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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!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Notes from the Field: July

July. Vacation time for many people, but not so much for farmers. Long, hot days perfect for vegetable growing. Garlic harvest, tomato tying, broccoli planting, irrigating, cultivating -- there's a reason I can't remember much about July from year to year. This is nature's peak season, every square inch of ground teeming with life and the harvest beginning to pour in.

July is not a time of the year that's commonly thought of as a time to tinker or experiment for farmers. Generally we are going full speed ahead implementing a plan we created in January, just trying to keep our heads above water and get as much done as we can before tomato harvests fill the afternoons. Last week, though, both Dan and I got projects done that we had had on our lists for -- well, for years. Dan used an old 55 gallon drum to turn our homemade transplanter into a water wheel. The water wheel adds a little water to the hole it creates for each plant as it goes into the ground, very important for fall broccoli and cabbage transplanted in the heat of summer. We are lucky enough to have overhead irrigation, which we've been using often during this hot weather to water in transplants, but overhead has its drawbacks too -- it splashes soil, which can cause plant leaf diseases (especially on crops that are in the ground for a couple of months, like those fall brassicas), and helps weeds as much as crops, since it's watering the whole bed. The water wheel gives a little starter water to the plant while keeping the rest of the field clean and dry, at least until the next thunderstorm.  So why haven't we finished this project before? July. It's one of the classic "if it's not raining, my roof doesn't leak, and if it is raining, I can't fix it" conundrums. For most the rest of the year, we can time our transplanting around upcoming rain, or use existing soil moisture and cool temperatures to help establish plants; in July, when we need the water wheel, it's July.

The other project we finished last week is similar -- I spent an hour reconfiguring our boom sprayer so that it could fold properly to travel between the rows of tomatoes to spray organically approved fungicides if weather conditions warrant. Those of you who remember the late blight epidemic of 2009 will know that this has been on my mind since then. So why this year? Why this July? The answer is one you all should be aware of: weed crew, and field crew.

2012 is the third year that we've had a designated, paid weed crew who come in at eight every weekday and handweed or hoe or clip weeds until noon. We'll talk more about weeds on our farm in upcoming newsletters, but for now suffice it to say that this crew has completely changed the way we're able to spend our time on the farm. This year, Annabelle, Becca, Katy, Meghan and Maura have been diligently working since the beginning of June on each exacting planting of carrots, the daunting giant field of onions at the Lyman Estate, the quick-and-dirty work of cleaning up the cherry tomatoes as we are tying them, and every other weeding project on the farm. They've had help from some volunteer groups and from our own bookkeeper, Deb, who is keeping our flower garden meticulously clean. On our farm, the weeding is never really done. In general, though, these women are the reason that shareholders can find sugar snap peas in the pick-your-own and that we can harvest carrots without wading through waist-high weeds (we've done it -- no fun). They are independent, unendingly cheerful, incredibly dedicated, and basically, the reason that we can work on other projects in July. We can't thank them enough.

Our field crew, who started on the farm on June 19, have already taken our work to the next level. Their first week it was 95 degrees for three days in a row. It poured rain all day on their first Monday, and thunder and lightning chased them out of the field for an hour. They picked all day long, learning the ins and outs of harvesting crops as delicate as carrots and spinach and as tricky as beets. They pounded tomato stakes, tied tomatoes, transplanted chard, beets, lettuce, squash, and okra, direct seeded watermelons to replace a diseased crop at our Gateways field, and moved irrigation. All in their first two weeks on the farm.

When we thought about this year last winter, we knew that these first two weeks of July would be a critical point in our season. Making sure that all of our tomatoes were staked and tied at the same time as we were transplanting more than a full acre of fall brassicas, with the garlic harvest, earlier every year, likely right in the middle of all of it, has always been a time when we get behind on other tasks -- it's a juggling act that often ends with one or more balls dropped and rolling off into the weeds, never to be found again until the fall. Oops, never got a second string on the cherry tomatoes. Oops, a little late getting those beds made for the second round of broccoli. Oops, missed a planting of lettuce. It's July.

By last Friday, though, Alison, Anna, Cat and Dave had put us in a position where not only are the balls still in the air, but we seem to be developing some sense of rhythm in our juggling. Thanks to them, Sutton and Zannah were able to prepare all seventy-plus beds for the fall brassicas, disking, chiseling, adding alfalfa meal and basketing them down, so that when the plants are ready to go into the ground later this week, there is a beautifully prepared field waiting for them. We'll start our garlic harvest later today, with any luck, pulling the bulbs and bringing them in to dry down in our big greenhouse until they are properly cured and ready to use. And the weather -- well, we can't complain. Really. It's a long season -- it's not even the All-Star break yet -- and there's a lot of work still to come, but right now we are joyfully rolling along in a July that feels better than it has in a while. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Alison, Annabelle, Anna, Becca, Cat, Dave, Katie, Meghan and Maura. We could not do it without you.

Enjoy the harvest,

Amanda (for the farm crew)

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