Sunday, March 21, 2010

Rain day

Planting continues here at Oak Hill Farms. The vegetable patch is just over 5000 square feet, and just over half of that space is now seed-ready. Since this area has been pasture/hay land for the past several decades, removing the sod and weeds is the biggest current project. We started in the fall by running a disc over the land, breaking the sod and killing some weeds. This spring we repeated the process with the disc, a chisel plow, and a device called a "soil surgeon" that is sort of like a harrow. At this point, enough plants are in the ground that any further turning, smoothing, and de-weeding needs to be done by hand. This has the added benefits of using no diesel fuel (directly, at least) and providing exercise. By next year, we hope to be able to do the majority of the work by hand. Minimizing the tilling process helps to keep underground mycelial networks intact, which is good since fungi contribute to soil organic matter, plant nutrient uptake, and the soil food web.

For now, the broccoli raab and arugula are both up; peas, potatoes, lettuce, broccoli, onions, ans other early veggies are in the ground. Last night and today there has been a slow, soaking rain, with sunshine and warm weather predicted for mid-week. We are enjoying a day of rest while we can.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bugs are good!

Long-time gardeners here are skeptical about the ability to grow tomatoes without chemicals. Take one family member, who will remain nameless here. Let's call him Bob. Bob plans on following his usual routine of using Sevin dust regularly to eliminate tomato hornworms. Sevin is a wide-range insecticide that kills many different pests, as well as beneficial insects. Bob jokes that our organic approach will help his garden--since the pests will all come to us to avoid his treated plants.

Our two biggest insect concerns for the year are tomato hornworms and squash beetles. Since our vegetable patch was a hay field until this year, the number of overwintering pests should be relatively low. We are also planting an assortment of flowering plants around the vegetable garden--specifically to attract certain pests and their natural predators. If push comes to shove, we can use selective pesticides like Bt to (Bacillus thuringiensis) to address specific issues. Success will be measured not just by our harvest, but by the diversity of the ecosystem we build--so having a few pest species around is not actually a bad thing. If that seems counterintuitive, I recommend watching the following video. It is about fish, but also about the failings of our current agricultural system:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A word on permaculture

We aren't organic growers. That isn't because we don't appreciate organically grown food, but because the process of becoming a certified organic farm is lengthy and expensive. We may be certified one day, but for now we are focusing on growing plants without inputs of industrial fertilizers or artificial chemical insecticides. Our approach draws heavily on permaculture, which literally means "permanent agriculture" (or permanent culture) and focuses on sustainability.

Permaculture relies on observing, following, and emulating natural ecological processes. For example, rather than spraying to kill pests, we encourage populations of predatory insects that keep pests in check. One key to this system is recycling organic matter and nutrients. This is a big change from what has become traditional agriculture in these parts of the country. Part of our work is in building biodiversity--not just by growing heirloom and open-pollinated varieties of vegetables, but also by planting and encouraging native vegetation, even where we aren't actively harvesting. It's a long road, and one we are just starting to walk.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Veggies for 2010

Here is a partial list of the veggies on tap for this year:

Arugula (Roquette)
Basil (Genovese)
Beans, bush 'Magpie'
Beans, bush 'Blue Lake'
Beets, gold 'Yellow Intermediate Mangel'
Beets, red Bull's Blood
Broccoli Calabrese
Broccoli raab (Sessantina Grossa)
Cabbage, Chinese 'China Choy'
Carrots 'Nectar'
Carrots 'Sc. Keeper'
Celery 'Red Stalk'
Corn, Broom
Corn, Pop 'Dakota Black'
Corn, Sweet 'Stowells'
Cucumbers 'North Pickling'
Dill 'Mammoth'
Gourds, Dipper
Gourds, Birdhouse
Leeks 'King Richard'
Lettuce 'Nevada'
Lettuce, Blackseed sim.
Muskmelon 'Edens Gem'
Peas, Purple Hull
Peas, snap 'Sugar Sprint'
Peppers, Hot Habanero
Peppers, Hot Jalapeno
Peppers, Hot 'Joe's Long'
Peppers, Hot Ancho
Peppers, Sweet 'Wonderbell'
Potatoes, blue 'All Blue'
Potatoes, red 'Red Sangre'
Pumpkins 'Small Sugar'
Pumpkins 'Howden'
Pumpkins 'Jack-o-Lite'
Shallot 'Ed's Red'
Spinach 'Viroflay'
Squash, summer 'Bennings Green'
Squash, summer Bush Zucchini
Squash, summer Yellow Crookneck
Squash, winter Hopi Orange
Squash, winter Green Hubbard
Squash, winter Spaghetti
Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights'
Tomatillos 'De Milpa'
Tomatoes 'Arkansas Traveller'
Tomatoes 'Mortgage Lifter'
Tomatoes 'Brandywine'
Tomatoes 'Matt's Cherry'
Tomatoes 'Amish Paste'
Watermelon 'S. Dakota'
Watermelon 'Verona'