Thursday, February 26, 2009

What's New?

A little snowy today. Nothing major, Just a dusting. Thanks to Rufus at the Weather Cafe we saw this one coming for days. His forecast was spot on. All of the other guys (you too Cliff) did'nt see it until it was upon us. I was hoping to direct sow some of our outdoor beds but decided to hold off until this system passes through. Because of the Weather Cafe forecast I was able to get some beds made. Now that it has rained it will be awhile before we can get equipment back in the field. This happens almost every year. It's a good time to be watching the weather so you can hit these micro windows of opportunity. This year they were few and far between and were "one day" opportunities. We are fortunate to have about 20 beds ready to roll.

So days will be spent in the greenhouse starting flats to be transplanted later. Check out the calendar on the web site and you can see what is being sown. I've made a deciscion to hold off on sowing tomatoes until at least March 1st. I normally go a little earlier but it seems to work out all the same in the end. Start them too early and there is not enough light and you wind up with a spindly albeit sometimes big plant. I'll take a shorter, stockier, healthier plant any day over a big ol spindly thing. Most important, it all gets down to the varieties that do well here. The pacific Northwest is not an easy place to grow toms. Trust your farmer when buying your plants. We have alot of experience with varieties that perform as well as ones that don't.

Hopefully more people will be having home gardens. You might think this is an odd thing for me to say since I make my living selling vegetables. The bottom line for me is I think it's a big part of the overall solution to begin to turn the tide from decades of dissconection of our food sources. Overall it's good for us if there are more home gardeners. People get enthused about eating better and eating local. That want to buy starts from local growers who know the ropes and lets face it. You can't grow everything, so people will still buy from us. I'm a perfect example. I buy stuff that I don't grow from my fellow farmers all the time.

We are still taking CSA memberships. We seem to be down to a trickle. Happens every year at this time. Late February and March always seem to fall off. Unfortunately It's our toughest time of the year. This year will be hard going into April since we lost our overwinter crops.

That'll do for now.

Keep well,


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Daily Factoids

Farm Census: The 2007 farm census is out. The number of US farms is up by 3.5%. This is mostly due to an increase in small farms like ours and really large operations. More farms is good right? Yes but there are some disturbing trends. The average cost of land went up to $1900 which is about 55% higher than it was in 2002 and 95% higher than 10 years ago. (damn wish we could buy land here that cheap) There's a re-occuring trend of go big or get out happening. Growers need to spread the cost of equipment and capital investments over larger acerages to reduce the per-unit cost of production. An offset of the higher cost of land is the fact that the market value of ag products increased by nearly 50% over the last five years. The average age of the farmer continues to rise and is now at 57.5 years old. Younger farmers are not taking up the slack fast enough. In 2002 the average age was 55. A fact that more directly relates to a farm like Maple Rock is that we are part of a fast growing movement of farms that markets specialty crops. Organic farms grew in number from 12,000 to 18,000 between 2002 and 2007 and sales more the quadrupled from about $400 million to $1.7 billion. This is due to organic farms becoming more effiecient and acquiring more expertise. Nationally the number of farms who sell dierct to the consumer increased from 116,733 to 136,817. Here in Washington the number of farms went up 9% to 39,284 from 35,939 in 2002. The average size of farms decreased by 11 percent to 381 acres. Maybe this would be a good time for congress to kick down some of the stimulus package to help young farmers get a foothold in the Ag biz?

The Data above was obtained from The Capital Press.

Weather: The oddness continues. This has been the driest mid January thru mid February period on record in 117 years. Since we've been keeping a record. But... We had large amounts of precipitation in December and early January so it is less pronounced. Oddly, I only had one day that was dry enough to be able to do some field work. Often we get a break in February that will allow a few days of getting on the ground. So it's still pretty wet now. To complicate matters, forecasters are now saying that we maybe shifting out of our La Nina into an El Nino pattern that will likely cause us to see severe draught conditions this fall and into the winter of 2010. This is global climate change in the works. It's going to be a big challenge for growers in the future.

For those of you whom received my newsletter you will recall the situation about the bees and the almonds. As it turns out California is experiencing a serious draught and it looks as though many of the almond growers are deciding not to go for a crop this year. Apparently they need to irrigate and there is just not enought water? The Bee guys on their forums are not saying anything about CCD but only making reference to not as many hives being placed and having lots of difficulties getting bees across the border into California. The almonds are in bloom now so you may start to hear something.

Legal Battles: An Important case against Monsanto's roundup ready GM sugar beets is set to be argued in April. One of our seed suppliers is a plaintiff in the Case. Frank Morton, owner of Wild Garden Seed in Oregon is having his livelyhood threatened by the GM beets. Frank produces seed for chard, table beets and other vegetables in the willamette valley. The Gm beets can cross pollinate thus forever contaminating the true seed and ruinning Franks business. the biggest problem here is that the GM seed was planted on the sly for the last two years. Fortunately the judge in the case denied the petition for Monsanto to join the lawsuit and a precedent was established in 2007 in a similar case against the USDA regarding GM alfalfa seed.
We'll have to wait and see what happens. We send all of our best to Frank and good luck. It's hard enough to make a living as a grower and to have to add the stress and time of a lawsuit is aggrivating and sad.

