Genesee Valley Organic Community Supported Agriculture

Notes from the Farm - September 1999
By Elizabeth Henderson

We are more than half-way through this first season at Peacework, and, despite a very serious drought, things are going well! We are cranking out enough food for the 138 Full Shares and 58 Half Shares. Greg and I are working cheerfully together. The Kraai family is enjoying their share of the food. A second intern, Arnold Yezerski from Israel, has joined us for the fall, so we have enough help. And member participation has been steady and enthusiastic. The only thing I can find to complain about is the absence of things to complain about!

Surprising as it may be to folks in Rochester, here on Welcher Road the drought drags on. When you had a substantial downpour on August 27, all we got was a few hours of drizzle, less than 1/2 inch in our rain gauge. We irrigated almost continuously through June and July, till the creek ran dry July 30. Until that happened, our 7 miles of drip tape seemed to be effective with water supplied by the spring in Tear-Drop field, and the creek in Fairville field. The very next day, we got 1/4 inch of rain, and then recurrent showers during the following week, but not enough to refill the creek. The result is some yield reduction in onions, carrots and potatoes. We still have four plantings of carrots in the ground. They are sizing up very slowly. The heat was too much for the tomatoes and peppers which stopped setting fruit for a while. Once it cooled down in August, they got back into production, but that pause explains the late ripening. The winter squash looks good. The irrigation made possible lettuce production all the way through August, a first for us. The sweet corn has been very uneven in growth and quality. We apologize for immature ears some of you may have received - judging the maturity of the wildly varying sizes has been difficult for our teams of pickers.

We set out the fall broccoli during the worst days of the drought, irrigating immediately. We start the broccoli plants two ways - directly seeded in the ground and in flats called speedlings. We protect the closely seeded broccoli with floating row cover, then dig up the plants and set them out in rows with 2 feet spacings between the plants, two rows to a bed. When bare root transplanted, the beautiful plants fall over and wilt; what is known as transplant shock. In intense heat and sunlight, they defoliate, losing up to half of their leaves. Hannah and Merle, our visitors, devoted lovers of plants and animals, asked why we did this brutal thing. The answer comes from long peasant experience. French peasants say, To have good cabbages, you have to make them suffer ( Pour avoir de bon choux, il faut les faire suffrire). After a week, the broccoli stand back up. A month later, we have the finest looking planting of broccoli, cauliflower and savoy cabbages one could hope to see. With a little rain, there should be lots of good greens for the fall.

This terrible dry weather has also created perfect conditions for Japanese beetles and flea beetles. I have never seen so many of the iridescent Japanese beetles in my life. Usually, they focus their voracious appetites on asparagus, grapes, hazelnuts, and raspberries. This year, they have been everywhere eating everything, even potatoes and tomatoes. Swarming stacks of them - ten, fifty, 200 - copulate in wild abandon on the rhubarb and basil. We spaded under the early senposai and kale because they were damaged beyond salvaging.

The one real benefit of the dryness has been the great reduction in weeds. Those of you who have helped us weed carrots in the past may feel deprived of the long slow crawl along the endless beds. Instead of 20 people hours, carrot bed weeding only took 1 or 2. Even without your patient assistance, our vegetable beds are as weed free as we will probably ever see them! Our new weed killing equipment, the basket weeders and the Perfecta field cultivator, helped too.

Our three visiting volunteers, a bevy of 19 and 20 year-old beauties, Hannah, Merle and Katharina, livened things up during the month of July. In sweltering heat, they kept to their promise to do farm work. They became specialists in tying and retying tomatoes, and reeling out irrigation tape. Alongside interns Andy and Ales, they hoed our acre of sweet corn. I wish we could air freight them some corn now that it is ripe. Somehow, though, nothing ever comes entirely free. Hannah borrowed my truck to drive to the train station in Syracuse to pick up her mother. At 10:30 in the evening, she side-swiped a UPS truck. Fortunately, no one was injured. The Kraais kindly lent me their car to pick everyone up, and my son Andy, the only one who remained really calm, drove. We made it home by 4:30 am. A body shop has made my truck farm worthy, though it will win no beauty competitions. As compensation, Hannah and Merle left me with the 1987 Mitsubishi Colt they had purchased from a neighbor. What a present! This Colt was at that stage of automotive life-cycle when the end is clearly in sight. Despite gallons of water and antifreeze, and quarts of oil, the engine went kerflooey belching smoke out both ends 20 miles north of the new car I had purchased. Joseph Ottati, producer of Glendale organic grape juice, which you will have the chance to bulk order this fall, also runs a used car business, and sold me a 1984 Volvo in mint condition. Thanks to Hannah, I will be driving in unaccustomed comfort.

