Since the calendar says March, spring must be here, but I feel as though I’m still waiting for winter. Nevertheless, my first greenhouse seedings (onion, leek, artichoke, lettuce, broccoli, herbs) have germinated handsomely and I feel the rhythms of the season begin to accelerate—the lento of winter brightening to the andante of spring, ultimately reaching the allegro agitato of summer and fall. It’s thrilling and daunting at the same time, but you can’t sit out this dance even if you want to—the music of the season is irresistible.
Our plans this year include several new crops and directions: we will attempt to raise a successful trial crop of fresh ginger in the hopes of adding a new vegetable to our roster; we’re doubling the size of our sweet potato planting after last year’s successful crop; we’re planning to introduce several species of beneficial insects to our fields to help us manage pests in corn, peppers and beans. We’re partnering with local flower grower Michelle Wiggins—she’ll be using some ground at Hutchins as well as her own garden to produce gorgeous bouquets available on weekends at the farm stand. We’re also anticipating the arrival of an unwelcome newcomer, the dreaded Spotted Wing Drosophila, a fruit fly with two terrifying attributes: the unique (for a fruit fly) ability to lay its eggs in sound, even slightly unripe fruit through the agency of the female’s serrated ovipositor, and the ability to reproduce quickly and prolifically—laying up to 100 eggs in a day, and producing 10 or more generations in a season. Those of you interested in this pest, its control, and some info on organic growing in general should read the following informative (dry) paragraphs—the rest could skip to the last paragraph, with its juicy reference to strawberries and other goodies.
This pest was first detected in the Northeast last year, when raspberry growers started seeing maggots in their fall crops. By all accounts, this could be a devastating pest, affecting most soft fruit, including strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and even some tree fruit. The problem will likely be mild early and grow worse as the season progresses and the fruit fly populations explode. According to University Extension programs, anyone hoping to produce berries, particularly late maturing types, should be prepared to control the pest or expect nearly 100% losses. The key to successful control is monitoring through trapping to know when the pest arrives (trap designs, monitoring instructions and identification photos can be found online), and immediately beginning a spray program upon detection of the pest. Organic growers in parts of the country where the pest arrived in 2009 and 2010 have used two organically acceptable sprays (in rotation, to slow development of resistance) effectively: Spinosad, which has bacteria-like microbes as its active ingredient and is available to home gardeners as Monterey Garden Insect Spray, and pyrethrum sprays, derived from an African daisy relative (we use Pyganic brand). There is likely a long list of conventional chemical products available to effectively control the pest, but since sprays will be applied to ripe and nearly ripe fruit, toxicity is a particular concern. Spray products that are acceptable for organic production generally have minimal mammalian toxicity to begin with and lose any toxicity they do have rapidly in the presence of sunlight—most products that have been approved for organic certification carry the ‘OMRI’ seal prominently on their label.
The previous discussion, frightening as it is, leads us, perforce, to a discussion of sprays in organic agriculture and what ‘organic’ actually means. As I’ve gone on quite a bit already, I think I’ll save a full treatment of that fraught topic for a future missive—suffice it to say that organic does not mean ‘no-spray’ or ‘low-spray’. Farmers who use those terms are often trying to mislead consumers into conflating their products with certified organic products, but they very likely fertilized their soil with chemical fertilizers, sprayed or broadcast herbicides on the soil before the crop was planted, and used pesticides or fungicides on nearby crops and/or crops which preceded the ‘no-spray’ crop in question. At the very least, unless they are certified organic, they didn’t submit an annual farm plan to a certifying agency outlining their crop production practices and products used, pay a fee based on their gross income, and submit to an annual inspection to ensure that the implementation of the farm plan is in conformity with the Organic Rule. We do those things and, yes, we do spray a small number of crops regularly, and a larger number occasionally. The materials we use all conform to the Organic Rule and are registered with the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI). These materials pass organic muster because they are: naturally derived—no synthetics, no genetically-modified organisms; quick to degrade into inactive components; low in toxicity to non-target creatures; only used in accordance with the Rule, which requires demonstration of need and documentation. The Organic Rule also stipulates that we only use these acceptable materials when other options have failed. Here endeth the rant, for now.
We will once again make available a list of garden plants—mostly vegetables and herbs—that we will offer for sale this spring. An updated version should be available at our website by late March. Once again, we won’t be accepting orders but we hope to have ample quantities and an interesting selection. Those of you looking for compost and potting soil should see it by the end of this week, along with delicious cold-sweetened, freshly dug parsnips—the first fruits (so to speak) of spring. Be aware that our parking lot is currently being used as an entry by road crews shoring up a section of Monument St. that winds by the farm and had begun to show signs of collapse—customers can still use the parking lot, but be on the lookout for trucks and machinery. We’re still a long way from opening our doors, but we should have some plants available on the porch as early as mid-April. Then, assuming spring and summer haven’t been cancelled like winter was, we should start to see lettuce, arugula, radishes in May until finally, the doors open to reveal strawberries in June and the promise of more to come…