Friday, October 29, 2010

One more thing

One of the biggest lessons I learned is that it is very difficult to document farm activities--taking pictures and video--while you're supposed to be working the farm.  Impossible, actually.  Also, to get great pictures (or video), one needs to invest in a decent camera.  One day, when I'm documenting my own farm, I will need to set aside time for such a project, or hire an intern to do it for me.  (Ruth?)

Here are the last photos of the year.  

The cranes.  This was probably the closest I got to them all year.  

Volunteers from the community move soil into the greenhouse:

Oscar is king of the dirt pile:

Making progress on the beds:

Jake places cat grass on a completed bed:

Sexy purple carrots:

The last farm stand, intern solo week:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lessons Learned

We did it!  We harvested, packed, and delivered a successful share this past week.  Many thanks to the worker shares who rocked it out and did the heavy lifting on Wednesday: Alexa, Roni, Peter, Justin, and Bob.  We couldn't have done it without you!

Now that the season has ended, what have I learned?  In some ways, I expected this year to have less of a learning curve than last year.  Last year everything was new, surely this year wouldn't be as much of a surprise, right?  Wrong!  Farming includes so many different tasks that you rarely do the same thing multiple times in a row, so you're always on a learning curve.

For example, doing the Wednesday CSA harvest was new to me, thus there were several plants that I had never even learned to harvest last year, much less pack out for delivery.  This is because some plants get harvested according to a schedule, so if you aren't working during that time, you may never get to experience that particular vegetable.  But I don't have time to go into the specifics of harvesting every last veggie on the farm.  Let's just say that I continued to learn things here.

Driving the tractor was a really new experience.  I was intimidated by it at first, but discovered despite many imposing looking levers and such, it's really a pretty simple machine that just takes a bit of getting used to.  I can't wait to pick out and purchase one of my own.

Cover crop seeding was another new task.  This one seemed easier on the surface, but in reality was a bit more difficult.  Walk/skipping through newly tilled, lumpy soil is more difficult than it looks.  And adjusting the seeder to spit out an appropriate number of seeds can be tricky.  But somehow, I even made a mistake calculating the distance between passes on the field, and ended up putting on twice as much seed as was necessary.  This made for a great thick mass of crop on certain sections of the field, but meant that I used up seed too quickly and didn't have enough to cover the rest of the farm.  Using cover crops to restore fertility to the soil is the foundation of the principles used here at Troy Farm.  This was a huge problem, one which I felt just terrible about.  Certain seeds, particularly legumes (nitrogen-fixers) are quite expensive and not easily replaced.  I'm sure Claire's patience was tested once she figured out what I had done.  But being the educator that she is, she prodded us interns to come up with alternative solutions to our seed problems, such as letting the summer cover crop die in the field to hold soil in place, or mowing and tilling at different times in order to let the previous crop's "trash" provide fertility.

One thing I did learn is that when it is your money and your land, you will be the one who loses sleep at night over what to do about your problems.  This is both comforting and alarming to me.  I can't wait to be the person in charge of my own destiny and business, but I know that it will come with added stress.  This happened another time, when I accidentally cut down the remainder of healthy mint in the herb garden.  I wasn't around for the instruction and came to the wrong conclusion about what should be done with the remaining mint in the garden.  This meant that we lost some of the herb business for wholesaling that week.  Luckily, our wholesale customers didn't drop the rest of their orders and we were able to go back to business as usual in a week or two.  But if I am not as established as a vendor as Troy is, I may not be so lucky in my own operation.

Generally, I was disappointed in myself over how many mistakes I made in my second year.  I don't remember making as many my first year, and I thought they could be prevented.  It just goes to show that every year is different, tasks change, and attention to detail must always be maintained.  If it doesn't sound quite right, check and double check!  You never know when you might take a mistake too far and are unable to fix it.

Of course, the weather provided ample learning opportunities.  The weather between the two years I worked differed immensely.  The first year was not very hot, normal insect populations, late blight developing on the tomatoes, with rains developing over the fall, and temperatures steadily dropping into October.  This year was incredibly rainy up-front, hot and muggy in July and August, with unbearable mosquito populations but not many other insects, threat of late blight (but none happened), and then mild temperatures in the fall.