And Last but not least. To the asshole that stole my daughters snowboard off of my front porch. You suck and I hope you enjoy the special seating section in hell.

Take care people it's a crazy world we live in.

Farmer John

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Fearing The Unknown

It seems most people are fearful of the unknown. I know I am. I like having the feeling that I know I'm in control of my own destiny. For the last few months there has been less than solid ground to stand on and nothing appears to be as it was. I'm Not just talking about the economy, I'm relating to all aspects of life on earth from the weather / climate change to geo-politcal events to everyday life in own little micr-cosims. Relying on what once was is pretty much out the window.

The view from the window in my world, it appears that things are starting to normalize a little, (or at least I am starting to adjust to the uncertainy) Work is starting to re-appear, CSA memberships seem to be coming in at a steady click but most importantly it's what I'm hearing our members and customers say. Of course people are worried. Many of them are under or unemployed and have a miriad of other random concerns but there appears to be a pattern forming and that is that more people appear to be thinking about keeping their dollars in their community and are seeing the importance in and are thankful for the work we do. I have had so many wonderful conversations with folks lately whom have been so supportive and encouraging. It's helped me define the good from the bad. We all understand times are tough and going to get worse before they get better but there is a sense of hope rising. In some ways I think this is all good in the long run. Of course it's painful but if you can look past all of the gloom, these are days of great opportunity.

Agree or not, many of us are being challenged on a level we have not experienced before. We are having to be more creative just to secure our own existence. Thinking outside the box is the new norm. I'm hopeful and I am seeing that our community is becoming stronger with all of this and hopefully we'll stay stronger when we pop out on the other side. This is the time to lend a hand up. Small gestures now will go a long way into the future. Be an islander.

This all translates to each of us in our individual lives. Ask yourself how you are adapting (or not) For me, I am stepping up production to grow as much beautiful, nutritious food as possible. I am encouraging those whom are enclined, to put in their own gardens. It's an easy way to start to make a difference. Do a community service project or help a farmer for a day. Anything you do will make Orcas stronger and you'll feel good too!


Take care,

Farmer John

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Breaking Ground

Watching the weather paid off. The fields had dried out just enough to get on them and I was able to do the initial ground breaking at our newest site Stonebridge. I'm breaking sod so my plan here was to run a big rotovator through one time to break up the top layer. I'll go back as the weather permits and make another couple of passes. I'll make a deciscion at that point where to go from there. Most likely I'll run a chisel plow to bust up the deeper soil and hit it again with the tiller to make the final seed bed. This field will be potatoes the first year. I find that starting a new site with potatoes normally works well for me. The cultivation and hilling all done by tractor is a convenient way to get the field into good shape for the following year. I'm trying to get them in by may 1st. Potatoes are sensitive to forming nice tubers in chunky soil so I'm hoping this early start will give enough time for me to get the field in good shape by then. Fencing is the the next step here. We'll be starting that project soon.

The beds in the hoophouses I direct sowed on January 23rd have germinated nicely. Just under two weeks, thats normal for this time of year. Hopefully we'll have some sunny weather coming up and we'll be harvesting in March. I have one more house to plant out. I'd like to get some radish and salad turnips in, and of course more greens. I'll be on that soon.
Also I'll be sowing flats in the propogation house starting this week. I'll be starting with lettuce.
Also have one more bed of garlic to get in. I know it's later than most people are accustomed to but we did this last year and it worked brilliantly. No rust or botritus and we had a nice crop just slightly later than normal. We did get some of our stock planted out in October.

So here we are, one more time, another season begins. It's going to be good year.

Take it easy y'all,

Farmer John

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Lets Go

Here we go. Getting closer to starting back up in earnest. Just trying to ease back into some sort of normal schedule and tackling at least one item on my "to do" list each day. There is no shortage of things to be done. Just the opposite, It's actually overwhelming. Without my list I would'nt know where to start. Picking one project and seeing it through from start to finish offers a much needed sense of accomplishment this time of year.

I'm feeling optimistic and excited about the up-coming season. Even though there is a looming sense of the "unknown" hanging in the air, I am confident and planning on growing more food than ever before. The one thing I'll be paying more attention to is spreading the harvest out and growing an even wider array of fall and overwintering crops. The fall indoor markets have really helped us out with late season cash flow.

For our early season cash flow we have to rely on our CSA sign-ups and renewals. The difficult part of this is that it's basically a passive sale. I am waiting for people to sign up. I can market the service, advertise and talk it up all the time but at a point it is simply out of my hands. So we wait, and waiting is hard. February, March and April are always rough. It's a challenge to keep up the enthusiasm some days. But we must.

Seed orders have been showing up. Fertilizer order is ready to ship. Potting soil is ready to go. Trays, flats, pots and all the neccasary accesories are cleaned and set to go. We're ready!

Keep well,

Farmer John