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Archive for the ‘CSU CSA’ Category

The field continue to be too wet to do much work in.  We were able to do some hand weeding through the Brassicas, onions, and herbs, but we sure did a lot of sliding around in the mud.  The big project that we accomplished this week was putting the strawberry house together.  Last year we grew strawberries in hay bales for a few reasons.  First was the convenience of not having to crawl on the ground to pick strawberries.  And secondly, it gives you a bit more time to weed before the strawberries are overtaken by them.  The challenges to growing berries this way is that the bales, being so porous, must maintain relatively high moisture, since the roots are growing in the hay and not in a moisture retaining soil.

We are hoping to improve on our methods from last year by using polycarbonate panels to create a trough for the bales.  Using polycarbonate panels for this purpose would normally be an expensive choice, but the panels we are using came off of the University Greenhouses that are being renovated.  The panels have served their purpose on the greenhouse and now we are re-purposing them so they don’t go to waste.  Here’s some pictures of the process:

They are ready to be planted in.  We’ll make a small hole in the bale and put some compost in the bae and plant the strawberry in the compost.  The compost helps the plant establish itself in the bale and provide nutrients, too.

The weekend has been pretty dry considering the past weeks of rain.  Hopefully things will dry out and we can get back to our regularly scheduled work.  Our first CSA pick up is July 2, just a short two and a half weeks away.  Exciting time for the farm.

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The rhythm of the season is starting to kick in. Transplanted crops are stretching their roots in to deeper soil and overcoming the stress of transitioning from a controlled environment to the wild and unpredictable climate of the farm. Crops that were direct seeded are showing themselves for the first time. With one month left before our first CSA pickup, things feel like they are shaping up for a great season. These good feelings do not get rid of all the other work that still needs to be done. We have a row in which we will be doing some no-till research on. Last year rye and a vetch crop were sown in the row as a green manure, and soon we will knock down the rye and vetch and use a no-till drill to plant peppers, tomatoes, lettuces, melons, cucumbers, and a few other crops. The potential for no-till methods has yet to reach it’s peak, so we are really interested in the results we get. I would love to see large farms exclusively use no-till methods one day, but I feel like that is still a bit down the road.

Last week was split between being rained out of working in the fields and pulling weeds.  We are at that time of the season when everything in the fields is growing like crazy, including the weeds.  Oh, the weeds!  The pigweed and the mallow and spurge and nap weed and thistle and bind-weed.  Weeds are an expected chore when working on an organic farm, and for the folks I’m working with we’ve tried to make some games out of it.  We have a “longest root” challenge, where we see who can pull the longest weed’s root out of the ground.  At this point in the season we have pulled an 8 inch bind-weed root, a 7.5 inch thistle root, and 6.5 inch pigweed root.  It’s a silly game we play, but it helps us not get too bogged down with the work we are actually doing.  There are really two main methods of weeding that are used on small organic farms: hand weeding and tool weeding.  Using a stirrup hoe or wheel hoe works great if the soil is dry, but as soon as the soil gets significant moisture on it using a tool to weed with doesn’t do much good.  One method of weeding that doesn’t seem to be used too often is that of flame weeding.  The process is pretty self-explanatory in that you are weeding with a flame.  At the farm we use a propane tank (like the one hooked up to your BBQ grill) with a hose hooked up to it.  Open the valve, put a flame near the gas, and start burning weeds down.  For smaller, annual weeds you don’t need much heat…just enough to the cell walls of the plant to burst, but for more established, perennial weeds you might need to leave the flame on them enough to actually torch them.  The nice thing about flame weeding is that you can do it when the soil is too wet to use a hoe or other cultivator.

I spent almost two days last week flame weeding.  It became a relatively mindless task, provided I was watching what I was aiming the flame at, and so I spent a good part of the two days questioning the use of a propane torch as a form of weed control.  Using a small tank like we were using is not very economical.  Part of the reason is that we are purchasing propane in small quantities, which cause the per unit price to be considerably higher.  There are some flame weeding systems that are pulled behind a tractor, but we don’t have one of those.  I spent a good deal of time thinking about whether or not flame weeding could have a place on a farm that was striving to be “sustainable.”  Our farm might be organic, but by it’s very nature of being a research based farm we aren’t sustainable.  For research purposes we might choose to use methods, like black plastic mulch or flame weeding, to offer data to local small farms.  There’s a farm just down the road a bit from my house that has chosen to rely very little on gas.  They choose to drive as little as possible, forgo a washing machine and clothes dryer, and use a tractor for as little as work as possible.  They are wonderful consistent in their convictions of being a sustainable farm.  I thought about them as I was flame weeding and wondered what they might say about it.  I guess I’ll have to ask them.

