Waltham Fields Community Farm promotes local agriculture and food access through our farming operations and educational programs, using practices that are socially, ecologically, and economically sustainable. We encourage healthy relationships between people, their food supply, and the land from which it grows. Check out our website for more information.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

NOTES FROM THE FIELD – How the Crops are Faring

By Zannah Porter, Farm Manager

Farm Manager Zannah Porter tending to the field edges

This past week we said good-bye to two hard workers. Zack and Ruby are off to focus on their academic pursuits. I really enjoyed getting to know them; they were both wonderful additions to our team this year and they will be missed. We have also had the joy of welcoming two new staff members. Katie Bekel is a new member of the Field Crew and Miriam Stason has joined me as Co-Farm Manager (stay tuned for a big introduction next week).

I'd like to take this opportunity to give you an update on how the plants are doing so far this season. The ever constant march towards fall continues. The weather this week was quite autumnal with nights in the 50's and cool, dry days in the 70's. This is great weather to harvest in. Unfortunately it is not great growing weather. Heat loving plants like eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, and tomatoes tend to slow their production as the days and nights cool off. Fortunately we are supposed to get a final summer blast this week with highs up around 90 on Wednesday. It has also been very dry. Our lettuce has really suffered due to these conditions. Certain varieties really can't handle temperature fluctuations and they kind of freak out. They tend to bolt, or go to seed just as they reach a harvestable size. When lettuce begins to bolt it turns bitter and unpalatable.

This week we will start harvesting our storage onions. They are located at our fields in Weston this year along with the peppers, potatoes, eggplants, and sweet potatoes. After harvesting, the onions will be set out in the greenhouse to cure. Through the curing process, the onions release moisture, drying out their outer skin and concentrating their flavor.

The peppers and eggplant should hold on well into the fall but other summer crops, like the summer squash, zucchini, and cucumbers, will soon give up production with the cooler weather. We should be harvesting ripening peppers beginning this week. When I started farming I learned that red and orange peppers are just green peppers that have been allowed to ripen.

Our fall brassicas are in the West Field this year and they look amazing. I invite you to walk out and take a look. They are a sea of leafy plants that wave their blue-green leaves in the breeze. I have to give a shout out to our fall collards as well. They are just spectacular!

Thus far we have managed to keep the late blight at bay on the tomatoes this year. Careful planning, variety selection, and regular spraying of copper fungicide (a certified organic control) have led to a healthy crop and consistent yields this year. Late blight has been identified in our region so I will continue to monitor our plantings for signs of infection.
              
We are at a point where most of the crops are in the ground for the rest of the season. Now we monitor, irrigate, cultivate, harvest, and repeat. It has been a typically unpredictable season. Some crops fair better than others. Unforeseen obstacles come up. We do our best to problem solve and adapt. This is why I love farming. Every day is different with new challenges and new rewards.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

NOTES FROM THE FIELD – Weed Crew Thoughts


By Evan Rees, For the Weed Crew  

2014 Weed Crew from left to right:   Zack Pockrose, Alice Fristrom, Evan Rees, and Laura Stone


  
There are four of us proud to hold the position of "weed crew" this summer but in truth, we are many. Virtually everyone on the farm has jumped in with us at one time or another. We had been joined by two interns from the Forest Foundation until their tenures each ended last week (they will be missed). We have also had several regular volunteers contributing multiple days of their free time each week for no incentive other than to further the mission of the farm. Fridays and Saturdays are drop-in days, and we often host larger volunteer groups as well, including on more than one occasion students from an urban agriculture class at Boston University. Graced with their own (arguably cooler) moniker, these "crop mobs" have nonetheless contributed enormously to the weed crew. As we squat over beds of cabbage and kale swapping stories and debating movies, each one of these people has helped to make weeding a wonderfully engaging and enriching experience, exemplifying the very definition of community.
 
