To say this year has been interesting, or better yet trying, would be an understatement. We were very excited that we would be able to start early because of the new high tunnel. There were many days when it felt good to work in there while the wind was still icy and the temperatures were uncomfortable. When it rained, it acted as a great shelter to run to. We learned so much on this new operation. Variety choice is crucial. The cucumbers that worked really well outside last year were a bit too unruly for use inside the high tunnel. We spent a lot of time hunting for them amongst the tomatoes. On warm days, temperature control was very important. Getting the high tunnel opened up early in the morning so that everything didn’t cook and later in the season getting it closed down early enough to capture some for the late day heat.
And then there was the rain, and more rain, and even more rain, 31 days straight of it. Suddenly it stopped and for 22 days it didn’t rain. Unfortunately the rain came when it was critical for pollination of our squash, pumpkins and winter squash. Those crops were very short of expectation in comparison to last year. 150 pumpkins for a 500 foot row was very disappointing when last year we were over loaded.
The turnips and beets we planted didn’t produce well and we are chalking that up to the overload of early rain, too. Spinach was planted 4 times and each time it never reached its potential, but there were bright spots, too.
One Sunday we harvested 650 pounds of tomatoes. We were some of the few growers that had them for sale because many field grown tomatoes ended up with the blight due to the rainy, wet conditions. We were able to keep many of our commercial customers well supplied with beautiful tomatoes and those who can with an ample supply.
Our first year strawberries brought back taste memories. We had forgotten what a strawberry really tasted like. One bite and the flavor exploded in your mouth. Looking forward to our U-Pick strawberry crop in June 2016. The flavor is amazing!
We were grateful that Mom was willing to mind a small stand up by Rt. 50 in front of the farm and sell while we worked the fields. It was nice to have so many people stop and pick up fresh produce. If we ran out of something, we just walked into the field to pick it while they waited. We hope to continue that next year.
We got an early cold spell where temperatures dropped down as low as 25 the second weekend of October. We put row cover over our colored peppers and our lettuces in hopes they would make it. The lettuces survived, but the pepper plants didn’t. We picked 400 plus pounds of ripening red, yellow, orange, purple, and lime bell peppers in hopes to salvage what we could, but the remainder of the hot peppers froze out.
The one thing that did seem to grow in abundance were the weeds. We spent much of the summer battling them back to keep them from taking over.
Our junior farmers helped us harvest potatoes, pick strawberries and blueberries and even helped with a little weeding now and then. It is always a joy to have them on the farm with us. We are grateful that when we gather around the table and ask them where some of the items for the meal came from and they tell us, “the garden”. As generations get farther and farther from the farm, we hope that we can continue to remind these small ones the importance of knowing where their food comes from.
Lastly, we got together with several other farmers in Preston County to form a growers group. The group allowed us to pool our produce together to help fill the demand by the area schools and other businesses. If an institution needed 60 heads of lettuce and we only had 40, another grower would have the additional 20 to fill the order. This process allowed us to have a more consistent supply while still providing local, high quality, fresh produce. The group continues to expand and formalize guidelines and operating procedures.
Will Rogers once said, “The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn't still be a farmer.” We had an exceptional first year and are grateful we did as this year truly had its moments. In the end, we planted and harvested what grew, benefited from the knowledge gained and were thankful that we have the opportunity to do it again next year. We have enjoyed providing local produce to our neighbors, our schools, local restaurants and businesses. We cleaned up the fields, mulched the strawberries, and continued to harvest our root vegetables until they were gone. Now we discuss the plans for next season and look through seed catalogs to determine varieties. We will continue to work with our growers group to make sure we can continue to supply our local schools with fresh, local grown produce.
We got our first significant snow fall with Winter Storm Jonas this week. Our area saw 36 inches of snow. BJ and his side kick, our junior farmer Richard used the new snowblower to remove the deep snow that was drifting along the sides of the high tunnel and as it slid from the top. It's been reported to us that at least nine high tunnels in our area did not survive the heavy snow. We were indeed fortunate. Inside, rye is growing as a cover crop and will be tilled into the soil when we are ready, putting back needed nutrients into the soil.
We look forward to seeing those strawberries bounce back and seeing customers flock to the farm to pick them just the way they did when Debbie and Darla were young.