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, August 22, 2013

Farmer for a Week - A Weird One

It’s official. It’s been a weird one. We've crossed the line into the second half of our season this week, and while I hear that heat is in the forecast, the past two weeks have felt like fall. This is great for working -- we have lots of energy and we're sleeping well at night.

It's not, however, good for the warm-season crops that we planted in early June and depend on for this August-into-September harvest. Our fall crops are in the ground, but we're not ready for cabbages, cauliflower and winter squash yet; we want to eat tomatoes, melons and peppers and cucumbers and, yes, eggplant. We've been fortunate so far that the tomatoes, peppers and eggplant have continued to produce, but all of the plants are beginning to think it's autumn and slow down their flower and fruit production. On the other hand, the squash, zucchini, cucumbers and melons are not faring as well. These plants are very vulnerable to the cool nights and heavy dews, and in addition to just slowing down, they have succumbed to some of the many diseases that plague crops in this family in the fall. The melons are in another field close by, but their main issue so far seems to be lack of ripening rather than disease. So far, our fall broccoli and cauliflower are looking great, and we’re hoping that the abrupt switch to very hot weather later this week doesn't cause them to "button up", going to flower without producing a usable head. Flea beetles, the tiny black nemesis of the broccoli family, have been particularly virulent this season; they are laying waste to the arugula and braising greens we planted at the beginning of August, and spreading a disease called black rot through the larger members of the family. It's been an interesting season.

At this time of year, when the asters and the goldenrod fill the roadsides and field edges, we are usually able to take a breath and see the rest of the season laid out like a road map before us. The spring and summer can be turbulent, but generally, by late August we can see which of the season's battles we've won and which have been lost, and what the fall and winter will most likely look like. Usually, we can walk the fields at the beginning of September and make a list of what crops will be in through late October. Not this year. It's so hard to say how this stretch of cool weather, beautiful as it is for people, followed by this hot week, will affect the crops that define the harvest season -- broccoli, red peppers, melons, tomatoes, cauliflower, late roots, lettuce and spinach, cabbage and butternuts. It seems like our squash and cucumber season may be ending, but it's very hard to say what's ahead.

As we've said before, this intense lack of predictability seems to be the new normal for us vegetable growers. Last year's great growing season, which nonetheless saw many organic growers lose their tomatoes to late blight, was followed by one that some farmers are calling "the season from hell". It's a season when we feel like we're constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, when calamity feels like it's just around the corner. This is a feeling that we're used to in the springtime, when conditions can change so quickly from cool and wet to warm and dry, and we're used to making accommodations for the fickleness of that season. Over the past few years, though, the autumn has also become a volatile time of year, with powerful storms and fluctuating temperatures turning what was a celebratory season into one that we enter into with our fingers crossed, hoping that our crops will be healthy and stable in very unstable conditions.

There's nothing wrong with learning to be adaptable and agile as farmers, and the positive result of some of this craziness might be to help keep us from getting stale and stuck in our routines as growers. No, really, I mean it. Learning to cope with change is part of our life's work, some of us more than others. And it's clear that the folks who remain in this business and continue to be successful over the long term will be those who learn to make the changes that this new normal demands -it's just hard to see exactly what those will be right now. The big picture of farming in New England is very difficult to see, and the survival of many of the new small farms that have sprung up here in the last ten years may hang in the balance. If customers will hang in there with farmers old and new as we learn to manage this unpredictability, it will make a big difference in the ability of farmers to have the space and time they need to adapt. Survival and success in this season, and probably the seasons to come, will mean communication and understanding between customers and farmers in order to keep growers from being stuck between the rock of the season and the hard place of an unforgiving market.

Enjoy the return to summer weather this week. We'll be harvesting storage onions to cure in the greenhouse, planting spinach, and continuing to pick tomatoes, balancing on the edge of summer and fall. Let's see where this bumpy ride takes us next.

Enjoy the harvest,

Amanda, for the farm staff

No comments: