Welcome to our blog!

Welcome to our blog! Learn about our farm operation, public programs, and the people behind our work through the Notes from the Field and Education sections. Peruse the Recipes section for some staff favorites.

Waltham Fields Community Farm (incorporated as Community Farms Outreach, Inc.) is a nonprofit farming organization focusing on sustainable food production, fresh food assistance, and on-farm education. For more information about Waltham Fields check out our website!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Notes from the Field: Chisel Plows and Tomato Stakes

All of a sudden we turned around and it was July. The vigorous, weedy growth in our fields could have told us this, as could the newly disked and fertilized beds waiting for fall broccoli and cauliflower to be planted this week, or the tall, gangly tomatoes that need to be staked and twined. We get a little infusion of additional labor in the fields this week from our new field crew members, Rachel and Andy, recently back from their travels, and our fully staffed weed crew; we are at full strength now in the fields and will stay that way through August.

July may be the busiest time of year on our farm. We have quite a bit of seeding and transplanting of fall crops to do, and while it's not as many beds as the huge planting push of April and May, it's combined with ever-increasing harvests and other tasks, like cultivating, weeding, dealing with insects and diseases, and tying tomatoes, that make these weeks feel like the very peak of the roller-coaster ride of the season. Before July, it's plant, plant, plant. After July, it's harvest, harvest, harvest. For these brief four weeks in July,it's try to get it all done at once, hang in there and enjoy the ride. Ice cream helps with this.

Farm machineryIt is interesting for me, after a year of being mostly away from the farm after the birth of my daughter Sadie, to notice which of our farm's large collection of tools feel particularly useful during this peak season. Some are old friends: the shade cloth that covers our greenhouse in the heat of the summer is the only reason we are able to germinate and grow lettuce transplants for our summer successions. Some are new purchases: our Schaper Brothers fertilizer spreader, built for us by hand in Pennsylvania this spring, has helped us eliminate the "hate labor" of pushing a heavy hand spreader over uneven field surfaces for hours at a time, one of my least favorite jobs when I was pregnant (or, really, at any time on the farm). Some are incidental purchases that turn out to be incredibly useful: our new cultivating tractor, which we've affectionately named "Li'l K", since it's the smaller of our farm's two Kubotas, happened to come with a three-point-hitch mounted rear cultivator that turns out to be almost the perfect tool for cultivating plastic pathways, though it's not for the faint of heart. Some are unexpectedly valuable far beyond their cost in dollars: a six-hundred-dollar mini-chisel plow, which can fit in the back of our pickup truck, has reshaped our tillage regimen, helping us make beds more quickly while minimizing compaction and soil layer inversion in our fields. Our tractor-mounted boom sprayer, despite its idiosyncracies, saves us hours and hours of time with a backpack sprayer applying fish emulsion or organic pesticides when we need to. And the funny little fertilizer injector that sends fish, kelp and micronutrients directly through the drip irrigation lines to the roots of the plants, which cost us less than $200 a couple of years ago, may be one of the most effective and important tools on the farm, though you may miss it if you walk around the fields.

Farm machineryBecause labor is by far the biggest cost on our farm, when tools that are supposed to save us labor work the way they should, we feel it acutely -- we're able to direct our precious person-hours to tasks that no equipment can do as well as human hands. Hand weeding carrots and parsnips can't be avoided, despite our best efforts with the cultivating tractors and the flame weeder. Harvesting is highly skilled work that takes training and practice to perfect. And we haven't been able to find any machine that can pound posts or tie tomatoes.

Our farm is a funny size -- at eleven acres, we're big enough that wise purchases of equipment can have a big impact on our productivity, but we still require a large crew of people to make it all happen. Being able to afford all this -- both the ongoing development of our fleet of tools and the development of an efficient and manageable staffing model -- is something that is on our minds every day, even during this peak season. After seven years at Waltham Fields, I feel like these complex interactions between equipment and people are still one of the fascinating puzzles that make farming a constant learning process.

Meanwhile, the sun is shining, the weeds are growing, and it's time to get back to work. Enough chatter. Stay cool, everyone.

-- Amanda, for Andy, Erinn, Dan, Larisa and Lauren

No comments: