We were joined today by Beth, a co-worker of Cara’s from Sperry’s. With her help we got all of our onions in, plus some kale, lettuces, and raddichio. We still haven’t figured out how we’re going to push water up here for the plants in dirt, but we can irrigate the drip irrigation under the plastic mulch off our basement well (so long as we do a little at a time). It’s amazing what a full day of sunny weather does for morale.
On we go.
We want to take a moment to send a big electronic thanks to the Wrights for letting us use their gator. It’s the perfect little runabout for us when we don’t need the full tractor/trailer combo, and since we don’t really have established driving lanes, the truck or van would get stuck. In exchange for housing and maintaining the little guy we have permission to use the Gator on the farm, and boy is it a lifesaver!
In other news, a slew of our plants that we’d finally gotten in down below are dead or dying from what Cornell says is the wrong combination of poor soil structure/drainage (from years of abusive conventional farming, basically), excessive wetness, and the modest amount of poultry manure fertilizer we applied at planting. We put in about half the amount that other organic growers usually use, but the soil is so beat that it’s becoming anaerobic in places, creating an ammonium toxicity that’s killing stuff. We were worried it was residual atrazine damage from the corn herbicides (even though we tested for it last fall) but they say that’s not it. Who knows. Either way it’s super wet down there (we had almost 4 inches of rain here last week) so we can’t prep more ground anyway. So instead we’re forced into more of the alfalfa field up the hill!
As a silver lining, at least we HAVE that upper field. Alfalfa or no, it’s nice veggie ground, just *very* light. Our irrigation plan (and purchases) were set up around using the river to water the flats… we don’t have the hardware (big pump and thousand feet of high pressure hose) to push volumes of water up the hill to the upper fields… but we’ll have to figure something out, as down below is out of the question for now. The other silver lining is we didn’t get any hail in the storms last week. Our sympathies go out to our neighbors to the south who got thrashed with hail, damaging a lot of crops.
Also this week, we bought a used walk-in cooler. We’d been planning to buy an insulated truck box and use that—we have a perfect spot just outside the back door of the barn for it, and it would fit perfectly into our long-term picture of how product will flow through the washing space in the barn. Finding one that’s 12-16’ long and local enough to be worth hauling is nearly impossible—longer than 16’ will cover one of the pole barn doors if we place it where we’d like. We found a 12 footer out in Syracuse, but paying someone to haul it was going to kill us. So we finally gave up and bought a cooler, which will have to live inside the barn. Then, of course, the guy in Syracuse called back offering to haul it for $100, which is an incredible deal. It was a hard call, but I think we’re sticking with the walk-in just because we already have it and that particular box isn’t the PERFECT box (it’s 12, not 16, and has a roller door in the rear so we’d have to spend money building up an insulated wall and swing door). Pics coming soon.
We’re also supposed to start markets this weekend, but may have to beg forgiveness and not come til the following weekend. With all the rain and our own challenges, we don’t have much more than arugula, and we’ll spend more on diesel than we could earn with the little we have. What a spring! But we’re keeping our heads up!
Things are busy, but we managed to get a bunch of eager little plants into the ground. The upshot of being barely mechanized is you can transplant in the pouring rain without fear of field compaction.
We've had almost 2 1/2 inches of rain in the last few days, which is about 2" more than we'd like, but we managed to fill every bed we have prepped. With a stroke of good fortune, we had a few hours of dry weather to get some low tunnels up on the cukes, tomatoes, and squashes, too. We ended up finishing the job in the pouring rain again, but it was a nice reminder of what it's like to work in the sun. Not too shabby.
We had a little SNAFU with the low tunnels, as we'd ordered all of our row cover 83" wide (to cover a full 6' bed with room for plants to grow). Unfortunately when you drape that 83" over a 6' hoop that's got 12" in the ground on either end, you have about 3 feet of slack. We really didn't want to punch holes through the middle of the stuff (it's almost $200 a bolt), but we also need it to be taught so the hoops are well-formed and don't press on the plants or blow away in the wind.
After much gnashing of teeth, we ended up shoveling in the entire row. We may end up cutting the remainder of the bolt down to the right size and writing the difference off as a the cost of learning, or we may keep shoveling. Shoveling soil works better than the alternatives (sand bags or plastic spikes) but it's very, very time-consuming.
