Watch as Farmers Grow

Monthly Summary – May 2009

January 8th, 2011 | Posted by miker in Monthly Summary

Monthly Summary – May 2009
MikeR; Logs and records reviewed, and summary prepared 1/5/11

General Observations:Ah, May, a month filled with activity, spurred on by the awakening power of the Living Earth!  Heavy rain noted thru first half of month, drying by end. Greenhouse activity is winding up by end of the month, so major planting is being done….  CropCare is looming large as the plantings require attention, the opportunistic native and invasive flora germinate, grow and seed and all the tools and materials have either come to hand or been ordered or rebuilt.  The log reflects the inscriptions of multiple guilders and some communication occurs, notes to MR (Farm Manager) from Element Managers…  Notations in ‘log,’ by MR, to capture true cost estimates of activity.
Administration 45 worker hours(hrs): Crew including FarmMngr (MR), HK, BK, BD, JA, SJ, CH.  SJ and JA starting the season as our 1st year Trainees, BD as a 2nd year, BK and HK as 3rd Years and CH parttime laborer.  MR accepts invitation to address the State Association of Environmental Commissions, at a meeting in Lambertville.  Scrolling a mix of farm photos, MR described North Slope Farm and extrapolated the relevance of our Farm to Environmental Consciousness.  Market registration deadlines!!  Need to pay registration fees, file paperwork and ensure up to date Liability Insurance covering the hosts of Market venues.  Late start, end of May for SJ and general introductions to the farm seemed to suffer from entering at such a busy time.  Note to self – try to get workers in place early, to allow time for basic introductions to the Elements and the standard routine before the heavier expectations of all Elements kick in.  Basic requirement of Training: All Trainees receive formal introductions to the “‘Elements’ of our Operation.”  Formal introduction begins with the Web Site “Training Categories”, review of specific Element Folders, and electronic Files.  This is a required first step for the actual Training to occur.  The Training is defined as at least one opportunity to attempt to accomplish a specific task or set of tasks.  Quality Training is a function of the Trainee’s willingness to process and publish their experience and insight.  Noted here for its relevance to “Training” – Discussion at end of month about a complete reversal of Priorities, as expressed by MR.  The reversal was from an expressed priority of Direct Seeding Salad, to an expressed Priority of Transplanting the Tomatoes, two very different processes.  MR discussed significant environmental and astrological factors that determined the change in Priorities (5/28).
Equipment; 51.5 hrs: Kabota mower, JD loader and Ford Tractor all got a work out, logging the most hours for the season (about 10 each).  IH 140, our bedshaper, also pulled for one of two heavy months, May and July (4hrs each).  No one on crew interested (some opposed) to equipment so little training, simply observation and brief intro for 1st years.  Weedwacker and walking mower logged the most hours in the season, dealing with fence and Big Garden Bed (BGB) cleanup.  JD and Ford engaged in Composting and Primary tillage for Tomatoes (“conditions fairly rough, reg. additional tillage preplanting”) in VegAs.  Spring tune up on Kabota, by BD, sharpening blades for mowing perimeters, diversions and waterways.
Infrastructure 92 hrs: BD chose this as his focus, and tackled mower maintenance, fence repair and mowing diversions.  1st mowing 5/14 took 3 hrs, only one pass around the perimeter thou.  Second mowing 5/29 took three hours just to complete two (thorough) passes around perimeter.  Noted in log was inability of mower to handle the previously unmowed pass.  Map for mowing in Infrastructure file.  Standard procedure (time permitting) is a minimum of double passes of areas to be maintained.  This includes the perimeters of all the productive fields, in some cases, sandwiching a fenceline between the passes.  This is a significant cost to the farm in labor, equipment and management that does not generate income.  The mowing of diversions are required, to maintain their designed intent, and where additional tasks can be integrated, like managing a fenceline, the value of the cost improves.  The layout of the farm is such that the managed diversions and waterways also serve as access lanes for various production areas.  Heavy rain and saturated conditions in early May encouraged a formal introduction into Waterways and the crew completed the day in the “Thicket” seeking to reduce channeling in a surface water runoff retention area.  BD was tasked with managing the Special Project – Poultry, daily chores, egg collection and weekly pasture moves.  MR helped by premowing pasture fence lines before BD would move the girls, and general chores.  BD received training on Ford, primary tillage, discing the 579 field for fallow period, pre garlic planting this fall.
Greenhouse 85 hrs: Positive log about the good feeling after getting the “potting on” done, thinning the last round of seedlings and organizing the greenhouse as plants are cycled out.  5/5 and 5/12, Tomatoes are potted on.  Notes of preparing customer special orders, and I can remember hounding HK whose Element Focus this is, to keep good notes, and develop a good system..!!  It’s a struggle to come up with a system that anyone will use and the discussions with the Greenhouse Manager are always filled with detail and responsibilities!  (HK’s Summary’s were lost in SiteCrash, Arghh!)  We still are using her Excell templates though, master copies stored in Documents; NorthSlopeFarm; Greenhouse Folder.  After a rough year in the greenhouse in 2008, HK expressed strong confidence and pride in her work, and the farm benefited!
