The Newton Farmer, April 2011
Dear Farm Friends,
I’m sure that you have been enjoying all the signs of spring as they tease us. This first issue of the new season seems like another sign, and it is full of farm-related news. The joint is jumpin’, as you will see as you read.
Welcome to the new season!
Notes from Greg Maslowe, Farm Manager
I keep a garden journal, irregularly, but I try to keep up with it. I started it when I began farming here at Newton Community Farm. It’s interesting to be able to look back and see what was going on at the same time of year a year ago, two years ago, six years ago. It’s been a cold spring. I know that because in most of the last six years we’ve already been harvesting asparagus by now, whereas this year the first shoots are just starting to poke their heads out of the ground. The cold temperatures have kept the soil cold, too, so we didn’t get our peas in the ground as early as I wanted. Or rather, we didn’t bother putting them in as soon as I wanted because they would have just lain there anyway, waiting for warmer weather.
But now we’re off and running. The field is getting turned and crops are going in. The greenhouse is slowly but surely filling up, in anticipation of both our season and our annual seedling sale. We’re working hard to get all the perennials ready for the season—last-minute pruning, cleaning up the flower gardens and herbs, and planting replacements for anything that died over the winter. The heavy snow cover this winter helped many of our perennials by acting as, at times, a three-foot-deep mulch. Not only did many of the perennials love it, but it helped us overwinter spinach, lettuce, scallions, and carrots. Again, all protected by the blanket of snow. Unfortunately, our fruit trees did not fare as well. The deep snow allowed mice and voles to get at the trees above their protective wrappings and chew away at their bark. We’ll see over the next few months how many of our trees will succumb to the damage caused by this browsing.
During the next two months you’ll see sections of the field growing with a lush, green grass. This is winter rye, planted last fall at the end of the season to protect the soil. While much of the rye gets turned under in the spring to make way for our crops, we also leave some beds planted with rye until late May when it flowers. You may recall my article last year in which I described our no-till tomato experiment. That experiment was so successful that we’re expanding our trials this year and planning to keep even more detailed records comparing many aspects of no-till tomatoes to our regular practices.
One of our big projects for this season will be improvements to the Winchester Street entrance to the farm. Late last fall a local landscaping firm used recycled granite curbing to build a series of terraced beds behind the farm stand. Over the course of this season, we’ll be planting those beds with a variety of edible and ornamental plants. Thanks to a federal grant, the city of Newton installed one of almost 200 new bicycle racks here at the farm, so now when you ride your bike you have somewhere to lock it up. And when the farm stand opens for the season in mid-May you’ll see many improvements to the interior.
Another big project taking place this season, again thanks to a federal grant, is that we will be putting up at least one new hoophouse. The new hoophouse will be used for season extension—growing extra early heat-loving crops like tomatoes or cucumbers and protecting hardy greens like spinach for harvest during the winter months. As we near construction I’ll write more about this, as the design we’re looking at should put NCF at the forefront of organic growing.
Work Share Job Opening
Newton Community Farm has an opening for someone to fill a Work Share position. The work sharer will receive a full, weekly share in our CSA in exchange for running our stand at the Friday Newton Farmers’ Market. The market begins June 17 and runs through October 7 from noon to 5:00 p.m. If you are interested, please contact Greg Maslowe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whether you are an avid gardener or are just starting to develop your green thumb, we have classes for all ages and all levels on the farm this spring. For adults, we have a workshop on raising backyard chickens (Did you know it’s legal in Newton?) as well as a container gardening class (Plots in Pots) and a two-part intensive gardening class for those of you who want to make the most out of small spaces (Gardening in Small Spaces). If you have young children, take a look at our Ready, Set, Grow family series―back by popular demand!
We still have a few frosts ahead of us, but I want to give you a sneak peak at some of our programming for July and August because we are going to have a lot going on! For those of you with preschool-age children, our Farm Sprouts Story Hour will be taking place every Tuesday once again. It is a great way to introduce your youngest children to the farm and share some time outdoors each week with other young families. Our Farmer In Training program for middle-school students is still enrolling for several weeks, so if you know of a middle schooler who is interested in farming, environmental issues, or outdoor fun, please take a look at our Web page.
