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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!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Notes from the Field: The Good and the Bad

This week was a crazily mixed bag on the farm.  There was a lot to celebrate; we transplanted fall broccoli, kale, cabbage and collards, harvested all of our garlic and laid it out in the greenhouse to cure, picked a huge amount of squash and zucchini and the beginning of our cucumbers, cultivated everything we could get a tractor on, did some serious weeding, and welcomed Farmer Andy back from his paternity leave.

At the same time, we got some news that we've been hoping we would not hear for a while.  Farms in Weston, Wayland, and Natick found late blight on their tomatoes this week. Late blight is the oomycete (a fungus-like organism) that caused the Irish potato famine, and also the collapse of many growers' tomato crops in 2009 (including ours). Back in 2009, it had been raining for three weeks and continued to rain, off and on, through July. This late blight organism loves rain and cool temperatures. It can spread in the rain over several miles if conditions are right, but it dessicates quickly in the sunny, dry, hot weather like we've been having this year. That's the good news.

The other good news is that this year we are prepared to do everything we can to protect the tomatoes organically. We planted all of our tomatoes with a row of other crops between them so that we can drive between the rows with our boom sprayer, using a combination of organically approved materials to protect the tomatoes once a week. The spray row, along with the two-foot spacing we plant tomatoes on within the row, also helps provide better air flow for the crop so that it can dry out after a heavy dew -- also important in disease prevention.  The materials that we are able to spray organically won't totally protect against late blight, particularly in situations of very heavy disease pressure, so every little bit of what are called 'cultural controls' helps too.  We fertilized carefully with compost and micronutrients in the spring so that the crop would be as healthy as possible, and continue to fertilize weekly through the drip irrigation lines as the tomatoes begin to flower and set fruit. So, unlike in 2009, we were at least prepared to get the news of late blight in the area. But it's very early, and all we can do from here on out is what farmer Dan Kaplan calls some really "heavy duty praying." We'll keep you posted.

Last year's beauties
The other bad news (in the same email from UMass Extension, thanks A LOT) is that the Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD), a fruit fly that infested our raspberries for the first time in 2011, has been found again in Massachusetts. This fly was found in New England for the first time after Hurricane Irene, although it has been a pest in the South and Northwest for some time. It is unique among fruit flies in that it attacks sound fruit that is not overripe or damaged in any way. It lays its eggs in perfect, beautiful raspberries and -- well, you can guess the rest of the story, but you probably don't want to eat it.

We set traps to monitor for the SWD earlier in the summer, and we'll be checking them on a regular basis starting now. As organic growers, as with late blight, we have pretty limited options for controlling the SWD, and they involve the sprayer and the tractor.  It's sounding like we're going to need to find a designated tractor for all this spraying.  Oh, and a designated farmer. 

All jokes aside, we'll try our best to protect the berries against SWD this year, but if it doesn't look like we can manage it with a small amount of spraying, organically approved or not, I think we will probably give up on trying to grow them. Even organic pesticides have consequences. One is the unintended death of beneficial insects. These insects (including pollinators, who are having a hard enough time as it is) are really part of the ecosystem we are trying to promote and protect on the farm as organic growers. Another consequence is the potential build up of resistance among pests to the small arsenal of effective organic controls -- if we spray one of the really useful materials more than a few times against the same pest, the bugs that survive may adapt. So once again, we'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, we'll keep on planting that broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage for the fall -- Dan's water wheel is working beautifully, which is a good thing, since there's no rain on the horizon (knock wood). We'll keep weeding away (more on that next week) and start harvesting potatoes. We hope you enjoy the harvest.

Amanda, for the farm crew

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