The Newton Farmer, May 2011
Dear Farm Friends,
I have a perennial tug of war: gardening versus the rest of my life. The rest of my life usually wins, which is why I am the editor of the farm newsletter instead of spending time gardening in my yard. But I truly enjoy looking at gardens and admiring them and feel great respect for those who create and maintain them. So I accept that I am a minimal gardener and simply try to do a little to improve and beautify my yard each year. If I do a reasonable job watering and protecting what I plant, then I am rewarded the next spring.
Notes from Greg Maslowe, Farm Manager
Our farm stand opened April 30 this year—a record for Newton Community Farm. I wasn’t necessarily planning on opening the stand that early; we usually shoot for opening around the time of our plant sale in mid-May. It’s just that we had too much good stuff in the field and needed to start selling it. Since we don’t typically close until Thanksgiving that means the farm stand will be open for almost eight months this year!
So how is it that we’re harvesting fresh produce in April? This is not produce taken from a cooler or root cellar or brought in from a farm in the south, but fresh-picked vegetables grown right here in Newton. Some of it comes from planting perennial crops that get us off to an early start—rhubarb, asparagus, and sorrel (a great, lemony flavored green for those not familiar with it), for example. But other items we had in April are things that you might not expect that early in the year: lettuce, carrots, and scallions. These items, and a couple of others (kale and spinach), were planted late in the summer—August or early September—last year and overwintered in the field.
So still there’s the question of how we managed to keep all these crops alive over the winter in the field. Without a doubt Mother Nature helped us this year. The deep snow cover created an insulating blanket that protected the crops from bitter cold and desiccating winds. But we can’t (alas) rely in eastern Massachusetts on heavy snow cover. So was this year just a fluke? No. We do actually plan for early harvests using a couple of different techniques. First, we plant crops that we know are cold hardy—like spinach, kale, and scallions. These plants, even without cover, will usually survive the winter for an early spring harvest. By covering them with a row cover we increase the chances of them coming through the winter in great shape. Crops like lettuce and carrots aren’t quite as cold hardy and definitely require the protection of a row cover to keep them going through the depths of winter. There are also some secrets, like going into the winter with plants that are the right age. Mature lettuce plants can’t handle winter, nor can very young seedlings. But there is a stage in its growth when lettuce is actually quite capable of handling very cold weather.
As I mentioned last month, one of our projects this summer on the farm will be building a new, movable hoophouse. We received a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (a branch of the USDA) to build the hoophouse as part of a program to promote session extension. Once built, the hoophouse will allow us to get an early start in the spring on things like tomatoes, and during the winter months to have even more crops like spinach ready to harvest. Perhaps in the coming years this new hoophouse will allow us to expand our farm stand from eight months, to nine, ten, or more! Wouldn’t it be great to know that you can have fresh, local produce almost all year long? Once our barn is renovated we hope we’ll also be able to store crops like winter squash, potatoes, onions, cabbage, and apples so that we can have even greater offerings early (and also late) in the year.
There are many challenges to creating a sustainable, local food economy in New England. Winter is certainly one of them. But it’s not insurmountable. With a little creativity and planning, the harvest season can be extended well beyond what you might think. At NCF we enjoy talking with other farmers about the tricks they’re using to extend their harvest and experimenting with new ideas. While we certainly don’t have all the answers, we’re committed to being one of the places that pushes the boundary a little bit further.
Save the Date! Strawberry Solstice
June 19, 1-3 p.m.
Come celebrate Father’s Day and the summer solstice with us! We’ll have strawberry- and sun-themed activities such as making your own sundial, planting sunflowers, bubble printing, and taking part in relay races. Fresh strawberries for sale!
At Newton Community Farm
Ages: Preschool-3rd grade, with adult
Fee: $5 per family
We are off to a great start this year, with several sold-out gardening classes for kids and adults―a big thank-you to those who have made it out to enjoy some spring sun on the farm! For those of you who are interested in signing up for a class or a workshop, stay up to date by visiting us online (at www.newtoncommunityfarm.org/education/classes) or by following us on Twitter or Facebook. New summer listings will be posted soon. In the meantime, we have three exciting summer programs planned for kids entering grades 3 to 9. Read on to learn more about these exciting weekly summer programs for youth.
Farmer in Training program for middle school students: You are probably familiar with this popular program, which will be running for its third year this season. We still have some openings for the following weeks: July 11–15, July 18–22, July 25–29, and August 22–26.
New! Farmer in Training program for 3-5 graders: We are excited to announce that we are opening this successful program to children entering grades 3 to 5 for two weeks this summer. Every day, students will do some light gardening on the farm and will learn about plants, chickens, and bunnies. We will also harvest produce straight from the fields and learn about cooking with fruits and veggies, and we will be doing garden-related crafts together. This programming is being offered the week of August 8 and again the week of August 15.
Garden City Rollers Pilot Program for middle school students: Garden City Rollers is Newton Community Farm’s new summer program that connects youth to school and community gardens throughout the city of Newton. The Garden City Rollers crew will spend one week (August 1–5) visiting various garden plots in Newton by bicycle. The 2011 pilot will be developed into a six-week internship for middle school students in 2012!
