Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Week 13 Newsletter

Jody wrote last week about the products we use as plant protectants because we believe that good communication is a prerequisite of any successful relationship. While you might not like everything you hear or read, we think having honest and solid information available develops a sense of trust. In the marketplace, trust is replaced by a quality assurance label – like certified organic or certified humanely raised, etc. Ultimately, we are at your service and what we do is based on our assumptions of how our time is best spent raising crops without clearly written guidelines. For clarification, we stay within the certification requirements of organic agriculture by looking not only at the United States standards but also at those of the European Union. For example, while the BioTelo plastic mulch used on the farm is not included on the OMRI list, it is certified to be used in Canada by Ecocert and in the EU under the IFOAM standards – and is therefore good enough for us to accept it as a practice. While I personally have distaste for using copper as a plant protectant (it goes against everything I believe in, but it is an approved substance within organic standards), I was compelled to use it. The alternative was disheartening both for our crew – they had worked very hard getting the crop to where it was by carefully seeding, planting, and trellising it – and for you: we would have delivered a far less interesting share this time of the year. After all, what is a season without tomatoes?

In the spirit of sharing information with you, I report that this year we worked harder than usual while experiencing unfortunately lower returns to you. It is a hard year for CSAs, as members do not always realize that a difficult season is especially hard on farmers. It takes extra effort to deliver the same product, if that product is even yielding anything to begin with. One local CSA farmer came to us with tears in his eyes, telling us about the difficulty of his season and the anger he had to deal with from his membership. As the Roxbury Farm membership has a reputation of being most supportive in times of trouble, he asked what our secret is. We honestly couldn’t tell him, except to say that we let everyone know how things are going on the farm. Yes, it took a long time to develop the trust that we feel you endow us with. Thank you for that, and for all your supportive letters and emails.

It is hard to believe that we still have 12 deliveries left after this week. Nonetheless, we are still planting greens and lettuce: in all, another three acres’ worth to add fresh greens and salad mix to the late September and October deliveries. For all other vegetables, it has already been determined as to how they will yield for the remainder of the season.

We have three corn plantings left, with the last two plantings most likely yielding relatively small ears and some worms (although Lydia and Mike spent almost a whole day squirting a few drops of BT in the silk of each ear of the corn). The popcorn looks good, except that the steers left a few footprints in it lowering the yield a little bit. Generally, as it was a very, very good year for sweet corn because our fields drain relatively well, the losses in the corn from the flooding have gone largely unnoticed at the pickup site – everyone received the promised six ears a week for most deliveries. Still, the corn that had been submersed was mostly left in the field.

All the winter squash is harvested and now sits either in the barn or the greenhouse to cure. The total yield is smaller than usual. Because of quality concerns, we have already given out the Sunshine and Delicata Squash. We won’t wait too long to give you the Buttercup, and we will only hold on to the Acorn and Butternut squash until October. We figure that this squash will store much better in your dry kitchen than in our moist barn. The sweet potatoes look good, but we expect the yield to be smaller than usual, as we only had a few days of real summer. They like it hot and dry, two conditions we haven’t seen much of.

The potatoes have been a trial, and took a lot of our effort to protect, as the weather has been hard on them, in addition to the blight they suffered from the excess of water. Once we start digging, we’ll see how large the losses are. Potatoes are not the only crop that suffered from standing water. While the cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale on the higher ground all look good, the plants in the low spots are miniature and might just give up altogether.

The cucumbers, peppers, and eggplant have been yielding well, despite the cool summer. They greatly benefited from the favorable conditions provided by the high raised beds and the mulch provided by plastic and shredded hay. We had good control of the European corn borer through weekly releases of parasitic wasps. We still have some melons in the fields that have not matured yet, so please look out for some juicy fruit coming your way.

While most salad mix looks fantastic and relatively weed-free, the last few plantings suffered from a self seeding of barley and oats. This farmer could not get in the field in time where we had planned to seed lettuce to work in the green manure crop. When we did have a window of opportunity it didn’t seem that the seed in the barley and oats was viable; nevertheless, some of the viable seed created an interesting mix of lettuce with grain. We figured that you prefer salad without “wheat” grass, unless you were planning on juicing it all. We ended up missing quite a few weeks of greens and lettuce, as either the weeds or the grain shoots made for an unacceptable product.

The beets, carrots, parsnips, celeriac, and fennel that did make it through the wetness look good, but again we will be looking at lower than usual quantities to distribute, as we weren’t able to weed some of them in time to provide a satisfactory yield.

We brought seven butcher hogs to the Hill Town Pork slaughterhouse this past Thursday. The hogs were tame, well-fed, and content. In my opinion, they were some of the best hogs we have raised so far. In two weeks, we will deliver the other seven and pick up the non-smoked portion of the first batch of pork.

As the days begin to shorten, we now turn our attention to next year, to what we can do differently, what worked well, and what we need to improve upon. We invite you to let us know how the season went for you and what you feel we could do better or differently next season. Your feedback will help us to serve you better and to meet your needs. In lieu of being certified, this is what helps keep us on the right track.

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