Thursday, January 28, 2010

Week of January 25 2010 : Varieties

(This is not an actual photo, it is an artist's rendering of Corn Kitty. This blog is supposed to be about farming but recently animals in the orchard are making the headlines. Despite the eastern timber wolf, despite the prolonged frigid temperatures and deep snow, Corn Kitty survived and is back on patrol.)

I am finally done with all of my seed purchases. High Mowing Organic Seeds is my favorite store to buy seeds. They obviously get the whole organic-sustainable thing, they offer a reasonable variety of seeds, and customer service (if necessary) is excellent. I buy as many seeds as I can from HMS.

This year I consulted the 2010 Ohio Vegetable Production Guide for variety recommendations. Some vegetables such as peppers sometimes struggled under the valley conditions. The guide compiles research and trail plot results across Ohio. There are a lot of other good data in this guide too, for example, do you know how to calibrate a thermometer? Read page 25, Frost Control.

This year I decided to diversify some seed purchases. I am on a quest to grow perfect orange and yellow bell peppers. In particular, all yellow hybrids I have ever grown were disappointments. The plants set few fruits and those that survived to maturity were thin walled and lost crispiness. Enter OVPG which recommends the Lafayette hybrid. Let's hope this is the hybrid that delivers the thick walled crunchy 4 lobed fruits!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Week of January 18, 2010 : Eight

(Here is another file photo, this time of a male Eastern Bluebird. Bluebirds are well established in the area and have made year round use of our nesting boxes. On cold winter nights, the boxes double as roosting boxes. During the recent warm spell, eight birds were perched on the fence wires, waiting to devour any insects that decided to enjoy the warm weather).

In addition to the bluebirds, we also have bald eagles in the area. The first nest appeared 4 summers ago, a quarter mile north of our field. Last summer another nest appeared, a quarter mile south of our field. Bald eagles dont exactly cozy in nest boxes so monitoring can be difficult. We are not expert birders nor do we have any binoculars so we have not been able to take full advantage of these opportunities.

But whenever we notice an eagle flying over the orchard, we always stop whatever we are doing and watch the bird until she disappears in the distance. Nathaniel can identify an eagle too. He undoubtedly knows geese and he has developed a distinct shriek when he sees geese. But when he sees an eagle he simply points. Last week we were sled riding and he observed the eagle first and pointed it out to me!

On very rare occasions, adult eagles will teach the juveniles hunting tactics in the orchard.

Now I want to push my luck and put up an owl box. Although I see them for sale, I dont know anybody who actually has an owl box and certainly not ever heard a success story.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Week of January 11, 2010 : Mulch.

(Here is a file photo of neatly formed raised beds protected by plastic mulch. Weed free without herbicides. That is what we all want, right? I usually laugh when I read extension articles about giant hogweed. Here I have giant purslane, giant velvet leaf, ... )

Another purchase arrived at the front door: black plastic mulch.

Deciding to switch to plasticulture was a difficult decision for me to make.

Sweet Peat is great. It does everything it is intended to do: prevents weeds, adds organic matter and so on. When I had a personal sized garden, this was the perfect mulch. I exchanged $35 for 1 cubic yard of mulch; considering the quality and results, I was satisfied with my purchase.

Unfortunately this solution does not scale to market sized fields. Consider a 50' dual row of peppers: 18" between rows and 24" between each plants allows ~50 plants per row. 1.2 cubic yards is needed to properly mulch one row (50' x 2.5' x 3"); thus the cost is $40.51 per row. As I learned, any attempt to skimp on coverage just shortens the time to weed domination.

By comparison, plastic mulch costs $1.61 per row.

Over the years, I have tried various methods and combinations of methods of weed control such as newspaper mulch, hoeing and critical weed free period. Last year my minimized Sweet Peat and newspaper combination failed; a little too much wind and soon the mulch was a little too gone ... weed domination.

This year, feeling significant pressure to reduce my labor, I reconsidered plasticulture. I already demonstrated how plasticulture is a 96% cost savings. Last year I averaged 4 hours per week (for 8 weeks until the wind storm) on weed management and still lost battle. I can easily discover 96% labor savings too.

Wait, there is more. There is a chance the plastic mulch will work.

So why was the decision to switch to plasticulture difficult? After all, plastic mulch is accepted by organic certifying agencies (provided the mulch is lifted at the end of the season).

Is plasticulture sustainable agriculture?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Week of January 4, 2010 : Seeds

(Here is a file photo of Xtra Tender 277A. To a grower, the name 277 makes perfect sense. The "2" indicates Bi-Color and "77" indicates a relative maturity of 77 days. The name clearly answers the questions "What am I growing?" and "How long will it take?" Although I will admit a name like "Honey and Cream" has more market appeal).

The first seed purchase for the upcoming market season is complete! Sweet corn!

In my youth, my parents would purchase sweet corn from various road side stands and excitedly discuss the nuances of tenderness, sweetness and flavor. I could not detect these nuances so I could not share the excitement; my conclusion was simply it is better than city chicken.

Now I can detect these nuances, and I can share the excitement. But even more exciting, though, is accepting and answering the challenge to be the grower.

I want to be the person who grows the sweet corn that is the single purpose for driving out to the market!

The first step, last step and every step in between is researching, learning and honing my growing skills. It actually is quite a challenge both mental and physical to grow a premium crop on any scale.

There are so many natural challenges such as weather and wildlife; think about it , if corn is tasty to you, it is also tasty to deer and racoons. Most people do not know that the corn stalks are as sweet as the kernels.

And those insidious corn borers and ear worms.

And there are plenty of challenges even after the perfect ear has been harvested; this is a competitive market segment.

Defeating the challenges while besting your competitors, all while satisfying organic growing practices? Yeah it gets hard.

But that gets us right back to where we started: I want to be the person who answers these challenges, I want to be the person who grows the good stuff.

The cycle continues with this seed purchase. This summer, parents will pack up their surly kids and drive to market, hopefully to buy my sweet corn.