June 2012


Our hoophouse is full of tomatoes. At the beginning of April over 1000 tomato plants were planted into the ground this house. We have a heater so were able to keep the temperatures above freezing during those cold spring nights.

Looking in at the tomatoes. The side wall is thermostatically controlled. When it gets too warm in the house the side lowers to let in the outside air and when it gets cool the side raises back up to retain warmth.

Stepping inside and taking a closer look. Those tomatoes sure look good.

 There are a lot of ‘up and coming’ vegetables in the fields these days. 

The outside tomatoes are trying to keep up with the hoophouse tomatoes

The eggplants are blossoming

The peppers are fruiting

The melons are blossoming (those blossoms turn into melons!)

And we keep irrigating!

Another one just like last year’s, which is not good news.  For the second year running we are calling off the pea pick; due to………you guessed it; a lack of peas.  This is not my favorite article to write, but it is a learning opportunity if you are interested.  The first pea pick happened 15 years ago as a result of what now seems to be a rare, extraordinary pea harvest.  We just had so many peas, we decided to invite members out to pick peas, and it was a great time.  More times than not since, we have struggled to get a good pea harvest in our valley.  The culprit being poor germination; the peas like to rot in the ground.  Our ground is rich, moist and cool which is great for lots of reasons but not the best for early spring pea germination.  No germination, no plants, no peas.  This year I was super confident we were going to have great germination because they were planted in that record warm weather of March.  It seemed like the perfect conditions, but alas, the peas felt otherwise, and did not grow.  So knowing the pea pick was on the line, we took the extra measure of planting by hand thousands of pea seeds in the greenhouse and transplanting them into the field.  Plus we planted more directly in the ground hoping for the best.  The problem with this strategy was we were counting on mild temperatures in early June; peas do not like it hot.  Well, hot is what we got, the peas are a bit on the unhappy side, to put it mildly.  So if we brought you all out to pick unhappy peas, you would be on the unhappy side, we’ve saved you the bother by calling off the pea pick.  We are harvesting the small amount of peas that we have and hopefully (and I mean hopefully) there will be enough to give everyone a small taste.  Unlike our other farm events (Corn Boil, Pesto Fest and Pumpkin Pick), the pea pick has been a struggle for us.  We may reconsider this event for future years; possibly going back to the original concept of a surprise announcement in the rare, extraordinary pea year.  See you at the Corn Boil, the sweet corn is looking great, it loves hot weather.

Rows of sparse peas

David

Weather presents us with many challenges.  Precipitation greatly affects how all of our crops grow.  There is very little that we can do when it rains too much, but we can fight drought condition, like we are having now, with irrigation.  Even when we are having more frequent rains many vegetables need to be supplemented with irrigation to get them the water that they need.  It takes a lot of time to keep up with all of the irrigation, but without it we would be unable to consistently grow your vegetables.

We use four types of irrigation:

  • The majority of our crops are irrigated using traveling guns (they shoot water not bullets).  We have five different traveling guns and it is not uncommon for three or four to be in use at once.  Our smallest can water half an acre in one run, while our largest can water over 6 acres in one run.  This type of irrigation is mobile and gets moved to the area that needs to be watered. The cart is put in place and the gun, which is a very large sprinkler, is pulled out.  The gun is retracted using the water that is traveling through it.

Irrigation gun in action

Traveling gun irrigating garlic and potatoes

Tractor pulling out the irrigation gun

  • We only have one center pivot, but it covers a lot of area.  The center pivot is stationary and irrigates about 12 acres.  Ours is a very small one, large ones will irrigate over 200 acres.  This type of irrigation waters very evenly and is very easy to use.  It is has a computerized control panel that can be programmed to irrigate according to our needs.

The radius of the center pivot sweeps across the field

Potatoes flowering under center pivot

  • Our newest irrigation implement is a traveling boom.  This is the same as the traveling gun, but with misters on a boom instead of one large sprinkler.  This gives a gentler spray, which is good for germinating seeds and gives a even soft irrigation like the center pivot.

Traveling boom irrigating lettuce plants

  • The final type of irrigation that we use is drip irrigation.  We use drip irrigation in conjunction with plastic mulch.  We lay plastic T-tape under the plastic mulch, the T-tape slowly emits water.  This form of irrigation is very efficient since there is no loss to evaporation.

Rows of melons grown in plastic mulch. Drip tape is laid under the plastic mulch to irrigate the melon plants.

Drip tape connected to the hose at the end of a row of melons

In the month of June, we have had a total of one/quarter inch of rain.  So without the irrigation machines the harvest the season would have been greatly reduced.

