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)

Around the farm 9/21/13

Picking beans all afternoon! We’re fully stocked at the farmstand with green, wax, and romano beans!

Around the farm 9/14/13

And just like that, Fall arrived! Jack-o-lanterns, pie pumpkins, winter luxury pumpkins, baby bear pie pumpkins, delicata, and sweet dumplings are taking over the farmstand!

Thank You!

Thanks for a great Concord “Ag” Weekend everyone! We appreciate everyone who came out to the annual farmers’ market in town to show their support, and all those who make the trip out to the farm all season long! We wouldn’t be here without you! Thank you!

Concord Ag Day is tomorrow!

Concord Ag Day is tomorrow! We will be down in Concord center right on Main Street for the annual farmers’ market: 10am to 2pm. Please come by and say hello to us, and our fellow Concord farmers! If you can’t make it, the farm stand is open usual hours 11am – 6pm.

Our apologies to our Union Square Farmers Market customers, we wish we could be in two places at once. We’ll be back next week!

We will be running two farm tours this Sunday Sept 8th at 1pm and 3pm, please email to sign up. The farm road is rough, so please wear appropriate footwear!


Around the farm 8/29/13

Guess what Hutchins’ favorite is making their season debut at the farm stand today? Galas, Early Macouns, and Novamacs are all here! (this lovely tree is a Gala)

More fall crops are starting to appear!

Around the farm 8/24/13

Why is the field crew reading “Self Magazine”? Former crew member Andrea Bemis’ cooking blog is featured in the September issue!  Check out her recipes at Self Magazine, and on her blog

Hutchins Farm 2013 August Newsletter

The middle of August marks, roughly, the middle of the growing season in this part of the world. The sun is still hot and high, the days still long, but they are shorter than they were in the heady days of late June when all things seemed possible, when the unfolding summer seemed as bright and endless as a child’s idea of heaven. But when the shadows lengthen earlier today than they did yesterday, we are reminded that there is an end-not imminent, but inexorable. If in June all things are possible, in August a number of things become, if not impossible, then very improbable. We may hazard a last seeding of beans or zucchini this time of year, but we know it’s the last-a boundary either has been or is soon to be crossed. Stepping over, we realize that our hopes and desires can no longer be invested in the rather modest crops we can still plant-the cold-hardy greens, quick-growing lettuce, sprightly radishes-but are now embodied in the standing crops, still luxuriating in the tropical summer.

The wildly variable weather in June and July set the stage for what has proved to be a rather lean August for us. Early flooding limited our choice of fields to plant, delayed our scheduled preparations, and ultimately forced us into planting decisions we have come to regret. Then a protracted heat wave in July compounded our difficulties and presented new ones, like failures in greenhouse and field germination, premature bolting of certain crops, and accelerated development of pests. These conditions are not particularly unusual-floods and heat waves, along with cold snaps, hailstorms, months without rain, etc. all seem to occur with some regularity. But this time, for some reason, we were less ready for them, less resilient, the result being what many of you have found (or failed to find) at the stand-shortages of certain crops. Our apologies to those who have gone away frustrated, and our assurances that, though some shortages and failures will continue to occur, we are doing our best to ensure consistent supplies of all we grow.

            So, to the details: lettuce is in short supply now, and will likely continue to be for at least two weeks, but there is lots of lettuce planted in the field and the moderating weather promises abundant yields. Despite people’s impressions to the contrary, a shortage of lettuce is very common for us this time of year (lettuce doesn’t appreciate heat at any stage of growth), but usually less noticeable because of all the other products. Kale and collards are temporarily scarce because of the surprising intensity of a flea beetle outbreak in our first planting. We were forced to pick our second planting of kale (unaffected by flea beetles, thankfully) much more heavily than usual to compensate for the unpickable condition of the initial planting. Luckily, our third planting (the charm?) is on the cusp of being ready to pick. A soon-to-be shortage will occur with our carrots and beets-our large mid-summer planting timed to mature in late August failed to germinate well enough during the heat of July, and we tilled it in. There are successive plantings that look promising, but there will certainly be a gap during which we simply won’t have beets or carrots. The last of the unusual but likely shortfalls involves potatoes. Potatoes suffer from an extremely destructive pest know as the Colorado Potato Beetle which, uncontrolled, can become so numerous as to completely defoliate a potato planting in about a week. An organically acceptable product known as spinosad (derived from a bacteria-like organism) has been the only reliably effective pesticide available to organic growers for quite some time now, and the inability to rotate from one product to another has led to genetic resistance in many potato beetle populations, including ours. Anticipating this development last year, I didn’t spray, but relied on labor-intensive hand picking of adults and burning of larvae, and we did manage to secure a decent crop. I tried to do the same this year (along with other strategies), but the beetles arrived in such overwhelming numbers that our efforts proved ineffective-and when I finally decided I had to try the spray, it was only moderately effective. We’re likely to have potatoes to sell, but not in the same quantity or variety as usual.

            But enough doom and gloom-corn has been and should continue to be abundant and delicious. Melons and watermelons are doing well both in our usual fields and in the field we are transitioning to certified organic at the McGrath Farm. Eggplant and peppers are making a strong showing, and our tomatoes, though late blight has been reported in the area, look to be productive, if a bit later to ripen than last year. Onions and garlic did beautifully this year and shouldn’t sell out as early in the season as they sometimes do. Bean plantings slated to mature this month and in September look quite good, and late summer and fall broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage fields look handsome as well, with the earliest broccoli just about ready to cut as I write. Sweet potatoes look like they are going to exceed all our expectations, and the Brussels sprouts are growing apace. Perhaps the star crop this year (if I’m not jinxing it by saying so) are the apples, which are hanging from the trees in such astonishing, beautiful profusion that the prospect of harvest is daunting.

            Our heartfelt gratitude to the customers who continue to visit us during the (hopefully brief) time of relative scarcity. As we face these challenges going forward, we hope that the access to fields at the McGrath Farm (along with the fields we currently cultivate on Bedford St. and Monument St.) will allow us to practice longer, more meaningful and effective rotations, preventing the kind of pest outbreaks that have affected our kale and potatoes this season, and our squash plantings over the past several years.

            Concord’s annual Ag Day will be on Saturday, September 7th this year – many local farms will set up tents for a farmer’s market on Main St. from 10AM to 2PM. In addition, this year the farm and garden related activities will extend into the afternoon on Saturday and all day Sunday, when various farms (including Hutchins) and garden organizations will be hosting tours, open houses and other festivities. Check out for details about participating farms, organizations, and scheduled events. Hutchins will be hosting two afternoon tours on Sunday September 8th at 1 PM and 3PM. Interested individuals are encouraged to sign up in person or via e-mail. Dress appropriately!

We hope to see you soon,
Brian Cramer
Farm Manager


Around the farm 8/11/13

Protecting lettuce is hard work- deer fence is going up!

The secret ingredient behind our tough crew? Radishes!