For the past three weeks, we've been having scary flashbacks to last summer's drought. At the farm, only a half inch of rain fell during all of May... until this week, when two inches pounded down. While the rain was a bit rougher on the baby crops than ideal, we are not going to complain! It's supposed to be tapering off today and tomorrow, and then we hope for some good drying weather so we can get back in the fields, where our crops, cover crops, and pastures are growing like crazy!
The rain brought us a real feeling of relief. We have the capacity to water all our fields, but it takes a long time--irrigation after a three week dry spell runs to 3 or 4 hours of extra work a day. This recent rain will basically give us the time equivalent of having an extra person in the field! Even with irrigation, the crops don't seem to grow quite as well as they do from real, actual rain. We can already see a jump in growth out of the peas, greens, and broccoli!
We've been laughing a bit because the weather for much of May has been poster child weather for days that you shouldn't transplant crops--dry, hot, and with battering winds. Yet when plants need to go into the ground, sometimes you have to put them in on these terrible days! We shifted our schedule to start transplanting around 3 or 4pm many days, and stayed out there to water crops in by flashlight as late as midnight. Starting late means the plants will get the cool evening to settle into their new homes (and it's often less windy here at night), and watering each newly planted crop heavily helps get the roots to make good contact with the soil (and gives each plant a supply of water for its first few days). It also leads to groggy farmers in the morning...
So far, all of the 2014 strawberry crop is planted, the potatoes are in, and all the spring crops are seeded. We did lose a couple beds to poor germination (and one to the row cover blowing off one windy afternoon and our nemesis the flea beetles invading the arugula... but more on them next week), but all the transplants that went in under May's non-ideal conditions seem to be doing great!
It was a busy weekend on the farm as the weather starts breaking. Yesterday, we headed over to NOFA-NY's Syracuse CSA fair and got to meet a lot of great folks. We love seeing how more and more people are getting interested in CSA. We might be biased, but it really is a great way to connect with your local farms and enjoy delicious seasonal food! With today's beautiful days, a bit of the fields are starting to poke out through the snow. (Since we are at 1400 feet elevation, we have a bit longer a thaw than everyone living down in tropical Syracuse or Utica.) Matt used the break in the weather to finish cleaning the greenhouse in preparation for firing it up this week. We have all our trays, seeds, and soil ready--we just have a few more heating system tweaks and we are good to go! I'm working hard to control myself from starting seeds too early. Last year we had such good early growth the plants were ready before the weather was! This year we are waiting an extra 5 to 10 days on our first seeding round.
While Matt played in the greenhouse, I finalized (for the sixth time) our irrigation order (I definitely got the bum end of the deal). Each year I tell myself I'm going to pawn off irrigation planning to a high school algebra class, but each year I forget to do it until midway through the process.
We survived last season with our existing irrigation system, but the severity of the drought definitely made us realize that even though we have a pond, we need to be more frugal with water (since the pond is not limitless). This means changing around our set-up quite a bit, and each change involves solving for a range of variables (flow rates, water pressure, length of the lines, and more). Hopefully we have perfect weather this summer (3 days of sun followed by 1 day with a gentle 3/4" of rain) and don't need all this irrigation, but we want to be prepared just in case!
The nights are starting to get colder and summer crops are slowing down their production. So, apparently, are farmers--we've been too busy to blog much during August, but with the shortening days we now have more hours after dark to catch up! Here are just a few random pictures from the last month of what's going on in the fields... we will be blogging more regularly now that the peak busy time of the year is receding! These picture show some of the different crops we tried out on our new land (which in itself is a total experiment!)... most have been doing well.
Below are our indomitable eggplant and peppers. We anticipated 1 to 3 fruits a plant, given how north we are. But so far it's been closer to 10 to 15 fruits a plant, despite considerable flea beetle pest pressure! The black plastic mulch does seem to boost soil temps just enough to let the plants really thrive, even in a northern region. Next year we will try some hotter weather loving cultivars too.
Another winner (we hope) so far this year are some of the winter squash, which are mostly giant. We think for both the eggplant and the squash it's the high calcium soil (since fruit crops tend to like lots of calcium). Hopefully this translates into sweetness in the squash too!
Another winner (and fruit)--watermelons! We just grew one variety this year, but they have been very prolific and sweet, so next year we will try adding yellow flesh melons and full size cultivars. The cantaloupe and honeydew have also been very good--we just need to address the powdery mildew challenges, perhaps by planting a bit earlier.
This is our stand of popcorn. We aren't really sure how tall popcorn is supposed to grow, but it's about 9 feet right now, despite the drought (though we cheated and had it on drip irrigation). Ears are starting to fill out now, so hopefully the weather holds long enough for a good yield!
The ongoing drought meant that we had to add another drip zone for our larger fall crops. Even then, with the soil so dry to begin with, we have struggled to provide enough water for the plants to grow. We did invest in some row cover (the white stuff in the picture) in an attempt to exclude the flea beetles from the crops.
Overall, the crops seem to be growing well on the new ground. There has been a few bug problems, but considering how stressed out the plants must be with the drought, the bugs have not been out of control (except on the poor kale). We look forward to a good fall harvest, and lots of ideas and plans forming over the winter for next year!
More blogging within a week, we promise!
The theme of the month continues to be dry... as we head into the 6th week of only 3/4 inch of rain... total. Looking on the bright side, weeds aren't really a problem, since they need water to grow. On the challenging side is getting enough of that water to our crops! We wrote a blog for the National Young Farmers Coalition's Bootstraps Bloggers about our water and irrigation solutions (and challenges)... you can see that (and a ton of awesome posts from other Bootstrap Bloggers and from the NYFC) here. For more pictures of this week, check out below!