Hutchins Farm April 2013 Newsletter

From last spring to this, two more different seasons you could hardly find (unless they were summer and winter).  Of the two, we decidedly prefer the measured pace of this year’s warm up over last year’s headlong rush into summer.  We are pleased to report that over the last several weeks we entered into a ‘licensing agreement’ (basically a lease) with the Town of Concord to rent 12 acres at the McGrath Farm on Barrett’s Hill Rd.  We don’t plan to dramatically increase our cultivated acreage, but are very pleased to be able to execute longer and more meaningful rotations for our crops—having three large centers of cultivation far enough from one another to preclude the exchange of many pests could have a very positive effect on our success with certain crops, most notably winter squash and potatoes.  Similar to our approach at the field we currently rent from the town off Bedford St., we will likely use about a third of the acreage for cash crops each year, growing soil improving cover crops and ‘green manures’ on the remaining two thirds to keep the soil productive and healthy.

One item of note regarding the new field is that there is currently a planting of asparagus located on some of the acreage.  Although the asparagus can’t be considered ‘certified organic’ until we have managed it accordingly for three years, we’re still thrilled to have asparagus to offer again after many years without.  Our first crop this year is parsnips, which were left in the field over the winter to develop their characteristic sweetness, and dug this past weekend.  They are available on the porch, self-serve, along with the usual bagged compost and potting soil.

Plants of the hardier sort (6-packs of lettuce, spinach, kale, broccoli, cabbage and chard; peat pots of chervil, cilantro, arugula, dill and claytonia) will begin to appear around mid-month, presumably accompanied by the aforementioned asparagus.  Plant offerings will expand through April and May (though a few types might drop out) and will continue almost through July, by which time we will be thoroughly tired of watering and otherwise caring for them.  Lettuce and other greens will begin to appear on the porch sometime during May, and by the time June comes, the first berries should have arrived and our doors will open.

Last fall, our stalwart managers Taylor and Andrea Bemis decided to strike out on their own, and are currently farming in Oregon.  They and their considerable contributions will be missed, but we have brought on board two new management trainees—Andy Friedberg and Rachel Kaplan—whose experience, enthusiasm, intelligence and work ethic will be an example to the crew.  Ward Cheney remains a key player on our team, keeping our field operations on schedule and our machinery in good shape.  Liza Bemis is with us again, magically making order from the daily chaos of a diversified vegetable farm, and making sure that the essence of our mission—providing our customers with the finest, freshest produce possible—is always foremost in our minds.  And John and Gordon continue to play important roles in the orchard, the farm infrastructure, and charting a secure and sustainable future for the farm

Another growing season begins, very much the same as the others, yet very different.  With eyes and mind open, each go round provides some lesson, some insight and, yes, a fair amount of puzzlement. With an open heart, each season provides some elation, some sadness, some frustration, some satisfaction.  Looking back, they begin to blend together, the details of each season combining with the others like looking at a map with a series of overlays superimposed.  Although I begin to have difficulty combing out the details of one year from another, I hope that the loss of specificity will be accompanied by a gain, perhaps the blending images will weave themselves into some fabric, a pattern with implications greater that those to be gotten from the distinct strands of successive seasons.  In any case, here we go again—now that spring is here, we hope your footsteps lead you back to join us in our fruitful endeavor.

Brian Cramer
Farm Manager

Around the farm 4/1/13

prop house is filling up – look at those babies grow!

Around the farm 3/6/13

And it begins again…

Around the farm 1/22/13

View January 2013

Just a light dusting of snow from last night. Stay warm everyone!

End of Season 2012 Newsletter

Although mild weather allowed us to offer a larger than usual variety of vegetables self-serve on the porch this fall, temperatures are staying lower and veggies are getting scarcer–most likely, if you stop by you’ll only see carrots, but more on that later. You, our customers, are ultimately the judges of how successful a season we had, but from our perspective 2012 was an exceptionally productive year despite certain setbacks.

