Mr. Driscoll’s California strawberries in the market all winter long, consumers naturally would question why wouldn’t they be available locally in April?   Winter is over , isn’t it?

3/15, DUCK, CAESAR! THE IDES OF MARCH…

APRIL 4, 2012 

I hope I have no rude surprises today, but at this point in the season there are always many, both good and bad. Among the bad are the importation of insect pests from the purchase of other plants from other greenhouses. Surprise! the perennials from Michigan have aphids on them.  Surprise! the fuschia cuttings from Indiana  are covered with thrips.  Surprise! Pooh left the  key on in the skid steer loader so Mike could find the battery dead this morning.  The list can go on. But so far things are going well for the early greenhouse season. The mild winter has allowed us to function at this end of the growing season without having to wade around in slush, mud and snow and the fuel bills are greatly reduced in comparison to the winter of 2010-2011.  It is pushing the season a bit in the field, and this is always a dangerous path to be walking in early spring, but it is what it is, as they say, and we may as well try to take advantage of the open conditions to get things done out there in advance.

Recently a factoid caught my eye that I thought I would share with you.  I have  been down to the statehouse a couple of times, and testified before folks there regarding different agricultural issues.  It never ceases to amaze me that how little  the layperson/legislators understand about agriculture.  Most view us as interesting, harmless bucolic sorts, who use open land for food production until a better use can be found. That being, perhaps,  a family housing development, public education or recreation use or perhaps a manufacturing facility site.  But they find it hard to grapple with the fact that there is an economic contribution that we make to the surrounding community, much harder still for them to visualize us as small businesses.

A farming buddy of mine in Randolph,Vermont, came up with an interesting fact.  Sam Lincoln of Lincoln Farms is a pretty sharp fellow, and unlike many of us who deplore anything to do with economics, he enjoys looking at his books and figures. They speak to him directly and so he is able to couple good sound economic judgment with his passion for farming in making major decisions about his lifestyle and his farm.  Recently he figured out that out of all the  expenses he incurs at his farm, he pays back 88% of it to other vendors and folks within a 30 mile radius of his farm.  Talk about keeping it local.  I don’t know if my expenses would sugar off the same,  but as I sit here and think about it, I’ll bet that we aren’t very far off.  Most of my farm equipment comes from Townline Equipment, down at the end of River Road. The fuel suppliers are local (even if they make most of the stuff in the MidEast) and my auto mechanics live in town.  Most of my filters, auto repair, and batteries come from an independent parts jobber in Claremont,  insurance agent in Charlestown, fertilizer and supplies from Bradford, etc., etc.  Except for Roy and Willy, all the other help are local folks. Plus, because of the tax structure in NH, we pay a princely sum of money to the Town of Plainfield for the luxury of doing business in what is admittedly one of the prettiest sections of the state.  So yeah, we are keeping it pretty local too.  Farms are pretty significant businesses in their communities, even if they can’t be found in a store front in a mall.

So this blog is not meant to flog you with some more incentive to “Buy Local”.  Most likely if you are wading through this you probably support your local greenhouses and farm stands anyway, and thank you for that support. But it comes as some surprise to me (thanks to Brother Lincoln’s enterprising inclinations)  that we farms indeed have a bigger impact socially and economically in our communities than I previously thought.  So thanks for buying local. What is bought local, stays local.

MARCH 27 THE PUTNAM FARM

MARCH 27, 2012 

As many saw in the Saturday edition of the Valley News, we just signed a purchase and sales agreement with the Putnam heirs of Cornish, NH to buy their family farm.

This didn’t come as a  surprise to those who know us. We have been pursuing land acquisition for several years. Of all the land that we currently till, 25% is leased on an annual basis. That made for uncertainty about our future, at least in terms of growing food crops. Additionally, after 36 years of strawberry growing, we were seeing issues related to pathogen build-up in the soils. Nothing a good long term rotation won’t cure. We looked at several land possibilities, both on our own and in concert with the Upper Valley Land Trust.  Some sites were too far away, some sites had marginal soils.  In two cases people told us that although they loved our product and coming to our stand,  they  just didn’t want to have us in their field of vision while we were working.

The total scope of the  purchase of the Putnam Farm and the challenges it presents are much larger than we were originally looking for.  After many weeks of discussion we came to an agreement that although it might be a stretch for us initially, we could be grateful we did so at some time in the near future.  The soils at the Putnam Farm are the best in the northeast, and we have access to the Connecticut River for irrigation. And it doesn’t hurt that you can look up from hoeing lettuce and have the  most panoramic view in the Upper Valley of Mt. Ascutney.

We are a bit overwhelmed at this point, but none the less we are excited about the possibilities the acquisition of the Putnam homestead will bring to the future of the greater family at Edgewater Farm.  It is a big undertaking  both financially and from a management standpoint, and we are cautiously optimistic and hopeful that we are up to the task of handling both.  There have been several folks  in the area who have called to congratulate us.  My response now to them is to save the congratulations for ten years or so. It will be more appropriate then if we can pull this off successfully.

FEBRUARY 19 SOMEWHERE IT’S SPRING…..

FEBRUARY 19, 2012 

Pretty odd winter thus far. But that’s New England, where only the unexpected is expected. It’s been very open and very snowless, and pretty warm.

I can already hear the  incessant line of questioning:  “What is this doing to the strawberries??   It is a year that allows me to keep the answer succinct…which is simply “I have no idea.”  What happens to  our berries, legumes in the forage fields, the  maple syrup crop or the flowering perennials in home gardens is yet to be determined by what the weather in the  next two and a half months has to offer.  As a  person  who is in his advancing years, and profits more from the lack of ice to fall on or shovel from around the barns and greenhouses than the good snow cover for winter athletic activities, I can’t say that I have minded the mild conditions too much,  and now with March getting close,  we are getting the seasonal urges to get farming again. Today my son Ray and his cousins boiled their first 22 gallons of maple syrup of 2012.

Things keep getting ramped up in the greenhouse and it feels like spring in there when it’s sunny outside. We are well into seeding and taking cuttings of ornamentals….dividing begonias and grafting tomato plants.  Many perennials were seeded last week and there are flats of tomato seeds waiting to germinate along with browallia, portulaca and dusty miller, to name a few.  Some cuttings are just about ready to be  potted up already, and many of the salvias will be stuck this week. We are currently also seeing a particular aphid population expand with the lengthening daylight.

We are  beginning to release  beneficial  predatory and parasitic insects into our greenhouses in an effort to establish populations of good insects to balance the emergence of  things like our aphid population, aka The Bad Guys. We purchase from 3 insectaries nationwide, but they are primarily brokers for European concerns that grow for a much more developed and sophisticated market in Europe.  Here in the US the science of  beneficial pest control is really just getting a foothold. We here have been working with University and Extension Service entomologists for 20 years trying to get a handle on how to make it work for us, and it remains a work in progress. But we have definitely  gotten better at it,  and there is a lot of  info sharing going on between growers as other growers come on board.

