We are inching our way to the midpoint of our CSA season. It’s hard to believe, but it is happening. These next couple of weeks on the farm is just treading water, spending most of the time harvesting for the CSA, our farm stand and restaurants. Anything else that gets done is just icing on the cake until the fall semester starts and my new “crop” of interns show up. I’ve been lucky this summer to hire a part-time worker and even better is that he is a graduate of the Sustainable Farming and Food Systems program at Tompkins Cortland. It’s been so nice to have someone here that is familiar with the farm and how we do things. In addition to all of last week’s harvest, we managed to get some field projects done and a little bit of transplanting. We were stopped in our tracks last Wednesday but that storm that rolled through. It was the first time all season that we got one of those really hard rains during the middle of the work day. It showed up while we were in the middle of planting some bok choi for the fall and just kept coming. We powered through finishing the bed but were soaked to the bone and shifted to inside work after that. I think we ended up with close to 1.75 inches of rain that day.
Last week was the final week of our Summer Internship on the TC3 Farm for the students in the Sustainable Farming and Food Systems program at Tompkins Cortland. For most of them it was their third and final semester on the farm. This cohort has been an absolute pleasure to have out here and their “growth” has been amazing since they first stepped onto the farm last fall. I feel that they’ve all come a long way in their personal growth and as a learning community. For those of you on campus, if you see any of the farming students, please say thank you for all their hard work. They are a big part of what happens on the TC3 Farm, from crop planning/rotations in the winter months to planting and harvesting in the summer and everything in between. I look forward to seeing where and what they all end up doing next.
We kept very busy on the farm during the last week. In addition to our weekly harvests and trying to keep up with the weeds, we did one last big planting. We got 14 beds of fall brassicas in the ground, including cabbage, collards, cauliflower, kohlrabi and napa cabbage. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we have a long enough season and that we can keep the pests (mostly the woodchucks) at bay.
I started to have flashbacks to last season with the weather we were having in the early part of last week. 3 plus inches of rain in 3 days was a lot to handle, especially with the heavy downpour we experienced on Wednesday. I was starting to stress that we weren’t going to be able to get back into the field to finish this season’s plantings. But that stress subsided when the rain stopped and the sun came out on Thursday and Friday to dry out the fields and get us back on our way. Things definitely slowed down with the amount of field work we were able to get done but we managed clear out the last of the early carrots that were planted and the rest of the garlic. So, all the garlic is now hanging in the upstairs of the barn curing away. Garlic won’t be in the CSA share again until the end of August, at the earliest. After it’s done drying, we will sort out the largest, most uniform bulbs to replant for next year.
Well folks, it looked like all the dancing at Grassroots worked and our rain prayers have been answered. In all my years farming, the summer’s guaranteed rain events happen during Ithaca Festival and Grassroots weekend. Now today’s rain was a little heavy at times, but beggars can’t be choosers, so I’ll take whatever we can get. And the veggies will definitely enjoy it.
For last week’s field trip, we went and visited Groundswell’s Incubator Farm. The Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming is a non-profit based out of Ithaca that is near and dear to my heart. I’m a former Farmer-Educator for them and currently sit on their board. The TC3 Farm and the Sustainable Farming and Food Systems degree at Tompkins Cortland are here today because of Groundswell. Long story short, but Groundswell created a Summer Practicum that was offered for credit through Tompkins Cortland in the summer of 2010. That first summer students decided to put on a Local Foods celebration to culminate their work. Former college president, Carl Haynes was invited and asked to say a few words. One of his comments was that it would be great to see this as a degree program one day at Tompkins Cortland. And the rest is history. If you’re not familiar with what an Incubator Farm is, it’s a farm that offers land to growers at an affordable price and often provides shared equipment and technical advice. What makes the Incubator Farm at Groundswell unique is that their target audience are those who are traditionally underrepresented in agriculture (women, persons of color and New Americans). Liz, the farm manager, gave a great tour of the different operations at the farm and some of the obscure vegetables growing there. About half of the folks farming there are Karen Burmese refugees and many of the crops that they grow are not traditionally grown in our region.
Well, June has zipped right by. It’s hard to believe but the summer internship for the Sustainable Farming and Food Systems students is just about halfway over. The students continue to impress me with their work ethic and how quickly they are picking up life on vegetable farm during the summer. Last week was a big week of transplanting on the farm. We got all of our winter squash, melons and second round of summer squash and cucumbers in the ground.
It was a lot of work to get them planted, fertilized and covered with remay, aka row cover. We use row cover on our cucurbits (and brassicas) to protect them from pests while they are getting established. The main pest that goes after all the squash, cukes and melons are cucumber beetles. These little buggers can affect the plants in a few different ways. First, they can stunt the plant’s growth, especially when they eat the flowers. They also can transmit bacterial wilt and do damage to the fruit. There aren’t many effective organic sprays that also won’t harm our many wonderful beneficials, including bees. So, we don’t do any spraying. Instead we use cultural controls, which includes row cover. We also try to select varieties that have good disease resistance. This season we are also using a trap crop to hopefully lure the cucumber beetles away from our main crop. We have two beds of a Hubbard squash that is supposedly more attractive to cucumber beetles not covered. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it has a positive outcome.
Ok, so it was hot out there today! But we managed to get in most of the harvest by mid-morning. Now, if you’re new to the TC3 Farm CSA, you’ll soon find out that I end up giving a lot of weather updates and how it’s affecting the season. It’s inevitable. I won’t dive too much into it this week, but I just wanted to acknowledge that. This past week, we were kept busy with more transplanting, lots of cultivating (aka, weeding with tools) and hoophouse tomato management. We are growing 25 different varieties of beefsteak, cherry and heirloom tomatoes in a fairly intensive system. All the varieties are indeterminate, which means that they will grow as tall as we let them (or season length). We keep a single “leader” and each week we go through the houses and “sucker and trellis” the 730 plants.