Friday July 1
A hot day on the farm, made even hotter by the work we are doing. Our early tomato planting (1.2 acres, about 5500 plants) is at the point where we apply straw mulch between the plants and in the rows. We spent yesterday getting prepared by making the final cultivation of the field, and hauling the straw (200 plus bales) from a neighboring farm. Putting the straw down is a significant effort, since it is all hand work, but we find it to be well worth the cost and effort. The straw, conserves moisture, suppresses weed growth, keeps soil from splashing on the fruit during heavy rains and makes picking much more tolerable during wet weather. An added benefit is the organic matter that gets plowed back into the ground when the season is over. We stake and drip-irrigate all our tomatoes (early and late plantings) and have used the straw mulching technique for over 30 years. We experimented with plastic mulch for several years, and in the side by side comparison liked the straw method. Plastic promoted earlier ripening by about one week but had a number of draw backs, not the least of which was the retrieval and disposal of the mulch at the end of the season. I also like the fact that we are using a locally produced, renewable product (straw from a neighboring farm or in many years, our own) and not plastic made from imported oil. We picked the first of our peach crop today. We have just two trees of a very early variety (Harrow Diamond). It is a very nice early peach – not as sweet as the varieties we will pick as we progress in to the main season – but still so much better than the “supermarket” peaches. They will go fast at the Oxford Farmers Market Uptown tomorrow.
As I mentioned in my introduction, the peach crop will be lighter than normal due to winter freeze injury of the buds on a number of our 21 varieties – but we’ll still have a good many peaches for both our wholesale and retail customers. Peaches are a very risky crop in this area of the country. Both winter bud damage and spring frost damage can reduce or destroy a crop. This makes both site and varietal selection important. Generally the higher the orchard lies relative to the surrounding territory the better the frost and freeze protection will be. Our 350 trees are situated in three blocks of trees, and as I expected the block of trees located on the lower ground had the greatest bud loss, and the least bud hardy varieties were the hardest hit. Peaches require a lot of care and even more luck, but I love growing them and seeing the look on our Farmers Market customers when the bite into a delicious tree ripened Butler County peach. Farmers Market will be fairly simple tomorrow as we have only a few items to take along. The peaches, a few cherry tomatoes, potted herbs and fresh flower bouquets will be all we have to offer. That will change dramatically over the next few weeks as the many items we grow begin harvest. The Oxford Farmers Market Uptown is a grower’s only market – if you don’t grow it you can’t sell it. As a result, the products on market, ebb and flow with the local growing season. It’s a terrific place to direct sell and the fact that it is a grower’s only market makes it special.
Saturday – July 2
Today started at 5:45 am when we got up to go to Farmers Market in Uptown Oxford. It turned out to be a great market. We had missed all four June markets due to lack of enough product to sell. We sold everything we had except for a couple of flower bouquets. It was good being back on Market and seeing the other vendors and our great bunch of customers. We track our sales over the course of the market season (May through the end of November) and have found that increases in sales and the number of customers attending market, directly correlate with the arrival of major produce items on market (strawberries – sweet corn – peaches – tomatoes – apples and so on). The fact that we would have the first peaches of the season was posted on the Market’s web site/Market Minutes on Friday. The result was a very early line of customers at our table and a quick sell-out of the couple bushels we had.
The afternoon was spent putting down irrigation drip tape in some of the cut-flower production beds, and making the sixth tie of our small patch (400 plants) of cherry and heirloom tomatoes. They are all indeterminate varieties (meaning the vine continues to grow all season) and require pruning and tying almost weekly for three or so months. Some varieties top out at the height of our stakes/poles that are seven feet tall. After dinner we field planted a portion (kale and Brussels sprouts) of our fall vegetables. We will continue weekly planting of various vegetables and cut flowers for another six, or seven weeks. Planting tender plants in the evening, especially during the hot summer months, helps reduce the shock of transplanting. It has been a long day and I’m looking forward to tomorrow. Sundays are not totally exempt from work, but sometimes you just have to get certain things done – deal with irrigation equipment, water hoop houses and transplant trays, and so on. But as best we can, we try to keep Sundays primarily for church, family and friends.
Sunday July 3
It was “Donut Sunday” at our parish this weekend and many of the families stayed around for coffee and donuts following the 8 a.m. mass. Although our parish, Queen of Peace in Millville, is a mix of suburban and rural folks, the early Sunday Mass is attended by a fairly high percentage of farm families. I’m always fascinated listening to the conversations. It appears that farmers, even at church, can’t talk for more than two minutes without bringing up the subject of weather. I guess it just underscores how critical the weather is to most everything we do, and ultimately how good the crop year and our cash flow will, or won’t be. It doesn’t matter if its corn and soybeans, hay, vegetables and fruit like we grow, or even Christmas trees, it ultimately comes down to the weather.
After tending the drip irrigation system on our largest block of veggies and some hand watering of some recently planted veggies and flowers, we went to spend some time with Judy’s mom and dad. They recently moved into an assisted living facility (both will soon turn 93) and always look forward to Judy taking Sunday dinner. Today’s menu was “as they ordered it” pizza, salad and a homemade fruit pie (fresh homegrown peach of course). Both have a keen interest on what goes on here at the farm, and between crop updates, Dad and I discuss the Cincinnati Reds. Just before dark we got in the last (another ten trays) of this week’s fall veggie planting. It’s 11:30 pm and our neighbor’s fireworks display is ending – I think I’ll turn in for the night.