Let it rain – the insecurity of farming during drought

Something most of us don’t think about is how dependent on weather we are.  Our inattention is likely caused by the protection of our heated and cooled homes.  Human built landscapes do cut us off from nature.

Perhaps one reason some people don’t believe in climate change is this buffer … it allows us to ignore the elements, forget there is a climate out there.  Until nature throws a punch or two, that is.  As I observe the worsening weather, it seems as if the earth is trying to get our attention, telling us we are hurting it and its environment. The more we ignore the stresses to the planet the more violently the planet signasls us.  Think of the recent floods in Texas, the extreme weather in the forms of tornadoes in the mid-west and the severe wild fires in the parched west – not to mention our local drought.

New England is temperate, normally green and well-watered.  While our farms may not be the size of mid-west factory farms, our land is exceptionally fertile and yields bountiful crops of fruit and vegetables. To grow vegetables to their full potential, the ideal is to receive one inch of rain per week.  Without rainfall, plants become stunted, the fruit may dry up, or sometimes plants don’t grow at all.

This year, nature has been a little off.  The winter was warm – without the freezing temperatures that reduce pest populations such as mice, chipmunks, voles and rabbits not to mention voracious plant eating insects.  The Spring was cold and overlong – delaying the planting and germination of seeds and crops – and the amount of rainfall has been non-existent.  Western Massachusetts is experiencing a significant drought – ranked from extreme to moderate with rain deficits in excess of 10 inches.

Yellow Stonehouse Farm is lucky.  We have water from wells originally dug to provide for 100 head of dairy cows.  We’ve been able to irrigate our fields since June to keep the crops going until it rained.  Which, Glory Alleluia – it did this past weekend.  The rain we received – just under an inch – was enough to make our crops pop!  Now that it’s rained, we have an abundance of produce.  Come see our beautiful certified organic vegetables and flowers – the farm market is open to the public Wednesday through Fridays from 3 – 6:30 pm and on Saturday’s from 9 am till 3 pm.

The Lovely Month of June

strawberries in spring

June is when I celebrate my birthday and also when Summer starts – so of course, June is a favorite month of mine!  You can’t blame me – there are the fabulous flowers of June: irises (my favorite!), peonies, roses and wisteria (which unfortunately didn’t bloom well this year due to that nasty freeze in March); Spring fruits: strawberries and rhubarb for sauces and pies (which can replace birthday cake anytime for me); and the first luscious vegetables: asparagus, tender lettuces, sweet peas and the mint the flourishes at just the right time, along with the spicy radishes that add a special crunch to salads.

For our CSA members in June, we also grow bok choi aka Chinese cabbage, dandelion greens, Spring turnips, kohlrabi (which didn’t make it due to a great wave of flea beetles, we think because of the warm winter), kale, mizuna and Spring raab (bitter greens that are so good for us), Swiss chard, and tatsoi – a type of oriental spinach.

What’s interesting to me, is most of these vegetables are packed with nutrients we all need to stay healthy.  Take rhubarb, for instance – did you know that it’s been used medicinally for thousands of years?  Folklore credits Benjamin Franklin for first importing rhubarb to America in the 1700’s, but it originated in Asia over 5000 years ago.  Its’ roots and rhizomes were used in Chinese medicine to treat everything from liver complaints to senility.  More recently, rhubarb’s beneficial qualities have been validated by modern science who’ve found a slew of compounds that may prevent and fight cancer & senility, anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatories, vitamins such as C, K, and B-complex plus the minerals calcium, potassium and manganese.

ysf rhubarb in spring

This brings me to an idea that at first may not seem appetizing – food as medicine!  My herbalism teacher Jade Alicandro Mace, of Milk & Honey Herbs, recently introduced me to the concept that what we eat not only provides us our day to day sustenance, but can also actively support our good health.  I am so enthusiastic about this idea.  In future columns, I plan to start introducing some of the power house vegetables that we can all eat to protect and improve our health!

We still have a couple EOW shares available for a couple of pick-up days even though the season has started!  Please call us or stop by the farm Tuesday through Saturday.

The Summer Season is Starting!

picture of pickup area and John

Now the fun begins!  We start distributing vegetable shares this week to our many members – both new & old.  We are working hard to gather vegetables, make the distribution area sparkle, fine-tune just the right recipes, and generally get ready for our members to come to the farm.  We can’t wait to see everyone.

Every CSA is a little bit different….at Yellow Stonehouse Farm’s CSA, we are trying to accomplish several goals in addition to providing really fresh and delicious organic produce.  As I’ve written before, we are trying to keep the farm a farm in perpetuity.  There’s a lot of reasons for this – the primary one being that America is losing family farms at an alarming rate, and we think small farms are better for the planet than industrial farms.  Plus, we think our farm is a particularly beautiful and productive farm: we have great soil, plentiful water, a healthy and robust ecosystem, gorgeous fields and a consistent breeze, all isolated from other farms protecting us from diseases and pests.  Quite frankly, this farm is so perfect for farming it would be a crime to sacrifice it to any other use!

