News from the Field at Harvest Tide

The business and life of running a farm is intricate work - a balancing of many priorities, challenges, and adventures.  We believe that part of the benefit of any CSA should be access to the daily practices and hard decisions that combined make a farm business viable and sustainable.  

Spring into summer with a little rain...

 

The hot weather and now the rain have catapulted things forward, just in time for the start of CSA deliveries.  Read on for a full update about what's going on at the farm, and information about the approaching CSA start dates!

Brussels sprouts seedlings take off after being transplanted.

Brussels sprouts seedlings take off after being transplanted.

Melon seedlings grow in the greenhouse before being transplanted out in just a few weeks.

Melon seedlings grow in the greenhouse before being transplanted out in just a few weeks.


What a crazy spring to follow an intense winter.  About 3 weeks ago, the temperatures climbed and we've been dealing with almost summer heat since.  The warm weather and lack of rain until now, have made some tasks on the farm easier - we've been grateful to be able to turn and prep the ground for the crazy planting marathon that is May and June easily and without too much of a hiccup.  The low moisture has also helped keep weeds to a minimum (until now) allowing us to focus on planting and infrastructure projects.   While we'll be harvesting all summer long, most of what we harvest gets planted before July, making May and June feel like endless rows of transplanting.  Thousands of broccoli, cabbage, and caulflower have been planted in succession, before we even harvest our first head.  All of the parsnips went in weeks ago and are just starting to spread their first leaves.  And this week over 2,000 sweet potato slips (mini-vines that will produce the tubers) will get planted and none of this will be harvested for months!  Above is a picture of out brussels sprouts which will grow from these beautiful seedinglings into tall bushes that will reach my hip.

On the infrastructure front, we're deep into building our wash station, Eric and one of our crew members laid the gravel, and just this weekend we poured concrete and laid the foundation.  This week we'll build up all the water infrastructure and tanks, and come next week we'll be ready to wash and pack your veggies!

As we begin to harvest, the work we do takes on another layer - we move beyond planning into holding the fruits of all our efforts in our hands.  With this shift, it means our workload increases further as the planting, weeding, and daily management will be squeezed into the hours we're not harvesting and delivering.  We're excited to take this step in our season, and share with you what we've been working on so far.

Equipment Notes; Winter Work!

               Removing the rear gate in order to gain access to the tines underneath.

               Removing the rear gate in order to gain access to the tines underneath.

Equipment gets abused. Its the nature of farming with tractors and equipment; it gets beat up through normal operation, it gets left outside through different weather, and it probably doesn't get the proper amount of TLC (or PM, Preventative Maintenance). Thankfully in Maine, vegetable farmers have a natural season in which things slow down a bit; winter! Snow and ice cover frozen ground which, unless covered by a greenhouse or high tunnel, cannot be worked. The abused equipment can now be gently coaxed back into a state of proper functionality. And thus the farmer doesn't get as much of a break as she may have thought. Winter is the time of repainting, rust removal, new tines, new oil, new filters, and all small repairs that may not have been detrimental to farm in season, but will lead to bigger issues down the road.

I enjoy this part of the season. We were lucky enough to get some space in our landlord's unheated garage to store our tools and have a protected space to work on our equipment. This means I can enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning, work on the computer for a bit (hopefully allowing the sun to heat the garage a bit), and then walk over to the garage to attack whatever project is inside. Currently I am working on out rototiller. We bought it from my former employer (like much of our equipment), and it was in need of some attention.

Tines are removed, rotors ready to be stripped and painted before new tines are put on.

Tines are removed, rotors ready to be stripped and painted before new tines are put on.

Some of the tines underneath were missing, many had worn down to a nub, and all had lost there original shape and functionality. New tines are on order! Removing the old tines was surprisingly easy (years old bolts, turning through soil, sitting for years....how were they NOT corroded to the tines themselves?), and the new tines should fit in nicely with the old nuts and bolts. 