I guess that’s about it for week 3.  It’s hard to believe how quickly the season is moving along.  Soon it will be August and I will be ready to pass out from all the harvesting.  I suppose I should enjoy the meditative nature of weeding while it’s still cool outside.

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As I spend more and more time on the farm, I am reminded that my farm experience is a bit unique to the “normal small farm” experience.  Because of our direct connection to the university we operate in a different way than if the farm was farmed by a single person. Here’s a few examples:

So far our working hours have been 7am-3/4pm on Monday through Friday.  We don’t work weekends!  What farmer takes the weekend off?  My boss comes to the farm over the weekends to check up on things and do any needed work, but we are exempt from that.  I find myself conflicted about this, though.  When I move on to work with another farm or even have my own land I wont have the luxury of taking every weekend throughout the growing season off.  And I certainly wont stop work for the night because I’m not allowed to work overtime.  Yet, I really appreciate the opportunity to have nights and weekends off to be able to spend time with my wife and to put toward homework once I start my summer Organic Chemistry class in a few weeks.

Another difference in my experience on the farm is that we’re going to be taking field trips throughout the season to visit other area farmers.  Friday we visited a small greenhouse tomato producer near Longmont, CO.  He sells to Whole Foods in Boulder, farmers markets, and other direct markets in the area.  It was pretty cool to see how he was growing his tomatoes in soil rather than using hydroponics, which many greenhouse growers do.  I had never really seen greenhouse production used as anything more than season extension or seed starting, so it was cool to see how it all worked.

greenhouse tomatoesLater in the day a few of us talked about our visit to the greenhouse.  Of the four of us talking only one person said that they would consider running a single crop greenhouse.  The rest of us recognized that that type of vegetable production is an important piece of the food spectrum, but it’s not particularly for us.

I gave you two thoughts as to why my experience on the farm has been a bit atypical, so now let me give you one example of a typical experience:  Every farm will be limited to the weather.  Tuesday was a warm, partly cloudy day, but because of a couple days of rain the soil was too wet to work on.  We are at the mercy of the weather.  I don’t know that statistics yet, but it has felt like a more-than-normally wet spring/early summer.  This is certainly a welcome thing for farmers in dry states like Colorado, but it does affect when we can work.  This weeks forecast has rain everyday this week.  Hopefully we can get everything in the ground before we get rained out of the field again.

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I had two thoughts that really stood out to me from last week on the farm.  They might not be complete or fully formed thoughts, but I think you’ll get the gist.  It was a great first, full week on the farm.  We’ve got a great crew of people out there that will make the long, hot summer a real joy to work with.

  • There are 8 new farmers working at the farm this year.  We’re all paid through CSA subscriptions.  This is a great reminder to us because it would be easy to think of our work on the farm as being funded as research by the university (which some of it is), and separate ourselves from the people who are receiving the food we are growing.  So with this in mind, I’ve been thinking about the criticisms of healthy, organic food being expensive.  One day last week the group of us went to weed a row of raspberries and blackberries.  It took all 8 of us about an hour to weed that row.  While we were weeding the thistle and bind weed, someone joked that this would be much easier if we just sprayed some 2,4,D over the weeds.  We laughed, knowing that that wasn’t an option or desire, but it started me thinking about the costs attached to that row of berries for the day.  If you compare $70 worth of labor for weeding that row for one hour compared to $10 worth of chemicals to spray, it seems like the ten bucks for chemicals is the cheapest option.  The problem with the $10 “cheap” options is that there are hidden costs that are hard to put a price on.  For instance, when a farmer is thinking of costs associated with spraying or not spraying, the bottom line often doesn’t include the loss of clean water due to run-off.  Because of conventional farms surrounding our 8 acres, there is only one clean source of water on the farm.  This is the type of hidden cost that becomes visible with organic food.  I’m starting to personally understand the $2.00 difference between conventional vs. organic produce.  Paying the $2 extra goes to ensuring that the farmer can drink the same water that she/he is giving to his crops.
  • The other big reminder that came up this week relates to how many things that are indirectly related to growing crops.  Farmers need to know how to do carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and mechanical work.  We needed the skills in all of these areas last week.  I’ve done a fair amount of all those things before, but there were a few people who did some electrical work for the first time.  It was pretty exciting to see the sense of accomplishment for being able to run wiring for the irrigation to the high tunnels.  Perhaps, if your farm is big enough, you would hire people specialized to do these specific tasks, but on a small farm, you do it all.  I like that.  And I think this is another reason that farmers, particularly on small farms need to be recognized as people who do more than just sit in a tractor.

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