Farm Update

Hi Members and Readers!

I thought I’d take a few moments to update you on how the farm is doing. It’s been a weird and whacky season, as all seasons seem to turn out. Drought, deluge, cold spells, heat waves…I’ve heard we live in, the Northeast? Is that true? I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere.

Anyway, so, despite all the ups and downs-we still have vegetables. Many vegetables! I personally think it’s a miracle that anything grows despite all the hardship those little plants have to deal with from delicate little seeds indoors in March all the way to the high heat of the summer. Members will recall our successful poc choy. Perhaps too successful. The kohlrabi turned out a lot better this year than last! They were huge! It seems that the depths of our beds makes a huge difference. Plants need room to grow and will really perform beautiful given adequate spacing in all directions.  Basil is doing great-Tulsi, Lemon, Genovese and Mammoth basil have all, and continue to, grow very well. Tomatoes are starting to roll in. Tomatillos are going nuts. Husk cherries are trickling in and looking healthy, eggplant and peppers, too.

Some challenges we are incuring are, as usual, with the squash. The squash bugs continue to wreck our fun-but the plants insist on producing what they can. This year I made an effort to cover the crops until the flowering stage, pick off all of the eggs and adult squash bugs, and voila-still squash bugs. I will continue to research new methods. We’re also dealing with the persistent, pesky groundhog we had last year and I’ve been unable to capture. There is a certain area in which he loves to eat (I am pretty sure it’s a “he” due to the lack of offspring this year). In the past bird netting has made a huge difference, as it freaks animals out when they touch it, fearing they’ll get caught. This worked for a while-now, he is entirely unphased. Ate all the tops off of all the young carrots-twice now. Very disappointing. Last year, the traps brought in beautifully adorable baby skunk-three times I believe. Very curious little creature. That was an exciting time for both of us, to say the least. But still, no groundhog. I haven’t tried to trap yet this year-but there’s still time!

Speaking of crop-failures and challenges-here’s what I’m learning and researching lately (and many farmers already know)-the devil is in the details! I got our first super-detailed soil test (for nutrients, not contaminants) this year per the recommendation of a farmer in Dartmouth who does a lot of work around soil fertility, both at his farm, and educating farmers and gardeners all over the state. I’ve seen him speak a number of times-and every time I think to myself-wow-I really really need to get a soil test and see what I’m working with here. I have really been winging it. (Full disclosure here).

We have been growing in city-produced compost for the last six seasons. This is what most urban growers in Worcester do if they do not have available soil to grow in.  This means lots of great nitrogen for the plants-but potentially lower amounts of other important nutrients that we may need to add for the health of the plants that do not necessarily occur naturally or in the right proportions, in a given location.  Weeds help pull up some of those nutrients, to make them more accessible to crops. THAT is one of THE coolest things I’ve learned this year. I have a new appreciation for weeds. Despite their prolific, viable seed production. Members and volunteers know how crazy the weeds get. So, if you’ve volunteered-THANK YOU for helping with the weeding.  I am sure for many of you it begs the question, why do we need to add to the soil? Doesn’t this just happen naturally? Well-growing annual vegetable crops in rows is not entirely “natural” in the way that forests and meadows work. To grow annual vegetables-they all have certain needs-these crops are from all over the world originally and looked very different in their native state, so therefore may not grow to their fullest potential in this climate, in this soil, without some serious help. And, when a plant grows, what we take away and eat/dispose of via the toilet, is not recycled directly back into the system. So, every time we harvest-we are literally taking away nutrients the plant has utilized to make such a magnificant plant-and well, we have to put it back. Many farmers recognize that, and are CONSTANTLY fertilizing-which is not the solution. Long term health and vitality of a soil (much like our body) cannot be resolved with massive amounts of nutrients all at once, or by over-doing it. Well-okay, you CAN, but there are issues. While adding macro-nutrients, like Nitrogen, and not replacing the micro-nutrients, like Boron, you’re ultimately depleting the soil. You’ll still get a crop-bit that soil is not any healthier than when you started with it. It might actually be worse. Fertilizers and pesticides can negatively impact the soil biota-the living things that work to process nutrients into useable forms for the roots to take up. So anyway-it behooves us to ask the question-what can we do to improve this situation? To leave this place better than when we started? How to have deeply nutritious, beautiful, healthy crops and leave the soil vital and resilient as well? Because really, the soil is ALL we’ve got. Without it, we have nothing. And we, as humans, are depleting that soil, and it’s robbing our food of nutrients and taste, and robbing our bodies of our health.

So I got a soil test-it has a lot of information-and I am beginning to unpack how I am to interpret the results, where I might source some of these minerals (responsibly), when to apply, how often, etc. etc. etc… It’s a lot given it’s August and there is lots to do! I’m excited to see improvements in the soil to support our vegetable, herb and fruit production on the farm, and to share the information I learn with whoever wants to know!

On another long-term note, our board of directors (made up of myself, and two other women) are excited to look into the future to develop a three year plan. We are excited to hear members’ ideas about the direction of the farm. Some ideas we’ve played with include increasing the number of workshares, cooperatizing, opening an on-farm farm stand, expand the community garden, work with schools, expanding our educational programming, working directly with agencies that serve low-income folks to help (like CDCs, WIC, etc) that may help to spread the word about affordable, EBT/SNAP accessible/affordable local food…

Any ideas or visions or thoughts you have are most welcome! You can reach us at NuestroHuertoWorcester@gmail.com or here on the blog. (Though comments have to be pre-approved and I am not always on the site to see the comments).

That’s all for now! Stay tuned for photos of the community garden and summer program on the blog. Happy August!

Amanda

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