Hey there friends! We hope that your and yours are doing well! As for us – whew have things been busy on the farm! Check out what has been going on!
April showers bring May flowers they say and we can really appreciate that since we will begin delivering Flowers by BHG on May 1st! We have planted flowers in succession on the farm to ensure that we have a steady supply of flowers ready to go! We have planted Lilies, Dahlias, Marigolds, Zinnias, Sunflowers, and Calendula just to name a few. We will continue to succession plant through the Spring to ensure we have plenty of variety for the Summer.
We plant flowers for many reasons. Primarily we want to attract and feed the pollinators. We are working hard to understand the native pollinator varieties and get them established on the property. In turn we hope the pollinators thank us by doing what they do – pollinating! We have literally changed the way we grow for them. For instance, when brassicas go to seed, we used to be quick to pull them and replant. Now we leave them to allow the bees to feed for a bit first.
Another benefit of planting various flowers is the attraction of beneficial insects. The property above ours (from which we are down hill) has a ravine that collects water. You know that this is a breeding ground for mosquitoes! Every year we fight with them as we work in the high tunnel. It is not fun. We now have added reason to be concerned due to our chickens and rabbits sharing this space with us. We have to protect them as well! Therefore this year we are hoping to get Rudbeckia varieties established that are known to attract dragonflies such as Giant Coneflower and Black-Eyed Susan. Yarrow too is a perennial on our list that also attracts the dragonfly. We are also considering planting Cattail along the perimeter separating the two properties. That plan however is still under research.
We also want to do what we can to attract ladybugs and lacewings. Fortunately, most of the herbs we usually plant yearly help out here – cilantro, fennel, thyme, and dill are all frequently visited by ladybugs. We are finding too that they love marigolds and sunflowers. Lacewings and ladybugs share a common interest in yarrow. In fact it seems all of the good guys love yarrow! I wish I had done a deep dive into this research when we first started farming because if I had many of these plants would already be established. We cannot change the past. We can only effect change to the future. Let this be a lesson to you though!
Hummingbirds too enjoy eating mosquitos. So we have been planting with them in mind. Hummingbirds are said to love red flowers so we have kept that in mind when planning things out. We already have Red Cypress growing wild all over the farm which the hummingbirds visit regularly. However, it is not in the location that is heaviest with the mosquito population. We are looking into Trumpet Honeysuckle for this purpose. We also have established Bee Balm or Wild Bergamot. Although it is not red it seems that hummingbirds enjoy it as well. We are working on a video that will go into more detail about this particular farm journey. Stay tuned for that.
If you will recall that last year we simply forgot to order sweet potato slips for the season. That was very disappointing and we were determined to not allow that to happen this year so we ordered early. We did order from a new supplier which has proven to be a problem. Our sweet potatoes as well as standard potatoes are not here YET! Needless to say we are pretty annoyed as we expected them to be here no later than mid-March which is late for us but given that we were starting behind for the season we were okay with that. However its now April! I have no idea how this is going to impact our plan for the year however at this point there is nothing we can do except remain adaptable and go with the flow. Along with the shipment of potatoes our grapes and kiwi plants have also been delayed. While the kiwi is more of an investment of time, the grapes could potentially yield fruit this season IF planted soon enough! Time will tell.
Raised Bed Issues
When we first started farming we started in pots and raised beds. Many of our raised beds are at least 4 years old. Last year we noticed some deterioration of a couple of beds and knew they would need replacing this year. Well now that the season is in full swing we have realized that more beds than we thought need replacing! This is not the time to buy wood. We have been slowly rebuilding our front and back decks/porches as hubby has had time to work on them. As we have we have noticed the prices steadily creeping up. So we are at a loss when it comes to rebuilding these raised beds at a reasonable cost.
One option that came to mind is to make the switch to modular metal raised beds. This would be a very costly investment however these beds have a 20 year life expectancy. That is appealing in itself! Another option is to stay with the wood beds and switch to a longer lasting wood like cedar. Cedar raised beds are said to last 10 – 15 years however, it too is cost prohibitive. As the season get into full swing and we are able to get back to farmers markets and increase revenue for the farm we will be in a better position to be able to address this challenge.