Of course, this changed what we could work on and when.  For example, if it's raining hard, we cannot till the soil, which means we cannot seed or transplant.  It also makes it difficult to weed when the weeds are still manageable.  This meant that some plants weren't put into the ground on time, and that some weeds got out of control.  But it also really changes the attitude of the farmer.  Working outside this fall was incredibly pleasant.  We were a bit cold in the early morning, but usually the sun came out and we warmed up in no time.  Last year, I remember wanting nothing more than to go home and take a hot shower as soon as possible.  The nice weather makes it easier to get lots of work done, physically and mentally.

I also learned the value of 'many hands make light work.' Not that I didn't know, but having 3 extra interns this year made the work easier and meant you could switch between tasks readily if you were growing tired of one.  I was impressed more than once with our ability to do what seemed like a lot of work in a relatively short span of time.  We planted something like 5,000 tomatoes, 3,000 peppers, and 2,000 eggplant in less than 3 hours one day.  Amazing!  On the flip side, when we were down 4 workers last week during the CSA packout, we could all tell that we were going to have to hustle if we were going to get it done on time.

One last thing I learned had less to do with the farm and more to do with my personal life.  I worked 16-24 hours every week on the farm, and another 30 hours at my other job.  This was very stressful and difficult at times, especially when I was scheduled at the farm in the morning and then at my other job at night.  I learned that I don't really do well in this situation, and that my body has a hard time adjusting to waking up early if I am staying up late.

The biggest lesson I think I learned though is, no matter how much you think you know about farming, there's always more to learn.  I'm just going to keep my mind open to as many new experiences and as much new information as I can.  There's always next season!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Intern Solo Week

Well, the season is just about over!  Hard to believe.  This week, Jake and Claire gave us the reins.  The remaining interns (myself, Megan B., Laura, Jenna, Stephani, and Maria) did field tour on Monday and decided on the contents of the last share of the season (not that it was difficult... we basically took what was left!)

We ended up with a pretty nice share:  choice of squash or pie pumpkin, a head of garlic, choice of beets or carrots, choice of mustard greens, kale, or chard, 2 leeks, a bag of Brussels sprouts, a head or two of broccoli, a bunch of radishes, and a choice of herb.  The bag of Brussels sprouts is our biggest yet: 1.75 pounds!  And the bags of beets and carrots are equally impressive: 2.25 pounds!  Though I discovered from Claire yesterday that this may have been a bit TOO generous.  It leaves us very little carrots or beets for the farm stand or for our own winter use.

On Monday, we harvested and bunched leeks, harvested some broccoli, dug up the last remaining carrots and washed them, bunched all the greens, and harvested the rest of the Brussels sprouts.  On Wednesday, I harvested the remaining broccoli while the rest of the crew worked on radishes or bagging the beets, carrots, and Brussels sprouts.  Once the radishes were harvested, some of the crew came back to wash and bunch them, while the rest did the herb harvest.  I harvested a few heads of lettuce, bok choi, kohlrabi, and scallions to sell at the farm stand.  We worked hard, as we were missing 4 crew members, two of which were Claire and Jake, who count for 2 each.  It was a bit stressful, but we did it! We finished packing up everything into the cooler by 11:15, which is not bad.

Today we do the CSA delivery.  There are a bunch of us on hand, so I'm hoping that it will go pretty smoothly.  All we have left is Friday workday, where we will be doing some farm clean-up as well as breaking heads of garlic into cloves for planting next Monday.  Then the season will truly be over!  It's hard to believe so much has passed since the beginning of the season, or that we were blessed with such amazing weather our last week on the farm.  I distinctly remember the Intern Solo Week last year, and we had a cold rain throughout the entire delivery.  It was not pleasant!  This year will be much more enjoyable.