Construction continues at the farm. Greg is finishing up a 7 foot by 6 foot by 9 foot cage made of hardware cloth, heavy wire mesh, over a wooden frame, where we will store potatoes and winter squash in the barn when the weather gets cold. Without the wire, we fear rodent nibbling, since this barn has been rat and woodchuck heaven for many years. Doug Kraai and carpenter Pete Herman will be reshingling the roofs of the barn and packing shed this fall. When that work is complete, we will be able to do some landscaping around the buildings, creating gardens with the many beautiful perennials Lila Bluestone has gathered for us. Visiting children, and those who stay for lunch, continue to enjoy the child play area constructed by the committee organized by Audrey Harpe, who pointed out to me that I neglected to mention the name of Alison Helms among those who worked very hard on this pleasant area. We still need to do finishing touches on the greenhouse, and a little more electrical wiring in the barn.

At the beginning of this season, we made a commitment to save more of our own seeds. Fred Miller volunteered to serve as chief of seed saving. I gave Fred a list of the open pollinated varieties we are growing, he read up on the subject, and every few weeks I call to let him know when some seeds are ready. This turns out to be a lot more complicated than we had imagined. First of all, saving seed entails a lot more weeding. Usually, when you know you are going to harvest a plant, say lettuce, you stop weeding a few weeks before harvest. The weeds that grow during those last two weeks will not have time to go to seed before you spade the bed under. But to save the seed, you must let the crop mature, adding many more weeks during which you must keep the bed clean of weeds. Then there is the problem of separating the seeds from the rest of the plant, an easy matter for half an ounce of lettuce seed; much more time consuming if you want a pound of spinach or 5 pounds of bean seed. Finally, there is the matter of pollen drift. We do not know if any of our corn growing neighbors are using genetically engineered seed. Will our corn seed be polluted through pollen drift? My conclusion so far is that we have a lot to learn. Seed will be the theme of the NOFA-NY Winter Conference for 2000. I plan to attend!

The CSA scholarship fund and our spirits received a boost from the benefit performance of Which Part of Me Is Me? by Suzy Polucci, August 20 at Gregorys German House in Rochester. Roars of appreciative belly laughs greeted the play, a one-woman show written and performed by Suzy under the direction of Davor Diklich. The theme is a formal meeting, with agenda, priority setting and time limits, among Suzys head, heart and crotch to discuss her behavior during a date the previous Saturday night. The convenor of the meeting, Suzy-as-a-whole, wants to integrate and coordinate the wildly divergent impulses, desires and demands of the various parts of her person. I have known Suzy since 1977 when we met through a skills trading coop. Suzy and I held dance classes together, but at that time, she was so shy, she insisted we dance with our backs to one another. Every now and then, I peeked. Years later, in Massachusetts, I helped her produce two cabaret-style shows which performed to standing room only crowds. Since I moved back to New York, I have wanted to find a way to share Suzy with my friends here. I hope we can bring her back again to a bigger audience.

Those who attended Which Part of Me Is Me? agree that it was a wonderful evening of theater, with book and CD signings by Marilyn Anderson, Betsy Bevins and me. The evening was possible because of the behind the scenes work of Alison Clarke, Marianne Simmons and Janet McDonald on publicity, and Maria Scipione on production. Maria recruited Rochelle Lester and Rick Rizzo to help with lighting. Special thanks are due to Norma Mayer of the German House for allowing us the use of their capacious hall.

As I write these final paragraphs, a steady rain is falling at last, assuring us abundance for the fall harvest. Please take note of the special order form for Squirrel Bulk, a chance to fill your root cellar or larder with our vegetables for the late fall and early winter.

We hope you are all enjoying the food from Peacework as much as we are!


Copyright GVOCSA 1999. All rights reserved.