Just an addendum in regards to globalization. A real downside to globalization is the rate that it brings in new  pests to our growing areas.  Historically, it has always happened – the  Colorado Potato Beetle came from Europe originally in the mid-nineteenth century and I believe it took over twenty years to work its way westward to Colorado. Dutch elm disease took 60 years to move through the US elm population. However, the latest huge concern to New England fruit and vegetable production- the Spotted-Wing Drosophila fruit fly that attacks all fruit and tomatoes- hit the west coast in 2009,  and was found burrowing in fall raspberries in southern NH last fall.  The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug is another little gem that showed up within the continental US in the last ten years, and is now part of our reality. There are some pretty nasty Bad Guys moving into the ‘hood, and I am sure you will become more aware of them in the future. But for now it is still winter even though it is comfortable to sit in the lawn chair on a sunny day with some warm clothes on. The bugs are not moving outdoors, anyway. Yet…

JANUARY 2012- THE FARM WASTE STREAM

JANUARY 3, 2012 

No doubt about it. Edgewater Farm  generates some refuse. And as the farm kept getting bigger over the years, the size of the dumpster and our waste stream kept getting bigger.  About 10 years ago it caught my attention enough to want to do something about it.

We have several different waste streams, and some have been trickier to solve than others.  There is the organic waste that is generated by the farm stand and greenhouses,  everything from  plant and flower trimmings to vegetable spoilage.  This particular waste stream has always been pretty easy to deal with,  because most of it is composted here and  broadcast back onto the fields as soil amendment. That waste stream has traditionally had value to us and we capture all of it.

The next problem we saw was the use of season-extending  agricultural plastics. The black plastic mulch that traditionally is used in the field for soil mulch is a petrochemically based product that had to be land-filled or incinerated. We were generating enough volume so that we were filling  our dumpster multiple times during the fall with just this product alone.  So when the Canadians started importing the cornstarch-based plastic mulch from Italy eight years ago, we made a journey north to get some to trial.  It turned  out to be as good as they claimed it to be. Every year since we have used this black cornstarch mulch and it holds up  for about 70 days before it starts to decompose. More farmers have come on board over the years so that I might  guess that  30-35% of the  farms in the northeast use it in their fields.  Oddly enough, the product is not certified by the feds for use by USDA  Certified organic farmers, a position that  I think is  counter-intuitive and perhaps political and therefore inexcusable. But we use it and find that the high up-front cost of the biodegradable mulch (about 3 times that of  non-biodegradable type) is offset by the reduction of labor at the end-of-season collection from the field. We just harrow it up or wait until spring to work the remains of it into the soil.  Conventional oil-based plastic has to be pulled up and landfilled.  Within a year of application there is no remaining shred of biodegradable  mulch in the soil.  The same can rarely be said abut the oil-based plastics, you find shreds of it for years in the fields after its use. Biodegradable mulch was a gamble we took on behalf of the environment that actually worked out well all the way around.

The next hurdle confronting us was the waste stream of pots, plastics and cardboard that is generated by greenhouse production. The  plastic pots and  baskets all come in carboard boxes. Seeds, hard goods, tools as well…..much comes in cardboard boxes. We break these boxes down to reduce volume but we still had truck loads of  random sized cardboard to deal with. Two years ago we bought an old trash compactor and baled our cardboard. That helped, but it still left us to move 250-pound bales of compressed cardboard. The plastic pots are recyclable,  but not easily reusable. This is because they have to be washed and sterilized and it is not cost-effective to do so. We have switched some of our pots to fiber so that they are  biodegradable, but they are not all that user friendly for the customers.

In 2011 (in between the spring floods and Hurricane Irene) our town switched to Zero-Sort trash collection and recycling.  I can’t begin to tell you how handy zero-sort recycling is.  The town of Plainfield had a recycling program before that recycled  glass, some different grades of plastic and paper and cans, but it all had to be pre-sorted into separate bins with some types of plastic not allowed. With Zero-Sort all types of plastic, all types of glass and all types of paper and cardboard can be mixed all together in one container. Suddenly we were able to participate effortlessly in community-wide recycling that reduced and diverted an additional 30  percent of our recyclable materials away from the landfill.  It  just became so much easier and it felt good for the environment. All that recycled plastic meant less fossil fuel to be used in plastic production. Just think, all those dirty plastic pots and bottles could be turned into another useful  product.

In 2012 another environmentally sound product became available to us. As we have started up a commercial kitchen as an adjunct to our farm stand,  we were in need of  packaging.  We were able to source food-grade biodegradable containers to  put our soups, salsas and  pestos in. Another product diverted from the landfill.

We still have some farm waste products that we have to figure out.  The greenhouse  plastic film coverings are not being  recycled at this time, but I have to follow up  on a lead or two  that may change that.  The plastic clamshells that we  package our  cherry and  grape tomatoes and  our blueberries for wholesale accounts  can be recycled, but I would feel much better if there was a biodegradable  solution for packaging those  as well, and will be keeping my eyes open for those this summer.

So if you are passionately  pro/anti-incineration  or pro/anti-landfilling of  garbage,  zero sort recycling is just a wonderful addition to the tools that deal with community waste streams. All in all,  2011 was a pretty good year for garbage at Edgewater Farm.  You can be sure that we will continue working on it.

2011 Archives

CHRISTMAS MORNING

DECEMBER 25, 2011 

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.

NOVEMBER 13

NOVEMBER 13, 2011 

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.

 

HURRICANE IRENE: THE FUN REMAINS

OCTOBER 2, 2011 

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.

AUGUST 30 “GOODNIGHT IRENE, I’LL SEE YOU IN MY (BAD) DREAMS…”

AUGUST 30, 2011 

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.

THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER

JULY 25, 2011 

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.

OF COMPUTERS AND FOUL WEATHER….

JUNE 4, 2011 

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.

MY PROBLEM WITH ORGANIC CERTIFICATION

MAY 8, 2011 

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.

APRIL 12-MOTHER NATURE’S INTEMPERANCE

APRIL 12, 2011 

  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.

3/29 WHOA! BUGS IN THE GREENHOUSE!

MARCH 29, 2011 

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. 

MARCH 11

MARCH 11, 2011 

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…

FEBRUARY 14

FEBRUARY 14, 2011 

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….

JANUARY 24

JANUARY 24, 2011 

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….

2010 Archives

 

CHRISTMAS EVE

DECEMBER 24, 2010 

Christmas Eve? How did we get here? Time goes by so fast, it seems as though we were picking corn and pumpkins two weeks ago. I remember sitting in Mrs. Norton’s fourth grade class waiting for Christmas vacation. It seemed a span of two years between Thanksgiving and Christmas back then. Now it seems we barely get the Thanksgiving turkey soup cleaned up before we have to deal with Christmas cookies.(translation:  eat)

It has been a very busy fall here. We have a  huge farm stand renovation underway. As of now framing is completed and we have two new buildings with roofs flashed and papered, ready for the shingles. After the New Year, windows, electrical and plumbing will start as well as trim and siding on the outside. Our friends Leo Maslan with Eric and Mary Skovsted have guided Mike and Ray through the process thus far, acting as the brains of the outfit. When not developing their skills as carpenters, Mike and Ray have been renovating the gable ends of some of the older greenhouses. Thankfully the snow has held off, allowing us to proceed without the encumbrances of snow or ice. Anne and Sarah have been at the books since the middle of October. There is pre-tax work, greenhouse inventory, and seed and plant orders to go through, as well as the craploads of reports and documents to be filed with various government and and insurance bureaucracies. I am sure that if someone told us forty years ago that a farm of this size would generate this much desk work Anne would have remained a career teacher and I would  still be driving a dump truck or working for someone else. She puts in an inordinate amount of time at the desk for the privilege of getting to work her butt off in the greenhouses and farm the rest of the year. And she still gets a boat load of desk work to do at that time of the year as well. Everybody is pretty beat and I expect there will be some people who work here who will fall asleep at some point on Christmas Day, besides myself.

