Farm

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 “We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.”  (Thomas Fuller)

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Nearly 15 years farming in the valley, I had never experienced such a desperate need of water/watering for growing food. The much anticipated rainfall we received about a week ago was just a brief relief, and didn’t do much to quench the thirsty ground. Many areas on the farm are still bone dry. Normally, soils in our fields retain some moisture even in early/mid-summer, but that’s not the case this year due to the abnormally hot and dry spell we’ve been having since May and June. We all know summery weather usually doesn’t arrive in the region until around July 4th, but, this year the unusually warm/dry weather started in spring, on top of this winter’s low snow pack.  

We are not the only farm in such an extreme dry condition, however. There are many other local farmers who are in the same boat, or even worse coping with the drought. We’ve been watering almost everyday (but not every crop, every day) since June except the last week when more normal weather briefly returned (temps were back to 70’s with sunshine and clouds). There are a few key elements we always assess when/before we water: 1) How much water our crops need. 2) How much water our watering methods apply. 3) How much water is shared among the users per water pump capacity and water limit/day. 4) How to balance water use between 1) 2) and 3). We rotate the watering schedule weekly and assess/prioritize daily which crops need water first/more/less/none based on the crops condition/growth (how they look and how the rooting system is established – deep/shallow) and how dry the ground is (surface dry/one inch, two inch, three inch deep or deeper). Other factors we consider for watering are the timing of a crop’s harvest, crop’s life span, crop’s maturity (newly transplanted crop needs frequent watering to establish rooting system and direct seeding requires water for the seed to germinate), soil characteristic/condition and water permeability (silty loam, sandy, clayish, muddy), watering method (we use drip irrigation, overhead sprinkler, hand water, furrow irrigation), weed condition (weediness can be advantage/disadvantage) and real-time weather condition/forecast. Out in the field, we assess these factors so that watering can be done timely, efficiently, practically and hopefully without much waste.  In addition, we face the limit of water use at 5,000 gallon per day, as well as cope with the water pump’s pumping ability since we share the same well with other gardeners on site.

Overall however, we’ve been managing our water situation with rationale, not with whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting.” (Mark Twain). We are already reducing and/or quitting watering some crops such as summer/winter squash, pumpkins, onions/leeks and hardy greens (chard, kale, spinach) based on their growth/maturity and the timing of harvest in order to conserve water. We are also experimenting a solar powered timer for irrigation so that some crops can be watered at night and/or during the least constraint hours of the water use among all the gardeners, which hopefully results in more efficient watering compared to watering during the day. However, we have to carefully evaluate and apply night-time watering as it can potentially trigger some negative impacts such as disease and pests. As we use row cover for most of the crops we grow in the field, elevated moisture by watering at night could pose some risk to plants such as mold/mildew/bottom rot/fungus/pest.  Slugs would favor moisture at night, too.

Pest issues: some nematodes are very active (aggressive) this season because of the warm weather. We lost watermelon plants as nematodes devoured the roots. They also attacked some transplants of artichoke. We could rescue the artichoke plants by treating the soil with sugar water, however. A few years ago, we used sugar water to successfully treat cucumber plants when nematodes attacked them. So, this time we applied the same method/sugar water for the artichoke plants and it did work to rescue the plants. Flea beetles are another pest attacking our tender crops more than normal….arugula, mizuna, komatsuna and mustards are major victims. Even kale (hardy green!) has been attacked by flea beetles. We use row cover to protect them from such pest, but flea beetles are so vicious this year. We put catnip plants right by the pest laden arugula and it worked to repel flea beetles and was effective enough to maintain the crop for harvest. Kale…..we trimmed the leaves of the flea beetle infested kale plants and watered well in order to enhance kale’s own strength and immunity, hoping flea beetles would stop infesting. Logistic behind this approach is that strengthening the weakened kale plants (heat stress/lack of water) back to more normal and healthy state by trimming and watering could work because often times pest targets weak(er) plants first. We already let go of komatsuna, mizuna and mustards due to flea beetle infestation, but tactfully we used them as a trap crop by leaving them as a bait to attract (trap) flea beetles to them so that they won’t go to other crops.