I will try to post remaining pictures soon, as well as my remaining observations about the season as a whole.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Last Official Delivery

Well, it's hard to believe, but this is the last official CSA delivery of the year.  This summer went by so quickly!  And with temperatures in the eighties, it sure doesn't seem like fall.  But the leaves are on the ground and the forecast is going to cool off a bit.  I just hope it holds out through next Thursday!  That is the 'bonus' delivery that the interns are going to deliver by themselves.  In other years, it has snowed or rained, but this year, I have hopes that it's not going to be that bad.  We'll see.

Yesterday, our field tour was short and sweet.  It's really satisfying going from section to section and seeing the few crops available for delivery, pronouncing the other sections finished and marking it for cover cropping, mowing, tilling, or other treatments before the winter.  In section 1, all that's left are leeks. We have enough to harvest them for both deliveries.  Section 2 is completely finished.   The buckwheat that was cover cropping the area over the late summer has been mowed down to decompose, to prepare for the garlic planting which will take place two Mondays from yesterday, barring weather difficulties.

Section 3 is in cover crop, Section 4 has just been planted with clover.  We are doing an experiment on that section, by using different methods to till it into the soil (tiller vs. wheel hoe), as well as putting a nurse crop of oats on some parts.

Section 5 is well cover cropped.  Section 6 still has several lingering brassicas which we will harvest this week or next: broccoli, kale of various types, chard, brussels sprouts, and cabbages which most likely won't size up in time for us to deliver.

Section 7 was just mowed down, as it contained tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers, which died in the frost we had last week.  Section 8 is part cover crop, part popcorn, which we promptly harvested to deliver to the CSA this week.

And Spillover has several crops which will be delivered if ready:  mustard greens (including arugula and mizuna), kohlrabi, radishes, spinach, lettuce mix, lettuce heads, and a little bok choi to sell at the farm stand.  There are also little patches of scallions and carrots still out there, at the bottom of section 8, I believe.  But overall you can count the crops still in the field: only 16 by my count!  Of course, we still have winter squashes, sweet potatoes, garlic, shallots, and beets to deliver in storage.

Today, we harvested herbs and kale for wholesale (like always), carrots, lettuce mix and mustard greens, spinach, and popcorn.  We shucked the popcorn and tied 3 ears together for a festive fall display.  CSA members can hang the popcorn in their homes for decoration while it continues to dry.  In a month or two, the ears can be shelled and there will be popcorn to eat!

Our last job today was stringing ristras.  What are those?  They are strings of very small, hot red peppers that are also used as decoration.  Once they dry, they can be crushed and used as you would red pepper flakes, to spice things up a bit.  Another great reminder of how the CSA share can be used throughout the year.

Let's hope the good weather holds out!  Only 10 more days to go!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fall harvest photos

Fall on the farm means new cool weather crops, digging up storage crops, and mowing down fields that are no longer in use.

Here, Richard and Laura harvest mustard greens:
Justin and Bob help out:
Megan harvests bok choi while Jenna does the heavy lifting:
Laura and Roni cut down rows of gorgeous bok choi:
Richard and Roni clear sweet potato vines:
Jenna and Bob dig up sweet potatoes:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Vandals! and Richard visits

In the last 2 weeks, Troy has been vandalized 3 times.  The first time, the shed door was taken off its hinges, and several items were stolen: a digital camera, a toolbox with general tools, and another toolbox, with tools for the beehives.  The last item was particularly disturbing, as those items are very important to Troy, but not of much use to anyone else, unless they are doing some beekeeping.

Next, someone smashed a glass water bottle to pieces directly on the picnic bench where we eat lunch.  Unfortunately, the glass shattered into tiny bits which scattered.  Hopefully, we successfully removed them all.

Then, last week, someone "borrowed" our cart to haul pumpkins out of the field.  We have lots of pumpkins, but it seems that someone thinks that just because the field is unguarded that it's OK to help themselves to whatever they want.

On a better note, we had a kick-ass share this week.  My longtime friend Richard Cordova, who was visiting from Chicago, helped us bring in the harvest on Wednesday.  We bunched fresh mustard greens, arugula, and mizuna, harvested bok choi, selected herbs, and dug up sweet potatoes for curing.  The greens and bok choi in particular were some of the best Troy has grown.  Very tasty straight out of the field!  Photos coming soon.

