Watch as Farmers Grow

2015 Second Year, Element Focus – Summary

March 9th, 2016 | Posted by JacobThies in Crop Care - (Comments Off on 2015 Second Year, Element Focus – Summary)

Crop Care Season Summary 2015

Second Year Element Focus – Summary



Crop care is at the core of everything we do at North Slope Farm. Once a crop is in the ground, it falls under the jurisdiction of the “crop care manager,” thus all perennials and annuals need attention, care, and time devoted to ensure we’ve created an environment that promotes plant health and vigor.

I took on Crop Care as my focus element because I wanted to be an “advocate” for our plants. This text is taken directly from my Second Year Focus Introduction:

After deliberating over a few different elements, I choose crop care as my focus for the 2015 season for multiple reasons: it’s importance to the farm operation, how it was overlooked at times during the 2014 season (only due to not having someone dedicated to this element), an opportunity to be an advocate for the crops, and ultimately to gain an intimate understanding of how best to efficiently manage the crops in conjunction with worker hours.

Crop Care is intuitively important to the day-to-day farm operation. Intuitively, when you put a living organism into the ground, it needs attention and care for it to thrive. When weed pressure exists, it’s obvious to pull those weeds that inhibit growth of the crop. When drought conditions arise, you must get water to your crops to allow them to grow. Less subtle reasons exist also: making sure crops are protected from pests, covering crops with fabrics to prevent frost damage during colder months, preparing beds in a manner to minimize the need for costly (time and money) hand labor, and accumulating the materials needed to make all of these endeavors a success.

2014 was my first introduction to farming on a market-level scale. At the end of the day, the season was a success and my time learning and growing at North Slope was beyond measurement. Though, being my first year, it was an introduction. With that perspective in mind, and when I critically reflected on the season, it occurred to me that our crops were, at times, overlooked. Simply put: without somebody’s direct focus on Crop Care, the element was laid on the shoulders of the Farm Manager – someone who has the entire farm and all of the core elements on the front and back of his mind at all times.

To measure success, I must first define success within the context of a North Slope apprenticeship. For myself and the farm operation, I would define a season’s success as a season that continues to fulfill our markets full of local organic produce and great learning and growth. With that definition in mind, I’d call this season a success. We maintained our status quo by fulfilling markets with our core crops, but we also tested (and brought back) some techniques that helped suppress weeds, retain precious soil fertility (I think), and also brought a valuable product to our community that promotes vitality, both ecologically and socially.


Monitoring rainfall and the moisture levels of our production fields was a constant activity throughout the season. Early in the season, we set moisture level gauges in the ground, and, at the beginning of each week, I would take a field walk to measure the ground water saturation. If the ground was saturated, we’d let it be and wait to irrigate. If the gauge read dry, we knew it was in need of irrigation. In the beginning of the season, this proved to be a helpful tool to wrap one’s mind around the specific soil conditions here at NSF and how to recognize moisture levels better. As the season progressed, I stopped using the gauges for two reasons: work piled upon work and we were constantly occupied with other tasks besides moving gauges to new production fields and rainfall became less frequent and an established irrigation rotation was set in place. That being said, the gauges are effective. If you needed a more concrete way of determining if a crop needs irrigation, these gauges give quick, accurate readings.

We went through two major drought periods this season. The first coming early from the end of April all the way up until the first week in June.

The second dry spell was more typical and ran from the end of July through the beginning of September. There were a couple < ½” rains during this stretch, but it was never enough to spell the drought and saturate the hot, dry ground. Mechanical cultivation meant driving in a plume of dust. When you’d scrape your boot across the furrowed fields, you’d kick up fine particles of dust into the air. It was dry. And, naturally, the drought occurred during peak season with multiple fields in production, Farmhouse Gothic loaded with tomatoes, HT1 packed with flowers, Ralph’s House full of delicate strawberries, the corner garden full of onions, and some pesky strawberries/prolific peppers/eggplants/peppers and flowers in plastic out at the 579.

Looking back through the irrigation and rainfall log over both of these long drought periods, there wasn’t a minute during the work week (and sometimes weekends and nights) where irrigation was not flowing. This meant devising a plan. At first, the plan was written on paper. As the season progressed and our harvests became more rhythmic, I simply handled the irrigation first thing in the morning and right after lunch. I’d try to get two blocks on each day for five hours each. In the past, we’d typically irrigate for four hours, but because the ground was so dry, we found it took five hours to get full irrigation coverage – especially the furrows. Staying organized and devising a plan, whether on paper or mentally, for the week was absolutely necessary in order to stay on top of the constant activity.

A few odds and ends to mention:

  • Using the weed whacker, aggressively scalping the ends of the BGB beds (point where the sub main and lines attach) is well worth the extra time and effort. If you are managing crop care and taking off lines, reattaching lines, moving lines, it makes your job much, much easier. Dealing with irrigation can be irritating at times, and it only intensifies when there is constant debris in the way.

  • Always load up your irrigation bucket with essentials: hex driver, end caps, extra valves, 1” male x male connects, hose clamps, and at least one extra 1” female quick connects. And if you pick up a piece that is broken, don’t leave it in the bucket. Toss it.

