Around the farm 12/10/13

Winter has arrived!

Hutchins Farm End of Season 2013 Newsletter

As winter nears, the sun’s daily visits shorten to the point where it barely seems to have risen before it begins its descent.  Crazy fluctuations in the temperature keep us from settling yet into winter mode, but surely we know that 60 degrees on a mid-November morning in Concord, Massachusetts is an anomaly, and soon we’ll be leaning into a bitter wind, faces stung with cold and blowing snow, trudging carefully over the frozen ground to avoid the treacherous ice patches hidden beneath a deceptive dusting.  And, of course, there’ll be no really fresh vegetables or fruit.

Winter does have its charm: landscapes recently blanketed by a windless snow; the tang of wood smoke and its promise of warmth in the evening as the light leaches from the sky; sports that require the slippery surfaces that winter provides.  Supermarket produce is not one of winter’s charms, though it is (usually) better than none at all—my hat’s off to those who can live off roots, pickles and such all winter, but not I.  My general disappointment with the ‘fruits’ of winter—trucked in from Arizona, Florida and the like—just sharpens my anticipation for the moment when Concord begins again to bloom, when the sun climbs higher and stays longer, when the asparagus pokes up through the soil, the strawberries blush.  Winter, despite its rather thin consolations, is long and difficult—the promise of spring carries us through.

We had a productive season at Hutchins this year, though there were some tense moments.  Things seemed late to begin, and flooding in late May led to additional delays and a rushed execution of our usually deliberate routines.  Pest and disease outbreaks that I have adequately chronicled in other messages wreaked havoc with certain crops, and, in general, the various pitfalls and problems that beset any vegetable and fruit farm seemed arrayed against us in an unusually intimidating way.  And yet while we worried about whether we would harvest any potatoes at all, and whether late blight would cut a month off our ‘normal’ tomato season, and whether the heat in July would nip all our fall crops in the bud (so to speak), the produce rolled in.  The late, lamented Patrick McGrath’s carefully tended asparagus led off the season, followed by a good crop of strawberries and a great crop of blueberries.  As we struggled to produce early kale and cabbage (usually a cinch), we had fine, extended harvests of peas and spinach (usually a headache).  July was particularly worrisome, as summer crops just trickled in, and the brutal heat shut down the early crops and threatened to destroy the tender seedlings that would grow into the late crops—but then July ended, and with it went the heat and the rain, and we settled in to a long stretch of perfect weather.  Not hot, not cold, and, importantly, no rain.

People who don’t farm or garden tend to think that rain in all its forms is an unmitigated blessing for the grower.  When I get tired of hauling around irrigation pipe or remembering to shut off the drip irrigation in the evening, I can almost agree.  And yet, the weather this late summer and fall was a compelling example of why big growers in arid climates, where they calculate and deliver just enough irrigation water for their crops, consider a rainstorm to be a disaster.  Water makes everything grow, including fungus and bacteria.  So when we get a long stretch without rain and with low humidity, disease pressure is almost nonexistent.  As long as I’m careful to irrigate in a timely fashion, and in such a way that the leaves don’t stay wet for long periods, the dry weather is more of a blessing than rain would be.  I do reserve the right to whine a bit about the lack of rain (when there is a lack), and to rail (feebly) against the myopic meteorologists who blithely enthuse about the endless beautiful beach weather.  But I shouldn’t be taken too seriously…unless it gets really dry.

So late summer provided a delayed bounty, and without the usual accompanying rots, mildews, molds, blights, blasts and spots.  Although late blight showed up early (ironically), the tomatoes kept producing, maintaining their quality and fine flavor almost through mid-October.  I don’t think I’ve seen cleaner broccoli or cauliflower than we had this fall, and, after the temperatures dropped in late July, the beans started coming in beautiful and abundant.  And of course, the apples provided a crop like we see only when the planets are in perfect alignment—clean, delicious, and prolific.  And our numbers all came up in the annual lottery of hiring a seasonal workforce:  this year’s group were easygoing, enthusiastic field and farmstand workers whose commitment and demeanor made the stressful times easier, and the easier times fun.  And of course, the real key to our success, this year or any year, the sine qua non of any farm like ours:  dedicated, enthusiastic, well-informed, creative, flexible (‘cause we didn’t always have what you came for) customers.  Thanks for visiting us in the lean times and the fat, thanks for your appreciation of our efforts, your patience, good humor and loyalty.

We continue to set out a dwindling selection of produce on the porch for self-service sales, but supplies are running short and the weather’s getting cold, so it may not continue much longer. Here’s to a good winter, and we’ll see you in the spring.

Brian Cramer
Farm Manager
Hutchins Farm

Thank you!

Yesterday was the last day of the season at the farmstand- We’ve had a wonderful season thanks to you, our fantastic and faithful customers! Thank you for shopping with us, and weathering the ups and downs of growing in New England.  The van is packed and on its way to the Monday Central Square Farmers Market (12pm-5pm). Tomorrow we’ll start some self-serve on the front porch at the farmstand. Again, thank you all!