Here are some selected fall photos from the past few weeks.
Pumpkins, acorn squash, and butternut, harvested and ready for delivery:
Popcorn, ready to be harvested:
Claire and Jake working the farmstand:
Sierra monitoring the CSA member pickup:
Fall broccoli, nearly harvestable:
Red and green mizuna in the sunlight:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Picking apples and hauling rocks

Last Monday, it definitely felt like the beginning of fall on the farm.  The mornings were dark and chilly, and the lack of interns made some parts of the day feel empty.  But fall weather brings new and different activities.  Some of these may be a little drudgery, but just the switch from weeding is welcome.

Some of these activities are sheer pleasure, like picking apples.  Mendota Mental Health Institute has a small orchard, and Troy has been charged with upkeep, most of which is done by community gardeners.  In years when there is a bumper crop, Troy gets to reap the benefits.  So we went over with ladders and buckets and picked a couple hundred pounds of apples.  It was warm and breezy and it was fun to climb high in the trees.  Most of the apples were perfect, with really very few worm holes.  Last year was not a bumper crop, so this was a new activity for me.

We finished our harvest quota for Monday pretty early, so we spent a large part of the afternoon hauling rocks from a pile in the parking lot to the floor of the greenhouse.  The rocks will hold pipes in place under the soil.  The pipes carry warm air from the ceiling down to the ground.  Once we got a layer of rocks in, we sifted soil from another big pile onto the rocks to create the first layer of soil.  Next goes a layer of compost, and finally another layer of soil mixed with compost.  This is a very long, slow process.  It takes 2 people 2 hours to get one layer in one section down.  At 3 layers per section and something like 22 sections, it's going to take a while.  So Claire has designated Saturday, October 2nd, from 9-3, as a volunteer day to try to make some headway with this project.

The other sign that summer is over is the tomatoes.  We harvested the last of them--green and red--for the share this week.  The trellis will be coming down shortly.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Labor Day, continued

More pics from the last couple of weeks:
Lots of pumpkins peaking out of the leaves.
Maria, Meghan, and Laura weed, while Jenna uses the wheel hoe in the background.
The first Delicata squash of the season await delivery.
Megan B., Austin, Andy, Maria and two unknown interns pick edamame.
Maria, Stephanie, Jake, Austin, and Andy get a ride in on the newly painted Troy Truck.
The mural, in progress.

A Labor Day Holiday

Well, for the first time in the history of the Farm, Claire declared Monday a Holiday.  And at my count, there are only 7 more weeks in the CSA, including this week.  Boy, how time flies!  Last week was the end of the internship for most interns, so I tried to get more pics of us doing work.  Here are a few, along with some interesting shots I got on field tour last week in early morning light, with several spider webs.
This is amaranth from the flower garden.
Close up with spider web.
In the leeks.
Swiss Chard... this was planted in the spring and was looking pretty eaten up, but we cleaned up the eaten leaves and the new growth looks great!
A newer beet planting.
The buckwheat I sowed in the triangle field, in full flower.

More pics continued in the next posting.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Tasty Treats and Cover Crops

Well, the hot weather returned as predicted.  Luckily, Claire promised us a special treat at the end of the day, so we began working in earnest to complete our tasks.  We discovered on field tour that there were still plenty of weeds to consider despite the lateness of the season.  It's going to be tough getting out carrots this year.  The last bed we did had weeds as large as small trees.  Winter squashes are ready to harvest.  There were also several late-season crops emerging: dill, cilantro, spinach, and radishes.

First thing, we transplanted lettuce, kohlrabi, bok choi, and basil.  If all goes well, we'll have a nice diversity of crops to give the CSA in the later weeks.  Next, we moved on to harvesting.  As usual, we had herbs to harvest for wholesale.  Others worked on the multitude of tomatoes that continue to produce at their peak.  Later, a group worked steadily on edamame.  Between today and Friday, they harvested 125 pounds!  Claire worked on the tractor today, tilling in beds that are no longer in use, mowing, down beds with huge weeds, and tilling in the seed that I was planting.