  • Carry a good belt tool. I used my belt tool more times than I could count. Broken valve? Belt tool. Need to make a cut in the line? Belt tool. Valve stuck in the sub main and can’t get the leverage to pull it out? Belt tool.


Fencing is an important topic to consider as deer are as abundant in this area of New Jersey as any other place in the country. We use a welded poly wire electrical fence that, in most places, stands approximately 6’ tall. Early in the season, we had to make some simple repairs to the market garden fence (Veg A, B, and C). Some lines had fallen in the winter. Some posts came loose from the heave ho of winter ground. TH and JT pulled the ATV with a trailer full of fine gravel around to all the posts. If the post was loose by hand, we’d pull it out, add in some gravel, reset the post, one of us would stand on the ATV for leverage and pound the post into the ground with a sledgehammer while the other would brace the post. Finally, we’d add more gravel around the base and tamp it firm into the ground.

About a month later, during my first market garden mow, I hit the NW corner post with the Ferris roll bar and knocked it out of the ground. After a few shoddy repairs, the fence line held in place, though odds are it will need to be touched up again after the ground freezes and thaws a few times. Corner posts are a topic to consider here. The corner posts are subject to some serious tension, therefore they must be braced and supported properly otherwise the post will fall over from the pull of the electrical wired fence line.

Speaking of corner posts, there were a couple involved repairs in CSE field. We replaced the NW & SW corner posts with new posts and restrung the electrical fence wire. We also completely repaired the CSE gate as it was in disarray at the start of the season. All signs point to repairing the north east gate on the market garden fence line for 2016.


Farming takes an initial influx of capital to purchase materials necessary to make the farm go. At North Slope, we need new supply of drip tape, drip tube, 1” sub-mains, fittings, valves, gauges, woven ground cloth.

Looking back on what we purchased and what we have left in stock, I feel confident that we bought just the right amount of everything we needed.

Salad Mix:

Salad Mix, when done efficiently, is a very fruitful enterprise. The limiting factor here is weed control. The amount of time our crew spends hand weeding is critical. For instance, I project that NSF can increase our profit up to $3,500 by utilizing a two week stale seed bed and flame weeding and/or covering our stale seed bedded BGBs with black woven fabric combination. For the last two months of the season, we’ve employed these techniques with success except for one succession. Because we missed our stale seed bed and flame weed window, we spent 16 hours of hand labor to save each bed. This shows how critical it is to be one step ahead of your planting dates. When you can knock back the initial flush of weeds and seed directly into a clean bed without stirring up other weed seeds, you are going to see an immense difference.

Without flame weeding or covering the beds with woven fabric, we are looking at a minimum of 8 hours and up to 16 hours of hand weeding. If we eliminate those hours, we can save anywhere from $80 to $160 per bed. Because we cut from 22 beds of lettuce, over the course of the season those numbers translate into a savings of $1,760 and upwards of $3,520.

Nothing here is ground breaking technology, though sometimes numbers speak louder than words. In order to shore up more time for other NSF projects, to limit the amount of time hand weeding, and to save a substantial amount of money, every BGB should be stale seed bedded and flame weeded before seeding.


Our BGBs are carrot growing machines. Early in the season, before we got our flame weeder operational, our first line of defense after germination was the scuffle hoe. Scuffle hoeing does a great job attacking the weeds in-between our rows, but the limiting factor is how close you can get to the crop without destroying it. No matter how close you get, you’ll still end up with a significant amount of hand weeding to knock back weeds and create a habitat fit for adolescent carrot growth.

Herein lies the beauty of the flame weeder. Carrots are slow germinating crops, days slower than the weed seed bank that lives within the friendly confines of our BGBs. Our method to weed control in the BGBs is to prep the beds, wait until the first of the weed seeds start to germinate, then flame weed them. If it’s in a dry time of year, we will irrigate the beds to promote weed growth, then once weed seeds germinate, we flame them. It’s quick and incredibly effective way of weed management without disturbing the soil which promotes more weed growth.

Favorable Furrows:

For a second year, NSF utilized a minimal-till method of growing our crops in a manner we’ve coined “Favorable Furrows” where instead of plowing the entire field then bed forming, we simply rip a total of 14-16 furrows with a single shank and plant directly into them. This method provides a series of unique challenges to crop care management. We took to lightly tilling (top 2-3” of soil) up to the edge of our crops. This knocked back germinated weeds and kept the pathways under control. It’s effective, but the general feel is we’re still trying to hone the most effect troupe of weed management strategies for the furrows.

Field Tomas:

We grew our field tomatoes in favorable furrows once again. Trellised with metal and wood stakes (in succession like this: M w w M w w M w w M, etc.), we string tomato twine along each side to keep the plants upright. Instead of pruning the majority of suckers, we clipped up the vines on the existing trellis. We laid a heavy application of mulch on the southern two or three beds, but to save us time, we choose not to do so for the remaining tomato beds. On the macro scale, it seemed this did not affect our crop production. As a crew, we went into the tomato field one time for a serious afternoon of hand weeding, but beyond that, time managing the tomato crop weed pressure was minimal.

