Saturday, September 7, 2013

Farm Update 9/7/2013

Farm Update: Early Fall

The fall is at its peak now, producing lots of produce for our CSA members. It's been a challenging year in the garden, with wacky weather and plenty of insect and disease pressures. But each challenge is an opportunity to learn, and we've been doing plenty of that!

In the garden our long-season crops are starting to come in--tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and melons. And some of our summer crops are winding down, naturally and due to disease pressures--our cucumbers, summer squash and green beans.

We have had quite a bit of disease pressure on the farm, the conditions have been ripe for it with cool nights and long dew periods, and the prevalence of the diseases in the area. We have seen a lot of powdery mildew and downy mildew--on the summer squash, the cucumbers, the melons, winter squash and the pumpkins. We tried spraying Neem Oil, an organic fungicide made from Neem trees, for over a month, but the diseases kept on unabated.

Here's a look at the disease:

Early stage of Downy Mildew on Cucumbers, light mottling of leaves

As lesions mature they expand rapidly and turn brown

The leaves become desiccated until there is no more leaf area to capture light, and the plant dies

powdery mildew on the winter squash

Melon plant with powdery mildew AND downy mildew

The pumpkins were particularly bad hit by the powdery and downy mildew,
reducing their yields, but there will still be plenty of pumpkins for Halloween!

We also found a soil-borne fungus called Verticillium Wilt in some of our watermelon patches, killing the plants before the fruits were ready. The leaves wilt on half of the plant, moving from older leaves to newer, then moves to the other side and finally kills the plant. It has a wide host range, effecting 200 different plant species and stays alive in the soil for 4-6 years. There's little to be done about it with conventional or organic methods, but we tried adding an organic biofungicide called Root Guardian to the remaining plants to bolster their root systems. Long-term, we'll be monitoring the area to see the extent of the infection, if its a small localized area, we may solarize the soil to kill the fungus, or we will be moving the garden to another spot. 

A patch of watermelons killed off by Verticillium Wilt

diseased Watermelon plant

Insect pressures have also been challenging this year, they flourished in the wet spring and fattened themselves in the garden. We've had turnip maggots, flea beetles, Colorado potato beetles, Squash beetles, Squash vine borers, tomato hornworms, and Japanese beetles. Luckily, while we've suffered damage from these bugs, we've generally been able to mitigate their damage or eradicate them, so we haven't lost too many crops to insects.

Elsewhere in the garden things are growing and ripening, our solanaceae crops (peppers and tomatoes) are heavy with fruit and flowers, and our fall planting is growing well. 

Joe's Long Cayenne Pepper, just waiting on them to change color!

The bell peppers are hanging heavy with fruit and are showing signs of changing color

Our tomatoes have been producing nicely, hopefully the weather will hold for a longer harvest!
Orange Thai Peppers, not quite orange yet.

Eggplant, Peppers, and Okra, looking great! And our wild cat, Katniss, seeking shelter from the sun

We did manage to plant a fall crop this year, including some radishes, turnips, carrots, kohlrabi, snap peas, and shelling peas, and beets. Both the peas are starting to flower, but we can tell the difference between the plantings, the snap peas are in our first planting area, and only about half the height of the shell peas, in the center of the field. Based on yield and growth we've realized that our first planting, where we had our first cold season crops and root crops, the soil was not prepped enough, stunting plant growth, especially for our root crops. Simply: because it wasn't cultivated enough, the roots couldn't penetrate deep enough into the soil, with restricted root growth there is restricted plant growth.

Our shelling peas, starting to flower and looking great! 

The corn is a week or so from picking! Some of it got knocked over and battered around by series of violent thunderstorms and 4" of heavy rain we got last week. 
The Orchard is producing lots of apple this year, which we've been happy to share with our shareholders! We'll be canning apple pie filling and applesauce, and fattening the pigs with the rest!

Melons are ripening for our shares, here's a middle-eastern melon, the Casaba
Our dry beans are ready to harvest! We've already started shelling some at Farmer's Markets, but there's more to go!

In the Field

In the field the animals have been growing! Our male turkey, Tom, loves displaying his feathers and gobbling at us when we pass in tractor or car. Among his harem of ladies, two turkeys--Waldo and Thanksgiving--are always hopping the fence and running around trying to get back into their enclosure. We let them all free range on occasion, but this usually results in them wandering out to peck at green onions in the garden, roost in a tree out of reach, or wander out to the road. 

We've sold out of our pasture-raised chickens and have started selling our pasture-raised pigs. They'll be going to the processor in October and November, so reserve yours now!  

Rosie is on a vacation at Shamrock Acres Dexter Farm in Hudsonville, MI to be bred, we'll be picking her up at the end of the month! 

Tom in full display
Waldo trying to get back in. We have their feed bin placed next to their pen in hopes she'd learn to hop over, but she hasn't learned that trick yet.
We moved the pigs to another pasture, they have about 3 acres to themselves, and they've been rooting up the pasture, helping us prep the land for reseeding the pasture next year.

Their pallet shelter has held quite well so far this summer, we've only had to replace the tarp once. We'll be getting more sturdy quonset huts for the winter that we can then move and use all year long next year. 

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