Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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This has been a brutal season

This growing season has been brutal in our part of the country.  Nevertheless, I knew we were in for a problem back in the winter.  Over the course of my life, when inquiring about a problem, situation, function, example, question or any other unknown or known occurrence, I have heard in essence the same meaning, repeatedly, when talking to experts or professionals in their field.  It is not always the same words and there are different phrases used when the person is describing their perspective or knowledge.  However, the out come is always the same they are genuinely stymied and do not know the answer.

It has been phrases like, "I've never seen that before," or "This is the first time I have heard of that," or "It has never done that before," or "In all my years this is the first time (fill in the blank)," or "No, I have not come across that before,".  It is not complex things, I do not deal with things of unearthly origin or advanced technological solutions.  At work or at home or growing I have heard these comments in different situations.

Sometimes we joke about my ability to be in a place when something completely bizarre happens.  One of my colleagues long ago tagged me as “Schleprock” a character on the Flintstone’s.  I'm not saying this is always the case because, I consider my life to be very blessed and I have been able to do good things that help family and community.  But, there is that other side, a small side, but it is a part firmly in place. 

We had a soil professional on the property; he spent his entire life in the farming community and learning about soils.  I took him to the end of the high-tunnel where we had so much trouble putting in the footers (see This is no Easy Project).  I picked up a piece of the soil and gave it to him to examine.  He looks at it, rubs it between his fingers and says, "Huh, I have never seen this before.  It looks like it has been fired or was part of a building".  You figure the odds, out of fifteen acres; I was able to select an area that may be on top of an out-building used in the 1800's or earlier.  

This brings me back to my point on this summer’s drought.  When the two water tanks arrived, I made sure to have them placed and hooked up for the early spring rain.  The reason we got them was that in past years we would lose water after the two three thousand tanks filled but the rains kept coming.  Then there was a part of me that thought, "With my luck we'll have a drought this year".   

I know there is no correlation between me buying water tanks and the rain not coming, but it does not surprise me.  I am use to people being surprised when I ask for explanations and they should know the answer but it is the first time they have encounter the problem or situation that I am in.  I am an optimist, heavily cloaked in a thick layer of pessimism.

It came as no surprise the first time I bought water this summer that it rained the next day.  It did not rain enough, but the fact that it rained at all was surprising.  It was not predicted and it was a quick moving front.  That was all the rain we got for the next nineteen days.  That is until I bought another four thousand gallons of water.  It sprinkled while the water was being pumped from the truck to the tanks but it was not enough to make the grass wet.  I could not help but still see the irony however, slight.

Things are coming in slow, everyone is complaining and we are doing our best.  The corn is failing and the chickens are down sixty percent in laying capacity.  Each year growing has seemed to have unique characteristics or personality and this season is turning out to be just brutal.

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We need rain

We need water.  When we moved on to the farm in August of 2002, the eastern seaboard was in the midst of a drought.  One similar to the one we are under now and our crops are showing wear.  It makes sense that we are in a drought, because I just added (this spring) the capacity to collect six thousand more gallons of rainwater.  This brings our ability to collect a total of twelve thousand gallons.

This year we connected the tanks earlier than normal to collect water.  I had the tanks hooked up by March ready for the first rain or snowmelt.  In previous years, the tanks would be over flowing by July, which is why we bought more tanks.  There have been years past when we had to dump thousands of gallons of collected rainwater at the end of the season to winterize the tanks.

We are also using drip tape with the openings spaced every twelve inches, which is how far we spaced our plants.  Give or take an additional twelve inches.  We have been able to conserve water use and precisely apply water to the vegetables.  Yet, we still need water.  We never did get a full twelve thousand gallons.  As of the last precipitation, the total collected for this spring was six thousand gallons.  Since then we have been watering weekly in an attempt to conserve water. 

We need the corn to get deep taproots so we have to water them slowly and for long periods.  Corn is a heavy feeder on the soil and the water table; the deeper their roots go the better the corn.  Our backup plan has always been to pump water out of the stream that runs through our property.  This increases our carbon footprint but is something that will need consideration if we do not get rain soon.  With drip irrigation at least we can almost micro-manage water distribution. 

Nothing on a farm is easy and that includes irrigation systems.  Ours’ uses drip tape, which is a vast improvement over soaker hoses or overhead watering.  Not only does it conserve water, you lose less water to evaporation and those plants that need pollination stand a better chance of getting pollen when it is dry and a breeze comes along.

It is not easy running drip tape thousands of feet and having three different zones to keep track of, but collected rainwater is a precious commodity and we treat it as such. 

No surprise, watering has great affects on the look of the fruit and vegetable.  Just like humans, plants can go for a time without food, but without water, they expire.  With tomatoes if you water inconsistently it will develop cat facing and blossom end rot.  Too much water and you can split the tomato.  Therefore, being steady and consistent with all tomatoes gets them into a pattern they can live with.  Trimming them has also been a way for us to increase yields and help the plant through drier then normal times.  Less leaves means water intake can be reserved for the important parts, the tomato.

Our theory is to get rid of most of the leaf structure that does not support fruit bearing branches.  This way the plant has more nutrients available to send to the fruits instead of feeding unnecessary branches and leaves.  There is a point of no return so trimming needs the utmost care and discretion.  I guess we could have spent thousands getting a well put in but it seemed like a better idea to capture free water falling from the sky.  I have not regretted the decision but we do need rain. 

We ran totally out of water and ordered four thousand gallons of water Friday.  I told the farmer who went in on buying this year’s tanks and he thanked me profusely.  “Why?” I asked, “Because we will get rain now.”  “Oh wise one,” I said, “That is why I only purchased four thousand so I would have space to collect the rain that I was bringing”.  Moreover, yes he was right, Saturday morning it rained and we got four tenths of an inch.  Not much, but when you need rain you will take what ever you can get.

 

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