Backpack Sprayer:

By mid-summer, we had flea beetle, Japanese beetle, leaf miner, and cabbage worm problems on our young leafy greens. After stripping the infected leaves without the results we had hoped, we decided to spray OMRI approved Entrust SC. With a 3 gallon backpack, we added the appropriate ratio of Entrust and added fish emulsion into the mix as a foliar fertilizer. The spraying was always done early in the morning with NSF crew member wearing the appropriate safety gear. After spraying, the results were extreme, as the population of pests were knocked back and our crops were saved.


I could write on and on about the 2015 Crop Care season focus, as it played a significant part in almost every facet of the day-to-day operations at North Slope Farm. Focusing on Crop Care allows one to immerse oneself in the intimate rhythms of tending crops, soils hydration and fertility, insect hatchings, and on and on. For me personally, the experience was rich with autonomy and gave me the space to test my fledgling understanding of the state of small scale agriculture in New Jersey.

Second Year Focus: Crop Care

March 13th, 2015 | Posted by JacobThies in Crop Care - (Comments Off on Second Year Focus: Crop Care)

JT – 3/6/15

Second Year Focus Introduction: Crop Care

Crop care is a major element throughout day-to-day life on the farm. Once seeds are sown or seedlings planted, they need attention, care, and tending. As with anything biological, certain conditions produce healthier lives for the living organism, and our crops at North Slope are no different.

After deliberating over a few different elements, I choose crop care as my focus for the 2015 season for multiple reasons: it’s importance to the farm operation, how it was overlooked at times during the 2014 season (only due to not having someone dedicated to this element), an opportunity to be an advocate for the crops, and ultimately to gain an intimate understanding of how best to efficiently manage the crops in conjunction with worker hours.

Importance to the farm operation: 

Crop care is imperative. Once the crops are in the ground, they need attention in order for them to thrive. Plant vigor comes with providing the crop with the most optimum opportunity to excel, and to do that, we must control to the best of our abilities the moisture levels (especially during drought-like conditions), weed pressure, cold weather barriers, and pest control. Questions that will arise that must be dealt with: best irrigation practices, best cultivation practices, timing of cultivations, and pest protections.

Overlooking Crop Care in 2014:

During my first season at NSF, I felt there were a couple case studies that were stark reminders to me of the importance of crop care. During our carrot harvests, we had some beds that yielded 100 lbs and others that were closer to 500 lbs. Same size beds. Incredible variety in yields. After discussions as a crew, it seemed highly likely that the difference in yields came down to a the consistency of irrigation. The second case study was the lack of vigor our field tomatoes showed. They produced a lot of fruit, but the plants never truly grew with much vigor. This, too, could be attributed to a lack of focus on getting irrigation to the crops when they needed it the most. Without someone focused on crop care as their element, irrigation and weed pressure (especially in the carrots) were overlooked. From these first hand experiences, I grew convinced that crop care is an incredibly important element on the farm.

Crop advocacy: 

Which leads me to the reason why I chose crop care as my element. As the Crop Care Manager, I will lead the charge for making the environment more ideal for our crops in the ground. Having someone on the farm focused on crop advocacy should bring more awareness to the day-to-day needs (immediate and long term) of the crops in ground.

Managing crop care efficiently: 

In order to manage crop care efficiently, I’ll be using the Crop Care Task List created by Kyle to be filled out during a weekly field walk. In this field walk, I plan to make notes on crop care issues to take on for the week, and will translate those notes onto the chalkboard in the office to share with the crew. This will allow us to stay on top of weed pressure by scuffle hoeing in the BGBs at the right time, allowing us to attempt different cultivation methods in the Field Favorable Furrows, and, hopefully, get out the flame weeder to kill off early annual weeds in our carrot beds. Open communication is crucial in order to manage any element of the farm efficiently.

Field Favorable Furrows: 

One aspect of the farm operation that will be applied in-full this year is the use of North Slope’s minimal tillage technique colloquially known around NSF as Field Favorable Furrorws. The technique to cultivating our crops with the FFF hasn’t totally been set in stone, but I project that we will continue to utilize the technique developed last year. Last year, after we planted into our furrows, to cultivate in order to suppress weeds, we would run the BCS in-between the rows as close to the plants as possible in order to both kill newly germinated weeds and to chop up the remaining cover crop. I believe we ran the BCS a second time and also hand weeded by crawling up and down the rows on our hands and knees extracting the weeds.

I would like to try and incorporate the wheel hoe into the mix. I think the first cultivation should be with the BCS in order to break up cover crop, but the second cultivation pass could be tried with the wheel hoe. The hand weeding for the third cultivation was relatively quick and efficient.

Ripping Furrows

Flame Weeding the Carrot Beds: 

When our carrots are given the right environment to thrive in our BGBs, they exist in that space as if they were made for it. In order to create that perfect environment, we must focus on two obstacles: getting the carrots an appropriate amount of irrigation and to suppress the weed pressure early before the Galinsoga fights for BGB supremecy. This season, I believe we should implement the flame weeder as a major tool in our carrot growing arsenal. If we can knock back the weeds early, we’ll bank on getting the carrots established before the weeds. Once the second set of annual weeds begins to germinate a few weeks later, the already established carrots will give us an easy framework in which to scuffle hoe around.