Sunshine and warm temperature contribute to a good yield and abundance assuming there is enough water available. And yet, if the condition goes beyond normal (temperature above 85 degrees or so), abundance could evaporate into the air. Too much heat can cause stress to many plants and negatively affects yield. For instance, we noticed tomato plants suffered a bit during the consecutive weeks of the heat spell; blossoms were falling off due to the high heat/stress. Although we have a decent quantity of tomatoes fruiting, abundance may be questionable if the heat wave returns and persists for the rest of the summer. August (usually driest and warmest) is just beginning.

Eat the season: have you tried our sweet carrots yet? They are candy sweet, really. We worried about carrot fly as I reported in my previous farm update, but so far carrots look and taste great, and wormy damage is minimum to normal at this point.  We grow Yaya, Merida and Chantenay carrot varieties. We are also experimenting growing carrots and dill together as dill may help repel carrot fly (smell of dill confuses carrot fly detecting carrots). Interestingly, carrots and dill are not considered companions, however! We’ll see how they play out together.

Onions and corn are looking really good out there.  Perhaps, it’s because they have been weeded better (thanks to volunteers!), watered in a timely manner and getting more sunny days than normal. Longer/more days of daylight are crucial for onions to grow and mature. Corn tassels are up and ears of corn are already forming well. Corn harvest may be a week or two earlier this year. Winter squash and pumpkin plants look happy….gourds are already producing fruits!

Summer cover crop/buckwheat: we planted buckwheat in some fallow areas for summer cover crop as part of crop rotation and soil tilth (buckwheat is a great nitrogen fixer, weed suppressor and fast growing without much water). However, we had to water buckwheat this time when we planted in mid-July. We normally don’t have to water cover crop because the ground is usually wet (such as fall/winter cover crop/winter rye) or keeps some moisture through July (summer cover crop/buckwheat), but not this time. We almost gave up planting buckwheat in Field 3 just to conserve water, but timely enough, last weekend’s rainfall made it possible to plant the second batch of buckwheat in Field 3 without irrigating water.

Crop failure/loss and crop diversity: as the dry weather and heat spell may continue, we are not immune to crop failure/loss to some extent.  In fact, we lost a few lettuce crops and some leafy greens due to the extreme weather. And yet, having a diversity of crops has been good to our food production no doubt. Extreme condition, extreme measures. We grow well over 150 varieties of vegetables and herbs.  A couple of good reasons for that are: marketability and risk factor diversification. The potato famine in Ireland? Growing diversified crop varieties helps us being able to serve a wide range of buyers and reduce the risk factors of crop failure/loss (some varieties may fail, but others may not….there is always something for backup). It’s a good principle to practice. Extreme condition/abnormal weather like this year and extreme measure/diversification.  Examples are…. some of our lettuce varieties are performing poorly due to the heat wave, but we have other lettuce varieties relatively producing well enduring the extreme weather. We grow four varieties of kale and one of them has been heavily attacked by pest, but three other varieties are sustaining good yield. That’s all for this farm update.  You can also follow this report with pictures here.

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I hope you have been enjoying this beautiful spring weather.  As a farmer, I certainly welcome sunshine/photo

synthesis, but heat….a bit oppressive. It’s been so unusually sunny/warm/dry throughout this spring.  It’s still June, however.  It already feels like mid-summer, or even warmer.  We’ve been very busy in the field due to the outcome of the abnormally warm and dry conditions. I guess farmers are already tired!?….well, I may be speaking for myself.  Although farming never gets boring (or fun?) when the weather hits like this, it certainly cultivates us to keep faith and optimism with Mother Nature at work. (more…)

Working toghether to make Biochar
Making biochar at Morethanafarm, adjacent to 21 Acres
Test plot with biochar
Test plot with biochar

 

 

Morethana farm Greenhouse -- biochar enriches the soil
Morethana farm Greenhouse — biochar enriches the soil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Join us Tuesday, April 28, 6:30 pm for: Biochar: Creating Clean Energy and Building Healthy Soils. This evening event is part of our Tuesdays at 21 series to foster discussion and community engagement. PreRegister – Only $5.

This presentation will draw on Seattle Biochar Working Group’s (SeaChar.org) Farm Stove Project in Costa Rica to illustrate how biochar technology can increase sustainability in Pacific NW food production. The evening will feature a demonstration of the burning stove and biochar properties as well as an interactive presentation of its use and benefits to gardeners, farmers, and sustainability enthusiasts alike.

Presenters: Art Donnelly, co-founder SeaChar (Seattle Biochar Working Group) and David McInturff, board member SeaChar.