Composting 71 hrs: BK has chosen this Element for his focus and there is much discussion about management, breakdown requirements and management of composting facilities.  BK is uninterested in the use of mechanical equipment, and BK and MR grapple with the difficulty of managing the massive bulk of compost materials and an aversion to combustion engines!  We focused on small batches of compost in contained bins, and stressed the importance and methods of monitoring compost batches for moisture, temperature, composting progress and problems.  (Summaries published by BK for 2009 lost in Webcrash).  BK’s personal focus was mycelium and he was able to make observations about changing populations of fungi in his experimental compost batches.  This compost monitoring was extended to track the composting regimen required by the NJDA organic certification program.  We are forced to “recompost” compost purchased from none certified organic suppliers, or treat it with the same restrictions as manure.  As of 2011 the regimen has been adjusted to loosen turning time requirements.  We found it difficult to achieve the requirements due to compost already being past its prime “heating” stage.  Certified organic compost suppliers are few, this is a place for new business ventures – production, distribution and application.  47 cubic yards reportedly spread, all by hand, for 2nd vegetable succession (15 field beds), 2 (BGBs) and tomatoes (4 beds).  This rate is higher than usual because we applied heavy layer of leaf-compost on tomatoes, to serve as mulch, more than soil amendment.  On average we estimate 1.5 cubic yards per Field Bed or BGB (~400sq ft), though in practice it is probably less.  For planning purposes, we should have 30 cyds on hand for each of our production plots – Minimum.  This number needs improved tracking and assessment.  Also of note, MR fielded inquiry from Manure Hauler looking for place to dump.  MR explained significance of NJDA Manure Handling Regulations and associated cost to receive; hauler was incredulous and did not deliver.
Planting 88 hrs: Finally on 5/12 soil noted as “drying enough for planting.”  Push in end of month to get second succession veggies planted (5/21), Tomatoes (5/28) as well as an assortment of specialty herbs, Lemon Verbena, Balm and Anise Hyssop.  Training included the transfer of information from planning documents (Crop Plan), to active form – ‘Prepare Field Planting Form’.  The Field Planting Form is a working document that starts with a plan, is adjusted by seedlings or seed actually on hand, provides for notes about # of seedlings to field and location/details of planting.  These records are the basis for detailed understanding of the seasons activity as well as data for season summaries.  Training also included an introduction for the 1st years in the use of our IH140 to prepare the field beds for planting.  Bedshaping, cutting a furrow for deep penetration of compost, application of compost, bedshaping and furrowing again, planting our large Tomato seedlings, then heavy mulch on bed tops, around plants.  Job finished just as misty, wet weather settled in on us again.  This tomato patch was a great example of good crew flow and cooperation (too bad about the East Coast Blight later…).  Clover seed was spread over our garlic patch (5/19) in an effort to reduce the need for tillage and reseeding after harvest at rate of 30#/acre – good establishment, probably due to wet season.
CropCare 86 hrs: These notes read as though we were not really prepared for cropcare and it took us this month to come to grips with it.  Irrigation was back to the farm manager, not having a trainee focused on it and MR let it slip at first.  I remember being conscious of the need for a trainer at this point because the farm manager cannot do both jobs, detailed task management and training.  Ultimately, the goal will be to have 2nd and 3rd years handling crop care with Manager oversight and introductions for 1st years, but there will always be times when everyone’s focus takes them away from basic tasks, rather than to them.  Because of this awareness, and commitment to encouraging trainees to “follow their hearts,” the basic production operations should always be maintained as manageable as possible.  Perennial bed weeding is noted, with a $100 per bed cost assessment for spring tune-up.  Crabgrass invasion into BGB’s and related investment of time for hand pulling.  Weeding and mowing in permanent beds all happen late and are more difficult than when addressed earlier.  Mowing of BGBs should be done by early May at Latest!  Peas trellised 5/15.
Harvesting 62 hrs: All the greens until 5/22, lettuce, kale, chard, spinach were from our Greenhouses, ‘in-gound’ and ‘tabletop.’  Green garlic harvested from the field, with radishes, peonies and salad mix from BGB’s by end of month.  Nice feature of greenhouse greens being very clean.
Handling 8.5 hrs: Not many hours due to greenhouse harvests, probably reflects just a few markets with green garlic, radishes and Field Salad.  The washing area did not get a thorough post winter cleanup until end of the month, at which time Walk-in cooler was completely scrubbed down and power washed for first time in many years.
Marketing 65 hrs: West Windsor Community Farmers Market started 5/18 which will boost income from our otherwise sole market in Hopewell.  Low volume production on our end, though seedlings are doing well and additional products like strawberries and asparagus available from Zone 7 (local produce distributor), as well as the apple products from Solebury Orchards.  Gross market receipts for the month $3,400.  With five trainees working full time MR very conscious of the need to Boost our early season income, stimulating commitment to finally plant strawberries and asparagus (in 2010).
Special Projects  3 hrs: Poultry is being covered under Infrastructure as part of BD’s focus.  BK is working on integrating his interest in Fungi into NSF systems, inoculating woodchips and establishing Mycelium filtration of Barnyard surface water runoff.  MR coppicing hybrid willows, hoping to establish insight into sustainable management of perennial crop.  The willows were assessed for biomass yield – 3 cubic yards woodchips from the branches of 4 eight year old trunks.  The trunks were kept for use as timber.  The observation was made later that the unused trunks all vigorously sprouted, and rooted.  There may be real potential for use of long logs in stabilizing eroded slopes and other conservation measures that might yield harvestable crops.  Willow assessment ongoing.

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