Greetings from the farm. This week we installed our new drip irrigation system! This large expense allows us to avoid hand watering and overhead watering, both of which use an immense amount of water, much of which ends up in draining off the beds. Drip irrigation slowly seeps directly into the soil near the roots of the plants so the plants are getting just what they need, when they need it, and in the right quantity. Hooray! There are some challenges with this system that are still being worked out. Main line hose kinking, bursting, and drip tape rips and punctures have become a noteworthy issue, and the vote is still out on whether this was the right system for us. I plan to discuss this with our irrigation specialist from Brookdale Farms, and see what he thinks. I am disappointed with that aspect of this system, though it’s no surprise that when something is made of plastic-there are no guarantees. I do have some ideas for remedying the situation-which may involve additional costs of rigid PVC for mainelines, rather than the flexible stuff we’ve got now. More to come on that.
New this week was string beans-in three varieties! I always say to myself, I wish we had planted more! And then I look around, and think, my god, where would I have planted them? The reality is-we are planted nearly to maximum capacity. I had to crawl into a squash plant to get the arugula. Ah, the beauties of undersowing!
Thursday we had a visit from Worcester’s Nativity School. A group of about 10 8th grade boys, along with teachers and their principal, came for a tour and a quick work day. They had fun weeding, tromping on the beds, and spraying each other with the hose. I had fun being around kids. I would love to have more kids around the farm. They are part of a very unique program-Youth Philanthropy Initiative-a three week course where during the day they do math and reading, and then 6 site visits are included to various non-profit projects in the city. The boys are given a philanthropic budget to work with-and among these sites, based on their questions, and their decisions-they divide the money they are given to work with amongst the organizations. So cool! The kids asked extremely insightful questions. We could’ve talked all day, I think. They wanted to know what we’d do with the money, whether an on-farm central post would help our operations, whether I’ve considered expanding the farm, how many people volunteer…and the list goes on. I was so impressed. Two of them were even up for the challenge I tasked them with…”Do you want to do a stinky job?” I asked. Pause. Shrug. “Sure.” Before I even explained what it would be. Without complaint, they applied the smelly fish emulsion to our rows of squash.
Which brings me to our ever-present squash dilemma. The terrible trifecta: squash bugs, cucumber beetles, and squash vine borers, are back. They’ve killed a few plants already, and are working steadily to carry out their devoted mission. They are perfect parasites. We have been squishing the impossible-to-catch cucumber beetles when we can get to them, as well as their eggs, and squash bug eggs. News flash today, after researching more about vine borers, which I recalled cause instantaneous wilting of the plant: their eggs lie at the base of the plant, on the stem, not on the leaves, which is where we’ve been inspecting for the other two successfully. This means they’ve gone entirely undetected. The only effective method, besides heavy chemical use (eliminated), is row cover,. The crazy thing is, it’s got to be on the plants from time of planting until flowering, which is more than a month. Of course, you can’t hand water easily with row cover on…you’ve got to remove it. Which is really a painfully time consuming and repetitive task that we just don’t have time for. So, it was kept on for a few weeks, and I do think that dramatically reduced the pest pressure-which is awesome! Though, we had to remove it for effective watering. We still haven’t gotten the drip line all the way around the farm-we ran out of some materials we needed, which should be arriving soon. The only way to effectively cover these plants for that period of time involves larger row cover to allow space for the plants to grow, as well as drip irrigation, to avoid having to uncover the plants. Row cover traps heat, which the squash love, but I worried that we would fry the plants without adequate water, so I removed the row cover. C’est la vie. So, on Monday, we will attempt to identify which plants have been attacked, and carefully slice open the stems and bases of plants that are clearly invaded by vine borers, and attempt to pull them out. This sounds crazy to me-but if we want squash, well, then, this is what we have to do. Next year, hopefully, this won’t be so hard. Little by little, we are gaining the tools we need to effectively do what needs to be done-from on the go learning, acquiring materials, and continuous volunteer dedication to achieve our goal of providing fresh, healthy produce to Worcester residents.
On a related note, did I mention that I have captured at least 8 or 9 groundhogs by now? Wow. Who knew so many could find their way to the farm. That is a very large family-or perhaps, their territorialism is a reality-and there are hundreds waiting in line to be the next one to come on the farm after I remove the others. Yesterday morning, we saw our first baby bunny on the site, hiding in the peas, and I saw a cardinal, one of my favorite birds. Recently I’ve been noticing tons of dragonflies, too. These are all good signs. This little post-industrial site is evolving. We’re cultivating a new and healthier eco-system that was once a large fill pile and a quarter acre of weeds. Sometimes I feel like it’s still a quarter acre of weeds-but at least the fill is gone! And with all this life, both human and animal, I can tell that slowly but surely, something new and beautiful is becoming of all this hard work in a parking lot behind a church. Who would’ve guessed it?