This is not to say that the task of weeding is in itself unenjoyable or tedious. It is, in fact, a hugely variable and surprisingly nuanced job, the nature of which is subject to a number of factors. Soil conditions, and size of the weeds as well as that of the crop we aim to bolster are all to be considered. Carrots are a great example of this, and upon tackling our sixth generation this week, one might consider us somewhat to be experts at carrot-weeding. The first few generations were tough to tackle. Chickweed had surged ahead of the sprouting carrots, knotting itself around them, and wet conditions made the process of untangling them slow and dirty, occupying us for the better part of a week. This latest generation was relatively easy. With dry conditions and it being too late in the season for chickweed, we tore through the beds in a day despite having fewer hands to help. This time, the carrots also benefited from a thorough flame weeding-which is every bit as cool as it sounds. There's a very small window, about a week after carrots have been seeded, when flame-weeding can be effective. Just before the seeds germinate, a propane-fueled flamethrower is run over the bed, torching any eager weeds and giving the carrots a jump on the weeds without disturbing the soil to expose new weed seeds. So far this task has been left to farm manager Zannah, but we're holding out hope for our turn!
 
For the first time all summer this Wednesday, the weed crew each received a 7am phone call telling us to stay home. The day's forecast, a vital utility for those spending all day outdoors, had waxed ominous. With a one-hundred percent chance of rain and thunderstorms for the morning, we all got the day off while the land got a much needed soaking. Coming back to the farm the next day it was amazing to see the verdant growth that follows such a storm. Unfortunately, nature is indiscriminate in its watering; the weeds too received this boost. Some might find it discouraging to weed a field one day and return two days later to find it once again inundated, but one must accept that the process is endless, and the cycle perpetual. This is the beauty of a farm: Plants grow, their fruits, seeds and leaves are harvested, they die and are turned back into the soil to rot and feed the next generation. We are not masters of the cycle but gardeners tending it so that both of our needs are met. It would be easier to liberally apply some awful chemical to keep the weeds at bay, but instead we kneel in the dirt, hunched over, scuffling our fingers between the rows, sorting good sprout from bad, relying on each other to pass the time. By doing so, we nurture our food, our farm, our community and our world. This is what Waltham Fields does best.

Friday, August 15, 2014

NOTES FROM THE FIELD – Why Farm?

By Anna Kelchlin, Assistant Grower

Anna at the wash station



Saturday early morning the dew glistened in the sunlight on the shades of green as I walked through the fields to meet the tractor for the day.  It was one of those cool mornings where I love to feel the warmth of the sun on my face.  The clouds were giant cotton balls that took their time to float and watch us from above.  There was a light breeze that rustled the young cauliflower plants creating almost a gentle ocean wave.  It's rather surprising for August, but most of this week we experienced those perfect warm days and cool nights, great for harvesting and also for sound sleeping.
 
This week has been an adjustment for us all.  We are feeling the absence of Amanda and are learning to find our own paths through the bountiful vegetables and prolific weeds.  We seeded our last round of seeds in the greenhouse, some of which are spinach, lettuce, tat soi, and kale.  Tomatoes are beginning to ripen on the vine.  Eggplant and peppers are in full swing at our field in Weston.  Hundreds of onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and melons are in the near future.  We said goodbye to our wonderful interns Cassie and Alisa, who had brought a fun and energetic attitude to our harvest, weed, and youth crews.
 
It's the second week of August and we are tired.  It’s been 4 months now of rigorous growth and we ask ourselves, "Why do we farm?"  At times it feels like we will never get everything done and we won't.  As soon as we feel we are caught up, there is more just around the bend.  Earlier this season, Naomi and I went to a CRAFT on the topic of why we farm at Clark Farm in Carlisle.  It is a seemingly simple question that is extremely important to ask, with quite a complex answer.  I guess in any profession, every once in a while we should ask why, why do we do what we do.  For me personally, I choose to farm to be healthy and promote healthy living for others.  In my life I have been given many opportunities and this is a way to give back.  I farm because when I do, I feel contentment, not just the satisfaction of weeding a bed of lettuce, but a deeper contentment that feeds the soul and reminds us that we are all connected.  When farming I am contributing to a greater good in feeding others, in connecting others to their home and community, and as best I can treating the land with respect and care.  I farm for the love of the land in all weather and its ability to teach you how to move gracefully with change.  It is physically and mentally demanding work and I am exhausted each night and morning, but I am able to learn every day about myself and the world we live in.  I am grateful to work with such dedicated and spirited people.  As we look ahead to the coming weeks, more harvesting, transplanting, weeding, and irrigating are on the horizon as we continue to steer forward with stability, steadiness, and passion for what and why we farm.