Farm Update: July

Results of the Spring Weather: Right up until the point fruit begins to ripen, it can be very difficult to estimate how much fruit you have on a tree. As Farmer Tim says, “Small green leaves and small green fruit.” After predicting a complete loss for peaches this year, we were pleasantly surprised to discover ten percent of our peach crop on the trees. Even though it’s still a big loss, we’re very happy to be picking ten percent of our usual peach crop. They taste even sweeter then usual! Drought: July has been a very dry month. Counties in the very Northeast corner of New York are officially experiencing a drought, while everywhere from the center of Orleans County to the East is ‘abnormally dry’. Luckily, we’re prepared to irrigate. You have to be in Western New York! A lot of our crops are planted on plastic mulch. Each row has a long line of drip tape running down the center, under the plastic. One of the most efficient irrigation methods available, drip irrigation sends a slow and steady supply of water to each plant. Since roots, drip tape and soil are protected by a covering of plastic, water lost to evaporation and weeds is minimal.

For crops such as sweet corn that are planted in traditional rows without plastic, we have overhead irrigation systems. A large spigot attached to a long thick hose shoots an arc of water with a one hundred and fifty foot range (covers 300 feet). The hose slowly retracts on a reel, watering a large area over a period of hours. Alternatively, a long line of pipe is laid in a field, with smaller spigots every twenty feet or so.  These smaller spigots rotate, shooting streams of water 40 feet long. After one section has enough water, the pipe is moved across the field to the next section. As kids, we would go out barefoot into the fields and sink up to our calves in mud to help our Dad move each section of pipe to the next area. It was pretty fun!

Unfortunately, in conditions like these, you can’t water everything every time it’s needed. Something gets missed and a season will end quicker then usual. This year the blackberries didn’t get enough water and the fruit dried up on the plant a week before the season should have ended.

The effects of drought will also show up in other places. Ears of corn might be smaller, even though they’ve been irrigated. Tomato plants stopped growing until irrigation was set up. Then, as soon as they had some water, they were off again.

“We can’t do what Mother Nature does, we can’t create a perfect rain.” says Tim Kirby. When asked what a perfect rain is, he answers, “Sometimes you get a sprinkle, which just settles the dust. You don’t want a monsoon either, because that washes the soil away.” Huge amounts of rain all at once cause ravines to form as rivers of water run down hills, and soil is washed away from plants. “What we want is a nice steady rain that goes for a few hours, about an inch of water soaking into the soil. That’s a perfect rain.”


Q&A with Farmer Tim

What’s your biggest challenge with a CSA?

Tim Kirby: “Figuring out how much to grow of each crop without being wasteful.”

What have you done differently this year?

TK: “We planted more lettuce, but the deer ate half. We have a second planting that’s ready to pick, but the loss to the deer means there was a gap between plantings. We’re also growing sweet potatoes for the first time. They’re looking good. The plants on the south end of the row are being eaten by woodchucks, but there will still be plenty of sweet potatoes.”

Any other new crops?

TK: It’s the first year we’ve ever grown onions. We have sweet, white, and yellow. We also have Callilou, a new vegetable from Jamaica.

What’s coming up later in the season?

TK: We planted purple and orange cauliflower, beets, and swiss chard for the fall, and we’re seeding broccoli every week in July. Our first broccoli harvest will happen around September 15st. A series of plantings means a longer season of broccoli in the fall.