Monday, July 28, 2008

Week 9 Notes for Members

THIS WEEK'S SHARE: peppers or eggplant, tomatoes or potatoes, sweet corn, carrots, green beans, summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers, swiss chard or Asian greens, hopefully salad mix, cilantro, and basil

MORE BLOGS: New York City member, Meg Staloff, writes about food issues, botany, soil science, some cooking, and their hope to some day start a farm in Vermont on

AUGUST WORKDAY: Join us to harvest potatoes on Saturday, August 9th. We will meet at 10:00 am at the farm office on the South Farm. This is a great job for members of all ages. We usually break for a potluck lunch around 12:30 pm and then work again until people are tired. Come for the whole day, the morning, the potluck, and enjoy a walk around the farm, working with the farmers, and meeting your fellow members. Bring a potluck dish to share, place settings, water bottle, sunscreen, work gloves, and clothing that can get a bit dirty. Hope to see you in the potato field!

Photos from the Farm

The harvest crew with a wagon full of sweet corn.

Water standing the wheel tracks of sweet corn that needs cultivation.

One of the fields that is too wet for vegetables that we planted into grass and clover.

Week 9 Newsletter

You have to be careful for what you wish for. Last week the other CSA farms in the area also wrote about how they wished for rain. We were all eagerly watching the skies for thunderheads and hoping the ones we spotted wouldn’t blow over. This week we are all writing about how we hope those thunderheads will keep on moving. After a 3-week dry spell we had about 5 inches of rain last week, the last downpour was on Saturday night. The farm is now really, really wet.
We are saving on diesel but the rain causes difficulties in other areas. The weeds are going to be a problem. We rely on timely cultivation with tractors to keep the weeds under control. We want to destroy the weeds before we can see them; we want them to be curled up just ready to pop out of the soil. Once we can see the weeds it is really too late for good weed control. We weren’t able to cultivate last week and we won’t be able to drive in the fields until later this week (if the weather stays dry). The crew has been working really hard at hand weeding the plastic crops, salad mix, and root crops but it will be difficult to keep up when the tractors can’t be in the fields.
Diseases are also a problem during wet weather. Especially in crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. As we wrote about last week, this family of plants is plagued by diseases that need wet weather to grow and spread. Diseases are also a problem in this family because we harvest from them for weeks at a time. Things like lettuce, broccoli, basil, and chard are harvested once and then are tilled under. Although this week’s planting of lettuce has suffered from the rain and has developed some rot so we may not be able to harvest it. Then we start harvesting the next planting. If the tomatoes or eggplant get a disease we often spread it to other plants when we harvest or trellis. We do plant three successions of tomatoes and two of peppers and eggplant to deal with the disease problem.
Growing vegetables in the northeast means we will have weeks with too much rain. So what do we do to deal with the inevitable? First of all, if you visit the farm you will notice we have a lot of equipment. Other farmers tease us about our many “toys”. But, this equipment allows us to get a lot of work done when the weather and soil conditions are just right. When the sun is out and the soil is dry we have to cultivate up to about 30 acres of vegetables. One small cultivating tractor just couldn’t get it done before the weather changed. So, we purchased another cultivating tractor. We also purchased a couple of other implements that we can pull behind our regular tractors for cultivating crops like corn, potatoes, and cabbage and between the rows of plastic mulch. If it looks like rain we can have two or three people cultivating to keep the farm clean. We also have a transplanter that allows us to plant a lot of transplants in one afternoon. We have to fit the transplanting in between the rain, harvesting, washing and packing, and the weeding. Three people can plant a week of broccoli, basil, and a couple of weeks of cauliflower in an afternoon. To some our farm looks over-equipped. But, when we have a window of opportunity between rain and other work, we can cultivate, transplant, prepare new ground, make beds, plant cover crops, mow cover crops, and make hay.
Our farm plan also takes into account wet weather. We plant our fields in sections divided by grass strips to prevent erosion during down-pours and consequent compaction from our harvest trucks. We work on having healthy soils that can absorb large amounts of rain fall. We plant sensitive crops in plastic mulch with high raised beds. If needed we take sections of fields that stay wet for too long out of production and plant them back in grass and clover for hay.
No matter what we do there will be times like last Wednesday when the crew was out slogging through the mud in the pouring rain to harvest bunches of beets. Sometimes we have to ignore our own comfort and what is best for the soil to do what needs to get done. They came back to the barn soaking wet and covered in mud from head to toe. Fortunately, they are a hardy bunch and take things like this in stride. We hope this won’t be a repeat performance and that we have a week of clear skies and dry weather. ~ Jody

Monday, July 21, 2008

Calendar of the Soul

Week 16, July 21-27

To enfold the spirit gift within,
Commands my sensing of tomorrow,
This mature gift from god
That ripens in the depth of soul
Brings my Self to fruition.

