Thursday, August 11, 2016

Unity Farm Journal Second Week of August 2016

Running an organic farm means that you have to manage animals and plants in concert with the trials and tribulations nature throws in your path.  You must become an expert on predator/prey, disease/cure, and seasonal variation.  How do you deal with wet/dry, hot/cold, light/dark, insects/rodents, planting/harvesting rhythms etc.

For example we know that flea beetles, which eat eggplant leaves die in July.   Thus we raise eggplant seedlings indoors and plant them in July.

We know what tomato hornworm damage looks like so we can rapidly find the hot dog sized caterpillars and feed them to the chickens.

This week’s issue is black sooty mold on the basil.   Earlier in the season we had aphids on the young tomato plants.   The aphids, by drilling into plant tissues, created a layer of “honeydew” on the leaves that was infected by mold.   That mold spread to the nearby basil and some of the leaves are yellowing.   Our approach has been to spray a very dilute organic sulfur solution (.4%, OMRI certified) on the undersides of the basil leaves, which kills the mold.   When we harvest the leaves, we carefully remove any damage and wash the remaining plants so they are perfect.  Greenhouses and hoop houses can be very humid and shield plants from drying breezes, so it’s clear we need to step up our hoop house airflow to reduce mold problems in the future.

We’re also struggling a bit with cucumber beetle - they disrupt the vascular system of plants and stunt the growth of cucumbers.     We’re spraying with a soap solution every 3 days, but it may be a losing battle.   Our early cucumber harvest was plentiful but this weekend I may remove the cucumbers and replace them with the bibb lettuce we’ve germinated.    For the moment, frogs have moved under the cucumbers to snack on the beetles.

We continue to have many predator visits because of the hot dry conditions we’ve been experiencing this summer.   The coyotes visit every night and the livestock guardian dogs are working overtime to keep them away.    A few of our chickens are solitary wanderers during the day and we’ve lost a few to coyotes/foxes.    Yesterday we did receive .25 inch of rain, so at least the top of the soil is moist.

Our well produces 6 gallons per minute and we’ve been stretching that over our 60 irrigation zones to keep all the orchards alive, but its a struggle.   Just about every town around Boston has a mandatory water ban and even properties with wells are being asked to conserve ground water.    And I thought the Northeast would be a refuge from the drying of the West and Southwest.     Time to take a closer look at Canada…

Over the next two weeks, I’m going to try to work from the farm as a kind of “staycation”   There’s Fall planting, record keeping, and maintenance to do.    There are living things to nuture and extra young guinea fowl to place at nearby farms, as pictured below.   Before the post labor day craziness starts, I’ll do my best to recharge my batteries and get the farm ready for the harvest season ahead.

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