Tasks and Responsibilities: 

Irrigation – Crop Care Element requires constant attention to irrigation, especially during drought like conditions during peak summer. A constant rotation schedule should be put in place in order to accommodate all BGBs, greenhouses, and fields.

Mulching – Some crops (tomatoes) receive straw mulch to suppress weed pressure and to cover the soil to dissuade slash back onto the crops.

HT1 first tomas 2014

Weed Control – Crops perform best when weeds are knocked down in their early stages. Observe best time to cultivate, and get crew on board to accomplish the task. Using scuffle hoes, flame weeders, hand weeding, and the BCS down the paths of the Favorable Furrows.

Pest Control – Looking for both rodent and insect damage, and, if damage is noted, take appropriate action to alleviate damage. With rodents, prevention is key. We’ll try to keep up to speed on mowing pathways of the BGBs and making sure the electric fences are in working order and charged over night. Last fall, we lost most of our collards and kale due to a major aphid infestation. This year we’ll try to combat that using a light weight, light permeable insect netting to quell aphid pressure.

Trellising – Making sure plants are able to be supported as they grow vertically. Having clips, tomato twine, wooden and metal stakes, and trellising for peas.

Frost protection – Laying out hoops, applying remay, and securing them with sandbags during the first few months and last couple months to fight off potential frost damage to crops.


As a small crew, it will be imperative to stay on top of our crop care and handle cultivation, irrigation, pest protection, and weather protection in the most timely fashion. I envision days where we’re scrambling to fit all of our crop care needs into the day, so consistent and comprehensive communication with the farm manager and crew about the crop needs will be critical. At the end of the day, I believe with someone focused on crop care, we’re setting ourselves up for a season of harvests that meet our market demands from both the BGBs, high tunnels, and the Favorable Furrows.

Crop Care Summary 2013

January 20th, 2014 | Posted by Kyle in Crop Care - (Comments Off on Crop Care Summary 2013)

Crop Care Summary 2013

KG 1/08/14

My intention when taking on the Crop Care element back in the beginning of 2013 was to increase the efficiency and regularity of the crop care activities on the farm. Looking back now at the end of the season I feel as though, for the most part, that goal was accomplished. Implementation of a Crop Care Task list combined with weekly field walks was a major aid in keeping up with the requirements of the crops and the pressure of the weeds. In addition, experimentation with various techniques for cultivation and care yielded some good results in determining more efficient practices. Finally, some end of the year number crunching produced a few key insights into required equipment that could be used for future planning.

The Crop Care Task List (pictured above) is a simple sheet to be used on field walks to note anticipated crop care tasks for the coming weeks. With headings for “Crop”, “Location”, “Task”, and “Priority” all pertinent information can be recorded and any pressing tasks can be added to the farm’s task list and brought to the attention of the rest of the crew. Hanging the list in an accessible area near our daily task list also encouraged crew to observe the list. Often times activities on the farm can get focused on one area for a period of time and as a result other areas are neglected. I felt having this fuller picture of the farm available for the crew without requiring everyone to take time out of their day for a field walk helped keep everyone oriented on the whole picture of the farm. Also, anyone looking for a job to plug into could simply consult the task list for jobs based on priority and/or whether progress could be made or completed by one person. Checking finished jobs off the list is also great for a sense of accomplishment. So looking back after a season of using a checklist for crop care my conclusion is that it is worth it. It only takes 15 minutes to do the field walk and create the list, which is certainly worth it given the benefits doing so yields. I think a Crop Care Task list is something I would continue to use in the future.


Crop Care Equipment Numbers

Drip Tape

We use 220’ field beds, adding together all of our plantings this past season we ended up with about 80 beds for a total of 17,600’. Add to that our flower field of (30 X 75’ beds for 2250’) and you get a total length of crop beds of 19,850’. We use 8 mil drip tape at 12” spacing, which comes in 7,500’ rolls. That comes to 2.6 or so rolls for a season of growing, a 3 roll order if we’re out.


Remay is a lightweight cloth material we use to cover crops in order to protect them from cold and pest damage. With the exception of a few more delicate crops we use remay at the beginning and end of our growing season. Experience has shown that we need to cover around 16 field beds at any one time as well as a number of our Big Garden Beds (8 or more). In the past we had used different width pieces for the different jobs, single row covers for the field and wider pieces for the BGBs. However having experimented with different sizes it seems 16’ width is ideal for North Slope. It fits the BGB’s without too much excess material left in the pathways. At the same time it can fit 3 field beds, 4 if they are spaced more tightly. Covering more beds with fewer pieces is much more convenient: fewer pieces to handle and store, fewer sandbags to haul, and quicker to cover/uncover crops. We reuse what we can and labeling the remay when it’s rolled up is a big help when it comes finding the right piece. For 16 field beds and 8 BGBs we would need around 1700’ of remay, or two rolls.