We started off our season with a very poor batch of greenhouse soil which ended up affecting the quality and quantity of our own plants as well as some of those we sold this past spring. Luckily, the problem was caught quickly enough to prevent any really long term issues–we stopped using the substandard soil as soon as we realized the problem, and only our earliest plantings (onions, early broccoli, cabbage and kale, early lettuce, and perennial herbs like thyme and oregano) suffered. Our experienced crew and our managers ensured that subsequent plantings went in like clockwork, and the care they require was given in a timely and efficient fashion–the result being consistent, abundant supplies of most everything we can offer. Routines and systems developed over a number of years were executed with a precision and efficiency unknown before (thanks largely to Taylor Bemis, Ward Cheney and key returning members of the field crew). The downside to these highly developed routines and systems is that crops whose requirements don’t fit within one of our current ‘templates’ tend to fall between the cracks or, more aptly, get lost in the weeds. Witness our first, much heralded crop of ginger, which you may have heard about in a previous e-mail sent out last winter, but which you didn’t hear much about thereafter–because it failed, strangled by weeds and neglect as our weekly lettuce plantings and seedings of herbs and greens ticked along like well-oiled (well, functional anyway) machinery. Whoops.

The dreaded SWD fruitfly (Spotted Wing Drosophila) with its jagged ovipositor and penchant for laying eggs (which hatch into rather unappetizing maggots) into just ripening fruit, did appear–but not early enough to affect our strawberries, and late enough as well that we only needed to spray our blueberries a couple of times. I’d be interested to hear experiences from customers who grow fall-bearing raspberries–did you spray? What? And did it work? If not, were your berries ruined?

Other problems seem less tractable. Despite going to extraordinary lengths to protect our squash crops–growing resistant varieties, covering with row cover, spraying with the rather ineffective materials we’re allowed to use–zucchini plantings were dying in record time, some before they even began to produce fruit. Our winter squash and pumpkin crops (all three acres of which we covered until they were in bloom) did better than last year, but not well enough to justify all the extra labor that went into them. And our basil, though it lasted several weeks longer than last year, still succumbed to disease around mid-August, over a month short of the frosts that used to lay it low.

On a more positive note, the new bird netting system installed by John and Taylor Bemis to protect the blueberries is not only infinitely easier to install and remove, but far more effective than previous methods. In addition, our ‘new’ blueberry planting (now in its third year?) looks to be prospering and may begin to produce fruit in the next year or two. Despite the specter of late blight throughout much of the summer and fall, our (sprayed) tomatoes remained productive through September and beyond with overall yield and quality that was outstanding. And our new tactic of releasing parasitic wasps to control European Corn Borer caterpillars resulted in largely worm-free corn (at least until the arrival of the Corn Earworm, a different species not targeted by the wasps) and larger yields of ripe (red, yellow and orange) peppers, which also often fall prey to European Corn Borer. This year also marked the first time we used a subsoiler (more aggressive than the chisel plow that we have traditionally used to break up compacted soils)–it’s tempting to credit this new practice with the huge yields of huge carrots we enjoyed this year, but, like most things, there’s almost certainly more to the story.

And speaking of high carrot yields, we are still sitting on a large quantity of carrots, so if any of you missed out on ordering a 25 lb bag this fall, or have already gone through them, we still have plenty available at $27.50 per bag–just e-mail if you’re interested and we’ll make arrangements for a pick up.

In addition, I would like to recognize all those individuals involved in our sales efforts–farmstand and farmer’s market crews both, in particular Liza Bemis who ties production and sales together and makes it work. More than successful crops and other triumphs in the field, more than the celebrated farm vista, more than the farm tradition, what makes Hutchins special are the customers and the farm stand crew, interacting, sharing enthusiasm for the produce and the ensuing kitchen alchemy that transforms lovingly raised ingredients into the only form of art that we (literally) consume every day and that (literally) sustains us–food. A heartfelt thank you to all our wonderful customers who continue to seek us out and are so generous in their appreciation of our efforts. Here’s to a good winter, and we’ll see you in the spring.

Brian Cramer
Hutchins Farm


Around the farm 10/27/12

Last weekend of the season- the farmstand is open through October 31st.

50lb potato bags ready for pick up!

October Newsletter

Frosty mornings, wind-tossed leaves, adding and shedding layers of clothes each day—all are signs that the season is coming to an end.  Our plantings of tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are still standing, but are dead and black as if last week’s frost had literally burned them.  Bleached corn stalks rattle in the breeze.  Long shadows last late into the morning, and stretch out early in the afternoon.  Plantings of kale and chard that seemed inexhaustible in August are now slow to replenish their leaves.  Large areas of the farm have been put to bed under a rich green blanket of winter rye and hairy vetch that will go dormant as temperatures fall and daylight diminishes, but awaken with lush growth when the days lengthen and warm next spring, ultimately to enrich our fields and crops as they decompose.

