Friday, August 13, 2010

Field Walk Reveals Healthy Crops

A big part of my job here at the farm is to manage the health and happiness of crops in the field. Every week I take a tour of all the fields and monitor crops and their condition in great detail. During these field walks I generate a list of the activities necessary to keep each crop in each field doing their best. Then it's back to the office to use that information to generate the weeks job lists for each crew here at the farm.

I could not resist sharing some pictures of the Kahout field from yesterdays visit. The beans all look wonderful. We have been harvesting from the first planting for about a week and pictured here is the start of the flowering cycle for the second planting. These plants look great, healthy with a prolific flower set; I hope you are hungry for beans.
The real surprise in this field has been the vigor of our Solanaceae; the peppers, tomatoes and eggplant. Despite a terrible spring that left these plants struggling to grow in substandard temperatures with a deluge of spring rain, they have really come around. We will be harvesting peppers soon, we have already begun harvesting some cherry tomatoes and we are hopeful that the forthcoming warm weather will mean even more ripe fruit next week. I even found a few ripe eggplant.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

No Joke

A tractor walks into a bar and tells the bartender it's having clutch problems. After several beers the bartender asks the tractor if it would like another. The tractor responds " No thanks, I think I'll split". Get it? No? That's because it's really not funny.

Above you can see our John Deere 1630 "split". To replace the clutches, as well as facilitate other service work, a tractor is literally split in half. This can be done in several places. The transmission to engine split is the easiest thankfully. The most difficult part is trying to fit the two halves back together. Each weigh in at over 1500 pounds and you must carefully line up a small shaft that is fixed to the rear and fits snugly into a splined plate on the front half. Yep.

GAPs Training (do not go in the forest!!!)

I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon at a GAPs training session in Puyallup. If you are not familiar; the GAPs or "Good Agricultural Practices" are a set of federal guidelines meant to improve consumer safety. They are, like many other government generated programs, loosely based on science and firmly based on fear. That said, please understand that at this time GAPs certification is voluntary. We at Boistfort Valley Farm are positioning ourselves to implement a GAPs program in house and intend to seek third party certification in 2011. As the farm has grown we have embraced relationships with institutional customers. It is our pleasure to do business with several institutional buyers that show a very real commitment to providing nutritious food that is sourced locally to their customers. Please see my post regarding the staff at Intel:
Chefs like Kris Kamp at Intel and Maury Bennett at St. Martins have an enthusiasm for their craft that is equal to the finest Chefs in the finest restaurants.

I must report that when I speak with other small farmers these guidelines are not viewed favorably. They do carry with them a significantly increased burden of paperwork and have elements that are at odds with some sustainable practices especially regarding wildlife and rotational practices that include livestock. The guidelines would have you believe that the presence of wildlife and domestic animals on a farm are a liability, that is a bitter pill to a farm that has just spent so much energy recreating a riparian buffer that is largely geared toward increasing habitat for wildlife and spent so much money and time restoring a barn that houses barn owls and bats. Many elements of the GAPs are just good common sense and we are in favor of the formal nature of the record keeping and policies which address sanitation and cleanliness as well as monitoring of water quality.

Personally I believe that in a world with a food system that can so quickly and broadly distribute a product that is a risk to human health that GAPs are a necessary component of that system. However when it comes to a farm like ours where we can trace back a product so quickly and personally they are largely redundant. We harvest a product, wash it, box it, cool it overnight and then deliver it. We know our CSA and commercial customers by name and are present at Markets. It would be an easy task to trace a head of lettuce from the consumer to the person that packed and or picked it to the field of origin. We already keep careful detailed records as part of our farm management and are not particularly intimidated by the paperwork necessary to complete a GAPs audit. I am a bit torn on the issue of wildlife as liability, or the notion that nature is dangerous and harmful. I often leave the GAPs training exercises with the idea that food might be best grown in a laboratory setting. If what the food safety experts say is true we would have no living dairymen in this country, and truth be told we as a species are probably more at risk of injury from lowered immune system response as a result of over-sanitizing than we are of pathogens present in our food.

Please do take some time to familiarize yourself with this issue, I think we will hear more about this as time goes by and we may soon see a requirement that all farms regardless of size pass a mandatory GAPs audit. In the meantime know that we at Boistfort Valley Farm are committed to your health and to the safety and quality of our produce. We are implementing several practices that will help us to better monitor some elements of our farm in this context, as well as formalizing the practices that are already in place.