Jesse and Jonnah

Definitely one of the most frequently asked questions.  This farm is certified organic so we don’t use toxic chemicals to kill insects.  We do use a lot of row cover.  Row cover is a light weight poly spun fabric.  We drape it over crops that are susceptible to insect damage.  We pin it down every several feet with large plastic push pins.  The plants grow under the cover.  The lightweight fabric allows sun and rain to penetrate.  We remove the row cover when the plants are blossoming so the pollinators can find the blossoms.  Once the plant is blossoming it is large enough to withstand insect pressure.  The very young, tender plants are so much more susceptible.

Which crops need protection?  Many crops will benefit from row cover.  We row cover eggplant, melons, cucumbers, winter squash, summer squash, radishes and turnips.

Who are we trying to keep out?   Flea beetles are a huge nuisance.  They are tiny insects that jump like flea when you touch them.  They feast on the leaves of many vegetable plants.  Sometimes they simply cause damage and make the plant look dreadful, sometimes they kill it.  They love the leaves of spring turnips and radishes.  They will devour the turnip leaves down to nothing if we don’t have the row cover on before the plant emerges from the ground.  When flea beetles  bore their tiny holes into the leaves they are weakening the plant, making it even more susceptible to insect pressure.   We keep the row cover on the turnips and radishes until shortly before we harvest them.  Flea beetles love eggplant leaves so we leave the row cover on until the eggplant is blossoming.

Cucumber Beetles are another problem insect for us.   They will kill cucumbers, melons and squashes.  We put the row cover on as soon as we transplant the young plants.   As a matter of fact, a row cover crew follows close behind the transplanting crew.  Once the insects are there, they have won.  Even one day without row cover can be devastating.    Yesterday we removed the row cover from our first planting of melons and from all of the winter squash.  Over a mile and a half of row cover on the squash alone.  The crew was mighty dirty when they returned from that four hour job.

Row cover on melons

Peeking under the row cover at the watermelon plants

The row cover came off this garden of cantaloupe today. If you look closely you can see some yellow blossoms.

Where does our straw mulch come from?  We grow it!

Bales of alfalfa, ready to be used as mulch (this is a different field than the one shown above. We grow ‘mulch’ in several fields).

 

Lots and lots of people do.  I’ll introduce the Perkins Family first.  Barb and David started Vermont Valley Community Farm in 1994.  We and our three children moved from the Isthmus, where we had been living for nine years, to the Town of Vermont to start our CSA farm.  We just knew that our back yard in Madison was way too small to farm.  Our children, Jesse, Eric and Becky always helped out when they were younger.  Now Jesse and Eric are full time in the business with us.  Jesse’s wife Jonnah Mellenthin Perkins has been working as the Office Manager for 5 years.  Their 5 month old son, Paavo, will be driving tractor in no time!  Becky is living out of state, and belongs to a CSA in Bend, Oregon.  She was the farm cook for two years before she moved.

Barb and David standing in front of the barn. (note: Eric painted the sign)

Jonnah and Paavo standing in front of the farm office (which used the be the milk house of the barn; enter through packing shed)

Jesse and Paavo getting ready to till. Paavo rides along in the tractor!

Full time (non family member) employees include Chris, Chad, Emily and Elizabeth.  They manage many tasks and many people.

Back: Elizabeth and Eric Perkins (a family member)
Front: Chad and Emily

Chris building a new walk in cooler. After he finished building the farm kitchen he started building our new cooler.

Worker Shares: there are 40 people who come out to the farm each week for four hours and work for their Standard Share.   They don’t come all at once but are spread out Monday through Friday, morning and afternoon.  Many are returning from previous seasons, some of them working many, many years as worker shares, with the winner being Jon who started as a worker share in 1996!   They harvest, bag, band, wash, sort, and help out with just about everything.

Worker Shares, together with the Cambodians, harvesting radishes

The Cambodians:  For nine years we have had a crew of Cambodian Americans working for us seasonally full time.  This group of people came to the United States as refugees after the Vietnam War.  They settled in Madison in the 1980’s.  As an agrarian group of people, working with the land and with vegetables is a perfect fit.  Many are family and all of them are a tight knit community.   Some speak English, some don’t.   They work hard, laugh a lot and get a lot of big jobs done fast.  There are usually about 10 Cambodians here each day.  They are a lot of fun to work with.

The Cambodian crew banding scallions in the packing shed

Our cook Cari, feeds the farm crew Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.  We hired a cook about seven years ago when we realized we were so busy growing food we did not take the time to cook with it, sometimes frozen pizza was all we could manage at the end of a long day.  Now our cook makes enough for the crew each day and David and I enjoy the left-overs at night.  And this year we built a Farm Kitchen.  Up until now the cook was preparing lunches in our house.  Our employee Chris built the kitchen this spring (pretty talented guy, he is).  It’s located upstairs in the barn.  We are all loving it!

Cari, the farm cook, in our new farm kitchen, located in the upper barn.

Barb