Spinella Farm

  (Waterford Works, New Jersey)
Life on a 100-year-old market farm
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Thoughts for Tuesday, June 24, 2014

If we were back in the hay business, I would be ecstatic about this weather - hot, dry and windy. But it is not good for growing vegetables. Luckily we can just turn the handle and the drip irrigation goes to work!

Yesterday we spent time cutting all of the grass that has managed to grow up. Dad tried to roto till but the ground was so dry it made nothing but dust. Rain is expected tomorrow afternoon. I've got more string beans to plant, some pumpkins and fall squash will be going in also. Otherwise everything is looking good at this point.

A large groundhog no longer resides on the farm. It had been causing some problems with a number of holes. I'm sorry to have to do that as I like a live and let live philosophy with the animals on the farm. But when it comes to damage, something has to be done. The deer have been at bay so far this summer which can be attributed to us clearing up the brush around the farm and leaving plenty of grass for them to eat out in the back fields. It's been a long time since my beans have not been accosted by the deer.

I think Dad is at the end of his rope. At 77, he gets tired easily but my mother in law's health hasn't been good and Dad's been running all over doing the things I can't do while I'm at school during the day. That'll end tomorrow as I go on summer vacation. I don't know what I'll do when he goes. I'll have to overcome and adapt.  

 
 

Thoughts for Monday, June 23, 2014

As much as I think I'm behind in some of my tasks on the farm, when I look around and think about it, I'm not bad off at all. There is always something to do and yes, some things do get a little farther beyond then you would like them to be. But considering that I finish school this week, I'm in pretty good shape that a day or two of hard work would catch me up. That makes it easier for me to sleep at night.

The market on Saturday was busy. We had the most sales so far this season. It was a nice day and people didn't go to the Shore. We carried blueberries for the first time and sold them out quickly. We'll carry them one more week then turn over that product to everyone else to battle over. By that time, the tomatoes will be ready.

We'e starting to come into the beginning of the full blast of summer vegetables. As I said, the tomatoes will be ready in another week. The string beans are almost there. Probably start picking those this week. But I received a call from my cherry grower who informed me that they have started to pick cherries so I will be taking those to Margate this Thursday. Not many people in New Jersey grow cherries but this guy does and when everything breaks right for him he has a good crop.

In the meantime, I am preparing for the humid weather to return to tomorrow. All of the vegetables that are susceptible to fungus have been treated. We pulled the broccoli and cabbage plants this weekend and mowed the snow peas under in preparation for the fall crops that will start to be planted. Those snow peas don't owe us anything. We had a beautiful crop. Soon we will be planting them for the fall. The basil has been wonderful too. It's been many years since we had that kind of basil on the farm. But sales have been slow because a lot of people grow basil in their gardens.

 
 

Thoughts for Tuesday, June 10, 2014

We have been getting a warm rain for the last two days in the Delaware Valley. Fortunately at the farm, it has been raining sparingly. Warm rain makes every thing grow. And that includes the fungus and the weeds. 

I expected the worst when I walked the fields after supper last night. But I was surprised to see that the fields were in decent shape. It had rained about .2 of an inch early yesterday morning which was just enough to help pull out the root system of the crab grass. Nut grass is the first invader of the season; it is followed by crab grass. It is funny to look out and see how the seed for the crab grass has been distributed. In some spots, it is like a doormat. In other spots, barely a plant here and there. But if you let it get too big it is impossible to pull out unlike nut grass which is a rooted system that continues to pop up rather than establish a dense network.

The rabbit was at work again in the pea patch. I'm afraid we'll have to put him out of commission. In all the years that I have worked on that farm, I've never had a rabbit create havoc as much as this little fellow has done.

The blight situation in the potato turned out to be some stress attributed to the hilling we did two weeks ago according to our ag agent. He also took some samples from the pole limas but I think that condition came about because of stress of the transplanting and colder temperatures. Those plants have righted themselves and seem to be doing fine as they trellis up the netting.

I weeded and put deer spray on the string beans. I hesitated to spray but I noticed that some of the tops were nibbled, so I went ahead and did it.

 
 

Thoughts for Monday, June 9, 2014

The CSA and the market both went very well on Saturday. It was cool to see the excited faces of the CSA members as they went along the table selecting the fruits and vegetables that they wanted. A couple of first timers said they felt guilty about the produce they were taking. I told them that this is how it's done and they won't be ashamed when they get home and prepare the fresh food for their families.