As the season winds down, our crop mix changes, with summer fruits like tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini becoming less abundant or disappearing altogether, while the sturdy roots, chock full of the nutrients they need to survive the winter and resume growth in the spring, come into their own.  Leafy greens like lettuce, arugula and spinach thrive in the cooler temperatures.  Frosty mornings lend carrots a crisp sweetness that they can’t achieve in the summer months, while the large brassica tribe—broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, rutabaga, etc.—become considerably sweeter and more tender.

Our potato crop was a good one, and we have generous quantities of high quality spuds available by the pound or in 5, 10 and 20 pound bags.  Sign up sheets for 50 lb potato bags and 25 lb carrot bags are still open.  Our winter squash and pumpkin crop was better this year than last, but still not stellar.  We currently have good supplies of acorn and sweet dumpling squash, along with some of the larger Tetsukabuto squash and Neck Pumpkin

We will be closing on October 31st this year, which falls on a Wednesday.  We hope that many of you will be able to make another trip out to the farm before the end of the season.  If you do, you will likely find:  lettuce, arugula, radishes, turnips, rutabaga, potatoes, popcorn, Indian corn, mizuna, mustard greens, chard, bok choy, daikon, cabbage, carrots, beets, celeriac, cilantro, parsley, dill, leeks, kohlrabi and Chinese cabbage.  You may also find: radicchio, fennel, tomatoes, peppers sweet and hot, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, endive, kale, collards, scallions, sweet potatoes and spinach.

Here’s hoping for a long, pleasant Indian Summer, to be followed by a real New England winter (brrr!).

Brian Cramer
Hutchins Farm

Bulk Carrot and Potato Sign Up 2012

Just a note for those of you who might be interested: we will begin our signup for bulk carrot and potato sales beginning this Saturday. Carrots will be available in 25 lb bags for $27.50; potatoes in 50 lb bags for $40. You can either sign up in person at the farmstand, or you can e-mail us. For carrots, simply let us know how many bags you would like to reserve. For potatoes, please rank your variety preference (1,2 and 3) out of the following varieties: Kennebec (white skin, white flesh), Keuka Gold (buff skin, light yellow flesh) and Carola (yellow skin, yellow flesh). Supplies of all products are limited, and orders will be filled in the order they are received. Bags can be picked up during the last week of October or by special arrangement.

Hutchins Farm August Newsletter

Mid-August marks the midpoint of our season: halfway from the strawberry stained days of June when we try to make the newly opened, mostly empty farmstand look a little less barren; halfway to the dwindling days of October when we try to find enough space in the crowded farmstand for all the produce still pouring in from the fields. So far the season has been a generous one. Despite the heat, humidity and extended periods without rain, our crops have been thriving.  Our corn has been abundant, reasonably worm-free, and generally very good-we may have short interruptions in supply, but hope to harvest more or less continuously through the end of September. Our tomatoes are especially prolific and delicious this year, though we live in fear that late blight, which has already destroyed crops on several local farms, will bring tomato season to a crashing halt. Another disease has recently laid low the basil, and until a breeder develops a basil variety that can tolerate downy mildew, it looks like basil season will henceforth extend from early June through mid-August-meaning there will be very little overlap in season with basil’s finest complement, the tomato.

The insect I mentioned with hushed dread in my last message-the Spotted Wing Drosophila-has certainly arrived, but didn’t arrive early enough to damage our blueberries, now long gone for the season. Other pests have been more problematic, with squash and cucumber plantings succumbing in record time to Bacterial Wilt brought on by Striped Cucumber Beetle feeding, and early plantings of arugula, broccoli, and kale devoured or delayed by voracious throngs of shiny black flea beetles. Over the years, we have learned to expect certain pests and diseases at certain times, and found that, for most crops, the best way to keep the veggies coming is to keep planting, pests and conditions be damned. Even as our third and fourth plantings of squash begin to shut down, our fifth planting is up and growing lustily, fertilized by our unflagging, occasionally misplaced, optimism. One marginal bean planting is succeeded by a lush one; one heat stressed, weedy lettuce planting is followed by a beautiful one that experienced moderate temperatures at the right time. Our experience tells us that our successes will far outnumber our failures, and that the pleasure (and profit) of harvesting a successful crop goes a long way in erasing the pain and heartbreak (and expense) of harvesting a marginal crop, or worse, leaving a failed crop in the field.