Week 8 Notes for Members

IN THIS WEEK'S SHARE: sweet corn, green beans, onions, beets, cucumbers, zucchini, summer squash, salad mix, chard, basil, and cilantro.
FRUIT SHARE: apricots, peaches, or plums

SHARE YOUR BLOG: Dara Mirsky, a Pleasantville member in Westchester County, shared her blog with us, It has great cooking tips and recipes for many of vegetables her family receives in their share each week. This is a great way to learn what to do with the vegetables or to share your cooking knowledge with other members. If more of you have cooking blogs or blogs related to your CSA experience let us know.

NEWSLETTER BY EMAIL: For most of the sites we have the option to email you the newsletter. If you gave us your email address and aren’t receiving the newsletter please check to make sure is on your preferred sender list. We receive numerous replies refusing to accept the email. If you want to receive the newsletter by email send us your email address.

Week 8 Newsletter

After a very wet spring it has been a dry summer on the farm so far, which has its advantages and disadvantages. We always say it is easier to put water on the fields than take it off. We haven’t ever tried to take water off the fields, but our friends at Angelic Organics in Illinois did that last week. They received 5.25 inches of rain in four days. Some of their fields were completely under water so they dug some holes in the low spots in the field and installed a trash pump and sucked out over 1000 gallons of water. This isn’t a lot of water but enough to save the vegetables growing in the low spots in the field. We empathize with them and hope the weather is kinder to them over the coming weeks.
We have watched storm after storm go north or south of the farm and on Saturday evening the storm went both north and south leaving about a 2-mile wide dry patch just over us. This means Jean-Paul and John have been on irrigation duty over the past three weeks. When it doesn’t rain we try to put ¾ inch of water on each field every week. We call this maintenance irrigation. Most conventional agricultural guides recommend that you put 2 inches of rain on your crops each week. We don’t follow this advice for a number of reasons. We don’t want to coddle our plants, having 2 inches of water on them each week would keep their roots shallow and their growth really soft. We want our plants to have deep roots to access the water that is deeper down in the soil. We also don’t want to wash away the nutrients in the soil. Adding 2 inches of water each week implies that you also add more fertilizer each week which is not an option for us anyway.
Another reason we don’t want to put on 2 inches of water is disease prevention. To put on that much water the plants would be wet for hours at a time. For example, Alternaria blight reproduces with spores that require wet conditions to open and disperse the blight. The spores only need to be wet for 4 to 5 hours to open up which would easily happen if we irrigated for 2 inches of water. Organic farmers don’t have any effective options to control Alternaria blight once it occurs. Other diseases and blights follow similar patterns.
We have an irrigation reel with a traveling gun (the huge sprinkler that shoots out the water) and an underground irrigation line so that one person can move the irrigation set up in about an hour. The irrigation reel has an 850 ft. long hose that we pull out and then it reels itself in with the water pressure. We can irrigate about five acres with each “pull”. The irrigation hose reels
itself in at about 40 meters per hour. When we irrigate the field with 850 ft. long beds it takes about 7 to 8 hours to irrigate four acres. At this rate it takes about 7 days to irrigate the whole farm. Then if it doesn’t rain we start all over again.
We also have about 6 acres of crops grown with drip irrigation. We cover the soil with a layer of biodegradable “plastic” mulch (made of corn starch so it isn’t really plastic) and bury a plastic tube with very small holes in it under the soil. The water slowly trickles out of the tube putting the water right at the plants’ roots. The layer of plastic on top of the soil reduces evaporation keeping the soil moist around plants’ roots for much longer than in bare ground. We run the drip irrigation for about 6 hours to give the plants the right amount of water. We can only use the drip tube and the mulch one season which adds quite a bit to the cost of this irrigation method. If we could discount the use of plastic for the drip tube and the cornstarch mulch it is a much more efficient method of watering. Some farms put the drip tube on top of the soil but that causes problems if you want to do this on a large scale. Each time you want to cultivate or weed you have to pick up the drip tube and then lay it back down. This is a very time consuming project that also puts nicks and holes into the drip tube if you can even manage to roll it up without creating a huge mess of knots. The farm that grows our green beans tried this method and he even had a machine to roll up the drip tape. The benefits they received from the drip tube were too small in comparison to the time and energy it took to make it work so they quit doing this after a season or two.
We chose our two types of irrigation because for our size farm they are the most efficient use of time and fuel. We pump the water from the Kinderhook Creek with a pump that is run by one of our tractors. This is more fuel efficient than our large pump with its own engine. The traveling gun shoots out 170 gallons of water per minute. With the tractor running the pump we can irrigate for 12 hours on one tank of fuel. This means we can pump 122,000 gallons of water with one tank of diesel (30 gallons) or with 1 gallon of diesel we can pump about 4000 gallons of water. All these numbers mean it costs us about $1100 worth of fuel a week if we have to irrigate the whole farm (or about $1.00 per member for a week’s worth of irrigation which does not include the cost of the equipment).
Right now Jean-Paul is starting the irrigation rotation over again. The gun is set up in the carrots, parsnips, celeriac, beets, and a planting of sweet corn. The forecast is calling for rain today and tomorrow. So, we haven’t turned it on, hoping the much needed rain will fall and Jean-Paul and John will get a few days break from the irrigation gun. (P.S. After I wrote this we received about 1 inch of rain on Sunday night.) ~ Jody

