Genesee Valley Organic Community Supported Agriculture

Notes from the Farm -September, 2001

by Elizabeth Henderson

Rains finally brought us relief from the drought. On August 16, 3/4 of an inch fell. On August 19, a heavy downpour filled our rain meter to the 4 inch mark. Three days later, John Gardner, excavating for our irrigation pond in the Fairville Field, struck a gusher only 7 feet below the surface! Water - a lot of water - flooded into the hole John was digging. John and Greg had to set up two pumps working simultaneously to pump the water out of the hole so that John could go on digging. Doug Kraai, who has had a lot of experience with ponds and wells, made the decision to put in a well instead of a pond. John excavated an area the size of a large swimming pool, Greg helped him set a four foot in diameter well head in the center, and then dump trucks filled the hole with gravel. The gravel holding area guarantees a capacity of 5000 gallons of water, but with the rapid recharge rate, the supply of water for irrigation is far greater than the 2000 gallons a day that we need. The waterless misery we suffered this summer will not happen again.

After many trips to the Fairville Field with our truck groaning under the weight of five or six 50 gallon barrels of water, we were able to clean out and mobilize a 500 gallon tank-on-wheels of Doug's. It took one of his large tractors to pull it. He allowed us to pump water from one of his duck ponds to fill the tank. Greg was able to connect the 500 gallon tank directly to our trickle system, so that we could stop watering with hoses. That relieved us of many hours of tedious work watering plant by plant. Greg calculates we transported 13,500 gallons of water. The pond water contained a lot of sediment, which clogged up the filter, so Greg had to monitor the watering closely. Still, it was an improvement. The new well's water is clear, clean, and requires no trucking! Since the weather has continued to be on the dry side, we have been very happy to be able to switch to the well water.

With the rains, I immediately spaded the waiting beds and seeded spinach, kale, collards, arugula, mizuna, bok choi, Chinese cabbage, mustard greens, senposai, cilantro, dill, and tat soi. Those plantings took well, so there will be an ample supply of greens for the fall. Ammie, Rebecca and David took turns seeding cover crops: oats on the beds for next year's early crops, such as onions, spring greens and peas, and rye and hairy vetch for later crops, such as fall broccoli and cauliflower. Because of the long drought, we were not able to plant any buckwheat, our summer cover crop for beds which had spring greens or where we plan to plant garlic. Since we spread the rye, vetch and oat seeds, the weather has continued to be dry, so germination has been slow. A flock of pigeons has been getting fat eating the seed. Fortunately, they miss some of it, and oat, rye and vetch seedlings are starting to appear. The cover crops are important for holding the soil to prevent erosion over the winter and for adding organic matter to the soil to feed our crops for next year.

We have suffered some losses to the heat and the drought. The sweet corn did not grow to its normal size, and many ears did not fill out completely. The red cabbages are mini-sized, as will be the Brussels sprouts. The few surviving parsnips may be woody. Many tomatoes and peppers developed blossom end rot, which makes an ugly black, rotting spot on the blossom end of the fruit. This disorder seems to be common to many farms and gardens in our area. When it finally rained, many tomatoes cracked. A benefit of the dry weather has been a reduction in the numbers of pesky insects like Colorado potato beetles, Mexican bean beetles, and Japanese beetles. But rodents more than made up for what the beetles did not eat. Woodchucks and mice nibbled on peppers in the hoop house. Very few of the beautiful yellow peppers escaped their sharp teeth. Raccoons gorged themselves on sweet corn, undersized though it was. To confound their constant nibbling, we are building a mouse proof cage out of hardware cloth in which to store winter squash for the fall, and we sprayed the cabbage and broccoli plants along the stream with stewed hot peppers mixed with a fish oil sticker-spreader.

The rows of carrots look comically uneven. There are tall patches where the carrots came up from our watering, and long stretches of babies where the carrots waited till the rain came to germinate. This fall, we will supply you with genuine baby carrots. Maybe someone would like to do a comparison study with the lathe-turned baby carrots they ship us from California...

As we have shared with you in the past, one of our farm goals is for the three of us farmers, Greg, Ammie and me, to learn all of the skills needed to operate this farm. In pursuit of this goal, I have begun teaching Ammie to use the spader. For these first three years, I have done all the tillage with the spader. Until we hitched it up to Wanda, our 1974 John Deere tractor, in June, I used the Kraai's 1988 Ford tractor to run it. Getting used to the older tractor took some practice. The position of the power take off (the lever that turns implements on) was not designed with ergonomics in mind. Ammie, accustomed to driving an even older tractor, had an easier time with Wanda, and is picking up spading quickly. The week of her first lesson, we both had to wear face masks while spading because it was still so dusty.

Another job we have not shared so far is mowing. Greg mows all of the sod strips between the beds and all of the field edges. This kind of mowing is very hard on both the machine and the person behind it. Most mowers spray their clippings to one side, which works well when you want to mulch a crop with grass. But when a bed is planted with lettuce, a heavy coating of clippings is the last thing we want since we will have to wash it all off again. Few mowers combine the qualities we seek - extra heavy duty, easy to handle, and rear discharging. Greg is on a quest for the perfect mower.

Besides the terrible national tragedy we have all had to face this fall, a more personal sadness was visited on Ammie's family the week of September 11. Her stepfather of 25 years passed away from cancer at the age of 78. He died peacefully, at home in Massachusetts, with his family around him. Ammie and Helen stayed almost two weeks, helping Ammie's mom through his final days and the funeral, while Greg traveled back and forth. Having two mature interns this year turned out to be an extra blessing. Rebecca and David were able to take more responsibility on CSA harvest days, so that even with two partners gone, things ran smoothly.

On the topic of gratefulness, local member Joe Maressa, a skillful carpenter and talented designer, made the farm a present. With some help from his buddy Tom Muscolino, Joe built a special shelf high above the back beds in the greenhouse. This shelf will provide space for 30 more speedling flats. In the spring, when the greenhouse bursts at the seams with seedlings for the farm and member gardens, we will have more room. Joe also devised a long watering arm so we won't have to use a ladder to reach the flats on this shelf.

Difficult times lie ahead for all of us. We hope that the farm will serve as a tranquil haven and source of nourishment for more than just your bodies. Please keep in mind that, besides coming to Peacework to work, members are welcome to come to seek peace, to walk, or to picnic, or just to be amidst our gardens, fields, woods, and streams.


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