But it’s the members that make our CSA work.  CSA members are the lifeblood of the whole thing – helping us make the farm successful by joining our farm and sharing our farming enterprise.  Our members share our goals – they want to support local farming, to know where their food comes from – and who is growing it.

Our members encourage us!  It is so rewarding to grow for others and see the joy it provides: the small child tasting young peas for the first time or picking a juicy cherry tomato in the sunny fields; the oncology patient eating organic vegetables as part of their treatment; the member who just loves getting his hands in the dirt, weeding, as he picks beans; the member who shares her favorite recipe and brings in a sample for all to taste!  Members provide us feedback, give us new ideas, and let us know when we get it right (and wrong) so that we can improve.   So thank you YSF CSA members – see you soon!

Starting Seeds in Spring

A cool Spring may delay the planting of some crops and interfere with perennial crops such as Asparagus. This Spring, we’ve had to discard frost burned asparagus spears due to freezing temperatures at night!  On the other hand, there are other crops that just love this weather – think peas & lettuce!  To ensure we have plenty of vegetables for all our CSA members, we schedule several plantings of a lot of different crops so if something doesn’t produce, we have back-up.

It’s amazing how many variables factor into creating a single perfect eggplant or squash.  It is one of nature’s miracles that a single tiny seed can generate a bushel of succulent tomatoes in just a few months.  Each Spring, we plant thousands of seeds in trays of organic growing medium at the required depth, making sure to provide the right amount of light, or not – as some plants germinate in the dark.  The moisture must also be just so: not too wet or you get “damping off” which kills the seedlings and also not so dry that they shrivel up and – again – die.  Germination temperature is also key, some plants need 50 degrees and others 75 degrees to sprout.

Once sprouted, we provide a proper environment for “growing-on” which may be cool or warm, bright or shaded.  We also have to make sure that we label everything so we know what all the transplants are and then we must “harden” off the young plants, so they can go into a variety of growing environments including two greenhouses or outside to get large enough to plant in the fields.

We do this to have a predictable vegetable harvest.  We want to eliminate the risks of seed failure, improper sowing, and harsh weather we would incur if we direct sowed seed into the fields.  By planting young plants, we give each vegetable bed a head start in producing the highest yield possible.

We are hosting an Open Farm day this Saturday, May 14th from 10:00 am till 3:00 pm.  Come see the farm and what we have growing – our perennial and early Spring vegetables in the field, plus all the transplants we have growing that will later become the delicious organic produce our CSA members enjoy   during our 20-week season. We still have a few CSA memberships available for local Westfield area residents – contact us if you are interested.

YSF’s Spring Open House

Hello All – we are trying to cover all our bases in getting the word out on our Spring Open House.  Here is the info:

What:  Yellow Stonehouse Farm Spring Open House.  Tour the farm, meet the farmers Connie and John, see our market, check out the fields and flowers, the greenhouses and our latest farm projects; sample early Spring vegetables (if available), tour the back 50 and see beaver dams, vernal pools, turtle nesting areas, the Manhan River and a ton of birds.

When:  May 14, 2016  10:00 am to 3:00 pm

Where:  Yellow Stonehouse Farm, 354 Root Road, Westfield, MA  01085

Telephone:  413-562-2164

How:  Check out our Facebook page where we have created an event and let us know you are coming.

Hope to see you there!

Connie and John

 

On Being Organic & Healthy – more on why Yellow Stonehouse Farm is Organic

 

When John and I defined our vision for Yellow Stonehouse Farm, we had these goals:

  • Work together and for ourselves doing enjoyable work in a beautiful, low stress environment.
  • Improve the farm and bring it to its full potential.
  • Be good stewards of the land. Cherish the natural beauty, resources & wildlife of the farm.
  • Enjoy a healthy, outdoor lifestyle on the farm.

A big goal was to be healthier, which meant farming and growing vegetables organically, as we didn’t want to use and expose ourselves to anything toxic.  We figured that if something can kill insects and weeds then it probably isn’t very good for us either!

John and I are risk averse and believe in prevention.  We don’t take unnecessary chances – especially with something as important as our health and the health of others.  Here’s our rationale: if we can eliminate a risk and still obtain a satisfactory result, go ahead and eliminate the risk!  We also don’t think enough testing is done on herbicides & pesticides and we aren’t willing to take chances with insufficiently tested products. Bottom line –  we don’t use herbicides or insecticides.

Insecticides are an obvious hazard (they are poisons) but there is increasing scientific evidence that herbicides are hazardous to human health on a cellular level.  Researchers have found evidence of impacts on the brain, nervous systems and blood of humans, and it is the youngest among us that are the most vulnerable.  It’s one reason we are pleased to have many families as members – plus it’s fun teaching children about where their food comes from.

It’s a big effort to wage our annual organic battle against the weeds and pests.  We use lots of ground cloth and transplant thousands of seedlings to win the race against weeds and use torches to kill the weeds that survive. We rotate vegetables and plant cover crops to interrupt the life cycles of pests. We employ natural predators like Lady Bugs and Praying Mantis against unwanted insects such as aphids, and hand pick some pests like Tomato worms.  We use plants to encourage beneficial insects and also to repel unwanted ones.  We also hand weed and cultivate many, many rows of vegetables!