Biochar stove for cooking
Biochar stove for cooking
Biochar workshop in Costa Rica
Biochar workshop in Costa Rica
The unending river of bananas means deforestaion on a vast scale -- making use of biochar more important than ever
The unending river of bananas means deforestaion on a vast scale — making use of biochar more important than ever

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s what is planned for the next two Tuesdays at 21:

May 26th; Seeking Energy Independence

Solar Hot Water, Photovoltaics, Wind Power, and many other ways of harnessing renewable energy to power our lifestyles can be confusing and seem financially out of reach. In this session, we’ll discuss different strategies for channeling into renewable energy, its economics, and even tour an operating photovoltaic (PV) system. Whether you’re doing research on renewable energy, own or lease a PV system, or just want to understand the Pros and Cons beyond the sales pitch – this discussion will surely pique your interest!

June 23rd; From Seed to Table: The Cost of Food

What does it really take to get food from the grower to you, and how does sustainable, conventional, and organic farming differ from each other? As a result of these operations, there’s an impact on the environment, the nutritional quality of the food, and ultimately, us.  These questions and food system processes will be explored by 21 Acres’ own, Matt Keen, RD, as he discusses sustainability and the food system.Watch for more dates and details on coming topics in the series.

Tuesdays at 21 are a nearly-free, crowd-sourced, evening presentation series for the broader Sammamish Valley region hosted monthly at the Center for Local Food and Sustainable Living. The goal of Tuesdays at 21 is to provide community members with a unique opportunity to learn from and to share with people in the interdisciplinary fields within sustainability.

Each Tuesdays at 21 will focus on a particular topic and consist of one to three relevant presentations coordinated by a 21 Acres guide. The presentations will utilize 21 Acres’ building, farm, and practices as inspiration and models for learning. Five bucks at the door will get you in but registration is requested. Doors open at 6:30, presentations start at 7, so arrive a bit early to network and share updates with others interested in good work being done in great workplaces.

For more information about Tuesdays at 21 contact: Aaron Huston, aaron@21acres.org.

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Hi, all.

Many people must have felt relieved with the clouds and rain over this past week after many days of the scorching sun this summer.  According to Agweathernet, this July was the warmest July since 1998.  The farm definitely welcomed much needed rain showers and clouds to quench the thirst of the soil and crops in the field.  In fact, the rain we received actually may help yield even more if the temperature rebounds with sunshine for the rest of the month.  We’ll see how it will develop.

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Thanks to the glorious weather crops have been growing fast, big and vibrant. Have you seen the produce in the market lately?  Abundance is there and the produce is full of colors and flavors of the season.  I hope you are not missing out on the season’s best.  Loads of summer squash have been almost overwhelming since early July. Do you know how much zucchini can grow in a day? Watch the time lag pics we made for the answer. Tomatoes also love the warm weather and ripening has been consistent in the High Tunnel. By the way, we created a short video to show how to prune tomato plants. You can watch it online. Our super sweet corn will be ready for harvest next week….it’ll be about a week or so earlier than normal because of the warm summer. Here in the valley corn harvest usually takes place in late August/early September, but that won’t be the case this year. Winter squash and pumpkins are already fruiting, which makes us wonder if they might be an early harvest depending on how the nice weather sustains its system for the rest of the season. (more…)

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Hi, my name is Anya Gedrath-Smith and, as the Farm Field Trip Coordinator at 21 Acres, it was a pleasure to welcome school groups to the farm this past spring. Once the weather started to warm, and the ground began to dry, farm field trips began in full swing! Students of all ages arrived and participated in an array of food- and farm-related educational activities. Students set off on scavenger hunts to learn about the “Fabulous Five” plant needs, transformed themselves into an imaginary compost cake, learned about the scarcity of farmland and the value of sustainable agriculture, designed their own seed packets, and put on their chef hats to bake tasty and nutritious kale chips. (more…)

Did you know that we have a weather station at 21 Acres on the farm? Through a partnership with Washington State University, we have a station collecting data that is used to model weather patterns to help inform the community and importantly, farmers, about the forecast. We also receive weekly reports from WSU with detailed weather information for the upcoming week.  For example, below are excerpts for the forecast for this week,

The weather for the next 7 days can be summarized in two words: very hot. Most areas east of the Cascades will be above 100 degrees for much of the period, while the hottest areas could reach 110 degrees at some point. Unfortunately, the prolonged hot spell will also feature unusually humid conditions by Northwest standards, which means that there will be limited relief at night. (more…)