The Farming Life

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This has been my best year yet, and it is not over.  Spring yielded bumper crops of snow peas, sugar snaps, shelling peas, lettuce, brocollini & carrots.

Summer was a bit trickier, as I spent two weeks in Italy with family.  Everything was planted late.  Beans, heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, pie pumpkins & patty pan squash proliferated. 

Warm-season crops extended into mid-November.  We even had a harvest of 20 lbs. of fall-planted strawberries in October.  Brought in all the sweet potatoes.  Becca’s Purple did especially well.  Burdock root has been surprisingly popular.

    Jack Frost has come.  Seeing the results of his advent is welcome.  The spiny pigweed finally succumbed to his hoary breath.  Many crops obscured by the tender weeds are now visible & accessible.  

We never got the broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage planted.  Turnips, snow peas, beets, carrots, sugar snaps, radishes, Asian greens, arugula, shelling peas, lettuce, spinach, mustard & kale fill the fields. 

 #farming #rurallife #agriculture #organic #sustainable #homesteading #bucolic #pastoral 

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Spring Farming

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Spring is an interesting time to farm commercially. You never know what you’re going to get, especially in Virginia. Last year it was so cold and wet I was unable to work the soil until mid-April. The old rule of thumb is the spring planting date is March 15th. So I was a month late and behind the eight ball. I spent a lot of time starting seedlings. Things like cabbage, broccoli raab, spinach, lettuce, broccoli & cauliflower. I hand worked beds in the field where I had plowed and tilled previously. In new ground I created one hundred square foot wide raised beds using a double digging approach.

I set everything out and in no time almost every single plant had bolted. Even little tiny 2-inch plants! I learned a valuable lesson from this: you really have to get a jump on things early if you want to be a spring farmer. Last year I was renting space in a heated greenhouse.  Understandably, my friend didn’t want to turn on the heat until March 1st.

This year I built a primitive greenhouse in January.

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It is unheated but still provides protection. I began starting seeds February 1st and wish I had started earlier. Here we are past the spring planting date and I do not feel comfortable planting what is inside.  We just had a little snow and it was 26 degrees last night.  In spring you have to beat the heat. In Fall you have to beat Jack Frost.

Other discoveries: you have to have a good balance between direct sowing and transplanting. Last year I went too heavy in the direction of transplanting and did very little direct sowing. This year I have reached a better balance.

I had an interesting conversation with an old-time Hanover County farmer the other day. He is a big fan of direct sowing just about anything except tomatoes eggplant and peppers. He claims direct sown crops will catch up with transplants in no time. It will be interesting to see if this is true as I am direct sowing and transplanting the same crops.

One thing is certain: never discount the knowledge of a wise old farmer. What they know is invaluable and most of it is oral tradition. We should learn from them and use their knowledge in developing a production system.  Ultimately, disseminate the information to others.

Dominic Carpin
delli Carpini Farm
Raising pure, clean food in accordance with organic sustainable principles

Planting by the Moon

Last year I was farming in the district of Beaverdam on Trainham Road. I made a lot of friends there and one of them was an old fashioned farmer that swore by his almanac. He lent it to me and before doing so read me the entire section on the month of August day by day.

I started honoring the practice of planting by the moon. It’s an interesting way to farm. If nothing else it adds discipline and structure to the work. There are different times for different tasks: planting above ground crops, seed beds and transplanting, root crops and during the barren phase all of your cultivating and hopefully destruction of pests and weeds.

Last summer I planted a tremendous amount of summer squash using this principle. As you may know squash bug is a terrible pest of this family of vegetables. My plantings lasted almost 12 weeks before succumbing to squash bugs. I was harvesting upwards of six bushels a week from a 200-foot row. I think that is pretty amazing.

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Conventional farming.

The state of Virginia & local government sponsored a vegetable production workshop last week. An added bonus was the ability to get your market scale certified.  All this for free including lunch. I was ecstatic and excited to be attending. Some of the topics, such as worker safety,  were irrelevant to my operation. I’m a one-man army so I don’t need to concern myself with such things.

Then there was a long informative talk on nematodes. The gentleman was quite knowledgeable but then he gave us a myriad of ways to use chemicals to destroy nematodes in the soil. Fumigation, injection into soil and the like. I’d never heard of most of these chemicals. I thought the whole idea was disgusting.

Another gentleman spoke about vegetable varieties that are good for Virginia. I never got clarification but I’m pretty sure many of the things he was promoting are GMO. I thought that was so disappointing. I have nothing against a good old F1 hybrid.

Then he went into a lengthy informative discourse on all the chemicals you can spray on vegetable crops to control pests. There must have been at least an hundred chemicals unfamiliar to me.   I thought it was a shame that so many of our tax dollars are being spent on research and dissemination of information encouraging the use of chemicals in the farm. Apparently we have a long way to go toward truly embracing the idea of sustainable farming using organic practices.

