Getting the Veggies in the Ground!

... between the raindrops, that is! We've not had much time to post since our last big rain event because it's been raining on and off since then, which keeps us really busy trying to squeeze crops into the ground and stay on top of the weeds (which LOVE wet weather).  We can work around the rain but it's a lot harder--your boots get so heavy with mud it's like walking through quicksand.

Peas, lettuce, and spinach in the mist!

The last month or so has certainly been up and down. It's been quite a challenging spring this year--what makes the challenge most impressive is that we have had pretty much every spring weather situation occur here that could be a challenge in NY:  a cold, late start, a drought period with constant high winds, deluges, cold nights, and more.  And we actually were somewhat lucky here at the farm--we missed the mid-May snow that hit the upper Midwest, the late May snow that reached NH and VT, and the remnants of Andrea that dumped on the Hudson Valley!

Standing sentinel... Arlo is getting tired of all the rain!

Because we are new to our land, these challenges have also brought some learning opportunities as to how our soils and site can handle things.  On the positive side, 2012's drought was a powerful lesson in irrigation, so we are definitely better on that front.  We also better utilized our hedgerows as windbreaks this year, which was a huge help on some of the days where it hit 60 mph.  Our row cover investment lets us get almost an acre under row cover, and has definitely paid off--reducing pest, wind, and water stress on all the crops lucky enough to be under it.

Row covers in action (here they cover our broccoli family crops--mostly for pest control from our nemesis, the flea beetle).

On the negative side, we have been facing one huge challenge.  We have this beautiful lower field that we've been prepping since last year to hold 3 acres of our summer and fall crops (which is half of the acreage we grow).  We've spent hundreds of hours working on getting this ground ready, including a huge chunk of time in the last 3 weeks.  However, after getting more rain in just over a week than we did all summer, we learned that some of our fields are slower to drain than others.  Specifically, these 3 acres just aren't drying out.  After waiting and trying to work it and waiting some more, we realized we had to radically change our cropping plans in order to get the summer crops into the ground.

Mulched beds in the lower (wetter) field--so far the plants seem happy!

Fortunately, we had an area in the northern field that we had seeded down to oats to rest and rebuild for the 2013 season.  We realized that we needed to pull out the oats and get those summer crops in there.  We are lucky that we had this overflow option, but having to prepare these extra few acres has definitely strained our time resources (and our backs!).

One of the rougher areas tilled up for flowers--the green is just oats, which should break down quickly (we hope!).

We ended up tilling these beds and they look really good.  The soil seems very nice (and most importantly is DRY!).  We fit the beds for summer crops with black plastic.  We aren't huge fans of using the plastic, but it does a great job of warming up the soil (which is key for peppers, eggplant, melons, and tomatoes), keeping down weeds, and trapping in moisture.  We are also lucky enough to live in Madison County, which does recycle this at our dump.

All the summer cropped beds prepped and ready to plant.

We played hookey Sunday to go see the Civil War reenactment at the Gerritt Smith estate--so much cool history in CNY!

Making holes for the tomatoes (Matt's back is feeling this today!)

Eggplant and their protective clay cover (we dip them in clay prior to planting for some bug protection)

Before the rain Monday, we finished off all these beds!  It feels good to have these crops in the ground, and now we have time to assess that tricky lower field and learn what will work for using it.  Since that big rain (4" over a couple days) that flooded the field, the ground has been slowly drying out, and it seemed to handle our 2" rain storm well, which gives up hope that it will be fine in the future with some more moderate weather!

Tomatoes getting started (our main crop is all in the ground now!)

Arlo supervising as we get ready to water in transplants with our fancy new hose cart.


Early December Photo Gallery

Here's a mix of photos from around the (mostly sleeping) farm on this warm, sunny day!

Early Fall Photo Tour

Fall seems to have snuck up on us.  We had our first frost (it was a light one, fortunately), we are starting on the winter squash harvest, and crops are switching places (the eggplant are giving up and the spinach is growing faster by the day).  The weather seems to be getting more normal--it's actually TOO wet now to work up the fields (which is giving us some time to get the tractor repaired).  Here's some October 1 photos to share what's going on around the fields!

Planting Cover Crops--Winter Rye!

This growing season is nowhere near over, but we are already doing a fair bit of work to prep for next growing season!  As crops finish producing, we've been tilling them in and putting buckwheat in the beds in their place.  At this point, most of the buckwheat is mowed down and we are planting our winter cover crops.  Cover crops are important on most farms, particularly newer ones like ours, where the soils can use some improving.

"Cover crops" or "green manures" include a wide range of plants.  They are crops that are planted, not to be harvested for anything in particular, but rather to cover and protect the soil, or to be tilled in green to enrich the soil.

Our cover crops will add organic matter to the soil (this will happen when we till them in next spring), which helps improve both soil drainage and water retention.  They also protect the soil from compaction and leaching over the fall and winter--bare soil can be beaten down and compacted by rain and snow (this is what happened in our fields over the past few winters), which makes it harder for plants to grow the following year.  Also, when there is a lot of rain, nutrients can drain out of the soil.  Cover crop plants hold on to these nutrients with their roots.  Finally, some cover crops (those in the pea or legume family) are able to pull nitrogen, a key plant growth nutrient, out of the air and fix it in the soil in a form that the following crops can use (in essence, free fertilizer!).

Since we don't yet have animals and their manure on the farm to make compost to improve our soils, we are relying on these cover crops to help us out on the nutrient front.

The crops we are using are:  oats with field peas, winter rye with hairy vetch, and straight winter rye.  The oats and peas will grow this fall and die over the winter, leaving a mulch layer of plant growth protecting the ground--we are planting them in the first areas that we will work up next spring.  The winter rye and hairy vetch will keep growing next spring, so we are planting them in areas that will have summer crops.  Peas and vetch both are legumes that fix nitrogen, so they are key in these mixes.

Winter rye, when tilled under in the summer, has alleopathic properties as it decomposes.  This means it will inhibit any other seeds from germinating near it, which has the added benefit of helping us against weeds!  For the straight winter rye, which we are growing on areas slated for fall crops in 2013, we will be chopping down the mature rye stalks to use for mulch in between beds of the summer crops.  Let's hope we get the rest of our cover crops in the ground before Tuesday's rain!

Early June

We are all over the place now!  This time of year, it's all about keeping as many balls up into the air at one time as you can.  For example, this week we:  direct seeded, ordered more seed, transplanted, started more transplants, blended more potting soil, weeded by hoe, weeded by tractor, changed around the tractor, roto-tilled, laid out beds, rock-picked, harvested, and... ...well a whole lot more.  Hence, the somewhat random photo montage of today's blog!

This weekend will see us at the Cazenovia market with a whole bunch of crops, and next week are our FIRST CSA distributions!!!

Click on any pictures below if you want to see them close up...