As I sit here a jazzy version of Silver Bells wafts from the radio in the other room. It brings to memory Christmas past.  I tend to be fairly unsentimental about things, but I can’t help but reflect back on how far we have come since we started in 1974. As my friend Scott Macleay would say, we were farming “with stone knives and bear skins” back then.  I sort of fantasize about giving some of the elders who went before us a tour of the place now. My Dad(who farmed and loved the outdoors), Stan Colby (who grew up here), my Grandad (a Tennessee farmboy and beekeeper), my Ma (from whom I got my love of gardening and plants) and my father-in-law who loved all things about animals and farming.  I know that they would get such a kick out of how far things have actually come. I also am aware that Edgewater Farm would not be what it is today without cooperative family efforts joined with the committed, hardworking efforts of many of those who passed through as laborers and part of our greater farm family. We can’t help but be grateful and feel more than a bit lucky.

So have a peceful and restful holiday season. The  2011 CSA  Programs have been formulated and the information will be going out soon and will be posted on the website. Sarah has pictures on our Facebook site for those who are interested.  We will be back at it on the 26th, rest assured. But not before I get some eggnog and quality time in my recliner…..

NOVEMBER 6TH – DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME

NOVEMBER 6, 2010 

Tonight we set the clocks back and I am repaid for the loss of an hour’s sleep one Sunday last spring. The crew continues to diminish as others leave for winter jobs or different lives. It is a bit sad to see them move on, but there is not much time to dwell on it as the workload amplifies for the few of us remaining. This fall we are rebuilding our farm stand and the first nails are to be pounded this coming Monday. There is a tension in the air as preparations for “winter” (snow) continue, and there will be a rush to get the new building roofed and buttoned before Christmas.  This will be complicated as the shorter and cooler days move in,  coupled with the often unstable weather.  Mike has been fixing broken greenhouse parts and putting things away, Griff, Ray and Jenny continue to work on packing out what little is left for the CSA (now done for the season) and Co-op orders. Sarah and Anne are trying to get flower and seed orders out for next spring’s material, and I have been working on getting the machinery serviced and put away while trying to get the stock plants up in the greenhouses cleaned up and sorted through. We have the specter of strawberry mulching looming before us which is always a dirty, time-consuming (and dangerous) job.  We would normally consider ourselves in good shape if we were not about to start building a new barn.

But there is also the excitement of creating something new as well, hopefully something a lot better. So we hope the real winter weather will hold out for a while as we round up the tape measures, hammers and utility knives, and head up to the farm stand.

OCT 9

OCTOBER 10, 2010 

The end is in sight. Or is it?  We close the  stand down for the season  this coming  Monday (Columbus Day) and as it has for the  past 6-8 years, right on time comes a wide spread frost.  We always have to respond to the same tired  rhetorical question—“Slowing down for you now,I suppose. Not much to do  but put everything away….” always with a knowing nod. Fact is, nothing could be further from the truth. As the days get shorter and temps start to cool down there is almost an urgency in the air to get as much accomplished  before the snow flies, because in the spring we will all be  consumed with the greenhouses and spring plant production.  So we spend  our days fixing and putting away machinery, mulching strawberries, perennial pots, garlic, rhubarb, patching up the greenhouses, cutting brush and the list goes on. In the dead of winter we are finally confined to the  office for tax work,seed orders and trying to lay out at least a rudimentary game plan for the farm for the upcoming season. Everybody gets some down time,but there is always something that needs attention.  We just dont all pack up for a couple of months and head to Florida. But then, who would really want to…?

This winter we will complicate things by doing a farmstand renovation. We have batted the idea around for a couple of years of having a commercial kitchen at the farmstand. Many New England  farmstands have them and we have recognized the benefits of them, but they  looked like a lot of extra money and  harder for us-more personnel management.  But recent events  have precipitated impending federal food safety legislation (Google California Leafy Greens Amendment and SB 510) that have us looking for an alternative income stream should the FDA make us loose  our capacity to service wholesale accounts. For me personally, it forced my decision to go ahead. Other members of the family found their own reasons to pursue the  stand renovation with a state certified kitchen, so we are all on board. But it  has been quite a process thusfar trying to talk to the  State agencies,utilities and municpalities. As we are trying to do as much of the construction as possible with the farm crew, I have  been acting as a “general contractor” and I must say that I have a  greater appreciation of what it is that a  general contractor contributes to the process of building something.  That said, we are poised to clean out the farmstand the day after we close for the season and start tearing the old structure down. So in essence we will be trying to cram reconstruction in around everything else that needs to be done.  It promises to be a very busy (and expensive ) close to 2010. Stay tuned…

SEPT 5

SEPTEMBER 5, 2010 

The weather just keeps getting more bizarre. We just  finished 5 days of  over-ninety degree temps. On top of  it being extremely dry, this heat seems  back breaking at this time of the year.We just finished putting strawberry plug plants into black plastic,in hopes of fruiting them very early in spring of 2011. We had to  continually water them in order to keep them alive until the weather moderates  and temperatures cool off and they can establish themselves and start growing. If it was tough on the plants ,it was doubly tough on the crew working.  Hydration is so important for them in when it gets brutally hot like that.  Not only is it miserably hot to have to work in,but conditions  warrant that  you  pay attention  to avoid heat stroke, a very serious  condition. Now that temps are moderating we will continue with regular fall harvest of potatoes,pumpkins and winter squash. But because it has been so dry here I am afraid we are going to have to break out some irrigation  pipe to try to save some of our late fall sweet corn as well as keep the  other fall  vegetables  coming along. No rain in sight….

AUGUST 21

AUGUST 23, 2010 

We are now in the transition phase of  our summer where the college  students and  educators all return  to  school and we shuffle about trying to  fill positions for the remainder of the harvest season. It is a bit of a mad scramble for all the farmers as the term of employment is really only for a couple of months, and any extra work that may be available into early winter   goes out to those whom have been  in your employ for the longest duration. There is still lots to harvest-tomatoes,potatoes,onions,corn,fall raspberries- so the days will be long for the workers even as the day length shortens. None the less,the cooler temps will be a welcome relief  for those of us that felt this  past summer was  too hot for working in comfort. We are still very dry here at our farm and the summer  showers were pretty fickle  as many nearby farms have had adequate moisture where we have been irrigating out of the rivers and ponds. Every year we have to report to the sate department of environmental services how much water we use for irrigation purposes and this year we seem to have a bumper report going; quite a change from last year where we  hardly showed any use because of the excessive rains. Normally a dry year translates into minimal disease and pest issues. Not so this year as we have had overwintering populations of insect pests due to the mild winter (remember,I had my first bumper crop of peaches…)  and hot temps of the summer.We are looking forward to a pleasant fall and hope for a repeat  performance  of  the fall of 2009 which was long,warm and  sunny, as we have many projects on the docket.