Tomato Stakes

The past few years we’ve grown about 8 X 220’ rows of field tomatoes. We use a combination of metal and wooden stakes with trellising to support our tomatoes as they grow. Every two tomatoes we have a stake, and every two wooden stakes we have a metal one. See Pattern Below:

M-t-t-W-t-t-W-t-t- M-t-t-W-t-t-W-t-t- M-t-t-W-t-t-W-t-t-M

t: tomato plant

M: metal stake

W: wood stake

With the tomato plants having a 2 foot spacing, we have a stake every 4 feet. 220’/4 is 55 stakes total. Dividing 55 by 3 gets you 18.3, that’s how many metal stakes per bed and (18.3 X 2) 36.6 is how many wooden stakes per bed are required for this pattern. When creating this order we round up and add a couple extra. 20 metal per bed X 8 beds is 160 metal stakes, 40 wood X 8 beds is 320. That is our yearly need for tomato stakes to trellises our field tomatoes, checking that against our inventory we know what we need to order for the next season. Last year for example, we used a number of our metal tomato stakes to trellis our blackberries and needed to order replacements.


Cultivation Tools and Techniques

At North Slope we use a variety of options for the cultivation of our crops, from hand weeding on up to mechanical cultivation using tractors. This past year we added a few new tools/techniques including a backpack flame weeder and an older BSC rototiller for cultivation. Below I will explain our practice and add my observations taken over the past year.

Hand Weeding

Hand weeding is one of the more tedious jobs on the farm and one of my goals this past year while focusing on crop care was to reduce how much of it we had to do. To achieve this I tried to time other cultivation activities for maximum impact. Even with good timing however, hand weeding is a necessity. Our salad mix and other crops in the BGB’s in particular require some hand weeding at some point. The best case scenario is to hand weed after a second scuffle hoeing, were the only remaining weeds are those growing tightly interspersed with the crop. Two crew hand weeding is probably the realistic minimum, however progress will be slow and therefore it becomes hard to sustain motivation and keep up efficiency. 3-4 crew would be a better minimum, to allow for some leap-frogging down the bed. 4-6 is better, as crew can work in pairs across from each other and still jump down the bed as they reach previously weeded sections. Working with an odd number it is a good idea to take turns jumping back and forth across the bed to keep the group together. Working close enough together for a conversation greatly helps moral. We have a variety of hand hoes, diggers, choppers, etc; however those seem most useful in perennial bed hand weeding, for our BGBs it seems hands are faster.

Scuffle Hoeing

We use scuffle hoes, or stirrup hoes, from Johnny’s. These are a great tool for cultivation, and it pays to have one for every crew member as a full crew scuffle hoeing can clear a lot of weeds in an afternoon. Scuffle hoes are best used when weeds are at thread stage, before they start getting hardy, and in drier conditions if possible. Scuffle hoeing in wet conditions can be less effective or impossible and disturbed weeds my also re-root if enough moisture is available. Scuffle hoes do a shallow cultivation that doesn’t bring up too much new weed seed. Two crew minimum works well, however one person can still accomplish a lot. Two people scuffle hoeing can usually weed one BGB (110’x4’) or one field bed in about 10-15 minutes. With a larger crew of 3-6 it’s possible to very quickly cultivate a couple of beds in a few minutes of down time between jobs or spend a half or a whole day really cleaning up the farm. In the BGBs we seed in rows diagonally across the bed spaced tightly so our 3 ¼’ scuffle hoes just fit between the crop, this makes for very efficient hoeing. It seems best to hoe initially right after germination and then again 1-2 weeks later depending growth. After the second hoeing, hand weeding is usually needed but quicker as the hoeing has cleaned most of the weeds. From here with quick crops like our cut leaf salad mix, ideally the crop growth out competes the weeds and we can get to harvest without too much more crop care. With longer term crops like carrots a 3rd hoeing may be possible but another round of hand weeding is usually needed. In the field beds, regular scuffle hoeing can be effective at keeping beds clean. In my experience two people working across from each other is the best set up, with each person hoeing perpendicular to the other creating an X pattern around the crop rather than each individually trying to fully clear around a plant by themselves. Extra crew can be added to leap frog and/or focus on the bed shoulders. In any case, communication is important so everyone knows there role in the process. When the crop is too mature for mechanical tractor cultivation this system works well with the BCS pathway cultivation. In both cases removing the irrigation tube or tape is necessary to be most efficient. Irrigating after hoeing seems to really boost crop growth.

Backpack Flame Weeder

For the first time in a while at North Slope we got the old propane backpack flame weeder down from the barn top and got it working. It was a bit finicky and difficult to get going, and seemed to cut out after 30 minutes of use, however we managed to use it to good effect. Carrots are slower growing and are harder to keep weed free as the weeds will germinate first, obscuring the rows and making scuffle hoeing difficult. By flame weeding at 5-7 days after seeding but before the carrots really start germinating most of these early weeds can be killed, and since the soil is not disturbed new weed seed does not come to the surface making for lighter weeding later on. Timing is vital with flame weeding, daily observation is necessary to find the right moment. However, once, while flame weeding a bit late, after the first carrots had already begun germinating, the results were not too bad as enough of the seed was still in the ground to give us a good yield. It seemed that one tank of propane would last us 3-5 BGBs and was fairly cheap to refill. It is not necessary to burn the weeds, the heat is what kills. A fairly steady pace should be maintained, moving the flame nozzle back and forth as you walk down the bed. It takes about 10 minutes to flame weed one BGB and the head start it gives the carrots is very noticeable. It will be 2-3 weeks before scuffle hoeing is needed and by then the carrots will be well established.

