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.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

NOTES FROM THE FIELD – Cucurbit Lament

By Rae Axner, Field Crew



There were some weeks on the farm in the heat of June and July where the days seemed to last forever and the thrice-weekly cucurbit harvests (summer squash, zucchini, and cucumbers) melded into one strenuous yet meditative motion. And just as a 90-degree day comes to an end and you find yourself singing along to the radio and pulling onto Beaver Street, so too ends the lifespan of a seasonal crop. Three plantings of cucurbits, the first at Lyman Estate, the next in Waltham's "Around the Corner" field, and the last in the East field, were raised from seedlings in the greenhouse, delicately transplanted into their beds, grew larger day by day, and produced an unbelievable amount of food (I hope you remember bringing home as many cucumbers as you could carry as well as we remember harvesting them!), before waning and eventually being mowed and disked back into the ground to prepare the soil for its next purpose.

 
This week marked our final cucurbit harvest. For me it brings mixed emotions. Initially it's a feeling of relief and excitement to see a particularly tedious crop being turned back into the earth. Shortly following enters a twinge of premature nostalgia and of course, culinary regret. (Hindsight is 20/20 when you realize your fridge will no longer be stocked with a certain ingredient.) Eventually, this fades into a sense of satisfaction. Pulling up irrigation tape and gazing out over the rows of newly empty beds reminds me of what that soil supported thus far this season, in seasons past, and in seasons to come.

 
Aside from the end of cucumbers, there are many other unavoidable signs this week on the farm that summer is coming to a close and fall is near. The air is crisp and the dew on the kale is chilly. The farm team has started arriving in fleeces and flannels. My personal sunscreen usage has drastically decreased. More importantly, our tomatoes are popping off of the vines faster than we can pick them and our fall harvest crops are thriving. You couldn't fit even one of our collard green leaves in a breadbox these days. There are over a thousand pounds of storage onions in the greenhouse, curing to save for the long winter ahead. And I've heard whisperings of sweet potatoes. If that's not fall, I don't know what is.

 
We all feel it in the air. This week is different from the last. Just like the end of the cucurbits, the end of summer is bittersweet-met with one part relief and one part sadness. But there is hardly time to linger. We consider our accomplishment and pride of making it through the hottest part of the year for a moment, and then dive back into the cooler to re-arrange bins and make room for the largest harvests of the season.

 

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.