JULY 25

JULY 25, 2010 

Farewell to a crappy strawberry season, greetings to a bumper blueberry crop. Despite the frost damaging the blossoms on the blueberry plants and a growing  problem with a disease called mummy berry,  we still managed to have the best season yet with the blueberries.  This is due in large part that our bushes are getting older and larger, and also that we  have learned  how to be better growers. The crew has been keeping really long hours trying to keep up with the harvest, and have been working  until 7-7:30 at night trying to keep up with the picking. This makes for a pretty long day for the troops when your day starts in the field at 7 in the morning. Plus this wickedly hot weather takes the starch out of the toughest of men. We have been getting some respite from the drought  this week with the arrival of 1.5″ of  rain and  we thankfully have been by passed by all the  microbursts, gullywashersand tornados  that have  become somewhat an accepted fact of summer life,  an unpleasant little sidebar to our changing climate. Along with changing weather  patterns  my farming friends and I  also notice the arrival of seasonal diseases and insect pests brought up on southerly air flows starts much  earlier in the season.  This translates into  extra time devoted to  spraying to protect  your crops, whether you are an organic or conventional grower, and that contributes to extra costs.  I already got caught napping and lost a planting of cucumbers, and the melons arent too happy either. But we have been vigilant with the potatoes and tomatoes and the  return last seasons dreaded late blight is  in our future as it has been reported in Hadley,Mass two weeks ago.

An article in our local paper talked about a gardener in Vermont who was caught and fined $1500 for shooting birds in his strawberry patch by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. They were Cedar Waxwings and are protected  under legislation as migratory birds. It does bring up the  point that the interface between wildlife  and agriculture is a conflicting one. Our university extension personnel tell us that verterbrate pests are emerging  as the #1  problem and pest in  New England row crop agriculture. We have found this to be true here on our farm. Where an occasional raccoon  in the corn or  woodchuck in the broccoli were of concern 30 years ago,we find we are defending  our crops  against an expanding deer population, and literally hordes of Redwing blackbirds in corn and Cedar Waxwings in our berries. A flock of wild turkeys can raise havoc in the blueberries. For deer we  can spray ammonium salts or rotten egg extracts to deter them or erect electric fences to keep them out. For birds we have used (along with shotguns) balloons and propane cannons. It is an increasing annual  expense to our production and it is having a huge impact on altering how we do and will do things in the future. We have netted part of our strawberry crop this year,and it worked well in exlcuding birds, but it is tremendously expensive  to purchase and would take a huge  amount of money and time to cover our 6-7 acres of strawberries. That cost has to be reflected in the cost to the consumer, so we are trying to figure out whether we can continue PYO strawberries.  I guess we will just have to charge for it and let the market determine whether or not we  should continue.

JUNE 22

JUNE 22, 2010 

Hard to believe that the days will now get shorter. Days fly by, although somedays  not fast enough. We are  in the last stages of a very early strawberry season,and not an all together great one. The winter and  spring did little to  enhance the plants  ability to produce fruit,so production is down. We started so early and the weather has remained  such that we may have no berries for  July 4th, and that will be a first.  Not only are the vegetable  plantings screwy this year, but some of the native plants are confused as well. I see milkweed about to bloom and that  usually is as late July event.  What next? Fall foliage by Labor Day?  I dont care, just as long as winter doesnt come early.

On other fronts we  have started to  deliver to our CSA members and the farmstand is open. So we are very busy on many fronts,with some planting yet to do. Things seem to be growing well, although we have been notified that the dreaded disease Late Blight of Tomato and Potato has been found in  Connecticut so we are trying to prepare for that visitation. Its nice to be eating the greens and salad vegetables again. We again have a great crew of people working for us and they are all working long  hours. We are trying to squeeze in weeding and watering  in between  harvesting and sleeping.  The end of an early strawberry seasonalso means that we are going to have an early blueberry season….

MAY 27, 2012 

For most everybody in the Upper Valley, this is traditionally the big weekend to plant the gardens, although many of the more hardcore types have been  pushing the envelope for almost a month by getting their perennials in, seeding  their hardy vegetables and annuals while covering their more tender transplants from the frost. But if you need to follow a clock, now is the time to get the garden in.  Here at Edgewater, as well as at  other farms in the Upper Valley,  the first planting of everything is in the ground.  Because we are shooting for earliness, we oftentime make two  plantings  of crops you might not consider.  We actually have two  chronologically staggered plantings of  cherry tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons and cukes to name a few. I usually  make my last  seeding of radishes the second week of  September.  Planting goes on all summer long with lettuce, herbs, greens and cole crops.

We closed on the purchase of the Putnam Homestead in Cornish earlier this month and are  hard at work there, both in the house and the fields. We are going through the necessary electrical upgrades in the house and  trying to improve some of the drainage about the foundation. As it is such a huge old house, windows need glazing before winter and that is being attended to on rainy days when  George isn,t mowing or having field tillage to attend to. The fields, which haven’t been plowed in anyone’s recent memory, have been turned over and the ancient sod broken.  Wood ash is being imported to correct the PH of some of the field as well as raise potassium levels, lime will be used  on other blocks. The MacNamara family is growing  fodder corn on some of the acreage, while we retain over half of the tillable land to cover-crop  and perhaps actually plant to vegetables as early as spring of 2013.  In any case,  the new property is another task to integrate, figure out and manage. So far, so good.

We seem to be getting more calls about U-Pick strawberries earlier in the year, with more frequency,  than ever before. This illustrates the huge disconnect that the average population has with its local food system despite all the recent press of the last couple of years.  The earliest call that I ever answered was from a woman who wanted to pick berries the third week in April.  It was three years ago, it was the first day that our greenhouses were open for the season, and there were still chunks of ice  on the river bank. In the “old days’ we used to notify one another (the other Upper Valley berry growers) to see who would have that first ridiculous call among us and I am now the record holder.  But now it is very routine to field e-mails or calls from people who want to pick berries in early May.  In discussing it with other growers the consensus was that if people  never grow a garden and they see Mr. Driscoll’s California strawberries in the market all winter long, consumers naturally would question why wouldn’t they be available locally in April?   Winter is over , isn’t it?

APRIL 20

APRIL 20, 2010 

The food safety enabling legislation in the Senate currently still occupies every small farmer’s mind as we  charge into  our growing season. Although regionally  we have tried through our legislators to  have our voices heard,there is  no real reason for optimism at this time.  I thought I would post an editorial response to an article that  was recently published in the Valley News and picked up  by the Concord Monitor. It  dealt with the  possible impacts the imposing  food safety regulations will have  on small farmers in the northeast. The article was  quite lengthy and very  accurate in a great many ways.  They picked up a quote from me that went   “It’s going to be a whole bunch of money, a whole bunch of oversight and a whole bunch of regulatory paperwork…not the way I really want to farm.”  The quote was accurate, but taken out of context it makes me sound a bit  like your standard anti-government malcontent. So I wrote the following response to underscore what I thought were the important points readers should focus on. Here it is.

Susan Boutwell’s article on food safety was timely and accurate but I feel that a few important  points should be underscored. I read my quotes in the paper and although they were accurate, I feel that they should be framed into the context to which they were given.

I personally feel that the federal government  has not done a very good job of keeping food safe when given the authority to do so. One only has to look at the tainted meat recalls that came from the huge federally inspected slaughterhouses.  Or the importation of melamine tainted baby food from China. All of the food safety  scares  (ex.-spinach, chicken ,raspberries)  can be traced back to large vertically integrated agribusinesses and not small local farms  in the  New England area.I believe that  historically the government is much more effective in regulating small operations (in this case small farms )  than larger entities. Large corporate farms have the resources to fund  batteries of compliance officers and boatloads of lawyers and lobbyists to their cause, but none of the farmers I know in New Hampshire or Vermont have those resources .