Wheel Hoe

We mostly use a wide scuffle hoe attachment on our wheel hoes for cultivating field bed shoulders and pathways. The wheel hoe’s efficiency depends greatly on soil conditions and level of weed growth. In the right conditions, dry but not too dry and weeds at thread stage, it can be a breeze to clean up a field after scuffle hoeing between crops. It takes 3-4 passes to clear from bed shoulder to bed shoulder, and in good conditions it took 2 crew wheel hoeing less than an hour to clean up a 16 bed field. The wheel hoe works best when moving at a brisk pace and can be a bit of a work out. In anything but ideal conditions however, the wheel hoe can be unpleasant to use. When going out to a field for weeding it’s good to bring them and test to see if conditions are good for use, however using the BCS was faster and more versatile in all soil conditions.

The Old BCS Rototiller “El Duce”

We use a BCS walk-behind rototiller as part of our bed preparations in the BGBs. Most BCS’s rototillers depth can be set and changed fairly easily, so cultivating can be done quickly when using the shallowest setting. We had an old BCS with a number of mechanical issues, however we managed to get running and used it this past season for cultivation of field bed shoulders and pathways. The older model we have is narrower and fit nicely down our pathways even, for the most part, with mature crops. This was a great benefit, because at a certain point crops become too tall for our tractors to mechanically cultivate. With the BCS we still had a quick and efficient way to keep those mature crops weed free. Taking two passes on a pathway lets the operator focus once on each bed edge and really get close to the crop. Soil is also tossed out from the rototiller in a way that can smother weeds another couple of inches into the bed. The old BSC also has functioning differential braking, allowing for a lot of fine control to get close to the crop. Combining the BSC cultivation with scuffle hoeing for field crops seemed to be an efficient way to control weeds in mature crops. Hoe after the BSC has gone through the pathways, otherwise you may end up hoeing more than you needed to as the BCS can safely get very close to the crop.

Special Instructions for operating the old BCS (El Duce)

Some important notes and warnings for anyone planning to use the old BCS in future: the old BCS is DANGEROUS! Only attempt to use it if you are comfortable and confident with machinery! Firstly, the clutch does not work correctly. You should still engage the clutch to shift, but do not expect this to work while the machine running. It must be rolled into place for starting, and started already in gear. Doing this with two people is safer, one to control the machine while the other pulls the start cord, however it is possible for one person to start it, just be sure to get clear when it starts moving which it will do as soon as started. Secondly, the gear selector rod is missing. Use a small hammer or rock (shifter rock) to tap the gear shift into position. The gears are no longer where they should be according to the machine’s indicator, nearly all the way tapped forward you should find 3rd gear which is best for cultivation and slightly back from there you should find neutral. Remember, only shift gears with the machine off as the clutch cannot be trusted! Thirdly, the safety shut off is also not reliable. Stop the machine using the choke, always have space to continue forward or turn. Do not operate the machine in close proximity to other people or animals because you cannot rely on it to stop quickly. Fourthly, the PTO cannot be disengaged. This means the rototiller will always be spinning, so BE CAREFUL. Throttle down and lift for making turns, but keep well clear of the spinning blades. Occasionally the PTO will disengage itself while working; it can be reengaged but not reliably disengaged. Be especially careful when loading and unloading from the ATV trailer if you do so with the machine running as the rototiller will also be running. It is safer to get two people to push it up the ramp manually. Even if loading or unloading manually be aware of the machine’s weight and be sure you can get clear should it fall. Don’t try to catch it! Finally, always pay full attention while using the machine. Even more so than the newer BCS, the old one is lighter and jumps significantly when it hits a large rock and I’ve had it both move backwards towards me and shoot forwards at considerable speed. Always keep in mind where you will go to get clear of the machine should this happen. Also, the choke pin may slide out while operating, opening the choke. You will notice the sound of the engine changing, be quick to push it back or you will have to restart the machine.

Even with all those difficulties I still enjoyed using the machine and I think it’s a great cultivation option, especially with a more functional model. However, I really would not recommend anyone with any doubts or concerns to use “El Duce”, it is not worth getting hurt for.

Mechanical Cultivation- Williams Toolbar

Two years ago North Slope Farm got a new cultivating tractor, an IH 265. Before this mechanical cultivation was done with the IH140 using a series of shanks, spiders, and sweeps, all individual implements that would need to be rearranged for each job. Since the IH140 is also used for building our beds this meant a lot of time changing the setup. Having two tractors meant having to do that less often. More than this though, the new 265 has a 3-point hitch letting us make use of our Williams Toolbar. The Williams Toolbar is a steel frame with a number of adjustable spring tines and two bars on which other implements can be attached. Having one implement you can dial in for a tight cultivation and leave set up is a great time saver. It can be picked up, quickly checked and tuned and ready for the field in less than 10 minutes. And once the operator is comfortable with the toolbar, cultivating a 16 bed field can be done very quickly. We plant two rows per bed for the most part so once the crop hits a certain size it becomes difficult to cultivate the center strip using the toolbar, however the toolbar can still clear the bed edges and pathways leaving only the center strip to be scuffle hoed. When the plants become fully mature it can be difficult or impossible to cultivate using the toolbar at all, as even the retracted spring tines will rip and damage some crops. However the easy adjustability of the spring tines gives some flexibility in quickly moving between crops of different size. The Williams Toolbar can be used at all stages of the crop, until they are too large to drive over, and works well enough that it can really be the only cultivation method needed for the first few cultivations. A quick touch up scuffle hoeing helps keep the few missed weeds from maturing before the next round with the toolbar and is fairly quick. The key with the toolbar, as with all of the other cultivation options, is with timing. The toolbar will eliminate thread stage weeds and be effective slightly beyond that point to baby/adolescent stages. After that however, as we observed while experimenting with the toolbar and bare fallowing some prebuilt beds, the toolbar is not effective at killing grown weeds.



