Monday, July 26, 2010

Week of July 19 2010 : Feedback

(Here is a picture of a few of our cherry tomatoes. The orange variety really is great for everything; they add bright colors to any dish and are sweet enough for snacking. Over in the next row are all the heirloom tomatoes. Our favorite are the Nyagous).

Our fields are near a popular road. The road is not popular in a national highway sense, but in a scenic byway sense. Hot rods and Harleys frequently tool along. Packs of cyclists rack up some beautiful miles. The road follows a river bed so it is twisty, flat and shaded. However, along the fields, there is nothing to block the sun. As it turns out, there is nothing to absorb the sound of conversations, either.

While working the land I often overhear private conversations. I frequently hear comments about the garden. Although it is accidental, I really appreciate the feedback. Comments like "Wow, look at all that corn, he must be feeding chickens" and "Wow, now that is a garden" offer me a new perspective or validate my current perspective. That is the power of feedback. It gives us the opportunity to tailor our farm's output to match the needs and wants of our customers.

In that spirit, we wish we would get more feedback from our customers. We have developed loyal customers who are very candid about their opinions of our produce. But there are other customers whose opinions we never hear. We often wonder if those heirloom tomatoes added just the right mixture of sweet and tangy to the salad. Or if that watermelon was the hit of the picnic. Feedback would let us know if and how to improve our offerings and field operations.

The super markets want you to be happy with their produce. But farmer's markets are willing to work to make you happy with our produce.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Week of July 12 2010 : Switch

(Here is a picture of our Gonzales cabbage. We are growing two varieties, Farao and Gonzales. Both are intended for fresh use such as slaws, stir fries and wraps. The first plantings are already in the heading stage. The white plastic mulch suppresses weeds as well as deflects heat so this cool weather crop is surviving through this hot summer.)

This weekend we planned on opening up our market season at the Geauga Fresh Farmer's Market. We also planned on returning to the Lake Metroparks Farmer's Market soon thereafter. We doubled our capacity to meet the anticipated demand. We knew we would be busy and welcomed the challenge.

The uncertainty was our children. Last year, we attended one market and parented one child (not to mention the full time off farm job) . This year we planned a second market and prepared to welcome our second child. Like I said, we knew we would be busy and welcomed the challenge.

The arrival of our second child suddenly put the world in focus, big screen high definition. 19 month old boys are a round the clock responsibility. 2 week old girls are a round the clock responsibility. Suddenly we realized we forgot to consider quality of life. Although "getting it all done" was possible, we could not maintain all three: quality of life, quality of parenting and quality of produce.

So after thinking through our options, and discussing our situation and the market needs with our market manager, we are delaying our Geauga debut. Although disappointing, everybody wins. We will focus on quality parenting. The Geauga market has plenty of other quality vendors.

Now you have to visit us at the Lake Farmparks Farmer's Market instead.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Week of July 5 2010 : Knee High

(Here is a picture of a Moon and Stars watermelon. Remember the transplant? Just six weeks later we have melons. This particular variety will grow to 18" (10 lbs). We also grow smaller single serve varieties too such as Sugar Baby and Solitaire. Corn is supposed to be knee high and this year the watermelons are knee high too)

The pace out in the fields has slowed a bit. The early season tasks such as transplanting are nearly are complete, just one tray of cucumbers to set in the field. Now the daily tasks include irrigation and scouting for disease and pests. The plastic mulch and trickle irrigation dramatically reduce labor. Currently the notable pests are Japanese beetles. These pests target edamame and eggplant. A spray solution of water and Ivory dish soap provides enough relief to keep the plants alive. The beetles will disappear by the end of July, so although they are annoying beyond comprehension, there is little impact on the harvest.

Later in the season we will face two more pests. Corn earworm and voles. Worms of any kind are an expected pest and are usually easy to control. A spray solution of water and organic BT subdues the worms and does not affect beneficial insects. But earworms are different. BT does not destroy the eggs that moths lay in the corn silks; then young worms burrow into ear tips immediately upon hatching. BT is effective only when present on the silks during the short time window between hatching and burrowing. As a bacteria, BT breaks down quickly in the summer heat so management efforts are rather significant.

Relatively few growers face vole pressure. Fencing protects some of our crops from deer and other large animals. But remember that every action has a consequence; the consequence of fencing is the voles are protected from nearly all predators. With few predators and plenty of food, the population spikes quickly. This year cucumbers are the victim. At least the hawks, at night possible owls too, capitalize on the situation.