There is not a farmer in the Upper Valley that I know of who is not committed to doing a better job of producing safer, healthy food. To that end  our  growers group from the Upper Valley (in conjunction with the Hanover Consumer Coop)  proposed  to  Senators Shaheen and Gregg to have continuing documented education  provided to the  small farms through the University Extension System  in regards to food safety, a concept that gets a lukewarm reception from most Senators.   What farmers in the Upper Valley   object to is the “one size fits all” mentality that  would burden small farms disproportionately in terms of  capital outlay, burdensome paperwork and annual expense. Senator Gregg issued a editorial response in the Nashua Telegraph to a similar   food  safety article written a few weeks back in that  paper. In that editorial he assured readers that small farms would not be negatively effected by this food safety enabling legislation, which is pure bunk.  When  farmer Michael Smith of Gypsy Meadows Farm says it  can put him  out of business, he doesn’t say that because he is interested  in getting a picture of his tractor or a sound bite  in the Sunday section of the Valley News—he says it because the threat is real for small  and start up operations..

What is just as important here as the livelihood of small farmers regionwide is the stranglehold this will have on the development of a sustainable local food network. Jake Guest of Killdeer Farm  is absolutely correct in stating that this is every bit as much about grabbing and locking up marketshare by those  that can afford to do so under the guise  of  food safety. It is true that those of us that have farmstands or healthy CSA memberships can still come out the other side of a  stringent food safety policy and survive. But it will likely chokehold a developing sustainable local food  network  regionwide,   In the future “Locally Grown” may well be defined as locally grown in  New Jersey or beyond.

 

MARCH 20

MARCH 20, 2010 

Everybody’s big question is “Is this an early  spring?”  Gardeners are all fired up. Even one of my farmer friends is tempted to plant some peas just to get bragging rights (and he may look pretty clever  with his early peas for market if they dont rot in the ground first…)   Its interesting as a grower to have  gardeners come up to me  and ask the question, like I am privy to some fountain of information that they don’t have access to. I like Jake Guest’s response fashioned with a rhetorical question: ” So,what’s an early Spring? Three nights in May with nightime temperatures in the low twenties?”   So my response is pretty much tempered: go outside, pickup the  sticks off the lawn and rake the dog turds around. Do some pruning and have some fun but dont  get your water hot about seeding lettuce this weekend in the garden or come by early to get your plants from the greenhouses. April can be a long month, and I can remember being called back to work as a ski patrolman during that month just when I thought I was going to put my skis away  and trade them for the summer tractor.

But the focus on the weather does bring up the question of Global Warming in any weather  discussion. Forty nine of the fifty states in the Union  had snow this year. Its pretty interesting when you are looking at the  nightly news and see that the Dallas airport is closed because of snow. There are many politicos who pander to the assumption that these particular weather events point  to the fact that there is NO global warming, otherwise how could there be snow in Shreveport, Louisiana?  In our little world of agriculture we first got our first information about global warming from some of our University Extension Educators. They had  been attending seminars and reported  back to us at trade and educational meetings that Global Warming was not a hoax, the facts showed it to be happening and how it was happening. Verne Grubinger, a Vermont Extension specialist reported to us that there was a general forecast for New England and it was this:  Winters would be warmer, summers would be cooler and wetter. He also went further to say the climatologists   forecast  that the natural habitat for our native sugar maple will, in  a century’s time, will move north to Labrador.  Plus, storms and fronts  that result from changes in weather systems would be much more violent and dramatic.  Owtch!

After four years, I am inclined to think Verne missed his call as a meteorologist, because things seem to be bearing out just like he said they would,  at least  in my world. And we farmers spend a lot of time thinking about the weather and its ramifications. Any of  us boomers can remember growing up with longer ski seasons and snowier, colder winters,especially those of us who ski and long for the good old days.  Maine just logged either its warmest winter on record, despite the snow in Shreveport. I may not live to see the forest ecosystem change,but we can certainly document the extreme nature of the summer  thunderstorms. Ask Steve Wood or Poverty Lane Orchards or Matt Patch of Walahowden Farm about the  increasing  frequency of hail  events. I know we live in constant fear of a hail storm. Ask David Pierson of Pierson Farm what hail can do to a vegetable farm. I went up after an event decimated his home farm and  it looked like a battlefield…..greenhouse plastic shredded  and  the fields looked  a standing army had marched through shooting peppers and watermelons with shotguns.  The   2nd longest tornado  trail on record in the continental US occurred three summers ago in  NewHampshire-something like a path of 37 miles,which went right through Peter Van Berkums wildflower nursery in Deerfield  and toppled trees, ruined greenhouses and carried off a golf cart.  How about wetter summers? The last two summers have broken records as well.

Farmers and  growers are now dealing with pests and diseases that  were unheard of in our neck of the woods twenty years ago. Leaf hoppers showing up in June. Downy mildew in vine crops. Late blight of tomatoes and potatoes…ok,but in July? Squash vine borer?  These were all things that were common in the Mid Atlantic states, and now they are arriving in New England like an unwanted house guest.

Rush Limbaugh told me global warming is  a Greenie hoax.  Maybe he knows something ,I dunno……  but something weird is going on with the weather…

JAN 24 2010

JANUARY 24, 2010 

Its been a very busy off season at the farm.  Some of the regulars are trying to fit in vacations before greeenhouse season gets in full swing  (we have already started tomatoes and some flowers), Hannah is about to head to Georgia to start the AT, Ray is in the midst of a 6 week bike tour of Patagonia, and Liz is trying to line up a grad  school for the fall.  CSA membership brochures have gone out and Sarah is working up the greenhouse ads for the next  up coming season, Mike is finishing up machine and greenhouse repairs. Anne and I try to get out and do a bit of x country skiing but the  paperwork that goes with this deal is, at the least, overwhelming. Its either taxes, chasing inventory, filing H2A paperwork for Roy and Willie…..it really keeps us glued to the office. And we have begun the process of  lining up this summers employees and interviews…all very time consuming.

At the grower meetings the two hot topics continue to be food safety and  the diseases of vegetable plants, specifically the late blight issue of 2009. We lived through the late blight last summer,but are not sure how we are going to survive all these proposed bureuacratic measures in regards to food safety. There is GAP certification to comply with for those of us that are big enough to wholesale to  chains like Hannaford, Price Chopper, etc (and we are not).Then there is Senate Bill 510 in Congress that would get the FDA involved with food safety. There is HAACP, state alth departments…..virtually all in competition to  jump into food safety to regulate agriculture.

Once again, small farms  ( which are easier  to regulate but dont always have the financial resources to come into compliance) are going to  pay the price for globalization and a centralized food system. It will be a lot easier to regulate small farms than it will be to make sure the melamine stays out of the baby food coming from China or the e-coli  from  truck loads of factory farmed food coming from the west coast. We small diversified farms in the northeast dont have the political clout in our legislative  bodies to compete with the lobbyists and clout  that  large agribusiness concerns can wield. I understand that last statement sounds like a bunch of  cliched, leftist sound bites. But the fact is  large corporate agriculture can absorb the significant costs of compliance as merely a cost of  business, where we small farms can not.  The regulations will be written “one size fits all”  in a rush to  address the public concern over “safe food”  and it will be hard on small diversified agriculture. We are very, very concerned at this point, but not sure what we can do short of  writing letters to our senators and congressmen.