And finally I’d like to let you know about an exciting new program that we will be piloting this summer and expanding for next year. Our Garden City Rollers program for young adults will combine gardening, environmental awareness, and renewable energy as the GCR crew travels to school and community gardens by bike to tend plots that are otherwise neglected during the summer months. We are currently looking for schools or community centers to partner with and are in the development stages of this project, so if you would like to get involved or support this program in any way, please contact Education Coordinator Kelly Lake at email@example.com.
Visit our education page for more information on summer programming!
Expanded Seedling Sale Coming Soon!
Saturday, May 14, and Sunday, May 15, noon–1 p.m., Presale for Friends of the Farm; 1–3 p.m., open to the public
Newton Community Farm’s popular Seedling Sale is expanding! This year there will be 20,000 vegetable and herb seedlings for sale, twice as many as last year. The sale will also take place on two afternoons this year to accommodate the large number of gardeners interested in the farm’s hearty seedlings.
We sprout and grow the seedlings on-site in our greenhouse, and they are ready to be transplanted to your garden as soon as the temperature moderates. This year there will be more seedlings for sale of many different vegetables and herbs, including cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, peppers, lettuce, and squash. Greg, NCF’s farmer, has also arranged with Natick Community Organic Farm to provide additional basil for sale at the event.
Come select some plants for your backyard and talk to expert gardeners who will be on hand to answer your questions. We’ll also have food and perennial flower plants available for purchase. Bring your own boxes for carrying. The cost is $5 for a four- or six-pack container, and the proceeds from the sale support NCF’s mission. Cash or check only.
Friends of the Farm are invited to our Presale Event from noon to 1 p.m. on both days.
Help publicize the event by printing the Seedling Sale flier found on our Web site, posting it, and giving it to your friends. And for information on how to care for the plants we will be selling at this year’s seedling sale, see the article below and visit the new growing tips page on our Web site.
Click here for the Seedling Sale flier.
Many Volunteers Needed for Seedling Sale
We need help at the farm on Saturday, May 14, and Sunday, May 15, to make the Seedling Sale a success. It’s fun, and you can meet other volunteers, learn about plants and seedlings, and enjoy helping people stock their home gardens. We need volunteers from 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday as well as extra volunteers to help set up before and clean up after the event. Volunteers will restock seedlings from the greenhouse, sell food and veggies, clean up, and so on. For CSA members, your work at the Seedling Sale will count toward your required work hours. Contact Kelly Lake at firstname.lastname@example.org to let her know your interest and time availability.
Q: When will the barn renovation be started and finished?
A: The start is not too far off, but the schedule is somewhat uncertain. If the design process can continue at a reasonable pace and there are no big surprises with the construction estimate compared to the established budget, we expect construction will start this summer and finish before the planting season in 2012. Current plans include adding a new kitchen and toilets on the main floor and refinishing the old floorboards. A new screened porchlike area over the shed roof will be built for expanded programming. A second-floor loft will be built for the farm office. On the CSA level there will be a new concrete floor, a produce washing station, a three-season toilet for people working in the field, and space for a produce cooler.
Funding for the project is provided by a grant from the Newton Community Preservation Committee. The farm will need to raise some additional private money to pay for furniture and equipment that is not covered by the grant.
Peter J. Barrer
Wanted: Apple Enthusiasts and Volunteers for the Farm’s Apple Team
If you’re curious about apples or would simply like to volunteer in the orchard, then join the farm’s Apple Team, led by orchard expert Sam Fogel. Sam will teach team members about growing apples. You can also volunteerto help with pruning as well as planting five new disease-resistant dwarf apple trees, including Goldrush (a late October, very crispy, long-storage apple), Galerina, Crimson Crisp, and Florina Querina varieties. Contact Sam at email@example.com as soon as possible.
