Tuesday, July 5, 2011

June 2011 Crop Mob (Red Tail Farm)- Recap & Photos!

In 2011, Ithaca celebrated the Solstice with thanks for rain and cool breezes. The overly wet spring had given way to a June drought as temperatures climbed into August-level highs before abating. Here in early July, the weather forecast suggests we may be looking forward to another hot, dry spell. Summer, with its gifts and curses, is here! And so are the veggies (we give great thanks to the farmers for tending them when the rain wouldn't come): lettuces, broccoli, collards, kale, chard, mustard greens, garlic scapes, and our first taste of cucumbers, basil, and zucchini. Rhubarb and strawberries have come and gone, to be substituted (but never replaced, of course) with cherries and raspberries, serviceberries and mulberries. I'll be especially looking forward to the blueberry crop coming shortly after, after all the hours the crop mob has spent this year in near-worship, kneeling in front of those acid-loving bushes.
A rare, almost-ripe blueberry...

 On June 26th, the crop mob gathered at Red Tail Farm in Trumansburg to labor for the second time in the service of the blueberry. Red Tail is a small family farm (the only workers are its owners, Teresa Vanek and Brent Welch) on 30-35 tillable acres in its 11th year. Prior to Brent and Teresa's stewardship, the land was a conventional corn farm and the soil was greatly diminished in quality. The new owners set to work improving the soil with cover crops and staked out a 1/4 acre garden and have expanded a little bit more every year. Now their organic (uncertified) operation includes veggies, small fruit, chickens, and bees; they also lease 30 acres yearly to an organic grain grower. 

Red Tail's ~400-bush blueberry patch is in its 6th year. The farm doesn't have naturally acidic soil, so Teresa and Brent primed the site with peat moss and sulphur. They haven't done anything else to their soil since, and the plants seem to be doing well - the farmers passed on the word that as long as organic matter in the soil is high, the acid-loving plants will do fine with little more than the initial amendment. The patch, though healthy, needed some rehabilitation. Unfenced, the lower bushes have been chomped in the winter by hungry deer (a fence is planned for the near future), and weeds had crowded them out. Our task was to clear out those weeds and cover the rows with woodchip mulch to give the bushes some room. First we removed black landscape fabric and drip irrigation tubes, then we weeded around the bushes and spread mulch 6" deep around and in between the plants.

Brent did a quick demo of proper weeding and mulching procedure:
Weeding around the plants
Deer-bitten bushes get a nice, deep coat of mulch.
And off we went!
Off to the woodchip pile! We broke into pairs to mulch together.
Brent adding composted chicken manure to berry plants to boost organic matter.
Lawnmowing around the berries... with ear protection, of course!
Yayoi, Michael, the Wrays, and others weeded upper rows while they waited for mulch.
The mulch pile before...
...and after!
An old rock pile gets moved...
...and repurposed for pothole repair.

Jing and two very affectionate dogs!

Yuuki eats a precious ripe blueberry... he said he found a few!

4 hours later: much happier blueberry bushes!

Four hours and 16 pairs of hands later, we had made 12 rows (300 plants) at least 5 times happier. According to Brent and Teresa, an acre of about 1000) blueberry plants can produce 3 tons of fruit at peak production. That means the blueberries we mulched could produce as much as 1,800 pounds of fruit this year!

After a very tasty lunch of chili (+ grilled cheese sandwiches for some) in their straw bale house while it rained briefly outside, we got a tour of Red Tail.

Very lush Savoy cabbages (right) and artichokes (left)!
Brent: "Everything grows better under row covers." If he had the choice, he said, he would put everything under one. Cover crops grow in between the rows.
Raspberries in the hoophouse are totally luxuriant in comparison to the ones outside... we shared a handful of the juicy berries.
Rye field with chicken coop in the background
Noisy chickens!
We also saw bee hives, an orchard (with herbs growing underneath), and lots of cover crops in action.

Thanks so much to Teresa and Brent for hosting the crop mob and sharing their farm with us! The next crop mob will be July 16th at Sweet Land Farm for a suite of midsummer farm tasks. Email ithacacropmob@gmail.com to get more information. See you on the farm!

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