Our farm hasworked very hard at cleaning and bringing a safe,very healthy product to the marketplace. As we have grown over the years, we have upgraded and changed our washing and packing area. We actually  have a food safety policy as well as an employee handbook and saftey manuel that is required reading for each employee. Our washing /prep area and cooler are right near River Road, so you can drop by daily during the summer and see us at work. If you are curious to see a copy  of the food safety manual, its not a company secret, just e-mail us at info@edgewaterfarm.com and I will send you back the e-copy.

2009 Archives

THANKSGIVING WEEKEND

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 2

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 20

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

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

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

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 19

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.

 

2008 Archives

NOV 13

NOVEMBER 13, 2008 EDIT

Although the days are shorter and the remaining crew starts later in the morning, (it’s getting tough to ignore how cool it is in the morning) we are still very busy, mostly buttoning up for the winter and trying to get a few things done that we  won’t have time for once we start greenhouse season in mid-February. We have re-covered five greenhouses with new poly skins and finished replacing our old 28 X 96 greenhouse. Mike has electrical work to do in it yet, as well as reconfiguring the bench layout within. Anne, Jenny and Sarah have been dividing, weeding and getting the perennials ready to cover outdoors in the field with insulation and a sheet of old greenhouse poly to keep them from getting any more wet than they are (it’s been a very wet fall up here, so far.)  I have been occupying myself with smaller clean-up  projects and trying to get the machinery repaired and serviced and ready to go  for spring ’09.  Most of the field work is done and we took down a great many trees that were overhanging the lower-level greenhouses and along the river’s edge in the lower meadow. Our first tractor-trailer load of straw will arrive tomorrow, and we will probably start mulching the strawberries and rhubarb next week, weather permitting.  Then we hope to try to prune some blueberries before winter really sets in. That should take us into December, so if we get anything major done outside after that, it will be gravy. Of course, there is tax preparation for Anne to contend with as our fiscal year ends December 31.  She has already been ordering flower and perennial materials but we will have to do the vegetable seed orders. When those tasks are completed, we can officially declare it to be the Holiday Season!

OCTOBER 13

OCTOBER 14, 2008 

Today the Route 12A farm stand closes, (although if any of you still want root crops for winter storage, please feel free to contact me through the e-mail).  It has been a difficult and challenging growing year for all the area growers, and the weather and economic situations still govern how successful we ultimately are as farmers.  But here at Edgewater we had an enjoyable work environment with a great crew of folks this summer, and that – more than the oftentimes disagreeable weather – is what I will take away from this year.  Many of them will drift off to other jobs or travel in the next couple of weeks, making late fall a bittersweet time for us.

So with the closing of the doors of our retail arena we begin anew the work toward the 2009 year. Although we will still be packing out root crops for wholesale, we are well along in our fall field work, with cover crops in and fall clean-up well underway. We have already begun inventorying pots and plastic for the greenhouses and fertilizer for 2009. We are in the midst of replacing an older greenhouse and I have started to do the annual pressure-washing and maintenance on the the tractors, machinery and tools in hopes of getting them all put away and ready for spring before the snow flies. We have a lot of tree take-downs to deal with in the hedgerows around the fields, and in particular near the greenhouses, where the trees have grown to a height where they are cutting down on the sunlight. We are moving plants into the stock-plant house to winter over and propagate. Garlic will be planted tomorrow. So although many people believe that we have acquired a lot of spare time on our hands, we actually hit the ground running with a full slate of things to do as the days become ever cooler and shorter.

We are grateful for your patronage and support. The kind words are a great boost in validating our work, and we want to thank those of you who left a plate of cookies or pan of brownies as an expression of your appreciation. (Editor’s note: in the future, please drop all food down at the barn wash area as the girls at the farm stand sometimes don’t share well with the field crew.) To those of you in the CSAs,-both the Eastman Box drop  and the debit shareholders – we  will be meeting this week to evaluate  what we have done this year and what we will do in 2009. You will be  contacted with a proposal,  or the proposal will be  posted on the farm home webpage.

Have a great fall and we hope to see you out and about.

SEPTEMBER 28

SEPTEMBER 28, 2008 

No frost down on the river yet, but can it be very far away? Our last planting of corn actually ripened up a lot the last four days with the murky damp tropical depression. The tomatoes have held up well to this point but I suspect that the warm damp nights have unleashed a Pandora’s box of disease and they will start to go down quickly. Nonetheless, the stand looks nice with colorful ripe peppers and tomatoes, corn, different colored potatoes, flowers and fall apples, squash and  pumpkins. As Yogi said: ” It ain’t over ’til it’s over” so we muddle on, with no frost yet and the stand closing dates set at Columbus Day weekend.

The field crew has been busy with wholesale: potatoes, tomatoes, peppers to the Co-ops, sweet corn to a few farm stands and pumpkins, raspberries (when weather permits) and mums to area stores and farm stands. I have been  getting some of the fields cleaned up and seeded down to various winter cover crops. The irrigation pipe is all picked up and out of the fields.  Soon I will be putting up deer fence around the small fruit crops so they don’t chew the leaves and branches. All with an eye towards winter, but we are not worried. There is lots of nice fall weather to be enjoyed yet…

SEPTEMBER 13

SEPTEMBER 13, 2008 

Seems to me that the biggest event of the past week was the gathering up and harvest of the pumpkin and squash crops. It is great fun for the first few days….lots of  thrashing around the field with the crew filling 15- and 22-bushel bins, and the coming and going of tractors and trucks in the field and back and forth to the farm. Again, this project has to be accomplished in between the daily harvest of vegetables for the accounts and farm stand. Days still are long, 12 hours at least….but the problem is that the diminishing daylight in the evening and lack of sunlight early in the AM have made everyone realize that frost could be right around the corner.  Still, it’s great that we can look back at the day’s end and actually see what has been accomplished.

This week we will definitely finish up digging potatoes.  I have been seeding down winter cover crops as land becomes available, although there is still much weeding and cultivating of small fruit and fall vegetable crops like turnips, cabbage and broccoli, lettuce and greens, which I am not sure we are going to be able to get to. Meanwhile, the harvest of fall raspberries is in full swing (great time to u-pick if you want-call the stand @ 298-5764) as well as we are picking tomatoes, green beans and corn as well as the greens. People this year seem to be  processing for the winter more than we have seen in recent years.

For the box CSA membership, we want to alert you that in your final three deliveries you will see potatoes,winter squash, some cabbage and the root vegetables-turnips, celeriac, carrots, beets, and rutabagas. These are all vegetables that can be used immediately if you so choose, but if stored in a cool dry place they should last until after Thanksgiving. Khally will enclose directions for use and for storage in your boxes when you get them.

SEPTEMBER 1ST

SEPTEMBER 1, 2008

This will be the last call for this coming Saturday’s CSA Membership Farm Day from 4 pm to approximately 7 pm. There will be a short meeting and introduction of the field employees followed by a quick wagon tour of the farm, followed by snacks and beverages at the packing shed. Although  originally designed for the debit card CSA members and the Eastman box CSA members, we welcome family members and any prospective members who may be interested in joining. It should be a fun and informative time.

These days at the farm there is a tinge in the morning air that gets your attention. Fall is definitely working its way here, and there is much yet to do. We will start digging potatoes later this week, and we will cut and windrow the pumpkins. The hard winter squash vines still look pretty green and healthy indicating that they are not ready to be cut. Field tomatoes are pouring in and we are busy trying to fill orders for canning tomatoes, cukes for pickling and freezer corn. Fall raspberries are coming in, and this sunny weather is really sweetening them up. As the crops get harvested we quickly chop the plants and weeds back into the soil and plant cover crops, some already up and doing well. But it has turned so dry that we will be irrigating again this week, trying to encourage the last vegetable plantings to keep plodding along and the cover crops to germinate. If you are up this way you should stop by the stand as it is as colorful as the greenhouses are in May.

