Are birds damaging our apples?

What’s doing this to our apples?

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For weeks, we’ve been finding cavities dug out of our young apples, often with some kind of rot starting within the excavation. We don’t find any insects or caterpillars inside the  cavities, nor any frass. Generally the cavities have smaller wounds nearby. This damage devastated the fruit on our William’s Pride tree, damaging over half the fruit. As they were nearly ripe, we were able to carve around and eat some of the damaged fruits, but still lost a lot of apples. About the time the William’s Prides were gone, the same thing started happening on the two nearby Liberty trees, a worse loss because Liberty doesn’t ripen until September, so the fruits are way too underripe to eat. Not being able to identify any insect behavior linked to this has been maddening, until a belated two-part aha moment cleared things up. Continue reading

Dropping organic certification, part III

Our farm has been certified organic for 5 of its 7 years in business, including our transition from a market & restaurant focus to a CSA, but we’ve decided to drop our certification for 2014 and the forseeable future, effective March 15. This decision has been developing for a long time, and was the topic of countless hours of discussion over the last year. This is the third of three posts in which we attempt to discuss and explain some of the myriad experiences and reasons behind this decision, though we can’t possibly cover everything.

PART III: The benefits of dropping certification Continue reading

Dropping organic certification, part II

Our farm has been certified organic for 5 of its 7 years in business, including our transition from a market & restaurant focus to a CSA, but we’ve decided to drop our certification for 2014 and the forseeable future, effective March 15. This decision has been developing for a long time, and was the topic of countless hours of discussion over the last year. This is the second of three posts in which we attempt to discuss and explain some of the myriad experiences and reasons behind this decision, though we can’t possibly cover everything.

PART II: Some of our specific concerns and problems with certification Continue reading

Dropping organic certification, part I

Our farm has been certified organic for 5 of its 7 years in business, including our transition from a market & restaurant focus to a CSA, but we’ve decided to drop our certification for 2014 and the forseeable future, effective March 15. This decision has been developing for a long time, and was the topic of countless hours of discussion over the last year. Over the next three posts, we’ll attempt to discuss and explain some of the myriad experiences and reasons behind this decision, though we can’t possibly cover everything.

PART I: Some of our concerns with the USDA Organic system as a whole

Continue reading

Early April farm happenings

Spring has finally arrived in our valley, and with vigor. In just the past week of warm weather, an intense flush of green growth has invigorated the grasses, weeds and wildflowers everywhere we look. Lots of spring birds are arriving, while a diverse chorus of frogs provides background ambiance.  The very slow start to spring pushed our outdoor work far behind as we waited for the soil to dry & warm. Finally, last week’s dry spell allowed us to undertake a marathon week of bed prep, seeding, transplanting, and more, exhausting ourselves thoroughly while enjoying finally moving forward with the growing season. This important work was cut off by the recent swath of strong storms which dumped over 2″ of rain, very heavy at times, and caused various problems with flooding and erosion (with minimal problems in the growing area, but roads especially aren’t pretty). And, of course, this once again slows down our planting & seeding plans while we wait for things to dry out.  We  could really use a nice, long stretch of pleasant weather, however unlikely that is in a typical Missouri April (the upcoming forecast has repeated rounds of rain again). Read on for some photos of early spring on the farm, and a glimpse of the first new crops of the year. Continue reading

How trees affect garden & farm crops in drought

When assessing all the ways that extreme drought affects crops, a subtle factor to consider is the impact of tree roots on the water supply available to nearby plants. While gardeners and farmers tend to think of trees primarily in terms of shade (as competitors for sun), under these extreme drought conditions trees can become serious competitors for water, too. We’re seeing signs of this on our farm, and suspect many farmers & home gardeners are too without even realizing it. Continue reading

A diversified vegetable farm in drought

As of July 17th, our portion of central Missouri is now officially in “extreme drought“. The National Weather Service expects most of the Midwest’s drought to “persist or intensify” through October. All of Missouri has now been declared a “disaster area“, with lots of hands being wrung about the real and potential crop losses for corn & soy farmers. Of course, very little attention is being paid to the state of things on other kinds of farms, like local dairies, orchards, and vegetable farms. So here’s a visual tour of the conditions on our farm, all photos taken July 18. It may surprise some folks how good many things look, and this is something to consider when reading about all the financial support given to commodity farms while the work it takes to achieve our relative stability & success is ignored by the government. This post certainly won’t cover everything we have planted, but it gives a good sense of the overall vegetable status, leaving out our pastures which are in far worse shape (but still somewhat greener than many that we’ve seen in the region). And we’re increasingly worried we’re reaching a tipping point where things really do start to go downhill regardless of our efforts. Continue reading

Garlic oddities 2012: Is the weather messing with our heads?

This year marks our sixth garlic harvest at Chert Hollow Farm. Overall, garlic has been one of our most reliable crops, and it was a signature item at our market stand. We had some nervous moments a couple years back when we first discovered onion root maggots in the crop. This pest problem continues, but the levels of loss are generally acceptable, and our fingers and noses can usually detect heads that have gone bad before sale or distribution.This year some new concerns and oddities developed in the garlic crop. We suspect that these oddities are weather related, and we’ll describe our observations and reasons for coming to this conclusion. We’d love to hear if other growers saw similar features this year; we know of at least one in the region who has. In spite of this year’s strangeness, garlic will probably retain its “most reliable crop” status, but we’re very glad we’re distributing it through CSA rather than selling each head individually on its own merit at a farmers market this year.

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Veggie to-do list, early May

Gears shift in May. Cool-weather crops are in the ground and growing or being harvested. These need maintenance: weeding, mulching, and/or watering, depending on conditions. But the hot-weather crops begin to take center stage in terms of attention. The greenhouse is packed with tomato and pepper transplants that have grown remarkably fast this year. We’re still prone to get frost in our valley through mid-May; we’ve had light frosts at that time for about the last three years. Various questions include: Are we done with frost? And will that next round of storms in the forecast bring hail? Is it better to procrastinate and put incrementally more stress on already big transplants to get safely through one more storm, or is it better to get them in the ground just a bit earlier where they’ll be happier so long as they don’t immediately get pounded by torrential rain or pummeled by hail? How many plants can we protect with sheets if we do end up with a frost threat? We spend a lot of time looking at weather forecasts & long-range models, especially at this time of year. A couple days ago, the National Weather Service was showing 6-10 day and 8-14 day outlooks that showed a high probability of warm. As I initially wrote this on Apr. 30, that forecast window started to trend towards chilly. Sigh. Update: We decided to put the first planting of tomatoes out on May 1 & 2, hopefully for the best. A partial to-do list for early May follows. Continue reading

When crops bolt

Farmers and their crops sometimes have different goals in mind. Even for highly domesticated crops, the primary biological imperative is still to reproduce, and thus to produce seeds. This is great when the seed is the crop (corn, peas, beans), not a problem when it’s part of the crop (tomatoes, peppers, squash), of no concern when the crop reproduces vegetatively (potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes), but a problem for many leafy or root crops (greens, radishes). When the latter start going to seed, the process is called bolting, and it can radically alter the flavor and.or texture of the edible portion of the plant. Continue reading