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 http://concordfood.ning.com/fair 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,