We'll have some combination of lettuce, kohlrabi, broccoli, radishes, bok choi, snap peas, Asian greens, spinach, kale, and cilantro this week. We might not have everything both Monday and Thursday, but we'll have most of these things both days.
Well, last week when I wrote this note, the garden looked pretty good. Things have changed. The first 1.2" of rain on the 12th was badly needed and came at exactly the right time. The nearly 5" that we got last week was too much, and has caused considerable damage that might have season-long consequences. We have significant soil erosion even though the rows are planted on the contour, and quite a bit of the garden is in cover crops. Large gardens have large areas of uncovered soil, and when rain comes as hard as it did last week, soil and water start to move and really don't stop until they reach the wetland at the west end of the farm, or worse, the Gulf of Mexico. And the damage from soil erosion doesn't go away, at least not for a few thousand years, so I work very hard to minimize it. But it's tough when the rain comes down so hard on already saturated soils.
Plant diseases run rampant in warm and humid conditions and we are already starting to see disease in the peas, lettuce, and potatoes. The continually saturated soil has made it impossible to get the fields ready for the things we need to plant now, things like beans, carrots, watermelons, more sweet corn, and cantaloupes. Thankfully, the one day we could do field work last week, Wednesday, my workers worked like troopers until 6:30 that night and got the last 500 tomato plants in the ground, plus all the winter squash. It was a huge day and we'll be happy we did it about 3 months from now when we are harvesting all that squash.
But, the most problematic part of too much rain is the WEEDS!!! Weeds love hot, wet weather. Everyplace we thought we had them under control, they are back. And the things that we planted within the last two weeks like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cabbages, beets, sweet corn, have not yet been cultivated or hoed. It's getting a little critical. This is the week that they have to be brought under control if we expect to harvest abundant and good quality crops. Hopefully, we will get a couple of good days when we can make progress on weeding, but that means we won't be planting or harvesting. And I only have so much budget for workers, so there are only so many hours per week that I can let them work. It's all a delicate balancing act. It works pretty well when the weather cooperates, but this year is turning out to be the challenging one.
Organic farmers suffer particularly serious setbacks when the weather doesn't cooperate. Organic farming is pretty hard to do even under good conditions, and to be successful at it, you need very high management skills. In organic farming, there is no fall-back plan when things go badly. No chemical can be applied to solve a problem, so you really have to get it right the first time. To be a successful organic farmer and to get high yields of quality products, you need to do operations like killing weeds at exactly the right time, with exactly the right tool, when soil conditions are exactly right and the weeds are at their most vulnerable. If you don't manage them then, it only gets harder, and sometimes becomes impossible. Many of my organic friends who raise field crops had frustrating and unprofitable seasons in 2008 even though they didn't get flooded because of conditions that made it impossible to manage weeds at the right time, and the window of opportunity to get them out of the field closed. We could be looking at a situation like this in parts of our garden in 2009.
There's another big problem this year, and it's predators. And it's not who you think. Deer get in the garden, but they mostly seem to stroll around and overall don't do that much damage, at least so far. The real bad guys are the ground squirrels and the Canada geese. Ground squirrels eat both seeds and small plants. This spring, they clipped broccoli, cabbage, and kale plants, and in the last two weeks, they've eaten about two-thirds of the seeds out of 800' of cucumber row and 1200' of summer squash row. We overplant to make sure that we have enough, but it's tough to get ahead of them. Worst of all, GEESE. I HATE THEM. They've eaten about 500 half-grown early broccolis, 150 early cabbages, half of the Asian greens, one-third of the kohlrabi. You will be getting significantly less of those foods for the next 3 weeks than I had planned. There is a second and even third crop coming which they haven't found yet, but I hate it that they've caused so much loss of food for you, and wasted effort and expense for me. I don't have any idea about how to get them to leave us alone. They are much too comfortable around here.
So, enough griping. I must be a farmer. Seriously, I tell you these things because this is your garden, and even though I'm a pretty good gardener, there are some bad things happening that are going to affect you. I want you to be satisfied, so I'll do my best to minimize the loss. And who knows, it could turn around tomorrow. And I'm quite sure I'll be griping about the lack of rain before the season is over. The good news is that it's finally warm. The onions love the rain and look marvelous. The potatoes are beautiful and are starting to make tiny little potatoes about the size of peas. The tomatoes seem happy. Cucurbits like zukes, cucumbers, and winter squash love heat and should really take off this week. The aphids on the peppers and eggplants all got eaten by lady bugs, so now those plants will grow rapidly. The workers are cheerful. We planted thousands of late season brassicas like brussels sprouts, kale, and broccoli last week, and they are already growing.
I hope you have noticed the fabulous painting on the west side of the shed. It's by Mark Benesh, a Mt. Vernon artist. Call him up if you need some art. 895-6170.
Thank you for your cooperation with parking last week. It was so pleasant to not have to worry about all the bad things that can happen when cars, kids, and mud get together in a small space. If you didn't notice it last week, you'll see that we have a one-way road on pickup nights. Please come in the farm gate, drive all the way around and park on the right side of the house driveway on the sort-of-mowed grass, and drive out the house driveway. It's safe and easy, and you get a little exercise walking back to the shed.
Remember that movie night is this Wednesday, June 24. Bring a friend and a lawn chair. Garden tours start at 7:30. The movie starts about 8:30, or as soon as it is dark enough to see. The movie is "The Final Season". The movie is free, and we'll sell popcorn and sodas to raise money to donate to the Southeast Linn Community Center food pantry.
An exciting thing happened to me last week. The US Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, was in Cedar Rapids and I was able to meet him briefly and speak to him about my two favorite topics - natural resource conservation and local food. I asked him to commit more resources to programs and policies that promote rebuilding soil quality as a water quality and flood prevention tool, and to focus economic development money from his department on building infrastructure for local food production, processing, and marketing. You know, just another day on the farm!
Remember, this is the last email I'm going to send this season. To find out what's happening on the farm, please check out the website each week, www.abbehills.com. I'll be posting the vegetable list and latest farm news on my blog that is at www.localharvest.org. You will be able to get to the blog from a link on the website homepage. One day I hope the blog entries will be archived at the website. From now on, you'll only get a weekly email if you sign up for it at the blog, or if I figure out how to mail to this big list without clogging up my computer, or if there is some weather emergency that impacts a pick-up day.
See you this week,