I spent my day broadcast seeding cover crops again.  In section 1, I spread rye and vetch in the area that was once occupied by onions, shallots, and garlic.  In section 2, buckwheat went in where there were once successions of lettuce, kohlrabi, fennel, and others.  In section 3, I dispersed oats and peas where the fallow field of clover stood.  The buckwheat will be allowed to grow, then will be tilled down later and a winter cover crop put in.  For the other fields, this will be the last time they will be planted before the snows fall.

As promised, at 2:30 we departed for... Culvers, right down the street.  It was sublime sitting in the air-conditioned restaurant eating ice creams, shakes, sundaes, and other frozen delights.  After several weeks of hot, humid, bug-filled days, it was a real treat.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Fall is just around the corner

Well, it's still August, but early this week you'd think it was September.  A cold front came through Madison Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, so the long sleeves, pants, and jackets that most of us were wearing to keep out the mosquitoes were actually comfortable, at least during the first few hours of the day.  Today, the heat has returned.  But we clearly saw a glimpse of what's in store for us in the next month or so.  Mostly, it is welcome, as the heat and bugs are somewhat unbearable conditions to work in.  However, none of us are ready for summer to be over, because we know that means winter is coming.  Still, I prefer the cycles of weather to sameness.  I don't think I'd like living in San Francisco even if it meant I could grow year-round.

This week, I was in charge of creating the CSA harvest list, while Jenna and Meghan worked on the distribution of tasks throughout the week, including harvesting and any other chores we decided needed to be done on field tour.  Claire helped us make decisions and finalize the lists.  We tried to go heavy on the harvesting on Monday and Tuesday so that Wednesday morning we could finish the harvest by 10:30 am, put the share in the cooler and finish other tasks Wednesday afternoon.  We almost made our goal, which is better than we've done for several weeks.

We also did our annual tomato tasting this year.  As Claire revealed in her newsletter, tasting tomatoes is not a straightforward task.  What tastes great to one person may be less so to someone else.  The other difficulty is that they all taste like, well... tomatoes, so after about 10 of them they become more difficult to distinguish.  I discovered that I liked Defel tomatoes and Amish paste, among others, and that I didn't like Japanese black, though they have a distinctive flavor (somewhat smoky, though one intern described it as tasting like root beer).  Basically, as in all things, variety is necessary to please every palate.  Not to mention that slicer tomatoes and paste tomatoes have their different uses as well.  Let the canning begin!

This is week #12 out of 21, so we are well over the halfway point.  Hard to believe!  More and more fields are being put into cover crops.  We had been doing buckwheat for the summer, but this week, Jake and Claire announced that they were going to switch to the fall/winter covers of rye/hairy vetch or oats/peas from now on.  The summer squash are winding down, the tomatoes and tomatillos are at their peak, and the winter squash is starting to ripen.  Fall is on the way!

Here's a pic of the triangle field I seeded a couple of weeks ago, and of some buckwheat after it's grown in a bit:

Winter squash and pumpkins:

Monday, August 9, 2010

Outstanding in the Field?

This evening, some lucky folks in Madison are going to enjoy a dinner made with produce from Troy Farm and prepared by Underground Food Collective.  The sit-down dinner is going to be served at the farm, on one long table, under a tent.  Sounds wonderful, right?  Except that last night, we had an epic windstorm paired with pelting rain.  This morning, the tent was in a sorry state.  So they took it down and will be sitting near the prairie.  This might be ok, but that wave of mosquitos (and other bugs) is still upon us.  Oh, those poor diners!  When Claire gave us interns the opportunity to attend, we all politely declined because we know the truth:  those diners are going to spend their entire dinner swatting at themselves and each other and trying not to scratch fresh bites.

Most interns went around in full rain gear today, despite the heat, just to protect themselves from the onslaught.  I wear long sleeves and long pants, but I still loaded up on bug repellant.  I almost finished the bottle!  And guess what?  It still didn't keep the little buggers away.