To learn more about any of these exciting programs, or for registration details, please visit us online
You can also contact our education coordinator, Kelly Lake, directly:
email: Kelly Lake email@example.com
Newton Community Farm Stand and Farmers’ Market
NCF will continue to provide fresh, tasty, and locally grown produce from the farm at the on-site farm stand and at the Newton Farmer’s Market when it starts up in June. Here are the details:
On-Site Farm Stand
At the farm, on Winchester Street
Tues.-Fri.., 2 p.m.–7 p.m. Open June 7
Sat., 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Open now
Newton Farmers’ Market (Friday location only)
American Legion Post 440 Parking Lot
295 California St., Nonantum
Fridays, noon-5 p.m.
Begins Friday, June 17, and runs through October 7
NCF’s on-site stand was very successful in 2010, and sales grew as the summer progressed. NCF has also had a regular presence at the Friday farmer’s market since it opened, the same year the farm began operations. This year we will continue to sell a selection of popular, seasonal items such as asparagus, lettuce, tomatoes, sweet corn, and cucumbers. We have also made a few changes to the farm stand including better signage about the honor system and how to pay.
We thank you for your support in the past and hope you will visit us again this year at the farm stand and farmer’s market. Please spread the word about us to your family and friends. You can get more information about the farmer’s market at the City of Newton Farmers’ Market Web site at http://www.ci.newton.ma.us/Parks/specialevents/FarmersMarket/FarmersMarket.htm.
For directions to the farm stand on the farm, click here.
Prepare Your Soil Now, Harvest More Veggies Later
All soil is not created equal. It’s likely that the soil around your home does not offer optimal conditions for growing vegetables. Its texture, acidity, and mineral composition may be inhospitable. However, you can easily improve your soil’s characteristics. Follow the instructions below, which were provided by Sam Fogel, Margaret Fogel, and Janet Springfield, to improve your odds of having a healthy vegetable crop.
Your Soil’s Drawbacks
Plant roots must be able to work their way through your soil. Rocky or compacted soil makes this difficult. Construction rubble also presents a barrier to root growth. The acidity or alkalinity of your soil—also known as its pH—affects nutrients’ availability for your plants. With the right pH level, your plants will absorb more nutrients.
Plants need nutrients to grow. Without nitrogen, plants can’t create the proteins that drive their growth. Phosphorus is essential for creating DNA, and potassium is needed for making more efficient use of water. Plants use so much of these three nutrients that gardeners must typically add them to soil. Plants find other minerals essential, but they only need smaller quantities of these.
You can fix your soil by following the two-step process below. Ideally you should take these steps in early spring, before you plant.
Step 1: Assess Your Soil
You need to assess your soil to prepare it most effectively for growing vegetables. If you planned ahead, you may have obtained a scientific assessment of your soil. The University of Massachusetts Extension Service in Amherst, Massachusetts (http://www.umass.edu/soiltest/list_of_services.htm), will analyze your soil samples for as little as $10. The Standard Soil Test identifies your soil’s pH, what additions would enhance the quality of your soil, and whether common toxic elements are present.
As of May, it’s too late to send your soil samples to UMass and get results before the growing season starts. But don’t fret. You can use a less formal approach. Pick up some soil and squeeze it together in your hand. If it sticks tightly together, it has too much clay. If it falls apart, it has too much sand.
Step 2: Enhance Your Soil
You can fix the flaws uncovered by the informal soil test. If your soil has too much clay, add sand to improve its texture. If your soil is too loose, you can improve it with clay or peat moss, which is easier to find.
The right compost can address most of your soil’s other issues. Compost made from leaves is rich in phosphorus and potassium. Supplement leaves with coffee grounds for a nitrogen boost. Compost also improves the soil’s texture. This makes soil better able to hold moisture and to drain.
If you don’t have the patience to use compost, you’ll find different mixes of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium at your garden center. With the results of a UMass soil test, you can pick the precise mix that’s best for your soil. Watch how your plants respond and adjust your fertilizing frequency accordingly. For example, too much fertilizer will grow your tomato plants’ leaves at the expense of their fruit. Fertilize too little, and you’ll have scrawny plants.
If a UMass test revealed that your soil is too acid, you can correct its pH by adding compost or lime. Around Newton, you’re more likely to find soil that’s too acid rather than too alkaline.
Gardening season has arrived. The steps you take now to prepare your soil will pay off over the life of your garden.
Susan B. Weiner
Orchard Notes: May 11, 2011
Our 19 dwarf apple trees are now in full bloom, and as apple farmers say, in their 4th leaf (year). They have reached this white blossom stage after a harrowing winter in which their lower branches were chewed on by hungry rabbits. The apple trees also survived, rather well, attacks this spring by winter moths, thanks to timely sprays with the bioinsecticide Spinosad. We will soon see what type of fruit set we get. If it’s heavy, we may have to thin apples to limit the number of fruits to ensure large size, as it takes about 40 leaves to support the growth of one apple. Finally, eight new “disease resistant “dwarf trees have been planted including varieties such as Honeycrisp (two), Goldrush (two), and one each of Galerina, Crimson Crisp, Florina Querina, and Liberty.
Asparagus is still in season, so this is the time to make Spaghetti with Asparagus, a light treatment of spaghetti that is a lovely pairing. Kale is another starring vegetable in May, and it is delicious with peanut sauce on it, so look at the Chinese-influenced version I’ve added to the farm’s list of recipes.
Click here for the farm’s list of recipes.
Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 9 to 12 starting the last week of April.
Canvas market umbrella
Pressure-treated 8′x8′ timbers, at least 7 feet long
Wood cable spool (the kind that utility companies use)
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).