Taking on the Crop Care element as a focus in my third year here was a valuable experience. I got to really be involved with the various crop care tasks and develop a good understanding of the needs of the crops. Being focused on crop care also helped me to hone my knowledge of weed varieties and learn and trial effective means for dealing with them. I also had the opportunity to gain experience managing a crew in the execution of crop care jobs, keeping task oriented and efficiently moving from one job to the next making the most of limited time. More than anything, having this as my focus drove home the preeminent importance of timing with regards to cultivation. Having done the planting focus and crop plan my second year and crop care focus my third year I feel I’ve gained some good experience in some key areas of farm activity, and  I feel having chosen these to focus on has prepared me well for my future career in farming.

Frost Damage to Tender Tomato Plants

May 16th, 2013 | Posted by miker in Crop Care - (Comments Off on Frost Damage to Tender Tomato Plants)

West Amwell, NJ

Certified Organic Farm

Field Report, MikeR May 16, 2013
Frosted Tomato

Frost Damage to Tomato Plant

Four ‘Field Beds’, about 400 Tomato Seedlings succumbed to mortal tissue damage due to freezing temperatures.

Lesson:  If planting tender crops before all risk of Frost is past – Agricultural Fabric / “Remay” must be utilized or at least on hand for easy application!

We were vigorous in our staking, when we should have been setting hoops and laying out the remay…

Frost Free date for our Field is now officially back to May 20….

3rd Year Focus Introduction: Crop Care

May 15th, 2013 | Posted by Kyle in Crop Care | Training - (Comments Off on 3rd Year Focus Introduction: Crop Care)


Introduction to Crop Care

KG 5/15/2013


Crop Care, especially weeding, is something that always seems to fall by wayside when the farm’s other priorities become more pressing. My intention in taking on this element in my third year is to be an advocate for our crops; trying to prioritize care where and when it is needed and keep track all of our crops’ needs. Another thing I’d like to focus on is trying to decrease worker hours spent weeding by keeping up on scuffle and wheel hoeing and making use of our mechanical cultivation options. The time spent rescuing crops from weeds by hand has a much high cost in time than if the weeds were addressed earlier. To help manage this I have created a Task List Form for a weekly field-walk in which I lay out the Crop Care jobs for the week with notes on priority and method of task completion.

Tasks and Responsibilities-

            Weed Control- Observation, prioritization, and deciding on the method of treatment for weeds, then working with the crew to accomplish tasks.

            Irrigation- Ensuring crops are receiving water regularly

            Mulching- Managing application of straw mulch. Certain crops receive straw mulch to smother weeds and prevent splash-back of soil.

            Trellising- Keeping up with the trellis needs of our crops

            Pest Control- Monitoring for pest damage in field crops and taking appropriate action

            Field Access/Field Clean Up- Keeping field edges mowed and fields clean of debris. Removing driptape, sandbags, and other items from field after use.

            Crop Cover- Managing our early/late season use of remay, plastic, hoops and sandbags

Special Focus – Irrigation 2012

March 21st, 2013 | Posted by toddh in Crop Care - (Comments Off on Special Focus – Irrigation 2012)

Special Focus – Irrigation 2012

Todd Posted March 21st 2013

Irrigation is yet another integral part of our farm operation. Unless there is a good rain fall, irrigation management is a daily task that follows a flexible weekly rotation based on areas of highest priority. The farm is divided into blocks that reflect the maximum amount of watering achievable within the operational pressure. A block is watered for a determined amount of time before being turned off and moving to the next. Within these blocks, there are basically three ways that we set up lines to accomplish our watering needs. All lines follow this order: the well pump to the main lines, main lines to sub-main lines, sub-main lines to drip lines.

Line Configurations

Field crops: 200 foot beds each planted with two rows. A single line of drip tape is used for these beds. A spool of drip tape is held horizontally in a wooden stand on a piece of rebar. It is stationed at the start of the bed and the line is pulled from this down the middle of the two crop rows to the far end. Attention is given that the tape is tucked beneath all plants. The tail end is then capped by cutting a section of the drip tape two to three inches long to act as a sleeve. The new end of the line is then folded over a couple times and inserted it into the sleeve (see picture). These lines are then secured to a thumb valve in the sub-main. Our flowers in the “579 field” also require only one line of drip tape.

Drip Tube End Cap

See Photo set for more detail

Big garden beds: 100 foot permanent raised beds usually very tightly planted. For these five lines of drip tube are used. This task is most easily accomplished with two people, starting with the center line and working outward to either side. One person at each end pulls the line taught then lays it straight and evenly spaced down the length of the bed. These lines are secured to a thumb valve in the sub-main and capped on the end with a plastic end cap. This could be a pressure valve that bleeds the line and automatically closes or a repurposed thumb valve. There are two beds of fruit trees, black berries, and asparagus. Each has two lines of drip tube that are treated the same way.

