Genesee Valley Organic Community Supported Agriculture
Notes from the Farm - August 1996
By Elizabeth Henderson
June 1 is our outer deadline for planting the major fall crops. Through the cold, wet days of May we waited for the right conditions to work our fields and plant. The moment arrived May 29. In two days, David disked and laid out planting areas for winter squash, potatoes, summer squash, tomatoes, peppers, melons, corn, lettuce, tomatillos, beans, beets, herbs, carrots, leeks and onions. Greg and I shifted into high gear for a planting marathon. Together we set out the plants we had ready - leeks, onions, peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, tomatillos, melons, zucchini, cucumbers, fennel and celery. On Saturday June 1, I directed seeded winter squash, corn, carrots, beets, herbs, and beans. A dairy farmer friend was on his planter till midnight that night under the full moon. On Sunday, CSAers helped us plant seed potatoes. By June 6, our fields had everything in them they usually would by that date, and masses of weeds to boot.
So a weeding marathon came next, frustrated by rains which replanted what we tore out. Lambsquarter has the remarkable capacity to stay alive with no more than one root hair in the soil! Red-rooted pigweed grasps on to large enough clumps of soil that it can survive until its life mission - setting seed for the next generation - is complete. Purslane is fleshy enough all by itself to live on indefinitely. After a couple of weeks, it looks like old red string, but it isn't dead. To liberate our beautiful crop of onions from encroachers, Greg and I ended up transporting piles of these weeds and others off the field. We cannot underseed cover crops until we get the weeds under control. When I've yanked out a weed and find it's standing up again, I think of the shoot out games small boys play, yelling at one another - "lie still, you're dead!"
At the time of this writing, towards the end of July, we are placing odds on Rose Valley crop futures. Tomatoes, despite most of the state being two weeks behind, are the earliest we have ever produced. This is not a weather effect, but a planning effect. The cherry tomatoes were started in the greenhouse mid-March and transplanted into successively larger pots. They reached the field in the 6 inch in diameter by 6 inch deep pots the blueberry bushes came in. The plants were already 3 feet tall with small tomatoes on them. We had to dig the holes with a post-hole digger. Unfortunately, the stress of this treatment, or the two weeks of hot, muggy weather, or both, led to an extreme case of early blight so that the leaves of some of the plants, yellow with brown spots, look like late August. But we are spraying them weekly with a witches brew of compost/horsetail/nettles tea mixed with seaweed and fish solubles. The plant pathology expert at Geneva Experiment station recommended spraying with bordeaux mix, a concoction of copper sulfate and lime allowed by organic standards. However, you have to have a pesticide applicators license to purchase copper sulfate. So far, the new growth looks healthy and there are lots of baby tomatoes.
Blueberries are right on schedule and high quality. The potatoes - three varieties, red skinned, brown skinned with white flesh and brown skinned with yellow flesh - are the best looking crop we have ever seen. Their vigor and almost total lack of Colorado potato beetles seem to confirm what Sir Albert Howard, the father of organic farming, observed, that insects attack plants that suffer from some imbalance and leave the healthy ones alone. If the potatoes are healthy, then our eggplants sorely lack something. Flea beetles have turned their leaves to a sad brown lace. Peppers, melons, beans, winter and summer squash are all growing well. We harvested the first beans ahead of the 60 days to maturity claimed in the seed catalogue. There are already more peppers on our plants than all last year. The corn story is less happy. The earliest variety germinated so poorly, we disked it under. The second planting drowned in the heavy rains of mid to late June. We have one half-decent early planting and one maybe too late planting, so corn will be in short supply this season. There should be a steady flow of carrots. Onions will be plentiful; the leeks are growing slowly, but steadily; celery does not lack for water; with about half of it harvested, garlic looks good. Due to a serious tractor breakdown which meant the field could not be worked in time, broccoli will be later than last year. Flowers will be late too because the front gardens only barely dried out enough to work them late in June. Spinach and other fall greens and root crops are already in the ground.
The large gears in the front wheels of our Belarus tractor and the housing for one of the gears cracked into pieces while David was constructing the new parking area next to the drive. There was a wait for parts and then, when the mechanic took the tractor apart, he found more parts broken. The result was a two week wait and a bill for $2234, more than the entire repairs and maintenance section of our budget.
We are fortunate to have among the members of our CSA a mycologist (fungus specialist), Christine Gruhn. This year, for the third year in a row, she will be continuing her collection of soil and root samples from our crops. She examines the roots for their rate of infection with mycorrhizae, fungi that live in symbiosis with many plants. The mycorrhizae make an important contribution to plant nourishment, particularly of the essential element phosphorus, which is in short supply on our planet. When chemical fertilizers containing phosphorus are used, the mycorrhizae go dormant. It is my hunch that if we learned enough about them and their relationship to our crops, we would need much less phosphorus. Christine is developing a data base and will correlate the presence of the mycorrhizae with such factors are previous crop, nearness to tree lines and application of compost. She is also teaching a course at Nazareth College this fall entitled "Scientist as Citizen." One of the students' projects will be to grow lettuce and collards at Rose Valley for distribution through FoodLink in Rochester.
This spring, GVOCSA has been very successful in attracting scholarship money for low-income members. The Downtown United Presbyterian Church awarded us $500. We have not done that well in recruiting appropriate members. See the article by Suzanne Wheatcraft elsewhere in the newsletter.
A Hobart William Smith student, Julia Heemstra, came to work at the farm several times this spring and then was awarded a graduation prize for exemplifying the highest ideals of the college. She was so delighted with the farm and the CSA, she donated her prize money of $75 to us. The Core Group decided to use this money as the beginning of a cooler fund to replace the ancient and venerable machine in the Hunters' garage. We will also tack on a small amount to the price of the FoodBook supplements which should be available soon, and to the hand weeders, which you can order on the bulk order sheet. These weeders sell for $17 retail. You can buy them through the CSA for $12, $2 of which will go to the cooler. Those of you who have weeded carrots and onions at the farm will know this handy tool well.
By the time you read this, I will have traveled to Denmark and back. I thank you all in advance for putting up with this extravagance and for helping Greg in my absence. I will carry my trusty camera with me everywhere and hopefully come home with some slides of Danish organic farms and gardens to share.
As the fall approaches, I hope you will be thinking more like ants (or squirrels) than grasshoppers, and delving into the FoodBook for pointers on how to store as much Rose Valley food as possible for the winter. With a little ingenuity, you can keep carrots, beets, other root crops, potatoes, onions, garlic and winter squash for many months. We have copies of "How to Keep Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Longer with Less Spoilage: A Storage Guide from Farm to Table" by Tracy Frisch, which NOFA sells for $2. We'll put it on the bulk order sheet. The tomato varieties we are growing include two high density canners, Roma and Bellstar, which should make good tomato sauce for canning or freezing. So stock up!
Greg and I want to express our appreciation for all the help with the farm work we've been getting from you. Attendance for Wednesday and Sunday crews has been over 100%! SVAT (the Special Vegetable Action Teams) has brought us much needed assistance for the greenhouse, putting up pea fencing, trellising tomatoes, planting onions and picking blueberries. There are still openings for squash and potato harvest and garlic planting. Please call the farm if you want to sign up.