Asparagus is about two weeks from finishing. The strawberries are done. We're looking ahead to the fruits. The peaches and blueberries are two weeks late. We don't grow our own blueberries so we purchase them from the DiMaio family in Hammonton, blueberry capital of the world. Butch told Dad on Sunday that the blueberries are two weeks late except for the Weymouth variety which has a couple of berries here and there. However, some unscrupulous growers are buying berries from other parts of the country and labeling them Jersey Fresh. I don't have respect for someone who does things like that especially when they show up at our tailgate markets. Then I have to answer to my customers who know we have early berries and tell them they are not local. It gives all of us a bad name when the customer becomes wary about the origin of the food.

The snow peas are exploding in the field. Unfortunately, the deer have started to nibble on them but since it's going to rain four of the five days this week, I am hesitant to use the egg whites spray because it is expensive and will become ineffective after the rain hits it. So I'm taking my chances that the deer will leave them alone for a few days until I can get the deterent on them.

Everything else is fertilized. That late lettuce looks great! The bush lima beans are up as is the edamame. Now the work really begins! 

 
 

Thoughts for Friday, June 6, 2014

While scouting the potato patch the day before last, I discovered some beginnings of the blight. As I looked up the diseased leaves to confirm my suspicion that it was late blight, my next thought was to contact our county ag agent to give him the word. You hate to be the first one with bad news, especially late blight, but I guess I am going to be the first in line.

Agent Wes Kline of Cumberland County will be out to inspect my field today. I sent him some pictures of the diseased leaves and that prompted his visit. We are lucky to have a dedicated agent like Wes, who is also an expert on food safety. Yesterday I sprung into action and sprayed the fungicide needed to combat the fungus. A cool night and morning may have broken the cycle but I'm not taking any chances.

Things are starting to pick up for tomorrow's market. The CSA will begin for one thing. The snow peas are blooming like crazy which means a lot of sweet tender shells. Also, the second planting of radishes is ready to be picked and they are way better than the first planting. Finally, the basil will be ready to be snipped so we will have that for the first time.

Today started on a sad note. Ed Liberta, a local farmer whose family has been a member of Winslow Township for generations, passed away in a house fire this morning. Ed and his brothers have grown everything from apples to vegetables. When Teresa and I first got married, we lived in the old farmhouse that Ed's mother and father lived in. I will miss him dearly. Ironically, his brother Rudy, who was a produce broker in Philadelphia, was killed last week when he was hit by a car. 

 
 

Thoughts for Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Anna and I put the rest of the drip line down last night. It rained all around us after much of the afternoon was hot and humid. I turned on the water for about an hour and a half last night. There was a time when I wouldn't think of watering after dark especially on hot, muggy days and nights. But the drip is a different story. It allows us to water without getting the leaves wet and, therefore, avoid fungal diseases.

The Dr. Martin pole lima beans are already travelling up the trellis. They had a rough start but they are on their way and hopefully will give us a good crop.

The softshell beetles are hatching on the potatoes. I pick the adults as they are very tough to kill with a spray. But the soft shells are different story. They are less immune to the spray. I let them hatch out because sometimes you don't always crush all the eggs when you are killing adults. Once they hatch out it is easier to get greater control.

It was good to see and talk to my friends from West Cape May, Les and Diane Rea. The Reas have been farming for over three generations in Cape May County. Les's family grew lima beans for years in that area, I believe for Birdseye Frozen Foods. Now he and his wife have a little stand and attend farm markets around the area. They have been married 54 years and are the prime example of husband and wife working together on the farm. Both would give you the shirt off their backs if they like you. I'm proud to say that they are my friends and never too busy to talk to me when I visit them. 

 

 
 

Thoughts for Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Something happened yesterday that very few people take into consideration when they think of farming. 

My daughter Anna was helping my father put in some drip lines. I was busy fertilizing over in the same patch of ground. My ear caught bits and pieces of their conversation. Dad was passing on farm lore to my daughter. He was making light of how I was hand fertilizing the plants, telling my daughter about how my grandfather, her great grandfather, used to do it in more of a broadcasting motion with less effort. For once, I didn't mind being the butt of a family needle.

I got to thinking. I know Dad was doing this on purpose. He understands legacy. I have told a million of those farm stories to my kids. But, Dad, now approaching 78, feels that it is in his DNA to pass along what he knows before he leaves the Earth. That brought a tear to my eye and a shiver of pride knowing that our family understands something that most families do not attempt any more because they don't understand the significance of it. It's not instant gratification; it's built for the long run. If more of us could understand that, we would make this world just a little bit better and instill some pride in our youngsters today who in turn will understand that someday it will be their job to pass it along to their kids as well.

These are things us farm people understand. It's more than a job of growing food. It's a legacy of great pride and understanding which makes our families stronger.

 

 
 

Thoughts for Monday, June 2, 2014

We managed again to do very well at the market on Saturday. Next week we start the CSA and I am looking forward to seeing all of my old and new members.

