Harvest Days on the Farm

I know, long time, no posting!  We've had plenty to write about, but to be honest, this summer has been extremely rough in terms of weather and workload, so we only now are starting to have time to breathe (and eat and blog). Good thing we had semi-raised beds...

Since our last post, it pretty much rained from mid-May to mid-July (20 inches over 7 weeks--during those 49 days we had rain for 45), and then stopped raining and became cold--like veggies stopped growing 'cuz it was in the 40s at night sort of cold.  Things are still cooler and the summer crops are ripening slowly, but overall, we are feeling a bit more normal now.  We have a long blog in the works on our thoughts about this summer, but it's still a bit too fresh for us to write on it without excess profanity!  Short story, the lessons from this summer are that rain is worse than drought, bugs wash away in floods while plant disease washes in, and hoop houses are our next big investment!

Tomato flooding... and this was one of the less bad days of rain!  These plants look great now, by the way!

But as things are steadying out a bit, we do have time to start posting again, and thought we'd get back in with some pics from harvest days, since some folks have been asking how the day goes!

We harvest 90% of our crops on Tuesday and Friday mornings, for our Tuesday and Friday CSA and our Saturday market.  With tomatoes starting, we will sometimes harvest them the day before, because it's such a long process to wipe off the organic (late blight deterring) copper from the fruits.  On Monday and Thursday evenings, we cruise around the field and check out what's ready.  Most years, there will be 20 or 25 available crops, and we choose 8 to 12 for the CSA.  This year, we have typically had more like 10 to 15 crops ready, so it makes CSA choices quicker (though more annoying--we like having more options!).  We try to mix things up a bit so folks get a range of salad, root, fruit, and greens in their shares.  We have twice as many CSA members on Tuesday than Friday, but since we have the market Fridays, the two harvest days take about as long (though we also harvest more on Saturday mornings for market).

We prioritize crops for the CSA over the market, since we really appreciate the up-front support from our CSA members.  Most years we have plenty for both the CSA and the market, but this year we've been saving lots of crops just for the CSA (like our potatoes).

We start harvesting anywhere from 5:30 (if it's hot) to 7:30 (if it's wet) in the morning.  We start off with crops like lettuce and greens that don't like getting hot, and then finish off with things like tomatoes or cucumbers where you want the plants to dry off before you get in there and handle them.  We have started getting into the bad habit of sleeping a bit late this year since it's been so cold and wet (and we don't want to spread plant disease around by harvesting damp plants)!

Getting started early enough the clouds are below the windmills... they usually lift by mid-morning

Poor winter squash... this section flooded and spread some disease to these plants (causing them to die)

We usually harvest crops in batches and then haul them back to the cooler in the wagon (our most utilized tool on the farm).  Most crops get washed in super cold water to lower their field temperature and get off the dirt, though some things like tomatoes just get wiped down.

Veggies in the wagon

We have dreams of a real wash line for next year, but couldn't afford the whole building set up this season, so we are improvising a bit.  Matt did take the first step for a wash shed by putting a new door into the garage.  The walk in cooler is right inside the door, so this saves us the time of walking through the garage a zillion times each harvest day.  Since it has rained or been super cold this season, it hasn't been a problem yet for not having shade on the line.  We use two tanks and a series of drying/spray tables, and have landscape fabric underneath to keep the mud down.  Last year we had a mobile setup (with a tent) that we rotated around the yard.  This year's improvement of an actual line saves a chunk of time each harvest day.  Matt build a PVC tank filling valve, and we drain the tanks often to keep the water clean.

Matt washing the last tote of beets--check out the snazzy new door in the garage

We pack CSA shares in the garage using folding tables.  Last year folks might remember our CSA bags, which were cute but a hassle to pack (too floppy), handle (hard to quickly grab the handles), and stack (you couldn't).  This year we switched to boxes, which means we can pack 4 times as many shares per hour than we could with the bags!  It's been nice to see how small changes make a big difference in efficiency!

Share packing line in the cool of the garage

Weighing and bagging tomatoes for shares

Harvest supervisor and quality control officer testing a dropped carrot

Hopefully the weather stays "normal," the late blight stays away, and frost holds off until October so that we can re-start posting regularly!

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.

 

Rain! Rain! Rain! (and lots of May pictures...)

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! Weeding and rock-picking the brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, kale, and collards).  The white fabric is our insect pest excluding row cover.

Pasture, oats, rye, and windmills--on blustery days, it's all very ripple-y and gorgeous in the wind!

 

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!

Early May pre-rain shot of garlic with baby onions in the background--everything's a lot bigger now!

Third times a charm!  This is one of our pastures where the grass seed just keeps not germinating.  Fortunately, it's starting to come along now (and this rain will help greatly!).

 

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...

Thanks to our great volunteers--John, Mary, and Ben--who helped us plant onions, potatoes, and more.  Thanks too to everyone else who's come out to the farm to help plant these past few weeks!

Heavily watered in baby broccoli (before they get tucked away from flea beetles under their row cover blanket).

 

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!

Even our canine supervisor is dusty.  Pre-rain (and pre-bath) picture...

First working of potato field using a new tillage tool we are borrowing--it breaks up compaction and makes the soil much easier to work!  (Thanks Robert for letting us borrow this!)

Matt working up the potato field with the scarifier.

Wild apples... great for critters and for our fall cider making!  Last year's cold spell destroyed all the blossoms, so we are enjoying their blooms even more this spring.

Happy hens--they are a little obsessed with us so it's hard to get a candid shot (or to move around the field without almost stepping on them!).

 

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!

Lots of Post 4th Pics!

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!