We look to see you Saturday afternoon.

AUGUST 24

AUGUST 24, 2008 

We want you all to take note of the date which we have set aside for the CSA Farm Membership day: September 6th from 4-7 pm.  This event is for the Eastman CSA group as well as all our debit card  CSA members. We  would love to have as many of you attend as possible, as well as any friends who might be interested in the farm as well. We will have a quick meeting to introduce the people who work in the field and make the CSA possible. Then we will do a short tour of the main farm and some  of the fields and lastly repair to some snacks and refreshments in the packing barn where you can talk to any or all of us about anything on the farm of interest to you. Please take a minute and either e-mail me or let Kally know at the drop site if you are coming and the number of folks you will be bringing so we can proceed with the planning on our end.

This is great weather and everybody’s disposition improves, especially the field crew’s, all of whom have spent the greater part of the summer in rain gear and rubber boots. And it is much easier to weed and cultivate in this weather: the weeds actually dry up and die, where as in rainy weather you uproot them only to have them roll over and re-root themselves in the rainy damp weather. So this is like a walk in the park.

We are knee-deep in the “second season.” We have one more planting of lettuce and cole crops (broccoli and cabbage) to go in the ground, and there is a pretty good chance the coles will get nailed by a hard frost before we are able to harvest them. But then, you have to be optimistic to be in this business. We have now finished with the blueberries and will have to go in there and weed and clean them up for fall and take down the netting.  The strawberry beds are renovated and trying to put on some growth before they start initiating flower buds for next year. Both the blues and strawberries will then have to be fenced with electrical fencing to keep the deer from damaging them. We have a week more of good cantaloupes instead of having them well into the fall, because downy mildew has shown up on the second planting. It is a particularly virulent foliar disease of vine crops and we do not run an aggressive enough spray program to really combat it. But all in all, despite the diseases I am grateful for what we are pulling out of the melons and tomatoes; many farmers have had it a lot worse with the violent storms and wet weather. The plus side though has definitely been the excellent dispositions and work ethic of the field crew that has persevered through this less than optimum growing season. I am sure that when you meet them at membership day you will be impressed with their commitment and good humor.

AUGUST 10

AUGUST 11, 2008 

All right, enough with the rain already. This is way too much of a good thing, at this point is actually a bad thing. So far it has ruined most of the summer raspberries, spread diseases in the tomato greenhouses and melons and a host of other troubling encumbrances, not the least of which is my athlete’s foot that is thriving as a result of spending days on end in rubber boots. But as bad as it gets, it could be worse. There have been some very high winds and hail in some of these localized storms and a few of my fellow farmers have been hit. We have been very fortunate to have dodged that bullet, but the weather pattern looks as though we are not out of the woods this week.

We are still planting certain vegetables on a weekly basis. This week, for example, I will plant beet greens, radishes, arugula and spinach. We have one more planting of broccoli to put out and I will also plant the very last planting of string beans. This final planting is called a “Hail-Mary” planting, in that conventional wisdom dictates that it is too late in the season to to plant them, but you do anyway and hope that everyone else is wrong and you get to pick some beans before the planting freezes. Farming is somewhat of a gamble, but sometimes we just can’t help ourselves.

The problem of the week(s) is red-winged blackbirds. Having just completed their reproductive cycles, both the young and adults are flocking up in preparation for their fall migration. They do tremendous damage to the ears of the sweet corn, and we are lucky if we only sustain a 30-40% damage in our fields. I have seen it 70% and better on occasion. We throw everything we have into the fray to combat them. We use balloons,helium predatory kites, propane cannons and, yes , the old farmer patrolling the corn with a loaded shotgun.The bird sare persistent, aggressive and smart. And they can come in large numbers, as they call in other small flocks to the corn. 15-20 can do a lot of damage, but when 100 or so fly out of the field you know that you have suffered a lot of damage.

Well, at least we dont have to irrigate this week….

AUGUST 1

AUGUST 1, 2008 

Been a couple of weeks since last I wrote. We have had some extreme weather since then, but I expect that we are luckier than some as we have avoided hail and tornadoes. This excessive moisture is a double-edged sword, as vegetables like the tropical conditions but it brings on leaf and fruit rots  (pretty well wrecked the summer raspberries) and the heavy rains will also leach nutrients out of the soil, so that has to be compensated for. The corn has come on and you can expect to see some in the boxes this Tuesday if we can keep the red-winged blackbirds out of it. They can come in by flocks of the hundreds and peck up the ears rendering them unmarketable. To combat them we use balloons, helium kites, propane cannons and good old-fashioned shotguns. All this takes additional time out of a productive work day, but seems as though it is part of the problem of trying to raise sweet corn near water and on a migratory flyway. One plant that loves this weather are the blueberries; the new plant growth is great as is the  berry size.

As mentioned in an earlier blog,we do not have a way of legally dividing up the melons  amongst members through cutting them and  putting them in boxes. If any of you have suggestions please let us know as we are starting to pick some ripe ones for the farmstand.

JUNE 19

JUNE 19, 2008 

We are now officially in strawberry harvest season, as the flocks of cedar waxwings and robins have descended upon us like a plague of locusts. Right now we are picking primarily for our stand and the Hanover/Lebanon Consumer Coop as well as Rum Brook Market and a few other small accounts. Most of the berries are coming off plants that were planted last fall on black plastic mulch. Within a few days the strawberries planted on bare ground will be ready, and we will have to open the fields for Pick Your Own. This is the busiest time of the year for us as we are in the midst of heavy planting and weeding as well as embarking upon our harvest season. The weather has moderated with showers and cooler temperatures, which both plants and employees have responded well to. Additionally, it has given us a break from irrigating and given us more time for weeding and other chores that have piled up. We are currently pulling row covers off the first plantings of peppers and tomatoes and so far they look good.

It seems as though the Grantham Box delivery went off without any major problems, and we wish to thank Charlie, Sue and Leslie for their invaluable help in making all of this fall together. We hope you were satisfied with the first delivery. I suspect that the contents of the box next week will be very similar. We got one unpleasant e-mail from a dissatisfied member, so I do feel that we should clarify again at this time that the box share model is not about choice. It is, in the simplest of terms, a box of produce delivered weekly, the contents of which are what is available grown on the farm and harvestable on the week of delivery. Also, because this CSA was formed so late in the spring, you may well see our tomatoes at Rum Brook Market before you see them in your boxes. This is because they and the Coop are old customers of ours and we made commitments to one another and planned in the early winter to supply them. What we planned back in December affects how much seed, fertilizer and space we commit to any crop. We are all working very hard to make this thing work. I hope that you will reserve judgment until the end of the 12-week delivery period as this is just the beginning.

A note for you members with farm accounts: the kind souls working the registers request that you announce that you are a CSA member when you approach the check-out. This is to help ensure registers are correct or at least closer to correct at the end of the day… Thanks!