Orchard Survives Snow and Rabbits
Rabbits and snow killed one apple tree and damaged about a dozen of the orchard’s 22 apple trees, according to a report by orchard expert Sam Fogel. The two sour and two sweet cherry trees came through unscathed.
Bunnies may be cute, but they’re tough on apple trees, especially because a 2010 explosion of the rabbit population combined with the snowy winter to make food scarce. Undiscouraged by our trees’ two-foot-high plastic trunk protectors, the rabbits scaled snow drifts to chomp on the bark of lower branches. As a result, our four-year-old apple trees will be a little less productive this year. We’ll try to graft the dead tree with a related variety, so it may rise again. Luckily for our cherry trees, rabbits don’t find their bark appealing.
Top Three Mistakes People Make after the Seedling Sale
You want your purchases from the Seedling Sale to thrive. So avoid these common mistakes described by Farm Manager Greg Maslowe.
Mistake #1: Planting too early
If you plant your seedlings right away, they may succumb to frost. Herbs such as basil sustain damage at temperatures of 45 degrees or lower.
You have three options for managing the risks of low temperatures. First, keep your seedlings inside until the risk of frost has passed. If you do this, place them in a window facing south, so they get plenty of light, and don’t forget to water them. Second, leave the pots outside, but bring them in at night. Third, plant your seedlings, but monitor the temperature so you can cover them when cold weather is predicted. A five-gallon bucket makes a good cover. You can use other materials, such as a plastic sheet, as long as you use a hoop―or some other support―to make sure the material doesn’t touch the plants. Any material that touches will transmit the cold and damage your seedling.
Mistake #2: Watering too little―or too much
After being pampered in the farm’s greenhouse, plants don’t do well if their watering needs aren’t satisfied. It’s better to water them deeply one or two times a week than to water them a little every day. This will help their roots to grow deep. On the other hand, roots that are constantly damp will rot. One of the best things you can do is to water in response to the condition of your soil. Stick your finger in the soil to see if it’s dry. Mindless watering endangers plants.
Mistake #3: Ignoring pests that feed on plants
Hungry chipmunks, groundhogs, squirrels, rabbits, and other wildlife abound in Newton. Fencing may deter rabbits and other pests. However, squirrels and chipmunks will clamber over your fence and groundhogs will tunnel under. You may need to adapt your planting to local animals’ food preferences.
Flea beetles delight in vegetables such as cabbage and broccoli. To deter them organically, the farm uses floating row covers made of lightweight material. Seal the covers carefully, lifting them as briefly as possible for weeding and other maintenance.
Avoid these mistakes and you’ll boost your odds of a great harvest!
Twice a year the Newton Community Farm asks the Newton community for supporting contributions. The end of April is one of those times.
Our farm operation is very efficient and productive, even enabling us to donate to the Newton Community Pantry. However, we need additional funds to expand our educational programs. This outreach, to teach the wider public about sustainable farming and how to integrate that knowledge into your home gardens, is an important part of our mission. The Farm is self-funded―we do not receive any government money for operations―so please give generously. Your contribution is tax-deductible.
After April 29 you will be able to donate through our Web site, newtoncommunityfarm.org; otherwise please send your contributions to 303 Nahanton St., Newton MA 02459. Thank you for your interest and for supporting our work.
This month is the season for asparagus, rhubarb, and artichokes. On the farm Greg reports that the cold spring has delayed early vegetables. But when they do appear, there are some interesting recipes for asparagus and rhubarb in the farm wiki. Artichokes don’t grow in New England, but if you indulge in these luscious buds, a low-fat dipping sauce for them is Low-Fat Vinaigrette. It can be found in the farm’s recipe wiki under Two Low Salad Dressings.
Click here for the farm’s list of recipes.
Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 9 to 12 starting the last week of April.
Please contact us if you have any questions about this newsletter or ideas for future issues, or if you want to be added to our mailing list. Just e-mail Susan Tornheim at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the farm, e-mail Greg Maslowe at email@example.com or check out our Web page at newtoncommunityfarm.org (or click on the image at the top of the page).