My formal spin- GAPs:

Personally-They are a neopuritanical neccesity in a world where produce is grown in unnatural quantities and shipped an unnatural distance to an unnatural number of customers with no relationship to the person that grew it.

Professionally-The health and well being of our customers is our first concern. We are committed to actively reducing the risk of food born illness in all phases of our farming operation.

Friday, June 25, 2010

In my last post from weeks ago I said I was going to introduce you to the Munroe field. Well, then it started to rain again, and again, and in between drops we hammered away at the fields and frantically seeded and transplanted. The Munroe field is our most developed right now with the exception of the home place and it shows in these pics. The field in the fore ground is full of potatoes and brassicas; broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kohlrabi. Behind that, you can see the remay which covers our third planting of beets and carrots as well as the second planting of Asian greens and radishes. Just out of sight are the corn and squash.

Here is the kale up close and personal.

On the day I took these pictures I was running the cultivating tractor, a 1948 Super A. These tractors are an indispensable component of our weed management strategy. They where originally built to replace the one horse on a one horse farm*. The steering is offset so you can see directly below you, and there are rudimentary hydraulics on the belly and rear of the tractor.

We have an arsenal of tools that attach to a tool bar under the tractor; furrowers, knives, shovels, discs, all of which serve a slightly different purpose. We furrow for planting tubers and bulbs, then cover using blades we fabricated from an old CAT blade. We run knives and sweeps between rows of plants to slice out weeds just below the soil surface.

The whole set up is called "cultivision" in the spirit of that eras use of "-O-rama" at the end of words to create a sense of wonder; weed-O-rama. I always get a chuckle out of that because cultivation days are sometimes long. It is not unusual to spend 5 or 6 ours staring down between your feet at the plants as they pass through the shovels which are passing through the soil at 2 miles an hour or so. It would be like watching sand sift through an hour glass for 5 or 6 straight hours. When you look away everything still appears to be moving in and down; you got "cultivision".

*no horses were replaced during the creation of this post

Friday, May 21, 2010

Progress in the Field

We have taken full advantage of the recent dry weather. Pictured above are our fields on the Kahout Rd. Bafaw is in the background and you can just begin to see the clouds thickening into what became the major downpour that put an end to our progress late yesterday afternoon. Patrick and I have prepped and fertilized about 38 of the 50 acres we will have in production this year. We have filled the 9 acres at the Home Place with celery and lettuces in addition to all the perennial herbs and flowers that along with the strawberries constitute a majority of the ground there.
Kahout Rd will be home to our 2010 bean crop the first planting of which is pictured above. I hope you are hungry for beans. Our onions and more celery will also go in these fields along with the Solanacea; tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and last but not least the artichokes. Below you can see the field crew planting onions. We plow, disk, fertilize and then till the ground until it is as smooth as possible then plant the onions by hand. This is probably one of the toughest jobs of the season. The crew finished in just over two long days as Patrick and I rushed to finish plowing and fertilizing the remainder of the field.
We will be planting corn and squash early next week at the Munroe Field. I will introduce you to that field then. We already have our potatoes and some brassicas; cauliflower, broccoli, and kohlrabi in there. Then we will move on to Pe Ell McDonald Rd to prep for the late brassicas and more peas and roots.

Barn is Officially Painted!!!

The barn is shown here with its finished coat of paint and trim. We will slowly build the doors over the course of the summer and hope to finish the interior floors this winter. The end is in sight...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Barn Gets Paint

Well, as I promised; one board at a time Patrick and I replaced and repaired the trim on the barn. The final stage was to rebuild and replace the damaged and missing window frames.
Then we taped her all up and Omar from MDK came back to start in on the paint. The body should be finished today and we are hopeful that the trim will be painted and dry before it starts to rain early next week.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Stop the Presses

Boistfort Valley Farm owner and noted tightwad Mike Peroni authorizes purchase of new piece of equipment.

Despite years of the term "new equipment" meaning a rusty old piece of iron that had never been on the property before, and to the disbelief of local residents and coworkers, an actual new implement has been purchased by Boistfort Valley Farm. The new transplanter arrived in early April and I finished assembly late last night, then reassembled all the parts I had put on after my bed time this morning. The shiny red planter is sitting outside the office right now waiting for the weather to clear a bit so we can take it for a spin.