We lucked out in that the weather broke in time to get plenty of strawberries and asparagus for the market on Saturday. The berries were the first pick of a new patch and they fetched a premium price. It's nice to hear customers tell you that you have the nicest produce in the market. Only one person grumbled about the price of the asparagus which I thought was more reasonable than the strawberries!

We hilled the potatoes on Saturday afternoon after market. It is the first time with our new ridgers and they worked out great once we got the hang of it. It sure beats the old method of doing it by grub hoe.

The mornings have been quite chilly the last few days. Yesterday and today we woke up to readings of 48 and 51. By midmorning the temps start to pick up and soon it is warm but not too hot, getting into the low 70s. We are just about finished putting in drip lines for the irrigation so that will be a big lift.

We started to cut garlic scapes which means the plants are in the home stretch in terms of being bulb ready. I was surprised how many people at the market on Saturday knew what to do with a garlic scape. Then there was a person who told me she cooks for living and had never seen them before! It just goes to show how big and wonderful the world of food really is. That's why I like to discover things that most people have never seen and grow them for market. 

 
 

Thoughts for Friday, May 30, 2014

It has been cool, that's for sure. Even my fishing buddy Pat, who catches lobsters and fish off the South Jersey coast, says that the weather has pushed back the fishing season a couple of weeks.

Those big beautiful strawberries have stopped ripening up, the asparagus refuses to push its head out of the ground until it gets warm again. So Saturday's market looks like it will be a slow one in terms of local produce. Alas, the radishes are ready and the scapes have started to show on the garlic, which means that it won't be long before we start digging and drying.

We have had a nice steady rain soaking with this last system. The fertilizer is starting to kick in as the Cubanelle peppers are shedding their transplant shock, the peas are blooming like crazy and the potatoes have shot up another inch or two. They are just about ready to be hilled.

We gave the woodchucks an accidental black eye. A flat of basil was nipped on the top last week along with some pole bean transplants. Naturally, we blamed the woodchucks. But Dad yesterday ferreted out (no pun intended) the culprit - cottontail rabbits. He caught two of them back at the flats of basil working away again! Honestly, that is a relief for me as those woodchuck and deer take up more time to control than any other pests on our farm.

Speaking of pests, the Canada geese have been multiplying. I can't understand why. The last few years we had barley planted but we didn't sow any in. Yet the geese have shown up in double the numbers that usually come in. And some of them are bearing young. The droppings are the only problem right now but stay tuned. 

 
 

Thoughts for Thursday, May 29, 2014

Every year as I browse the seed stands at the local big box or hardware store, something always catches my eye and I say, "I've got to try and grow that!"

This year it was the Burpee catalog that provided the impetus. I've always been a fan of growing heirloom watermelons and muskmelons. They are tricky because of their susceptibility to disease. But when you come through with a good crop they are delicious and fun to sell.

Anyway, browsing the Burpee catalog I came across a watermelon called the Carolina Cross. It purports to grow watermelons up to 200 pounds! I don't know if that will happen but the possibility of it brought out the P.T. Barnum in me so I ordered a couple of packets and planted them. So we shall see.

My neighbor and another grower the next town over are growing our tomatoes for this year. But I still can't get that itch out of my system for growing tomatoes so I seeded in some Box Car Willies and Brandywines and will raise them on a whim. Our customers love big tomatoes and really don't care if they are heirloom or not. Personally, nothing beats a good Brandywine for taste.

We received 3/4" of an inch of rain yesterday. The weeds loved it. But at this time of year they like to grow as much as the cultivated plants. I can't blame them. But they should understand that as much as they like this kind of wet weather, so do I. Why? Because it makes weeding, especially that troublesome crab grass, a heckuva lot easier to pull out, roots and all. 

 
 

Thoughts for Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Colorado Potato Beetle is one of the earliest things that I can recollect when it comes to farming. That sounds kinda strange so let me explain.

My grandfather was a tomato farmer. He grew what we call "can house" tomatoes for Violet Packing in Williamstown, New Jersey. That was different because everyone else was contracting with Campbell Soup in Camden. I guess it was closer to go to Williamstown.

Anyway, we had more Colorado Potato Beetles in the field than Carter had little liver pills. My uncles sprayed their hearts out and would control them for the season. But next year the cycle would start all over again. They never practiced crop rotation.

After grandpop passed away in 1990, Dad and I started to grow plum tomatoes again in 1994 for our customers in South Philadelphia. Even the fields were still fallow after four years, the beetles were still there in numbers. I guess they just waited around for the opportunity to eat tomato plants again.

As I transitioned into market gardening, I became a big believer in crop rotation. This slowed down the beetle along with using a catch crop like potatoes and the use of natural enemies like the parasitic wasp. Now the beetles are under control.

