December 2, 2009

Notes from Woodbridge Farm

Julia, from Woodbridge Farm, wrote in to give us some feedback on our feedback -- her response to our end-of-year survey:
"I would say, for us this has been the best season so far. There were certain issues with specific crops (see below) but overall we always had a good amount and variety of food available. There is of course always room for improvement, but with respect to the rainy season and the tomato-blight problem, we were not effected by either. A lot of other things happened on the farm: we finished the construction of the creamery, started to milk our cows and to make cheese. This is the other major component of our farm to enable us to become long term financially sustainable."
She was also able to respond, vegetable by vegetable, to the items we indicated we would like to see more of:

Sweet Potatoes
Although we planted them again this year, they unfortunately for the first time did not grow at all. I figure it was simply too cold. Also, we get a lot of damage through voles, who seem to love sweet potatoes, and through harvesting without adequate harvesting equipment. I can put that question out to the membership: do you care if the sweet potatoes are sometimes cut in half?

The other problem is that sweet potatoes want to be cured in 85F for 2 weeks, to enhance sweetness and storability. I have very limited capacities to do this.

Brussel Sprouts
Brussel sprouts are a late fall crop. They come in in late November and taste best after they experienced a first hard frost. This is really after the CSA has finished. The other problem is that the aphid pressure gets so strong in late fall, that I haven't been able to grow brussel sprouts successfully thus far.

Broccoli
I am very aware that broccoli is a favorite and considered a staple vegetable. For our situation it is actually very expensive to grow broccoli. It takes a lot of care, space, timely management, fertilizer, etc etc. And it only yields one proper head once. It is also a seasonal crop that grows in spring or in fall and gives you a harvest season of about 2 to 4 weeks each time. I have been working hard on improving the quality and quantity of our broccoli crop, and was actually extremely pleased with the results this year. I am not sure if I can substantially increase the supply in the future -- if we were to increase the quantity, it would increase the amount offered at those pickup weeks in which we already offer broccoli, but it would not increase the number of times when broccoli is offered (it simply does not produce anything for most part of the season). Please let me know if that is of any interest to you, and I can see what I can do.

Cauliflower
This is a crop that is even trickier to grow than broccoli, and after trying it for a couple of seasons I stepped back from it.

Cucumbers
Cucumbers (along with eggplants) were one of the crops severely impacted this year by the cool weather, as well as an abundance of pests of all kinds: beetles, voles, groundhogs etc etc - we are changing management practices next year, moving to a black plastic mulch system for all the heat loving crops (cucumbers, zucchinis, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, squash, this new system will also allow us to grow melons for the first time, which I am really excited about) - so hopefully this will solve most of the problems at once.

Spinach
For some reason, spinach is having an unusually difficult time in our fields. There appears to be a soil-borne fungus which wilts the leave before they can grow to any harvestable size. I have been trying every year, trying different varieties, supplementing with seaweed, etc etc but so far there has not been any reliable success - sorry, we'll keep trying, and hopefully we will find a solution

Scallions
We will have scallions again next year. We did plant them, but 80% never took, never started to grow. The only explanation I have for this phenomena is a crop rotation issue.

Eggplant
(see cucumbers above) - they will really love the added heat they get from the black plastic

Peas
Peas are very seasonal and are usually grown in spring. We grow a lot of peas for the amount of people we have available to harvest them all. It takes four people more than six hours to get through them all, and we have to do this twice a week. Considering the little market value peas have, it is actually quite unreasonable for us to grow them, but we do it anyhow, because everybody loves them so much. (This is the same for beans, the amount of time it takes to handpick peas and beans makes us completely incompatible with larger and more specialized farms that have mechanized harvesting systems.)

Onions
Both onions and leeks I am hoping to improve the quantity that we will be able to harvest in the coming year. So far we had very little turnout (the percentage of harvestable sized crops compared to the amount we planted has been very low.) I ran some trials on the leeks late in the season and was able to observe a very great response to foliar feeding with a seaweed extract. I will include these sprays in our management practices from now on and hopefully have much better results.

Leeks
(see above)

Tomatoes
We had a very good harvest of tomatoes this year (especially compared to all the problems the farms north and west of us had, who ended up with no tomatoes at all) - if you are looking for an earlier crop, I won't be able to supply that. Tomatoes grown in the field come in in mid August, Greenhouse tomatoes are 4 weeks earlier but we have very limited Greenhouse space. Unfortunately, the town doesn't really seem to support farming too much, so the second Greenhouse we build, we were never able to take into productive use, since the town did not allow us to put the plastic cover on it.

Beets
Beets are a riddle to me. Some germinate, some don't, some grow nice and large while the next one over stays really small. Why? I am not sure. I have a few hints to work with, namely application of lime at seeding, deeper seeding depth, earlier thinning (this is a real time constraint issue - maybe your CSA members can afford to come out to a volunteer beet thinning party?), possibly also seaweed extract application. Hopefully I will be able to solve this in the near future. I believe in addition to the normal riddle I experience growing beets, there was a problem of seed quality this year, the beets had extremely low germination rates.