Thursday, August 7, 2014

Share List Week 9 and Farm News

Tomato, 1 red
Cherry tomatoes, ½ pint
Zucchini, several pieces
Cucumber, several pieces
String beans, .5 lb
Beets, 1 bu
Corn, several pieces

FRUIT: Garden of Eve-grown organic melons: 1 sunjewel AND 1 watermelon (yellow or pink), WED: possibly also sweet plums and apricots – note these are likely to be soft and very ripe (some possibly over-ripe). Any overly ripe fruit is best frozen and used in smoothies or for cooking.

EGGS: ½ dozen pastured eggs

FLOWERS: mixed zinnias

MEAT: 1 lb Long Island Duck Breast, AND 1 lb Long Island Duck Legs, AND 1 lb ground beef

CHEESE: Consider Bardwell Rupert AND Pawlet. PAWLET is made from Raw Jersey cow milk is the basis of this Italian-style toma, which is aged four to six months. A creamy texture and bright bite makes this a great sandwich cheese or an appetizer with broad palate appeal. A versatile cheese, like the town of Pawlet, VT which brings us slate, syrup, and timber. RUPERT is An aged, raw Jersey cow milk cheese inspired by great European Alpine cheeses like Gruyère and Comté. These 25-pound mega-wheels age a minimum of six months, with a sharpness and complexity that gains with time. A long aging cheese like the town of Rupert, VT, one of our states oldest towns, settled in 1761.

Tomatoes are coming in now and as usual, we are battling blight this season which can wipe out all our hard work in as little as a week. However we are optimistic that we will have tomatoes to give for the next couple of weeks and if we are lucky, until October. When I think back on all the hard work that has gone into getting these plants to this stage it is easy to look for someone or something to blame if we lose the crop. Tomatoes are usually one of the highlights of the season for gardeners, farmers and CSA members.

Each spring when nights are below freezing we start our tomatoes in a warm germination chamber that keeps moisture high and temperature at 85 degrees. At the same time we are spreading compost at 10,000 lbs to the acre on the frozen ground where the tomatoes will be planted. The previous year nothing was grown for harvest on this plot and tomatoes were not grown there for as long as we have farmed which is almost 15 years. This land spent the previous 2 years resting keeping weeds from going to seed and growing crops of rye and vetch in 2012 and then 2 crops of buckwheat in 2013.

In the spring of 2014 we plowed the ground and worked in the compost with a spader which loosens the soil for good root growth. The plants spent 6 weeks indoors and then were moved outside and inside every day for 2 weeks until we felt the soil was warm enough and frost damage was minimal - in our area that means mid May. We transplanted 2000 plants and then put a wire hoops over the rows so that we could cover with a fabric to raise day temperature by 15 degrees and night temp by 7 degrees and protect them from frost. Some days when it got too hot we had to move the fabric off in the day and then of at night. The rows were cultivated and hoed 3 times.

In June we started staking the plants up, so they don’t fall over under the weight of the tomatoes. We use a combination of metal and wood stakes, and we weave twine between the stakes to hold the tomato plants up. So far we have used 18 miles of twine and 4000 stakes (all pounded by hand at least one foot deep) on our 3 successions of plantings. We put down drip tape for watering and hand broadcast fertilizer.

At the same time the staking operation is going on, we are harvesting moving and placing straw mulch (800 bales weighing 40 pounds each) under and around all of the plants. This keeps moisture in the soil and prevents soil from splashing up on the leaves, which would encourage disease. The straw also can absorb moisture during heavy rains, helping prevent splitting in the tomatoes. We also hand seed oat or wheat seed in the harvest lanes to keeps weeds down and allow for nice working area between rows.

Blight is a fungus that can only survive in warm weather. With the cold winter we were optimistic that the blight would not hit us early because the low temperatures we had were sure to kill it off. First reports showed it nowhere north of Florida. And since it only travels 30 miles from infected site per sporulation, we were optimistic we wouldn’t need to deal with it early. A week later it was reported in Riverhead resulting in a lot of finger pointing and anger and fear amongst farmers. Conventional farmers in our area use toxic chemical sprays that the plant absorbs and then fights the fungus from the inside out (systemic fungicides).

A certified organic farm like ours obviously does not use these types of chemicals. We only have a few options. We check the fields constantly (called scouting) and when a diseased plant is found, it is pulled up and put into a garbage bag and disposed of off-site. This is time consuming but necessary. We also have several organic sprays that kill the fungus if they are on the leaf when the spore lands. One is copper and the second is more of an immune booster made of ground up knotweed roots (a version of this is becoming quite trendy for people, as well!). Dry weather is the best thing for tomatoes to keep the fungus from spreading.

We are going to keep working to keep the tomato season going as long as we can, and look forward to our annual tomato festival on August 16 and 17. You will be receiving many varieties through the CSA that you will not find in the supermarket. They may not all look perfect, but we hope that some will reach you with that full flavor that we all wait all year for!

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