I had an interesting conversation with a well-established large acreage farmer in the area the other day. He was admiring my field of cereal rye and hairy vetch that I intend to use as a cover crop and possibly even cut and dry, then drag off and windrow for mulch. He waxed nostalgic about the days when he employed such methods but then mentioned that the county and state are pushing a production system using a no-till approach along with chemicals. The idea is that by reducing tillage we are reducing runoff and “saving the bay”. What about all the chemicals that are running off into the bay? He asserted that there was less erosion under the old model using cover crops and tillage. This is another example of misguided government interference into farming practice and suggests possible collusion between our elected officials and the ag industry chemical giants.

Yesterday I was driving into town to get some supplies. On my left I saw a large field that I’m sure will to be planted with a monocrop of either corn or soybeans. Probably GMO. A large tractor trailer tank and spray tractor were parked in the field. Then came the disgusting odor of chemicals into the cab of my truck. It was a windy day. An extremely windy day. Any fool knows that you don’t spray on a windy day. You’re supposed to spray at dawn or dusk if possible because the winds are typically lesson. I was a certified pesticide applicator when I had my landscape company so I know about this. How ridiculous that anyone must breathe some nasty vapor just driving down the road minding their own business. This was careless and irresponsible. Disgusting!

Dominic Carpin
delli Carpini Farm
Raising pure, clean food in accordance with organic sustainable principles

Potatoes

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Potatoes are a great part of the diverse vegetable farm and they are fun to grow. Of course the Colorado potato beetle is serious pest that has be controlled somehow.  Last year I trialed seventeen varieties and about a dozen passed my criteria. I noticed some potatoes are more resistant to infestation than others. Favorites for Virginia from my experiment would be Nicola, Irish cobbler, Red Gold, Austrian Crescent, Dozac, Colorado Rose, La Ratte , Apple Rose Finn, Ozette and French Fingerling.  We are expanding our potato plantings this year and have included Adirondack Blue

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Adirondack Red

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Banana Fingerling

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and Russet.  Nicola is an interesting potato because it has a low glycemic index. It’s excellent for diabetics.

There is a BT product available listed for the larvae of Colorado potato beetle. I used it last year with some effectiveness although it’s best to spray when the larvae are as small as possible. I had read tansy would repel them but I did not see much positive effect from a planting of potatoes surrounded by tansy. A great companion planting setup I have used with success is to plant beans on either side of a potato row.

How great it will be to harvest GMO-free potatoes farmed without the use of chemical pesticides, fertilizer and herbicides!

Dominic Carpin
delli Carpini Farm
Raising pure, clean food in accordance with organic sustainable principles

March

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My farm is comprised of four fields: the Front Field, Upper Field, Lower Field and Back Field.

For whatever reasons, the Lower Field was a big disappointment last summer and fall. The viable crops I was able to harvest from it were carrots, kale, broccoli raab, zucchini, mustard greens, Sardinian radishes & rutabagas. Many of the rows had blank sections and some seed failed to germinate at all.

Because of this I focused my attention on it as soon as the soil could be worked.

I use a vintage Farmall Super A tractor. Its strongest forte is cultivation due to two separate hydraulic zones: one in the belly and one behind it.

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Because of its versatillity, I was able to prepare the entire Lower Field using only cultivators. Disking plowing and the like were unnecessary.

A few passes with the tractor resulted in well-formed rows. I experimented a lot with different configurations of cultivators: Danish reversible shanks in two pairs, combining a pair of discs with two cultivators & just the discs alone. For the final pass I used a chain drag to smooth the top of the rows.

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I know there are many detractors of the tractor out there, but it is an amazing labor saving device and the Farmall especially has qualities to reduce the danger of compacting the soil. Sweeps or spring tooth harrows can be attached behind the rear wheels to fluff the soil in the tractor path.

Yesterday was an epic day on the farm. I planted 2200 row feet of carrots, leeks, turnips, salsify, radishes and beets.  According to the step meter on my phone I walked over five miles. How great is the farming lifestyle, preparing pure clean food outdoors in the fresh air!

Dominic Carpin
delli Carpini Farm
Raising pure, clean food in accordance with organic sustainable principles

Winter

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Winter can be a time of reflection, especially when you are a farmer. When the ground is covered in snow or so wet that it cannot be worked, you must look to other things.

We had a lot of snow this year in Virginia. The soil could not be worked until early March. I have learned an added benefit of no-till farming: you can plant much earlier in the year. Because of this I am going to expand our no-till zone. I have been planting there since early February.

Most of the trees on my farm are American beech. The Pioneers believed beech was an indicator of fertile soil. I have been marveling at the wildlife activity in and amongst these trees. Rufus sided towhee, northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, red-bellied woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, and hairy woodpeckers all enjoy the beech nuts.

Earlier in the year large flocks of grackles congregated in the branches.

The pileated woodpecker prefers the berries in the Virginia cedar trees.

Birds are skittish by nature. When I go to my window to observe them, they scatter. I guess it’s a survival mechanism.

During the cold short days I spent a lot of time planning for spring. I took inventory of my seed library. This was useful because it saved me quite a lot of money. Also planned the spring farm using an Excel spreadsheet containing historical data about my use of the soil.