Sunday, January 25, 2009


Well lets quickly review my goals and opportunities for the 2009 growing season. This will complete the oh-so-not-exciting virtual tour. Soon we will roll up our sleeves and start getting stuff done.

My primary goals are simple. In the South field, grow tomatos, peppers and soybeans. In the North field, grow sweet corn, pumpkins and squash. In the Big field, grow sorghum x sudangrass cover crop.

Each of these goals provides challenges, er, lets restate that as opportunities. Drip irrigation, trellising system and cover crop management are some of the fun challenges. These can be researched, thought out and completed. The outcome is (mostly) within my control.

Disease and pest management are some of the annoying challenges. These can also be researched and thought out, but never really completed. The outcome is outside my control. Scouting a field is a non-deterministic event. The result is either a casual walk to the house or immediate triage.

This one of the attractions to farming. I love the thrill of being properly prepared then instantly tranforming from idle mode to problem solving mode. The preparation, challenges and solutions are solely my responsibility. The fields are significant participants but they are innocent.

This is the exact reason I hate Corporate America. Sure I am presented with challenges and am expected to provide solutions. But these problems are fabricated by people who are not properly prepared. These people are not innocent.

Experience has taught me that deer, beetles (spotted and striped cucumber and Japanese) and worms (cabbage, corn earworm, and tomato hornworm) are the significant pests. Blights (early and late) and mildews (downy and powdery) are the significant diseases.

Now lets get to work!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Big Field

The Big Field is also my big question mark. There are three reasons why working the Big field gives me reason to pause: blue birds, apple trees and commitment.

I absolutely love my blue birds. There is a nesting box in the perfect location. It faces away from the sun, away from the prevailing winds and towards the orchard. After a one time misunderstanding with tree swallows, the blue birds have assumed full time residency. Its a nesting box during the summer and a roosting box during the winter. Working this field may encourage the blue birds to nest elsewhere in the orchard. This is a very minor threat and is not considered a loss-of-habitat. Yet I take responsible land stewardship very seriously therefore I must fully consider the possibility.

The field was recently part of the active orchard. The carefully landscaped ridges and furrows still remain. This does not complicate growing and would actually facilitates some crops such as cucubrits. I particularly like canteloupes but I want to grow apple trees too! I never realized how beautiful, how challenging and how rewarding growing apples can be! Yet I will do absolutely nothing that may potentially compromise the orchard's integrity. Furthermore biodiversity is another facet of responsible land stewardship.

Working the Big field is a very significant commitment to my market farmer dream. Currently my growing capacity exceeds the quantity requirements of a family yet does not meet the quantity requirements of a market. This field's capacity will allow me to cross that threshold. I will need to do something with these vegetables. This is a very interesting and potentially profitable challenge. Yet it is also a commitment in terms of time and resources and I need to be very sure the family understands and accepts this commitment.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The North Field

The North field is my no-till experiment. Last year I grew a sorghum x sudangrass cover crop to renovate the soil. The roots loosened the soil and the biomass boosted organic matter as expected. Optionally a legume cover crop could follow to complete the renovation but in this situation this step is unnecessary. Soil tests indicate the field is able to support a healthy corn stand.

The goals of the North field are to grow sweet corn, practice multi planting and manage disease and pests. There will be six varieties of sweet corn: early season bicolor se+ and sh2, mid season white se+ and sh2, and late season bicolor se+ and sh2. The early planting dates are dependent on seasonal field conditions such as water and temperature. The late planting dates are dependent on the anticipated end of the growing season. The early plantings are targeted for beginning of May. The late plantings are targeted for end of June. Plantings are spaced two weeks apart so there is plenty of cushion to account for expected problems such as weather delays and many unexpected problems too.

Another goal is to practice double planting and companion planting. The early season corn stands will be harvested then replanted to broccoli. The broccoli may be directly seeded or started in trays then transplanted after the first corn harvest. The broccoli can then grow deep into the fall because it is tolerant to frost damage. The mid and late season corn stands will be companion planted with carving pumpkins and winter squash. These stands will be harvested then the stalks will dry down exposing the pumpkins and squash. These hold well in the field so there is no pressure for a timely harvest.

The final goal is to manage disease and pests. These are standard goals; this field in particular will suffer from deer and earworm. The deer problem can be solved with a fence but this solution is too costly for a market scale field. So this is an opportunity to evaluate alternate methods. The most interesting challenge is corn earworm. These little buggers are insidious! They do not eat until they burrow through the silks into the ear rendering foliar sprays ineffective. Powdery mildew resistant pumpkin and squash varieties minimizes my disease concerns.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The South Field

My dream begins with 3 fields. The term plot is more accurate but we will use the term fields. Whatever we call them, they are frozen and covered with a foot of snow. There isnt a whole lot of planting and growing this time of year; we can only plan. There is a danger in planning too much. Some plans depend on experience and experience can only be gained by planting and growing. So my winter goal is to document my summer goals and timelines then fill in the details later.

So lets discuss these fields: the South, North and Big fields. I have grown mixed vegetables in the South field for two years. I grew sorghum x sudangrass in the North field to loosen the soil and add organic matter. The Big field is still fallow. The South and North fields each measure 50' x 50' and the Big field will measure 50' x 100'

The South field has a proven crop history. This year I want to trial various tomatos, peppers and soybeans. The tomatos will be a mixture of dark, red, orange and yellow slicers, processing tomatoes, red cherries and tomatillos. The peppers will be a mixture of green, yellow, orange and red bells, orange and red European style gourmet peppers, and pungent peppers. The soybeans will be edamame grade.

Even the astute reader will not notice any big-wows buried in the last paragraph. These are all safe choices for a very definite reason: the primary goal for the South field is to trial drip irrigation. The other goals include white clover living mulch cover crop and tweaking my disease and pest management.

This leaves plenty of open space for fun stuff for the kitchen table.

Next time we will discuss the North field.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pheasant Valley

I wish this blog was dedicated to sharing the history of this land. But that is not my history nor have I earned that privilege. All I can say is this land is worked by a fifth generation apple grower.

Except for one acre. The bank reminds me every month that I own this acre but its spirit is still dedicated to agriculture.

This blog is dedicated to my efforts to preserve one acre of this land. It is about my dream to become a small farm operator.