Next I drained the oil from the gearbox. Kind of obvious, but oil is critical to ensure lubrication and to prevent catastrophic failure (ie broken gear teeth). Oil should generally be somewhat transparent, free of contaminants (any other material other than oil) and have some viscosity to it. With the chilly temperatures inside the garage, I used space heaters to heat the gearbox prior to opening the drain valve. However once opened, a slow stream of white ooze poured from the drain valve; water was in the oil. It took nearly a full day for the gearbox to expel the heavily contaminated "oil". This type of contamination likely was caused by condensation and the lack of changing the oil regularly (every couple years). Filling the gearbox with fresh oil should help the machine run better and have a longer life.      

Once the oil and tines have been replaced, I will go through the a wire brush and strip off the peeling paint. This will expose bare metal, which can be painted over with a rust preventative, to protect the metal from moisture and exposure in the future. New tines, new oil, new paint and this unit will be ready to till up our beds for the coming season! And now on to the next project; the bed maker.

Garlic Time!

Planting Garlic at Harvest Tide Farm

          At Harvest Tide, since we have been able to start prepping the fields in the fall before we start our CSA, the very first crop we get to plant is organic garlic.  Garlic is typically planted in the mid to late fall, before the ground freezes.  The goal is to set the cloves in early enough so they have time to set roots before the soil temps drop too low, but not so early that the garlic starts to send up shoots looking for spring sunshine.  With the weird falls we have been getting here in Maine, particularly the bursts of warmth that seem to be happening more and more frequently late into the fall, nailing the timing can be difficult.   We aimed for late-October, getting the garlic planted between the 18th and 22nd.  We seemed to get lucky, and by mid November, we had some beautiful roots on our little cloves.

Garlic roots sprouting from a clove planted several weeks before.

Garlic roots sprouting from a clove planted several weeks before.

   There are six different types of garlic dormant in the field now; three soft necks - Inchellium Red, Nootka Rose, and Polish White and three hard necks - Russian Red, Georgian Fire, and Bowdoinham Music - a locally maintained strain of the common variety Music that has been passed between and improved upon by growers in our area.  We were very lucky to source this variety from our garlic expert friends and neighbors at Whatley Farm.

    After planting all types and carefully recording where we planted each variety, we let the cloves be until it began to get colder and we were starting to see regular frosts.  Then, we covered the ground above all of the garlic with about 5-6 inches of straw, which slows the freezing of the soil, and protects the garlic from temperature fluctuations (freezing and thawing during the winter) that can harm the cloves.  

Spreading straw mulch on the garlic, to protect it through the winter months.

Spreading straw mulch on the garlic, to protect it through the winter months.

Garlic separated from the heads, ready for planting.

Garlic separated from the heads, ready for planting.

    This year we planted about 3000 cloves of garlic, which will (nature willing) grow into 3000 heads.  We hope to have some for our CSA, but mostly this first year will be a seed growing year.  Garlic "seed" is usually purchased as heads of garlic, and they look just like those you buy at the grocery store or farmer's market.  The main difference is that they have been grown free of (and have tested negative for) diseases that can be transmitted to garlic and fields via seed.  This added value of clean seed and high seasonal demand can make seed garlic expensive, particularly certified organic seed, which is essential for organic production.  Because of the cost of garlic seed, many farmers save a portion of their heads every year to plant for themselves, rather than sell to their customers.  This year - our first year - that is what we are doing mostly, growing seed so that next year we can plant an even larger amount, so as to have some to plant and lots to give to our garlic loving customers!

Eric hand-planting the first of many cloves.

Eric hand-planting the first of many cloves.

         Now that everything is dormant, and lots more winter is on its way, there is not much to do by way of garlic but sit and wait for spring and the first green shoots that signal all the garlic bread to come.

Delilah gives planting garlic, and all farm activities, her seal of approval.

Delilah gives planting garlic, and all farm activities, her seal of approval.