Green houses: We have two green houses for production, one 50 feet long the other 75. Each has four beds typically planted with two rows each and trellising down the middle. Two lines of drip tube are laid just outside of each crop, secured to a thumb valve in the sub-main, and capped with plastic end caps. Again this could be a pressure valve or a thumb valve. Our strawberry beds and the permanent beds in the “corner garden” area share the same configuration of two lines of drip tube.

Turning on

The well pump is turned on at the begging of the season and off at the end. The main line always remains in the same location. Sub-main lines along with the drip tubes are disconnected and stored together in the fields over winter. These lines are reassembled as we proceed through the planting secessions. When the season is in full swing the lines move very little, so irrigation is a matter of turning the correct valves on and off in the appropriate timing and making any repairs. Starting in the morning the main valve is turned on. This comes directly from the well. When starting a block the sub-main line is connected to the main line. All of the desired thumb valves are opened and the undesired valves are closed. Finally the valve from the sub-main to main line is opened. The lines will fill with water and begin to drip. It will take a few minutes for the system to pressurize and some air will be forced out of the end. The very end of all the lines must be checked for full pressure. Steady dripping can be seen at these furthest points. If all lines are functioning properly then the pressure gage at the sub-main main line connection is read and this information is recorded in the log along with the date, location, and duration. This log also contains any rainfall data that we have collected, which plays a role in our rotation.

If the line fails to pressurize and begin dripping, it is then walked backwards to the beginning. In this process all connections and valves are checked, along with checking for any holes or damages. The issue usually become obvious and is promptly resolved. Watering in the seedling greenhouse is typically done manually by the green house manager. This will result temporarily in a lower pressure reading but will not greatly disturb the irrigation rotation. If pressure still cannot be achieved and all lines have been checked and rechecked, then it could be that water is being used somewhere else however irrigation is usually given priority. The worst case scenario in the irrigation system would be a failure of the well pump. I did not experience anything like this.

Water Usage

On the more sophisticated side we have used water sensors that are buried in specific locations around the farm. Most times though, the soil moisture is assessed by picking a representative spot for a specific watering block, digging down a few inches to retrieve some soil, and pressing it between your fore finger and thumb.


Damage and Repair

Damage to irrigation will make its self known when turning on the water and walking the lines. Often the damage can either be seen or heard. All repairs are rather easy; it is a matter of assessing the damage and making the fewest and most affective repairs or alterations. Simpler is better. After that it comes down to timeliness for rejoining the crew with the other tasks at hand. Holes in lines are cut out and replaced with sections of new line where necessary and spliced together with an inline connecter. Often cutting out the hole and putting an inline connecter will fix it without having to add new drip tube or tape.

Most damage is due to the mower hitting lines, no irrigation components will withstand this. It is most common that the mower may take off the end caps of lines in the big garden beds, or hit lines that have been moved or stored in vulnerable locations. It is less common that the mower should hit component of a main or sub main. Repair requires removing damaged sections of lines or fixtures and replacing them.

The weed-wacker will break the red tabs on the thumb valves and the pressure gauges. The sun will also make the plastic tabs brittle. One way or another they will eventually break off. They will still be usable but it is important to note that the plastic can be sharp enough to cut ones figure when turning on an off. We prolong the life of thumb valves by using them as end caps when they are too difficult to turn.

Drip tape is far more easily damaged than drip tube. This most commonly occurs during harvesting with the harvest knives. This year an interesting issue was the amount of small holes chewed by animals in the drip tape of our furthest field. This happened during the hottest and driest time of the summer. We attempted to address it by providing water for the wildlife is an old sink that we set up on the edge of this field. Many of these lines still required repeatedly repaired.


Water lines: Main lines, Sub main line, drip tube, drip tape

Hardware:   Main ball valves, aluminum quick connects and end caps, thumb valve, end caps, in line connects, pressure gage, main valve, hose clamps, 1” and ¾” plastic elbows, tee’s, reducers, and end plugs.

Tools: The tools consist of a utility knife, a hexagonal head screw driver for the hose clamps, the hole punch for adding thumb valves to sub main lines, and a roll of Teflon tape. These items are always carried in a small “job bucket”, hardware is added according to task.


Timing is important. I have forgotten and turned off irrigation late. This resulted in some flooding. Thankfully it was never too bad. On the other hand, by the time we are done transplanting a row in the fields in the middle of summer, all the plants look pretty wilted and sad. Irrigation must be available for them right away. By the time that they are turned off, they are standing up looking much happier and eager in their new homes. Also, turning the well pump on and off gives a clear sense of begging and ending to the season.

Crop Care

September 28th, 2010 | Posted by miker in Crop Care - (Comments Off on Crop Care)


Crop Care is always on the Task List.  There is always some way we can care for our crops.  Weeding is one of those tasks that we hope to outgrow but still invest many worker hours, especially on closely spaced crops like carrots and salad mix.  This element also includes irrigation, trellising, mulching and pest control.