June 16th, 2011 Newsletter:
It has been a real pleasure getting to re-connect with all of our returning members and meeting new members over the past week. There is a definite boost of energy that comes with opening the shareroom and seeing your faces again.
Despite the dramatic weather lately, the crops are growing well, and we have been happy with the first harvests.
So far this season, the pest pressure has been very high (skip ahead if you don’t want to hear all the gory details). Truth is, although they create a ton of work, we find them quite fascinating. It is not uncommon to see one of our crew bent over in the field with their eye a few inches from the ground deeply pondering the life cycle of a beetle.
As organic farmers, we work with a mixed bag of tricks to outwit the bugs. Those large white pieces of fabric, called row cover, that you see on our fields help keep pests off of our crops, and also increase the soil and air temperature to extend the growing season.
Crop rotation is another crucial tool. Unlike humans, insects have very specific food preferences: the colorado potato beetle eats the leaves of potato and eggplant, the striped cucumber beetle prefers cucumber and squash plants, the mexican bean beetle eats, you guessed it, bean plants. If the same crop is planted for multiple seasons in one field, the bugs settle in and set up shop. We try to keep them on their toes by maintaining a rotation where no crop is planted in any field more often then once every three years. Inevitably, the will to live prevails and in spite of all our human ingenuity, the pests sniff out that divine delicacy for which they are called... and so, when all else fails, we plant enough watermelons for the crows to enjoy as well. Occasionally, like us, they take more than their fair share.
The leaf miner, which tunnels through the leaves of plants in the chenopod family, has been particularly greedy this spring. We’ve managed to coax a gorgeous chard and early spinach crop but the leaves of the early beets have fared less beautifully. Fortunately for us, it's the root we are most interested in. Rest assured those of you, like us, who love beet greens... we grow a variety strictly for the greens, called Bulls Blood, which you will find on the cooking greens table.
Our u-pick green beans always struggle against Mexican Bean Beetle but usually not until later in the season. This year, the beetle began devouring our beans as soon as they started germinating. We recently released a beneficial insect, the Pediobius parasitical wasp. This very small non-stinging wasp lays its eggs in Mexican bean beetle larvae. The wasp eggs hatch and the baby wasp larva feed on the Bean Beetle larva from the inside out. After they kill the Bean Beetle larva they transform into their adult stage and about twenty-five adult wasps emerge. If all goes as planned, Pediobius will be hard at work in the green beans all summer long as successive generations of the wasp emerge and search out new bean beetle larvae.
Flea beetles, which feed on the leaves of crops in the broccoli, or brassica family, are another common pest in this region. They enjoy most of salad mix greens, like arugula and tot soi, as well as cooking greens like kale, collards, and cabbage. They are voraciously hungry in the spring and can quickly decimate a crop that is not adequately protected, and so we cover all of our salad greens as well as our spring broccoli with row cover. Unfortunately, the row cover also increases temperatures and broccoli will bolt if it is too hot.
Despite the elaborate systems that we have devised in our attempts to grow spring broccoli effectively, we are rarely thrilled about the outcome. This year, though we prevented pest damage, the early broccoli headed up way too early. The resulting crop is pathetically small and there will be a very limited amount of spring broccoli available.
Given the unbalanced ratio of how many resources we put in vs. how much food we get out under these circumstances, we are seriously considering not growing spring broccoli in the future. We realize that broccoli is an extremely popular vegetable, and, knock on wood, we hope you will get your fill later in the season. In the meantime we hope you will enjoy similar spring crops that are growing well this season like the kohlrabi, kale, and upcoming napa cabbage.
Crops available this week: Mixed salad greens, spinach, kale, swiss chard, head lettuce, kohlrabi, salad turnips, radishes, scallions, and garlic scapes. U-pick available this week: Strawberries, herbs (parsley, dill and cilantro).
Coming on real soon: big bok choi, napa cabbage, carrots, beets, summer squash, and upick basil, flowers, and sugar snap peas.
In the store: Grass fed beef from Crescent Moon Farm available for next two weeks!
At the end of the season last year we brought in some beef from Crescent Moon Farm in Belchertown. For a week there was a non-stop run on the freezer and we realized that their meat was in high demand. Crescent Moon is a lovely family farm, run by very lovely people, Khalid Elkalai and Kathleen Traphagen. Their cows graze their pastures during the summer and eat hay during the winter, and are not given antibiotics or hormones.
We will be selling their beef in our shareroom a couple of times through the season. We don’t want to use the energy necessary to keep the freezer up and running all the time, so we will have a couple of sales spread out over the months so that folks can stock their own home freezers. We will have their beef on sale for two weeks, until July 1st.
We had better stop before this turns into a short, slightly dull, bug-ridden novel. See you at the farm!
-Ray and Tory and the Next Barn Over crew