It was a big dilemma whether to fill the section with poorly-laid plastic (and have it available immediately to plant into) or just lay a few beds and gamble that the weather will let us prep the rest in time (giving the trash in the field time to break down, so we can lay better mulch). I think we lost the gamble, but it'll be alright. Here's the three we already filled, and now we're waiting on dry weather to fill the section.
Got into the flats for a hot second
We had a full week of dry weather that gave our waterlogged lower fields time to dry out... sort of. There's a slight roll to the best field down there, and the low parts of that roll are still too wet at plow depth. Luke plowed up two sections (about an acre) on Thursday, but left the next two to dry out a little more. Saturday morning before it starting raining we tried to get into those next two, too, but about halfway across it was plowing up wetter than we feel good about and we had to stop. It's incredible how waterlogged a thing becomes when it sits submerged for a week!
We did manage to lay a few beds of mulch through the corn debris before the rain started, though. They're not the prettiest beds, thanks to a ton of un-broken-down corn rubble, but they bought us a little room to get our overdue plants out of the greenhouse. Hopefully this rain won't *really* last all week and we can get some more done down there...
We've finally pulled enough alfalfa out of the upper field to form a halfway-decent bed and get some transplants in! It's a lot slower than using a mechanical transplanter on the tractor, but it's still incredibly satisfying to have those tidy rows of baby plants stretching away behind you. We put in celeriac (which has been in the greenhouse for months waiting to hit the ground), parsely, sorrel, scallions, bok choi and baby bok choi. The baby bok choi is actually just regular bok choi that we planted tighter and will harvest earlier, making for deliciously tender little plants. You can cut a couple in half lengthwise and saute them for a hot second and they're perfect. For bonus points, toss in a little goat cheese after you've turned the heat off and serve as the cheese is melting all across the baby chois.
Several days of warm, dry weather are doing a lot to dry out our waterlogged lower fields--which have only today fallen below "flood stage"--but it's making our wonderfully well-drained upper field a bit of a sandbox. We hadn't planned on growing in this field at all this season, and we're not yet prepared equipment-wise to push water all the way up here from the river. Our only option was to lay drip irrigation in everything, which does a somewhat mediocre job of wetting the entire sandy bed when it's not protected by mulch. When we finished planting for the day, we had to make a couple of passes with a 100 gallon stock tank on a farm trailer to water the two rows furthest from the drip line.
Once everything was in the ground, we covered up the most bug-prone crops with remay to protect them from pests. This poly material sits loosely on top of the crop and allows water and sunlight to get through, but not bugs. It also raises the temperature a bit. The best way to secure it is to shovel a small amount of dirt onto the edges in a continuous band all the way around. This makes a seamless seal that no pests can sneak under. It's also incredibly time-consuming, and every time you open the remay to cultivate or harvest, you have to re-shovel. The faster but less effective method is to weight the edges down with sandbags. We're trying a hybrid: shoveling in the windward edge, but using sandbags on the leeward edge.
Filling the sandbags is a little back-breaking, but we were able to get two birds with one stone by filling them with sand that had clogged a culvert near the ice house. It's so hard to ever get anything done that we delight in the opportunity to cross two things off the list with one chore. Now if we can just finally get in down below things will be going swimmingly!
For the first time in almost ten days we can walk out to our flats without waders. For a few days there you could make it out in regular knee-high rubber boots, but the river kept coming up. We're not totally out of the woods--we're still more than a foot above flood stage according to the NWS--but compared to what it's looked like for the last week, things seem great.
The National Weather Service says we broke a record--the river in Schuylerville hit 98 feet above flood stage; the previous record was only 96.1 feet, set back in 1938. In some places, the river exceeded the 100 year flood line significantly!
The river's still up out of the ditches in places, and the high water table is slowing drainage, but with a week of forecasted sunny weather we might be alright. Heck of a way to get introduced to a farm, though!
Quincy Farm is a family-scale vegetable farm run by Luke Deikis and Cara Fraver in Easton, NY. We use organic methods to grow the most delicious veggies ever for the well-being of our family, our community, and the flora and fauna that make it all possible.