Honestly, I was worried about today.  The rain makes the ground very soft, and the forecast predicted we'd get more throughout the morning.  Luckily, they were wrong, and when the sun came out for good around 10 am, things started drying off.  This makes our workday go much more smoothly, because we can get more done.  We had a big list:  harvest kale, cucumbers, summer squash, zucchini, herbs, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatillos, and sweet onions; vent the hoop house and place the tables in it; harvest the storage onions for drying in the hoop house; wheel hoe in section 2; mow the drive roads and cover crops (Claire); and generally make the farm look presentable for the dinner.  We did it all.

I also made a list of possible items to include in the share this week: sweet onions, salsa baskets, tomatoes, beets, beans, an herb choice, and possibly kale, eggplant, peppers, or cabbage.  I'm not sure if we have enough peppers and eggplant, though we could do a choice like we did last week, and I also don't know if we took all the cabbage out of the field yet.   Either way, it's a great looking share.  I'll find out Wednesday if Claire thinks my list will work.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Topic: Tomatoes

As you can see from the videos below, we have been talking tomatoes a lot lately.  Tomatoes, as you know, are some of the most precious of fresh commodities, and their season is a much-celebrated event.  While we are all looking forward to eating the first tomatoes of the season, we are also acutely aware of the shortness of that season and the probability that we can get a decent harvest to fill our canning needs throughout the year.  And here lies the problem.

Last year, the tomatoes got what is called late blight, which is a fungus.  It's the same fungus that caused the Irish Potato Famine.  We got it around week 3 of the harvest last year, and lost a good portion of the harvest.  It was extremely sad to see all that work we had done being thrown away.  This year, the chances of blight coming back are fairly high, since there are most likely spores in the air created by plants that weren't properly killed last year (not our plants, but of other farmers and home gardeners).  Also, as you are aware, it has been very rainy and wet this year, prime conditions for fungus.

We got word last Thursday that the blight had been found in Wisconsin already.  This is very disheartening as we have yet to harvest ripe tomatoes.  We may lose the entire harvest!  So Claire sent out a letter to the members of our CSA asking for their input.  In the video, she talks about the compelling arguments that people wrote in, in both directions (the members were split as to what to do).

On the SPRAY side, Troy has never used copper to control disease before, so it would be a learning experience for the farmers and the interns to see how effective the copper is at keeping the tomatoes from getting late blight.  Copper is just a physical barrier, not a fungicide.  The plants will eventually succumb, it's just a matter of time.  Application will also help to slow the spread of the fungus across the country.  However, while copper is approved for organic application, it is also toxic to people and wildlife, and can cause harm to plants if sprayed often, caused by build up in the soil.  See this article from the UW-Extension about the application of copper for organic control of late blight.  At Troy, we bought copper hydroxide to use on the plants.

There are also other costs, such as labor time to spray the plants.  It would take one person a full 8 hours to do a thorough job.  That person would have to wear a hazmat suit, mask, and goggles the whole time.  In this heat, it would be dangerous.  Rehydration would be difficult and breathing restricted.  That person would not be able to contribute to other tasks on the farm, straining our already stressed labor.  In order to be effective, the copper needs to be sprayed once a week.  Each time, no one would be allowed to enter the tomato field for 24 hours after application.

For those who would choose DON'T SPRAY, the reasons are obvious.  As a Certified Organic producer, Troy doesn't spray anything (not even compost tea) on the plants other than water.  It didn't feel right to spray a known toxic substance on the plants just for the pleasure of eating tomatoes this year.  Just because copper is approved for organic use doesn't mean that we must choose to use it.  It's a reminder that organic law is written with production in mind, not necessarily the health of the producer or the consumer.  Our customers would need to be reminded to wash their tomatoes thoroughly, perhaps twice.