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Calendar of the Soul by Rudolf Steiner

Week 15: July 14-20
I feel how the weaving of the Spirit
is hidden in the light of the world.
It has wrapped my authentic Self
in the stupor of the senses,
to grant me the strength,
that myself with is limits
is powerless to give itself.

Photos from the Farm

Carnival Winter Squash

Wild bee pollinating a winter squash flower.

Cara bunching onions.

Week 7 Newsletter

Here's an update of the condition of some of our crops, and what you can look forward to in future shares.

Sweet Corn
The first planting of sweet corn is ready for harvest. The electric fence is up to protect the ripe ears from the raccoons and the bird guard (an electronic box making hawk and distressed bird calls) is running to keep the sparrows and blackbirds out. We are doing weekly scouting for European Corn Borer and releasing trichogramma wasps that feed on the corn borer larvae eggs. We also spray Entrust, an organic spray, against the corn borer larvae when needed. Soon, we will begin scouting for the corn earworm that comes up from the South with the summer storms. We planted ten successions of sweet corn, so from now until September you should receive sweet corn in your share.

Winter Squash
This season we planted the winter squash on biodegradable plastic (made out of non GMO corn) and it has been a great success. The high raised beds and the warm soil provided just the right environment for the growing squash transplants. The plants sustained some damage in the hail but quickly grew out of it. The plants are large and healthy and are in full bloom. We are looking forward to a great harvest.

The fragile onion plants sustained quite a bit of damage from the hail storm. The leaves were broken and bruised just when the onions needed the leaves to increase the size of the bulbs. The damaged leaves are also more susceptible to soft rot and the plants have been exposed to thrips, an insect pest that burrows into the leaf tissue and yellows the leaves. The onions will be much smaller than in previous years. We will begin harvesting the “Ailsa Craig” fresh, sweet onions this week.

Jean-Paul ate the first red tomato last week. Once the first red tomato appears, the rest should follow soon after. There are a lot of green slicing tomatoes and Juliet tomatoes on the vines. The hail damaged the stems and leaves, allowing septoria blight into the plants. They are also affected by tobacco mosaic virus and we will have to pull these plants. Fortunately, we plant three tomato plantings, and the next plantings look very promising.

The first potatoes are ready for harvest. They are an early white variety that sized up nicely. The Adirondack red, which is an all-red variety, will be ready for harvest next. The Keuka Gold potatoes still have healthy green plants, so our fall storage potatoes will be a good size, too.

Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potato transplants come as “bare-roots.” This means they don’t come with their roots growing in soil like the rest of our transplants. This year the plants arrived one day after we received a couple of inches of rain which prevented them from getting planted. By the time they got in the ground (a week later) they did not look too happy anymore. Just as they were beginning to form new leaves again the hail storm hit. The hail fell into the planting holes and rested up against the plants. This cooled the plants down to below 55 degrees, causing 30 percent of the plants to die from chilling damage. The rest of the plants are just beginning to vine out and cover the beds. The crew weeded the sweet potatoes last week and the field is looking good.