This transplanter was purchased to replace the old unit we have been running for years. That old unit will not be decommissioned, but rather used for a few select crops for which it is best suited. The new N-E-W transplanter features several improvements. It has a carousel which rotates instead of fingers that grip the plants. This system of delivery allows one person to do the work of two. The new units also float independent of one another and will allow us to more accurately plant on uneven ground. Because the new transplanter can be set on a much closer row spacing it will also allow us to cultivate more accurately, and last but not least it comes complete with tanks and a delivery system that will give each seedling a shot of water and liquid fertilizer as it is being planted. That will significantly reduce our water and fertilizer usage and the labor of having to follow each transplanting with irrigation from overhead sprinklers. Please also note the Ferrari red paint, the foam seats, the little windshields for the plants (I didn't think the thing was THAT fast) and the provocative name.....the Mechanical 5000WD. Boy howdy.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Neither rain nor snow....

Despite some of the nastiest April weather I have ever seen we continue to make progress on the barn. MDK has finished their part of this phase of the project. They replaced missing and damaged siding and have replaced the shingles at both gable ends.The east end was a real challenge. It seemed that between the pitch of the roof and the windows and vents that nearly every shingle had to be cut and fit into place.

Patrick and I have been following the crew from MDK and replacing trim and wrap to prepare for paint. Oh, and did I mention that we also hand scraped every surface of this building setting nails to secure the trim as we went? Patrick and I have set lofty goals for our performance and regardless of weather will not quit until at least one board is placed every day; some days are longer than others.

When you look at some of the photos from before we lifted and straightened the building it is difficult to believe that we even took this project on. We are delighted with the outcome and everyone is looking forward to seeing the paint go on.

Hard to believe it is the same barn.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Back at it on the Barn

Shortly after the first of March MDK came back and started replacing the missing and damaged siding on our barn, then moved on to removing the damaged shingles at the gable ends.
We tried unsuccessfully to acquire more grant monies to complete the barn project. We met this winter with our employees and I pitched a number of different projects for the farm to pursue this season. Everyone got behind completing the barn. With limited funds available I begged and pleaded with the contractors, and volunteered myself and dedicated some field crew to try and get the exterior finished. While MDK replaces the shingles we scrape and replace siding and trim.

MDK finished the East gable today and we have prepped the North and South sides for paint. By the end of next week if the weather cooperates the old girl should have a fresh coat of paint to match the house.

Against my Better Judgement

Well, despite the fact that I have been a hold out against season extension, and have always advocated shortening the season to a point that we actually only farm for a week to ten days in the middle of September, after the heat of summer has passed, I was finally prodded into erecting some inexpensive cold frames. We set PVC pipe at 8 foot intervals and have covered roughly 8000sq feet.

First we prepped and fertilized the beds, then we planted out early lettuce and green onions. Everybody got in on it; some planting, some tilling, others setting posts and anchors and still others building sand castles.
The design borrows heavily from a Kentucky County Extension design and gains most of its strength from the use of earth anchors and rope. Thank you Tim Coolong for your help and your patience.
I have to admit I am pleased with how the structures turned out and excited to see how well they work for early crops and even more so how they will help with some of the heat loving crops that we just barely get away with in the North West like tomatoes and peppers.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Here we go Again

Well here we go again. I have not posted for some time, in part because many of the activities here at the farm over winter are less than exciting. We meet a lot, we set schedules, order seeds, define and refine job descriptions, make tons of copies, meet some more, brainstorm, perform maintenance on equipment, create budgets, meet some more, evaluate employees, reorganize, refine our safety program, attend meetings (meet some more), create advertising, stare and compare the farms performance relative to years past, then meet some more.

Then suddenly one day we seed in the greenhouse. Then, usually in mid February we get some unseasonably warm weather and all of a sudden it feels like spring. Our greenhouse is starting to overflow with plants, we will begin moving flats to greenhouse 2 this week. Patrick and I could not stand it and went out and seeded some early greens, then went back and seeded an early planting of roots; beets and carrots. We often experience less than ideal germination followed by weather that makes these early seedings impossible to manage successfully but our fingers are crossed. Everything in the field is nesteled under a layer of row cover and early indications show much better germination than expected. We have weeded the perennials and garlic and have a good jump on early cultivation. Yesterday I signed with our house contractor and this week we will begin prepping the barn for paint. We will be repairing and or replacing all the exterior trim and siding and should be painting late this month or early next; more on that as it happens.