If you watched the video, you saw that Claire made the decision to spray the plants.  Later that day, she did.  The next day, we went to Tipi Produce for a field trip.  There we saw many new techniques, equipment, methods, and tools.  It made an impact on the interns, and on the way back to Troy we continued the discussion.  And in the end, all of us (save myself) had decided that not spraying was the right choice for Troy.  I was still interested in the experimental aspects of applying copper.  I still am, though I would like to study it in a controlled environment.  But after reading in more detail about the effects on humans and wildlife, I too changed my mind.

So all of us are crossing our fingers that the late blight doesn't spread to our plants quickly.  The heavy rains we got on Thursday and Friday probably washed the original application of copper hydroxide off pretty well.  I was heartbroken when we lost a portion of the harvest last year.  I really hope that our luck holds out as long this year.  Tomatoes are my favorite vegetable (I know, they're really a fruit) and I would hate to go another year without tasting a fresh one.

Who knew there were so many implications to organic control of late blight?

Tractor Time in Mosquitoville

On Monday, Claire taught me two new skills:  using the broadcast seeder, and driving the tractor!

The broadcast seeder is really just a big shoulder-strapped bag (that holds the seed) with a disc on the bottom that turns as you crank it, throwing seed up to 7 feet or so, depending on how fast you crank it and how quickly you walk.  I used it to broadcast buckwheat seed on two large sections of the field: where the peas used to be in section 1, and on the triangle field out back.

Seeding looks like a pretty easy task.  You're just randomly throwing seed down, right?  Wrong.  Since the seeder only throws at a certain radius, you need to carefully measure the distance between passes down the field to get even coverage.  Then there's the matter of cranking at the correct speed to get that 7 foot range.  All the while, you need to walk fast enough so that you don't use up too much seed in one place.  Buckwheat seed is expensive.

It turns out that the speed I needed to walk to cover such a large area was at a near clip, causing me to appear as if I was leaping all about the field clumsily.  In actuality, walking that quickly caused me to trip several times, as the soil was uneven and 'trashy' from the last tilling.  I never fell, I just used the momentum to propel me ever forward.  At that rate, I used one bag for each field.  We have one bag left to cover small patches here and there as the crops on them are harvested and no longer in use for the rest of the season.

Once the seeding was done, Claire taught me the ins and outs of the farm tractor.  First, she inserted one key into the battery at the front of the nose.  Next, I climbed up and sat on the old, springy seat, complete with padding.  Claire inserted the second key into the ignition.  All around me were gears and levers, cranks, and dials.  Starting at the center were the gear shifts.  There were two; one for high and low which I didn't need to worry about since I would always be driving in low, and one for first, second, third, and reverse.  I wasn't planning on leaving first gear.  On the steering wheel was a throttle lever, and on the floor on the right there was a foot throttle, also not to be used.  The brake was next to the foot throttle.  On my right was the hydraulic system to raise and lower the tiller.  Claire told me to keep one hand on it at all times, as a reminder to pull it out of the ground when reaching the end of a bed or when stopping mid-field.  On my left was the gear that would engage the PTO, or Power Take Off, which in this case was connected to the tiller.  And on the floor to my left was the clutch.  Press halfway down to shift gears, and press all the way to the floor to engage the PTO.  Watch this video to get an idea of what I'm talking about:

Once the orientation was complete, Claire had me drive the tractor around the back fence towards the triangle field.  I got off and Claire completed the first pass of the field for me.  I got on and tried for pass number 2.  Going down the field in a straight line was pretty easy, as was turning for the return pass.  Getting in position for the next pass, however, proved difficult, as the field is in a triangular shape and this was the tight corner.  Also, the amount of room available to get in position was small, and the hitch from the tractor to the tiller was rigid, meaning that the tractor needs to be lined up before any moves are made, as turning it will cause torque pressure in the tiller, increasing the odds for damage.

After about six passes or so, I started to get the hang of it.  That weird angle basically meant that I had to go in reverse to line myself up before starting a new pass, so I got to practice going from first to reverse and back many times.  I completed the entire field, then went back for one last angled pass to clean up the edges of this oddly shaped piece of land.  We'll see next Monday whether or not I did a good job on both of these tasks.