Pictured here is some of the fall crew- we never manage to capture all of us in one place at one time! Thank you to all our spring, summer, and fall crew members- Andy, Rachel, Jason, Audrey, Cait, Hannah G, Danielle, Will, Paul, Kate, Ben, Ramon, Hunter, Venus, Noelle, Hannah K, Justin, Mayn, Allison, Dan, Lilli, Abby, Kaitlyn, Ellen, Ronnie, Maria, and probably a few more people I am forgetting!

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween everyone!

Fred Flintstone will be at the season’s last Belmont Farmers Market this afternoon, and the great pumpkin is making appearances at the farmstand. No autographs please!

Around the farm 10/29/13

40 years ago John and Gordon planted this sugar maple sapling during the first year of Hutchins Farm. Look how great 40 years of growth can be! As we wind down our 41st season at Hutchins, we are grateful for all our faithful customers over the years. Come by and say hi this week, we close for the season on Sunday November 3rd.

Around the farm 10/26/13

What a beautiful day! You’ve got 8 days left to visit the farm stand – we’re closing for the season at the end of the day on November 3rd.

Come on out and visit us, we’ve still got lots of produce!

Around the farm 10/15/13

Driving down Monument Street? Don’t be scared! The crew was just having a little bit of fun…

Hutchins Farm October Newsletter

For those of you who simply want to know about our closing date and sign-up sheets for bulk produce without reading a whole lot of blather, you can skip to the penultimate, pertinent paragraph which begins with a sentence in BOLD CAPITALS.

Although it has yet to cool down, the shorter days and changing colors assure us that fall is here, and the end of the growing season is near.  We confess to deep ambivalence at the approach of winter—the mental and physical fatigue of keeping so many balls in the air (so to speak) is such that we crave the moment when we can drop our hands and let them fall.  On the other hand, the exercise of juggling (still metaphorically) is deeply satisfying, and doing it nonstop over the course of the season then suddenly stopping means an inevitable crash beyond the metaphorical balls crashing to the ground.  The end of the season for us means that we must reprioritize everything.  Whereas during the season, priorities seem to arrange themselves (as in—we’re out of arugula, must pick more, or the tomatoes are ready, must pick them), at the end of the season, all those jobs we relegated to some lower tier of our priority list (in order to get the arugula and tomatoes picked) suddenly float to the surface and demand to be put in some sort of new order.  We enter the cold season somewhat dazed, with a sense of many things left undone.

Anyway, the primary purpose of this note is not to whine but to inform:  We’re closing pretty soon, on Nov. 3rd to be precise.  Although some of my previous informational e-mails were primarily about whining, in particular about certain problems and potential shortages, it turns out that we have quite the abundance of nice produce for the last several weeks we’ll be open.  The weather, if you can get over the fact that it is probably a manifestation of climate change and should make us all anxious in the extreme as we blithely fail to change our carbon spewing ways, has been very pleasant.  And more than that, it has been conducive to sustained growth later in the season than is usual, which means that late planted crops that in some seasons may have simply shivered, sulked and failed to make much growth during October, look like they’re going to mature.  We’ve got some of the nicest fall lettuce I can remember (though supplies have been and may remain a little tight), along with an extended twilight for the summer crops—corn, beans and summer squash are just coming to an end this week; eggplant, peppers and tomatoes are still going strong.  Greens (kale, collards, chard, mustard, cabbage, spinach), herbs (parsley, cilantro, dill), and roots (carrots, parsnips, radishes small and large, turnips, rutabagas) are all abundant.  Broccoli is the best we’ve had for awhile, and cauliflower and romanesco should continue to be sporadically available.  The apple crop is the best any of us can remember, and our sweet potatoes that so spectacularly failed to produce last year have more than made up for it this year (I’m glad I didn’t give up on them).

As to the shortfalls alluded to in previous mailings, we do have a limited quantity of certain items that are usually abundant.  Carrots are plentiful, but not to the extent they usually are.  Potatoes are a little skimpy in size and volume, but we’ve still got a whole lot to dig. Beets are small and likely to be only occasionally available over the remainder of the month.  And Brussels sprouts are a little on the small size yet—they will be available, but probably later than is usual.

BEGIN READING NOW.  For those of you who would like to participate in our end-of-season sign up for bulk produce, we will, once again, be taking reservations for 50 lb bags of potatoes for $40, 25 lb bags of carrots for $30 and, new this year, 25 lb bags of sweet potatoes for $35.  All orders will be payable on pickup.  Like in past years, supplies will be limited and those first signed up will be the first to have their orders filled.  Unlike past years, we are reserving the right to choose the potato variety for those who sign up—most bags will likely be Kennebec, which performs well even when others don’t, and which we plant more of than any other variety.  Also unlike last year, sufficient carrots may not be mature by our specified pick up date, so we may ask people lower on the list to pick up at a later date (probably mid-November).  Normal pick up days will begin on Friday the 1st of November and last through Sunday, November 3rd our closing day.  People who are unable to pick up then should contact us to arrange a later (but not earlier) pick up date.  Bags will be filled in the order which the names appear on the sign up sheet.  If we have a similar response to the last few seasons, there may be more than usual unfilled orders as our supplies run out.  You can sign up in person at the farmstand, or can send in an e-mail request to be added to the list.