Other Crops
The storage carrots and beets are seeded and will germinate soon. The storage cabbage and Brussels sprouts are planted and beginning to grow. We planted two plantings of eggplant and peppers, so we will have a longer harvest of both this season. The first peppers should be ready soon. We have a scattered series of plantings of salad greens and cilantro as the weather did not allow us for proper successions. Often the ground was too wet for planting. Jean-Paul planted ten acres of sudex and field peas last week to build fertility and prepare the ground for next season. This week, we will plant seven more acres of vegetable land back into hay to allow the ground for a longer rest.
~ Jody

Monday, July 7, 2008

Week 6 Notes for Members: MEMBER WORKDAY ON SATURDAY

Two-thirds of the orchards in New York were damaged by frost and/or hail this spring. So, unfortunately there isn't any fruit available for this week’s delivery. Yonder Farms, our fruit supplier, lost their sweet cherries to frost and their early pears to the hail. Next week we will be back on track with apricots and/or peaches. Thank you for your understanding.

Come join us for the garlic harvest this coming Saturday (July 12). We will start the workday around 10:00 am and work until the crew is tired. We usually break for a potluck lunch around 12:30 pm. Join us for the whole day, part of the day, or just the potluck. Members of all ages are welcome. Please bring a potluck dish, your place settings, water bottle, and sunscreen. Come dressed to get dirty. The workday will be at the South Farm location near the farm office. Hope to see you there!

You can order a half-pint or full pint of black currants from Heron’s Roost Farm, which is located in Southern Columbia County. The currants have never been sprayed or fertilized with synthetic fertilizer. Look for order forms at your pickup site or online at Orders will be delivered next week with your vegetable share.

Week 6 Letter from the Farm

I just finished reading “Fidelity, Five Stories” by Wendell Berry. The short stories are about a tightly knit farming community in the hills of rural Kentucky from just after the Civil War to just after World War I. The families in the stories have farmed the same land for generations. Berry tells of us of the families’ great love for their land and how the families survived only because they were a community. It reminded me of the stories my mom and my grandparents used to tell me about their farm in rural Iowa.
I grew up being fascinated by stories of the history of my grandparents’ farm. They lived in small farming community in the flat plains of northwest Iowa. They had a small, diverse farm with a dairy herd, beef cows, pigs, and sheep; a large orchard and garden; and they grew corn, soybeans, and cut hay. My grandfather’s brothers also farmed nearby. They would come together to help harvest and plant – whenever help was needed the other farmers were there. Life in the towns was intimately connected to the life on the farms. If there was a bad year, life in town was tough, too. The townspeople and the farm families were interdependent.
Then, as Michael Pollan writes, we went the wrong direction with agriculture for 70 years. I am not saying I want to return to the lifestyle my grandparents had – I do enjoy the conveniences and technology we have today. But that same sense of being connected to the land and to a community is driving a change for a different kind of agriculture than the industrial model of farming we find today. A newfound desire for local food is bringing people back to the land, either as new farmers or customers supporting a farm. We are creating new communities that are not bound by close geographical or economic confines. Customers in New York City can feel just as connected to a farm as the customers who live in the farming communities. Due to the support of loyal customers there is now a resurgence of small farms in Columbia County who support each other when times are good and when times are hard. As an example, this week I was recovering from a small farm accident and couldn’t be on the farm. Paul Hess and Kelly O’Hearn, who worked on the farm for the 2006 and 2007 seasons, have now started their own farm down the road. Paul gave up an afternoon on their farm to help us out with tractor cultivation. The farm crew put in extra hours and took on new responsibilities to make sure the shares were ready for delivery. Dick Shirey, a longtime Capital District member, came to the farm for two days to help the crew harvest and weed.
We see recently that industrial agriculture is not doing its job to feed the world’s
population. Cheap food is no longer cheap enough. In some nations, the people don’t even want the products our farmers produce; they fear the diseases that could be carried by our beef cows. Each year, more and more acreage is planted in genetically modified crops. It is a daunting task to take on this form of agriculture and its 70-year legacy. We can each make a small step by being aware of where our food comes from and work toward making this choice accessible to everyone.
The communities that support small farms today can bring about great change and provide hope for a different future. The communities purchase farms and protect land for future farmers. They create models that allow farmers to farm in a way that sustains the land and provides for animals to be raised humanely. The communities train and nurture new farmers. They realize that children need to get their hands in the dirt and provide the means to bring children to the farms or bring gardens to the cities. The farmers and the eaters have made the choice to be interdependent once again. ~ Jody