Above you can see Boistfort peak sporting a dusting of snow this morning. Local lore dictates that you not plant a garden until there is no snow on Bawfaw. But well, I never have been a good listener.

Thomas Jefferson on Agriculture

Having spent a full half hour trying to craft a clever introduction to the following quotes, I give up. They stand alone; thoughtful, timely and inspiring.

"The class principally defective is that of agriculture. It is the first in utility, and ought to be the first in respect. The same artificial means which have been used to produce a competition in learning, may be equally successful in restoring agriculture to its primary dignity in the eyes of men. It is a science of the very first order. It counts among it handmaids of the most respectable sciences, such as Chemistry, Natural Philosophy, Mechanics, Mathematics generally, Natural History, Botany. In every College and University, a professorship of agriculture, and the class of its students, might be honored as the first. Young men closing their academical education with this, as the crown of all other sciences, fascinated with its solid charms, and at a time when they are to choose an occupation, instead of crowding the other classes, would return to the farms of their fathers, their own, or those of others, and replenish and invigorate a calling, now languishing under contempt and oppression. The charitable schools, instead of storing their pupils with a lore which the present state of society does not call for, converted into schools of agriculture, might restore them to that branch qualified to enrich and honor themselves, and to increase the productions of the nation instead of consuming them." (TJ to David Williams, L&B.10.429-30)

And another thing:

"Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever He had a chosen people, whose breasts He has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue. It is the focus in which he keeps alive that sacred fire which otherwise might escape from the face of the earth. Corruption of morals in the mass of cultivators is a phenomenon of which no age nor nation has furnished an example." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.XIX, 1782. ME 2:229

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Boistfort Valley Farm Voted Wildlife Habitat Steward of the Year

Boistfort Valley Farm has been recognized by the Lewis County Conservation District for our efforts to enhance diversity and maintain habitat for wildlife here on the farm. We have been working with the Conservation District to plant and maintain a riparian buffer bordering the South Fork of the Chehalis where it flows through the property. The Conservation District has provided us a grant which reimburses us for the trees and labor, as well as provides incentives for the ongoing maintenance of the project. It has been a very real pleasure to work with this organization. It was a hoot to attend their recent Board meeting, and an honor to sit in a room full of such dedicated local farmers and others.

Apart from being instrumental in facilitating this project, the Conservation District is an excellent resource for information and grant funding of other projects. They provide information, technical services and cost share opportunities for projects which keep land and water healthy and productive. Their services are available to farms and forestry concerns of any size. The Conservation district works in partnership with a host of other County, State and Federal entities such as; Farm Services, USDA, Fish and Wildlife, the Forest Service, and the Department of Ecology.

I would also like to thank the Conservation District of Lewis County at this time for their help and support after the flooding of 2007. Through a special appropriation, the Conservation District offered reimbursement for expenses to repair and replace irrigation equipment, to replace perennial plants, and to clear and rehabilitate lands damaged by flooding on the farm.
Thank you.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Back to Work

Once back we celebrated the New Year at the local Grange with a potluck, music and dancing.

Then we set to work on the seed order. We have always done this at the dining room table with seed catalogues spread everywhere, notes from last year and lots of snacks. It is about a three day affair to complete the order and Heidi is inside faxing and phoning in the orders today.

In the mean time we service and maintain our tractors and field trucks, inspect and repair the delivery vehicles and generally go through all our equipment and facilities and effect the repairs for which a hectic summer schedule does not allow the time.

Last but not least, operating on the premise that man does not live by bread alone, I have dropped a high performance motor in my old 1967 Ford pickup. This motor, combined with an antiquated chassis and running gear makes for a profoundly dangerous combination of horsepower and poor handling and braking. The gentleman who built the motor suggests that I only use the truck to go to the store. I look forward to the challenges and eventual outcome of a project of this nature. I have had this truck since I was 25 and will endeavor to restore it in stages over the next year or two. More later.

Christmas in Pennsylvania

It feels as though we just got back to Washington, though we returned from visiting family just before the first of the year. Heidi, Natty and I spent a full two weeks visiting family in Pennsylvania for the Christmas holiday. While we were there we "got dumped on"; over 8 inches of snow in my sister's neighborhood outside Pottstown.

We went sledding.

Built a snow man.

Baked cookies for Pop Pop....

and of course, opened presents and exchanged gifts with family and friends.