Being organic isn’t easier but it’s worth it for our health and that of our shareholders!  Next time I’ll talk about how we became Westfield’s first USDA Certified Organic farm.

On Being Organic – why Yellow Stonehouse Farm is Westfield’s first Certified Organic Farm

This week’s topic is Yellow Stonehouse Farm’s embrace of Organic Farming as Westfield’s first organically certified Farm.  Farming Organically while maintaining the land sustainably is an integral piece of our approach to farming, food, and stewardship of the land, and it’s been our way of life for many years.

Why?  The answer is cumulative and begins with learning to grow vegetables as children – when (and yes this ages us) there wasn’t an array of insecticides, herbicides or weed killers, chemical fertilizers and the like.  Instead we weeded rows of vegetables, picked off tomato worms and Japanese beetles, used grass clippings and newspaper to suppress weeds and our neighbor’s horse or cow manure as fertilizer.

Coincidentally, we enjoyed an abundance of bees, birds, butterflies, wild flowers and animals.

You see, the problem with the insecticides is they kill ALL the bugs not just the bad ones.  So you may be getting rid of the Japanese beetles but you’re also killing the lady bugs, praying mantises, lace wings and butterflies.  When you use herbicides, you kill every plant – not just the weeds (what is a weed anyway?) but the Milkweed, wild flowers, and other native plants.

Indiscriminately killing off swaths of plants and insects deprive other plants, insects, birds and animals the food they need to survive.  A recent example is the Monarch Butterfly:  current farming and landscaping practices promote killing all weeds in a field, lawn or golf course, but this also kills off Milkweed.  As a result, Monarch butterfly larvae don’t have a food source which is directly contributing to the population crash of Eastern Monarchs in recent years – though paving over many of the green spaces in Northeast metropolitan areas is also a critical factor.  One of the saddest things I have ever seen was a lone Monarch butterfly flying through the concrete jungle in NYC – without a nectar source or flower in sight.

A huge benefit of organic farming are healthy ecosystems.  At Yellow Stonehouse Farm, we enjoy a robust ecosystem where bats feast on and control mosquitoes, ladybugs eat aphids and other plant eating pests, birds eat beetles and other predatory insects, and the wild flowers including Milkweed attract and support bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.  Our vegetables are amazingly pest free!

Spring is when nature comes roaring back to life – and we get to enjoy it’s exuberant blossoming because we don’t interfere in the natural cycle.  Next time, we’ll write about Organic Farming’s health benefits for humans and why our organic vegetable CSA is so popular.

Welcome to Farming Matters

PhotoPad Image Editor PrintingHello and welcome to Farming Matters.  I am Connie Adams, one of the farmers along with my husband John at Yellow Stonehouse Farm on Root Rd in Westfield, near the Southampton town line.  John and I have been growing vegetables, herbs and flowers for shareholders of the farm CSA for five years.

CSA’s – aka Community Supported Agriculture – are a way for farms to sell vegetables directly to local consumers, a model developed in Great Barrington, MA in the 1980’s. The CSA model is now popular throughout the USA as a way for people to connect with farms, know where their food comes from and how it is grown.

CSA’s involve a farmer who grows enough vegetables to amply meet the needs of the number of shares sold prior to the season, usually limited to a fixed number of members who pick-up their allotment of local produce throughout the growing season from June 8th till October 22nd.  The farmer/shareholder arrangement provides the farmer with a predictable number of customers for planning purposes, plus a dependable revenue stream, in exchange for the farm’s commitment to provide fresh, varied, abundant and delicious produce.

We decided to start the CSA as way to continue the farm as an agricultural enterprise!  It’s been a farm since the early 1800’s, operated as a dairy until the 1990’s, and is a beautiful property designated as a Natural Heritage Agricultural and Endangered Species Landscape.
We think farms are important to maintain open space, protect native plants, animals and insects and most importantly to provide a local source of food.  Our goal is to develop the farm as a successful enterprise that continues into the future.

The purpose of this column is to talk about Farming Matters – because farming and where our food comes from, matters to all of us.  I’ll write about what’s going on at the farm, vegetables & recipes, health benefits of organic herbs & vegetables, wildlife, organic pest & weed control, flowers & herbs – you get the idea.

At this time of the year we are organizing planting plans and starting seeds.  One of the reasons we sell CSA memberships prior to the season, is to allow us to plan and organize how much to plant.  We then order seeds to provide shareholders with a variety of organic vegetables from June through October.  We start most crops as seedlings rather than sowing directly into the fields to ensure reliable seed germination and so we can plant the seedlings when they are larger to better compete with weeds. This is important as we are USDA certified organic and don’t use any herbicides or pesticides.

Spring is coming soon and we are looking forward to eating fresh vegetables from our fields.  We can’t wait for the asparagus, lettuce, pea’s, & radishes!  We still have a few CSA shares left, preferably for local residents.  If you are interested, please go to our website www.yellowstonehousefarmcsa.com or call us at the farm 413-562-2164.