Hope you’re all enjoying the pleasant (but portentous) weather, and hope you can make it by in the next couple weeks to bid farewell ‘til next spring.

Brian Cramer
Farm Manager

Around the farm 10/2/13

Everyone’s favorite root – the Sweet Potato! They are making their season debut at the farmstand today. We have a great crop this year!

Growing our certified organic apples at Hutchins Farm

Growing our certified organic apples at Hutchins Farm

     Many of our customers have been asking for more information about how we grow our organic apples. We hope this answers a few questions, and gives you some insight into the challenges of organic farming!

      The variable, unpredictable weather of New England and the predominance of both abandoned orchards and landscaped crab apples make growing organic apples a real challenge. The best orchard sites are on the heights and slopes of hills. Ours is pretty much a valley with heat and humidity. One would better choose soils a little less sandy than ours so that availability of moisture and nutrients was slower and more constant. Nevertheless we love our spot here in the Concord River Valley and do our best to grow good apples and we are proud to certify our practices as Organic.

We start the season worrying about Winter Moth, apple scab and anticipating a concern for fire blight. For the first we spray a light oil, making sure temps will not drop below 40 for at least 48 hours afterward. BT(bacillus thuringiensis) goes on several weeks later. The moths’ caterpillars are green and so small you can barely see them. Watch for their silk tracers as they drop in from taller surrounding trees, woodlands. Once they get inside the expanding buds, no organic materials can be effective. Copper addresses earliest emerging scab spores and may help with fire blight bacterium. No copper within two weeks of oil. Sulfur and lime sulfur take over as the primary scab season matures – here mid-April until late May.

Our use of Surround or kaolin clay in May usually begins when buds are showing pink. It has some beneficial effects on the scab problem and we believe initiates the discouraging process of telling some of the insect pests to go elsewhere. We might use one of the various new microbial products during bloom in hopes it might enhance a defense against fire blight. Commercial orchards – and some organic ones – use streptomycin materials at this time. We think that is not a healthy practice for our human environment.

After bloom(petal fall) begins the month period of maximum concern for insects. The apples are obviously small and super vulnerable. With our clay as a base we alternate the organically approved version of a soil derived bacterium spinosad called Entrust, with BT. In these sprays we include a seaweed extract and a tea we make from stinging nettle. Also boron. Hopefully we have controlled scab in its primary season. If June is wet me might have to continue some use of the sulfurs to minimize the spread of secondary scab.

In mid July and mid August we worry about a second generation of Codling Moth and the development in most seasons of Apple Maggot Fly. We try to time second sprays of BT and Entrust to maximize their impact. This year we have attempted to extend our impact on late season fruit worms by utilizing a new biological insecticide in Mid-August. It might have helped.

From early July through mid August we are also concerned with supplying calcium to the trees/fruit. There is only one material generally approved for Organic production, Calcium 25. We apply it three times by itself at a temperature above 80 so that it may be absorbed.

The summer diseases of Sooty Blotch and Fly Speck – they make our apples look dirty – are minimal in orchard sites that are elevated on hills with good airflow. We choose not to extend the use of sulfur and lime sulfur into August to reduce the two because sulfurs have a negative impact on soil life and the tissue of leaves and next year’s fruit buds when sprayed heavily. The diseases are harmless beyond their visual impact. Much can be washed off but we refrain in order to retain the natural waxes on the fruit surface. Removing the waxes reduces shelf life which is why markets carry so many apples that have actually been additionally waxed post harvest.

We rely much on the general weather pattern of Eastern Massachusetts that typically provides long periods of dry weather in August. Organic materials are only marginally protective. When we have a heavy crop, we have more “preferable” apples. Given a likely present insect population it has a big impact on a small crop perhaps affecting as many apples on the big crop, but leaving more unaffected. We sort the apples as we pick them and then again here at the stand trying to provide the best for you.

2013 has been a good year. Despite heavy early season rains most varieties came through with minimal scab. Late, extended dryness has kept fruit rots to a low level. The apples are firm and should store better than average. The Spencer, Empire and Sister will be in most plentiful supply later in October. We still will have Liberty, a terrific October apple. We should have a few Melrose and Jonagold. Buy your Macoun and Honeycrisp soon as they will disappear.

We hope this  information is helpful to our customers. Thank you for your continued support of Hutchins Farm and local organic agriculture!

-John Bemis


(A Spencer apple tree)