Meanwhile, back on the farm, the mosquitos have gone into phase 2 of their operation, swarming us with the latest round of their reproductive efforts.  All the rain has compounded into multiple problems: there are so many weeds this year that it has been difficult to keep on top of them; standing water between and on the plants has made for many places for mosquitos to lay new eggs; now when we go into the field to harvest or weed, we disturb these mosquito nests.  We wear long sleeves and pants, spray ourselves with OFF and DEET, wear nets over our heads and necks, and the little buggers still manage to create havoc with our skin.  Yesterday, I counted twenty bites on my face and neck alone.  It is very tough to stay concentrated on the task at hand when you are swatting at mosquitos all day.  Their buzzing is nearly intolerable.  Apparently, this is something that happens every other year or so.  It makes me want to invent a body net, though such a thing is probably impractical.

In other news, we finally constructed the hoop house!  Heavy snows collapsed it last winter, and this week we put up the walls and the faces, covering it all with heavy duty plastic.  Now we are ready to cure onions and garlic, and we have another space out of the rain.  The only drawback is that apparently, mosquitos tend to create an intense community within its walls.  Hopefully we missed that problem since it wasn't up until this last burst.  Here, Jake, Claire, Rosemary, and Michelle put the finishing touches on the construction:

Summer is definitely here!  On field tour this week, there were ripe tomatoes:
Ears of corn:
Even brussels sprouts are forming, though we aren't going to harvest them any time soon, since no one wants a brussels sprout in August.
We even got a visit from some sandhill cranes.  I tried to snap a photo as they flew by:
On Tuesday, we had a discussion regarding our field trip to Tipi Produce a couple of weeks ago.  I am in the process of trying to get this discussion online, but I'm having problems with my software.  Hopefully I'll get this fixed in the next week or so.  Until then...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New Crops!

It's been a whirlwind of activity on the farm as some new crops are now being harvested, much to the delight of our CSA members.  Cabbage, eggplant, cauliflower, beets, salsa baskets (tomatillos), and even tomatoes have all made their debut in the last week or so.  As a result of all this harvesting, we barely have any time left over for other projects.  The tomatoes need to be trellised again, and weeds are becoming a larger problem than we'd like.  Larger meaning that they are so big they are about to seed themselves and become an even greater nuisance for us later in the season and even next year.

I'll take more pics of the newer crops next week, but here is one of some of the interns trellising tomatoes:
Here is some of the last lettuce of the hot season.  More in the fall!

Field Trip to Tipi Produce

On Tuesday, July 20th, we took a field trip to Tipi Produce in Evansville, WI.  There, Beth Kazmar and Steve Pincus gave us a tour and filled us in on the evolution of their organic CSA and wholesale produce business.  They have 45 acres of land in production, where we at Troy have only 3.5.  This difference in land use, as well as Tipi's extensive wholesale operations, means that they use a variety of different methods and equipment that we are used to.  It was interesting to see how another farm works successfully.  

Here we can see new pepper transplants across from established plants which are starting to bear fruit.  Note the use of black plastic mulch.  At Troy, we do not use this as it is not re-usable and not recyclable.  However, as I noted before, Tipi is working with a lot more land and therefore uses resources differently.  
One of Tipi's signature crops is melons.  Here is a watermelon, ready to be harvested.  Note the black plastic.  Melons are a highly valued crop and therefore their appearance in the CSA share is very welcome.  Not many CSAs can say they give as many melons as Tipi.  
Steve, Claire, and some of the interns step into the field to get a closer look.
Here is an example of drip tape used for irrigation.  
Here, we see leaves composted from the city of Evansville and used as mulch with squash plants. 
Steve explains how the irrigation gun works.  If you look closely, you can see it far in the distance to the right of Jake's shoulder.  It can shoot 200 feet in all directions and can crawl along the length of the field by itself.  It can be adjusted for pressure and distance.  
Steve shows off the Perfecta II to Jake while an army truck converted for water distribution lies waiting in the background.  Just two of the many pieces of equipment in operation at Tipi.