April Update

How is April almost half over? I’ve been trying to write this update for three weeks now – I had this crazy notion that I was going to send it by the first – ha! We knew this year would be busy, but we didn’t quite remember what full-on start-up feels like, perhaps because we’ve never done anything this extensive before. The good news is, we’ve got a lot of new team members on board.

Important reminders before I dive in: Spring Share starts May 4th (Holliston) and May 6th (Weston Nurseries/Pepperell) and Seedling Sale Pre-ordering is live until May 9th. We finally put up the photos of the zucchini and summer squash, and have been updating inventory as we pot up plants into their final pots and packs. We will continue to update for the next week, and after that – it’s just grow time!

Where do I start? Our to-do list every week is a two page word document that gets translated onto a white board during our Monday Morning Meeting where we check in with one another and the weather forecast. It’s sometime hard to sit down and talk about what needs to be done when there are so many pressing tasks, but it really helps us “game the week”, as our new manager Jess Clancy says.

We met Jess in 2013 when she worked at Powisett Farm in Dover. Since then she managed Fishkill Farm’s vegetable operation for three years, and for the last five years worked at the Hudson Valley Food Hub. She has a wealth of experience and skills ranging from tractor operation to medicinal herb propagation. And she’s a pleasure to work with.

She has also introduced me to an affliction that I have that I didn’t know what to call until now: Farmer-Time Brain. It’s when you wildly underestimate the amount of time a task will take. I have a serious problem with thinking things will take less time than they do – when we schedule the week I almost always schedule 3 days worth of work for Monday. At least I’ve learned to leave Friday’s fairly unscheduled so there is time to complete all the work I underestimated (and all the work that comes up during the week).

We also hired two assistant growers who will be working with us full time this year: Haley Goulet and Avery Westa come to us with experience working on other farms in Massachusetts. Lucky for us, Haley is interested bringing our social media accounts back to life (for those of you who follow you may have noticed a 4 month lag since our last post – we needed a mental break). Over the next few weeks Haley plans to introduce our crew and update everyone on the goings-on at the farm.

We got our first crops in the field on Friday and Saturday last week! Nearly 3/4 of an acre planted with kale, chard, beets, spinach, scallions, collards, dandelion, radishes, sweet turnip, cilantro, dill, arugula, mustard greens, carrots, peas and lettuce!! Phew! Avery got to learn to drive the transplanting tractor because it’s really nice to take turns – I somehow wasn’t paying attention and planted 1400′ left handed (my weak side).

There were some challenges getting to the point of planting (like a tractor not starting while hooked up to an implement we were about to use) but we got it done. And covered most of it with the biggest piece of row cover I have ever used . . . (which blew off in the wind and we had to re-cover last night – luckily Jess moved in with us and went for the greenhouse closing loop with Harvey and me so we had some help putting it back on).

(Side note on row cover: it’s made of plastic. I’m really questioning the value of growing crops early if it requires plastic – I know we all need to eat, but maybe we should figure out how to invest communally in glass and metal frame greenhouses? Basically, plastic is cheaper (both initially and to maintain) and if short term profits/breaking even are everyone’s priority, investing in more logical and lasting structures isn’t possible. The plastic used in row cover and to cover greenhouses is not really recyclable and re-usable only to a point. As we move forward I’m determined to think critically about some of our material uses and look for alternatives.)

Speaking of greenhouse plastic, in the last month we have skinned 3 high tunnels (two of them are ours, one is rented) and 4 caterpillar tunnels:

Our friend Bob Durling came up to take some pics of the skinning process (and he stopped taking photos when our overzealous attempt to skin a second tunnel in one day resulted in a near blow away). We had a lot of help, both from friends, family, employees and new neighbors.

Greenhouse skinning is stressful – but we got it done, and we are putting them to good use!

A long-term endeavor on the farm is building soil fertility. Since we are applying for organic certification, we can only use certified organic compost if we are spreading it within 120 days of harvest – so we bought in certified compost from Brick Ends Farm for our spring crops which Haley learned to scoop and spread with the tractor and manure spreader before planting last week (and helped me spread with a shovel, rake, and wheelbarrow in the high tunnel we are renting to grow the first spring share).

But composting isn’t everything. A soil test taken last June revealed that the soils on this farm are very deficient in potassium and magnesium. Without a proper balance between calcium, potassium and magnesium many other minerals in the soil are made unavailable both to our crops and to the microbes that live there. So we are adding a lot of those nutrients, as well as micronutrients and nitrogen to make sure this year’s crop will be healthy, and to improve the soil for the future.

We hope to use cover cropping and long fallow periods (2-4 years in cash crops, 2-4 years fallow or in pasture) to build our soil health. And we will continue to use minimal tillage to prepare beds for planting.

Oh, and the wash station. We’ve made some major progress! We got the concrete poured to bring up the floor level in the station barn (after scraping/brushing away the decades of caked-on manure). My mom and dad came out to help and power washed the whole thing for us while the team worked over-time on Saturday to finish planting. We are very lucky to have such supportive parents! Now to put up the washable wall and ceiling surfaces. . . oh and install the coolers, and lights, and plumbing . . .

I hope you feel a little more connected to what we are doing. If I am slow to respond to your emails, please know that I’m working harder than I have in a long time and communications is falling down on the priority list. I promise to get back to you in a few days. I can’t wait to see everyone soon!

Oh, and a special thanks to Jim Tiralli – I have no idea where we would be without him and his signature phrase “I’ve got the tool for that”. We know we are deeply fortunate to have him in our corner – more on this in another email.

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