High Tunnel Planting
March was busy for Hoopty! We moved in a bunch of home grown compost on 3 and a half rows for planting. On those rows we planted tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and tomatillos. They are all growing very nicely. In fact we have already had to prune the tomatoes! About a week after they were pruned they started to put on blossoms. By the time this blog is published I’m sure they will have opened and there will be plenty of yellow flowers in Hoopty! Last year we harvested our first tomatoes in June but I do believe we will be a tad bit earlier this year! That is fine by me! We are growing so many new varieties this year and honestly there is a bit of nervousness with that especially since we are all out of our home canned tomato products. We are hopeful that things go well. If the health of the tomatoes at this time are any indication then I think we will be just fine!
This weekend we plan to get squash, zucchini and cucumbers set out in the high tunnel. We are planting our squash on the same side we had our Marigolds on last year. This is an adjustment but it will assist us in adding another layer of protection for our zucchini and squash. We will also be planting basil along with these cucurbits to reduce pest pressure.
Once the zucchini, squash, and cucumbers are planted the high tunnel will be nearly full! It feels so good to look at it and see all the transplants and know we grew each and every one of them from seed ourselves. We gently cared for them and nurtured them till they were ready to be set out. Now Hoopty has taken over their care. Something tells me she will do a great job!
As you can see from the above paragraphs, we really prefer to use natural means for pest control. Even though we always use organic pesticides we really prefer to NOT to use them. Our first line of defense is crop rotation. See, most of the pests we are fighting each year actually live right below the surface of the soil. They live there and instinctively lay the eggs for the next generation. In this location the generation has the best chance of having food. By using crop rotation, when the next generation of pests emerge in a particular area they will not find the desired vegetation the previous generation did. The idea is that these pests will move on out in search of their next meal thus decreasing the population of said pest in the area. If however you plant the same crop in the same location over and over it is almost asking for an infestation of some sort. We unfortunately have experienced this. However, since implementing crop rotation things have improved drastically!
Crop rotation also limits reemergence of certain fungi in much the same manner. If host crops for particular fungi are not there then the spores will decrease thus reproduction of fungus is limited. This means we do not have to add organic antifungals to our farms ecosystem. We still have yet to mention the benefits to the soil of crop rotation! It really is good practice that just takes a little planning.
We also incorporate companion planting. We plant herbs and flowers all over the farm and in the high tunnel. The idea is to throw the bugs off the trail. Some herbs and flowers throw of certain aromas that pets do no like so they avoid them! Other companion plants do just the opposite, they draw the pests. This may see counterintuitive but if the pests are on the flowers they aren’t on our valuable crops! We call that a win! Not only does this increase the biodiversity of the farm but it also adds to the beauty of the farm. We find these techniques work very well until the season get to be in full swing. By July or August, depending on pest pressure for the season, we usually have to resort to using some sort or organic pesticide in order to ensure we can harvest our Summer crops. Some crops we strive to grow early enough in the season instead of fighting with the pests later in the season. Others are so important to our pantry that we just have to put on our famer pants and fight!
What’s Growing & Harvests
We have lots of produce growing on the farm! Our Chinese celery is ready for harvest and will be harvested this weekend. Oh, and speaking of pests, our celery had a pretty intense fight with spider mites. We nearly lost the entire crop! Thankfully we caught the infestation in early enough to get it under control. Unfortunately many of the leaves have suffered damage and had to trimmed back. So while it is still celery, it is not the beautiful product we like to share with our community. As a result we will not be selling it this season. Instead we will be dehydrating it to make our celery salt and other spice blends for the year.
Onions and garlic are coming along too. We have noticed that some of our red onions are going to seed which we find quite interesting but the weather has been quite erratic. Yellow onions seem to be fine at this point. We should harvesting these next month. The garlic is looking beautiful as ever! We are excited to see if we top last years harvest!
Mustard greens have been replanted as they too have gone to seed. The new planting is growing well!
The asparagus bed has come alive and is looking amazing! The purple asparagus is obviously my favorite and what I am most excited about. This is season two for this new bed of asparagus. We will not do any real harvesting (I have to taste one or two spears) this season. Season three however should yield well for us. We realize that as much as we love asparagus we are definitely going to need to add second, larger bed at some point.
Speaking of perennials the strawberries are growing very well. We hope to have enough to make a few quarts of jam this year. We’ve gone back and forth on it and have finally decided that we will be planting a second row of strawberries on the opposite end of the high tunnel. This should increase our harvest two fold next season giving us more berries to share with our community.
As far as the chickens and rabbits, we hope to get you more updates over on our channel throughout the month!
Well that’s all folks! See you here in May with more updates!