Thursday, April 30, 2009

In the Field: Frost Damages

If you are a home gardener you have the luxury of waiting to plant until you are certain that all chances of frost have past. No one is relying on you, but your own family and their needs for a fresh harvest. As a market grower, you attempt all possible techniques in order to bring the earliest strawberries, tomatoes, lettuces, asparagus, and whatever is possible in the spring time.

Sonoma County temperatures are low this week and many places report frost. Tierra Vegetables has been impacted throughout the field with fresh tomato transplants being frosted to death and frozen fruiting berries that will be lost this season. Even some asparagus tips show that transluscent burn of frost damage. Wayne was attempting to estimate the loss to the strawberry crop due to the recent cold nights this week and it seems the majority of fruit blossoms on each plant that was in the process of fruiting has been hit. The damages are inconsistent and some perfectly good blossoms and fruit remain, but damage has been done and unfortunately this will mean a few less strawberries to enjoy early in the season for us all.

The brown center here indicates frost damage.

Note the green/yellow center here that is still a good strawberry fruit and has not been damaged.

A frosted brown blossom hangs over one of the first of the ripe strawberries this season. There will be more, but not as many now that the night time temperatures have robbed us of some of our spring berries.

In the Field: Planting Corn

Sweet corn, flour corn, and popcorn are being squeezed into the field and many varieties of each. Perhaps less sweet corn will be grown this year than in year's past in order to accommodate space for a wide array of flour corns which were a great success in the 2008 season. The types and colors of corn flours will be expanded this season to include pink and green and more yellows and blues. There are so many kinds to try and only so much land to use at this time...

The image above is a handful of the Hopi Pink flour corn seed as it is prepared for planting. A few imperfect kernels had to be plucked out of the seed to insure a good pure crop. Also considerable is the placement of these many corn varieties in the field. If grown at the same time and in the same vicinity to each other varieties may cross thereby creating problems with the ability to save seed down the road.

Wayne drives the tractor, Lee follows along to be sure the seed hoppers do not clog or run out and that the seeds are properly spaced and at the right depth, Kara follows along as field record keeper and makes notes of what goes where as planting decisions are made.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Catching Up in The Greenhouse

I went away for a few weeks, hence the lack of spring farming topics. Wayne, Lee and Evie are flexible in helping me step out for various personal situations...I am not tied down to a farm myself as each of them are with needs like watering, caring for animals, running a business, etc...

In my absence, plenty of seeding, growing, and planting went on as expected. Even a little more building occurred on the new greenhouse, thanks to Wayne's neighbor Montana, an entire new room was installed. The final space is designed for plants needing a cooler climate or those in the process of hardening off (preparing to head to the big outdoors and live out their days w/o the coddling environment of the greenhouse). The hardening off area is on the left in the photo above, the middle area of the greenhouse is an intermediate temperature area and on the right is the warmest place where brand new seed trays get the best spots for optimal germination.

The newly potted-up eggplant seedlings on the left are enjoying some of the best spaces in the greenhouse currently, needing plenty of warmth to get off to a happy and healthy start in life.

Baby celery plants are enjoying temperatures that range in the 60s-70s during the day in the middle room of the greenhouse, nearly ready to move out into the field for the season where they will spend months sizing up for a late summer-early fall harvest. I seeded more for the following picking yesterday in addition to the beloved celeriac/celery root. If we time this stuff just right we can hope to be sure to have these flavorful items in time for your fall harvest needs around Thanksgiving when celery suddenly becomes a component of most recipes.

A diverse mix of basil is large and ready to find it's home in the field, likely this week, perhaps even today. Plans are in the works for diverse basil bouquets again this season. If you don't see them for sale when you drop in at the farm stand, just ask, the plants will be out there ready for picking.

Finally, the first wave of chiles has been stationed in the "hardening-off" room, this means they will go outdoors soon. Chiles are dispersed throughout the greenhouse as there are so many varieties at various stages in their growth. It will be another grand season of chiles and peppers at Tierra Vegetables, no doubt.

Aside from all of this plant reporting, there is people news within the Tierra staff. A young new assistant has joined the crew who goes by the name Kara (I'm not sure if she spells it with a C or a K she is so new to me). This is the same name that Lee calls her canine companion, so it is causing some minor confusion. Kara has taken up some slack where I stepped out for a time and has become a valuable new component of the farming operation already as she assists with seeding, market sales, and everything in between. Interested in learning more about farming and CSA, I informed her she came to the right place. Never have I gained more incidental learning at a job than the months I have spent working with this farm. The education does not stop. On the right, Kara seeds a late sowing of tomatoes and tomatillos while Lee prepares soil in the background.

One final image of the greenhouse in closing. This is a spectacular addition to the farm this season and quite an investment. It really ought to contribute to future plans and extend the capabilities of the farm in general. Note the sheep wandering past on the right and the skeleton of the old greenhouse structures behind them.