Currently, we’re harvesting a fine crop of melons and watermelons, a record-breaking crop of eggplant (whose uneven performance from year to year remains a profound mystery to me), and ample peppers and hot peppers. Abundant, delicious corn   returns this weekend, and we hope it will be accompanied by plentiful beans and lettuce, both of which have been somewhat scarce recently. Summer squash and cucumbers are soldiering on, and, with luck, we may be picking well into September. Celery has made its first appearance and should continue for a month or more. Broccoli in varying quantities should continue through the end of the season, and cauliflower should be joining the roster quite soon. Our usual offerings of kale, scallions, leeks, chard, arugula, radishes, beets and carrots should continue unabated, while cilantro and dill are expected back from their vacation shortly. Garlic and onions have all been harvested and we have a good supply of both, but they typically sell out weeks or even a month before we close. Look for edamame (green soybeans) for a limited time starting this week, along with a slowly expanding selection of potato varieties, and some extra early winter squash whose maturity was hastened by the heat. Delicious, tender white Japanese turnips will begin what we hope will be a continuous presence through the end of the season, and lots of other crops (Chinese cabbage, rutabaga, celeriac, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, daikon etc.) will appear over the next weeks-most available every day, some making sporadic appearances, until the variety and volume of produce overwhelms the farmstand, spilling out the doors (actually, we’ve already had to send a large, unruly gang of watermelons outside to sell themselves).

This message will close on a somber note, as John gives an update on the status of this year’s apple crop:


         We’re lucky. We will have a crop this year.   With the exceptionally early Spring many growers in New York State and Michigan were completely frozen out. Trees budded out two to three weeks earlier than normal and were then subject to typically timed cold April temperatures.   Growers in Eastern Washington were subject to strong summer storms bringing hail damage, uprooting trees and blowing off large numbers of apples.

Our crop is meager.   In the orchard to the right of our large Oak there are no apples below chest height, a result of cold temperatures in low ground. Fruit set was light and inconsistent even on higher ground with cold unevenly affecting pollen viability.   In an attempt to deal with winter moth – the moth that is all over your porch lights during late November and early December – we ran a trial for ourselves with our certified organic spray materials.   Winter moth larvae emerge in late winter, entering buds just as they start to swell.   The larvae are small and only vulnerable to elimination with organic materials for a short time before the caterpillars are inside buds, destroying the flowers in their pre-emerging state. We know now what to do though timing spraying will remain a challenge.

A light fruit set generates two problems.   First the trees are inclined to produce more vegetative growth – leaves – as they have less fruit to consume their energy.   Organic spray materials to control disease rely on excellent coverage, much more difficult with lots of leaves.   Second, the insect populations we can only partially control concentrate themselves on the fewer number of apples.   The percentage of fruit unaffected by disease and insects is therefore less, the number of apples to be sold even further reduced.   Fewer apples also mean bigger apples.   That sounds good on one hand, but big apples are inclined to have more physiological issues as they have more nutrient demands.

The final challenge this year has been the heat.   Developing two weeks early, McIntosh for example is almost not worth harvesting.   In heat they are just mush.   Sugars and flavor don’t develop as well in heat as cold.   When drought accompanies heat, apples just plain drop.   Conventional growers spray materials to keep the apples on the tree.   We can’t do that.

We would love to have the bountiful crop we had in 2010. We won’t . Hopefully we will next year again.   Still we will have our own certified organic apples and we are proud considering the challenges New England always provides, this year in spades.

Look for them soon.
John Bemis

We hope all of you on this mailing list have had an opportunity to stop by already this season. We do our best to provide diverse and flavorful sustenance to our customers, recognizing that the support of faithful customers, both long term and new, is what sustains us and gives meaning to our efforts. For most of you, Hutchins doesn’t represent a stop on the way home, but a destination you have to decide to visit. We appreciate that and feel responsible for making that decision an easy one.


Brian Cramer
Hutchins Farm

Photo by Erin Knight

Around the farm 8/18/12

The Crew hauled up quite a load of watermelons! Enjoy them now while they are at their peak!