Ironically, when we started to buy Russian Banana potatoes we were talking to the people in Colorado one day and brought up the Colorado Potato Beetle. They said they had no idea what were talking about and had never seen one before! Lucky them. 

 
 

Thoughts for Tuesday, May 27, 2014

It was a busy Memorial Day weekend but the weather was good and so was the company.

We had a banner day at market on Saturday. We were one of two vendors that had strawberries so we loaded up the pickup with as many flats of the sweet fruit as we could and did very well at a premium price. You don't mind paying a premium price when the product is excellent. The berries were excellent, trust me.

Planted some lettuce, hoping to catch everyone else going out with their lettuce as ours is coming in. Noticed that the Colorado potato beetles are in full swing. I'll talk about that tomorrow in this blog space as the little striped beetles and I have a long history together.

We sold out early in the market and were able to get home before 1 p.m. In addition to the berries and asparagus, I was able to cobble together some broccoli florets and package them in sealed bags. I blew it on the raising of the spring broccoli as the weather has been conducive to raising it but I didn't feed the heavy feeders enough to get maximum output.

Also planted the third planting of string beans. I put in some French muskmelons. Two years I had a nice crop but last year the deer and disease gave me a zero yield. Hopefully, those and the lemon cucumbers will produce enough to give us a good variety at market. 

 
 

Thoughts for Friday, May 23, 2014

It was a great relief that the terrible storms that went through our area yesterday literally went right around us. Rain is bad. Hail is the worst. There is no more helpless feeling than watching it rain from the sky and you have no way of stopping it. Frost you can do something about. Same with disease and pests. But how do you stop one inch hail stones falling from the sky?

I am especially concerned about the gentleman who grows our fruit. The pattern of hail went right through his area. I'm afraid to call for fear of what he might have to say about his fruit or to remind him of the damage he suffered. Then again, maybe he didn't suffer any damage. I'll wait and let time dictate the circumstance.

Memorial Day and the big seller will be strawberries. We have some beautiful strawberries this year despite the wacky spring weather. Some of our customers have already remarked that they are the finest tasting strawberries they have ever had. It is a first-year crop and the berries are big and plentiful.

In addition, the asparagus continues to soldier on and be a solid seller for us. The greens are consistent and this week for the first time we will have scallions which are usually a good seller. You would think the market would be slow on a Memorial Day weekend but our records indicate that we have had brisk sales in the past. That's good because the bills are coming due for the first part of the season. 

Thoughts for Friday, May 23, 2014

It was a great relief that the terrible storms that went through our area yesterday literally went right around us. Rain is bad. Hail is the worst. There is no more helpless feeling than watching it rain from the sky and you have no way of stopping it. Frost you can do something about. Same with disease and pests. But how do you stop one inch hail stones falling from the sky?

I am especially concerned about the gentleman who grows our fruit. The pattern of hail went right through his area. I'm afraid to call for fear of what he might have to say about his fruit or to remind him of the damage he suffered. Then again, maybe he didn't suffer any damage. I'll wait and let time dictate the circumstance.

Memorial Day and the big seller will be strawberries. We have some beautiful strawberries this year despite the wacky spring weather. Some of our customers have already remarked that they are the finest tasting strawberries they have ever had. It is a first-year crop and the berries are big and plentiful.

In addition, the asparagus continues to soldier on and be a solid seller for us. The greens are consistent and this week for the first time we will have scallions which are usually a good seller. You would think the market would be slow on a Memorial Day weekend but our records indicate that we have had brisk sales in the past. That's good because the bills are coming due for the first part of the season. 

 
 

Thoughts for Thursday, May 22, 2014

Athletes talk about being in the zone. That perfect time in which everything they do is just right and it all clicks. The baseball is as big as a beach ball tot he batter. The hoop was as wide as the ocean to the basketball player. The goal posts were right up close to the place kicker. But what about the farmer? When does he reach his zone?

I reached mine yesterday. Let me explain. The weather was in the upper 60s, the wind was a slight breeze. The sun just enough to keep you warm but not burning you up. And the soil was just perfect for cultivating.

That last thing was the icing on the cake. Every time I put the tined weeder down, the soil just crumpled. The top layer shattered in every direction. The bed in which the weeds grew was blown up like an atomic bomb explosion. Yet my exertion was minimal, my actions very free of effort. The bean seedlings hardly moved yet all of the top layer of soil around them broke away. No mechanical device could have done a better job. Wow! Some days it just happens like that.

The job got done quickly and it was done right. It freed up time to do other things which is valuable right now considering that time during the week is precious.

These kinds of moments don't happen often. So when they do, I really enjoy them. 

 

 
 
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