JUNE 13

JUNE 13, 2008 

Some much-needed rain and a cold front blew here on Tuesday night, much to everyone’s relief. The heat was brutal to work in, and many plants don’t much like that kind of heat intensity, especially the strawberries. The ripening fruit will actually heat up and sunburn, thus injuring the berries and making them rot. Our first defense is to turn on the overhead irrigation and evaporatively cool the fruit down. So we were doing that a lot between Saturday afternoon and Tuesday.

Transplanting continues as the second planting of crops like peppers and cherry tomatoes, melons etc. is about to begin. There is a fair amount of field prep that must be done for this: soil moisture levels must be up and the soil must also be weed free before we lay down mulch and transplants. And there is a lot of weeding to be done as these showers and irrigations are just as beneficial to the weeds as they are to the veggies. Plus we are on the cusp of strawberry season and there is a lot of preparation for that as well.

We started picking a few quarts of berries last Saturday off our strawberries grown on black plastic. We have been selling the few of them at the greenhouses, but we will officially open the Route 12A farm stand on Saturday, as sort of a prelude to strawberry season. Those of you who are in the Grantham CSA will receive your first box on Tuesday, June 17. Ray and Kalila will be down there by 5 PM and remain until 7 PM, as many of you requested the later hours for pickup. The box won’t be overflowing with stuff this trip as there are not a lot of field vegetables ready yet, due to the lousy early growing season, but we thought you might like some early season strawberries and lettuce to get going. Like the farmstand, we all need the practice to make the system work seamlessly, and you will get a chance to meet a couple of the principals involved and have a chat with them. See you then.

JUNE 5

JUNE 5, 2008 

Some much needed rain (.5″) came last Saturday night in the form of a gullywasher, but brought some temporary relief. We likely will have to go back to full-tilt irrigating by Friday or Saturday, especially if it turns hot, but it has allowed us to do some maintenance, mowing, weeding and to continue our transplanting. This week we got out more lettuce and cole crops, all of our hard squash and pumpkins. Geordie, Roy and Willie will finish transplanting next year’s strawberries by early Friday if all goes well. Mike and Ray have fixed the drip irrigation on the blueberries and peaches (looks like we are going to have some this year…2 out of 6 years. It might make a respectable batting average but it’s pretty pathetic for cropping). They are also tied up moving perennials out of the greenhouses and onto benches, a seasonal ritual that takes a lot of bodies. We hope to do the final weed cleanup in the strawberries next week, there are a few berries with color on the black plastic berries, so we may have a few trickle into the greenhouses by mid week, but the main crop, which is grown on bare ground, is about 10 days behind this year and actually struggling a bit from being under snow for so long; the fields never lost their snow until April this year,and ideally they should see daylight by mid-March. Oh well…hopefully frost season is behind us. Hopefully.

A few have asked about when the stand will open, and I would have to say that unless the weather turns “cooperative” it will be a couple of weeks. But maybe by this time next week I will be singing a different tune. Still a lot of planting and weeding to do, bird netting to go up in the blueberries, cut flowers to go out etc. What’s the old saying – “It’s hard to see the swamp when you are up to your arse in alligators?”

MAY 27

MAY 28, 2008 

Having missed all the rain promised us last weekend, we dutifully have been pulling the irrigation pipe and pumps around trying to provide enough soil moisture to transplant our vegetables into the field. We have had no measurable rain this month and it will have been a month this weekend (April 29 being the last one) since we have had any. It’s a real concern because the general lack of rain in the northeast will adversely affect us due to the lowering amounts of water flowing in the Connecticut River, a major source of irrigation water for us. So far there has been enough water in the river (the Wilder Dam and its generating schedule affects the levels of the river) for us to keep the frost off the berries, – it looks like we are due to get one tonight. So at least the strawberries are getting enough moisture. We continue to keep our fingers crossed for some warm weather with much needed moisture. And in the interim we will be trying to irrigate ’round the clock all that we do have planted to keep them alive.

To date we have our first tomatoes, peppers, and vine crops out in the field, courtesy of our returning summer laborers Geordie, Willie and Roy. These delicate transplants we put on plastic mulch and under rowcovers, which are those white snakey-looking things you see in the field. The plastic warms the soil and the row covers keep the air temps around the plant a bit warmer than they would experience without the covers this time of year. And of course this spring has not been without the constant buffeting of cool drying winds and the row-covers keep the winds from beating up the transplants.

The cool dry and sunny weather has been good, I believe, for greenhouse sales. Despite the fact that transplanting any plant in the rain is the best time to do so, we always see sales flag in damp weather. So the up side is that greenhouse sales were good over Memorial Day, but there are still a lot of plants to get rid of, ’cause those houses still look pretty full to me!

MAY 21

MAY 21, 2008 

Dry conditions and lack of help have hindered us from getting our field transplants out in a timely fashion. All the rain promised last weekend by the NOAA weather experts ended up on the streets of Boston and left us high and very dry. A light frost event early(very early) Tuesday morning saw us firing up three tractors and pumps to protect the strawberry blooms. The upside of that was that they needed the water anyway, but we still prefer not starting our farm workday at 2:30 AM.  We have been irrigating fields to get enough moisture in the soil so that we can lay down plastic mulch for our field  tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and summer vine crops. You can monitor this ongoing process during the next week as you drive by the farm stand on Route 12A, as we transplant and put row covers over the transplanted crops. The row covers are the white tunnels that look like snakes in the field that modify the environment for the transplants and give some early season insect protection as well. We now are about a week behind on getting our field work done, but our H2A workers Roy and Willie are returning today and Geordie will be returning from college so we hope to start getting caught up. This weekend is the official Memorial Day Weekend as officially declared by some governmental bureaucracy that decides these things, like which day we would like to celebrate Lincoln’s Birthday on this year etc, etc. This  means that the greenhouses should be busy, which is a good thing. Sarah, Anne and the crew have done a great job with displays and layout and all the  colorful plants are looking  their finest.

MID MAY CSA BLOG

MAY 15, 2008 

Welcome to the blog. The main focus  is to up date all the  CSA members as to what is going on at the farm. With a small CSA membership such as we had last year we were able to pretty much send e-mails with  info as attachments, but  I think this  format serves a better  purpose in that I dont have to  spend any time  trying to be an IT person sorting out PDF, DOC files etc to send to you all. It will be  right here in the blog, if and when you want to read it. As always, don’t be afraid to contact us with questions or comments.

We are in the middle of planting season, and as of today (5/15) we are having to irrigate everything we either seed or transplant. The  lack of rain complicates how we manage planting. We have to be extra vigilant in conserving soil moisture as we prepare for planting on our very light and sandy soils. Our labor force for the field crew is not up to size yet and our tractor tillage guy suffered some rotator cuff injury, so Ray, Mike and I have been trying to get the field prep done in between our other activities.  The strawberries are just starting to show signs of buds and a few blossoms, but they seem to be sitting there sulking in the ground so we will provide a little  bit of fertilizer this next week and turn on the irrigation in hopes of breaking them out of their doldrums. The raspberries wintered well with very little injury and the blueberries are starting to bloom as well. Even the peach blossoms didn’t get clipped this winter, but a lot can still go wrong with them before we harvest any. Keep your fingers crossed.

Plant sales in the greenhouses are brisk as gardeners have been taking advantage of the sunny dry weather to work in their gardens.  Our greenhouse hours are 10-5:30  seven days a week except Sunday when we close at 4:30. The greenhouse crew has the houses spit polish clean and approaching full, and they are  beautiful, so even if you are not an avid  gardener you should come by and take in the different colors. It’s quite a sight.