Riverbend Farm Early Summer 2019 Newsletter
Mary and I have had a busy and productive spring. Plant sales were phenomenal. I think that we sold nearly twice as many plants as compared to last year, a very welcome boost to early cash flow. It also meant that April and May were a blur of seeding, potting up, repotting and delivering plants. We ran out of 3½ inch pots, potting soil, plant labels, and even plants. It was great. Many thanks to everyone who got plants from us.
As the sales of starter plants were wrapping up we switched over to transplanting tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, direct seeding cucumber, zucchini, and winter squash. We are pretty well caught up on transplanting and have made good progress mulching tomatoes. The wet weather has delayed some cultivating and the weeds are trying to take advantage of that.
Part of the reason that we are keeping up so well is that we are not growing any early greens and radishes. Bunched greens are very labor intensive and can take up all or part of four days each week, not leaving a lot of time for everything else. We have been making the most of the crop mobs, friends and family to get things done. It makes a lot of difference when it is time to plant, mulch and stake 4500 tomatoes.
Earlier this spring we were drifted on by the contractor spraying the neighbor’s field. They were spraying RoundUp, Outlook and Verdict, burndown and preemerge herbicides. It took several days to notice any damage. Mary spotted it first on some zinnias and wondered if there was a bug attacking them. Then we started seeing spots on a lot of different plants. The melons and cucumbers fared worst of all, they wilted down right away.
Looking back we figured that it probably happened a week before when they were doing field work across the street. It was just before a rain, the wind was out of the east, and the chemical smell was very strong. There is a windbreak at the edge of the neighbor’s field, the road, and the greenhouses are set back about 65’ from the fence, roughly 135 feet from when the spraying should have stopped. It was simply too windy to spray, the operator should have known better.
I called the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, our certifier and the guy who runs the land across the street. The person who answered the phone at the MDA was a lot less than helpful but finally decided that they would have to send an inspector. MOSA had an inspector here in a couple days after being notified. Both the MDA and MOSA took samples to check for herbicide residues. The MDA’s results didn’t find any contamination but their resolution is not very good, only 1 part in 20,000 for glyphosate (50 parts per million). Glyphosate is usually diluted 200:1 so the chances of them ever being able to detect it are slim. It is not uncommon for labs that test for pesticide residue to find glyphosate down to 10 parts per billion.
MOSA sent us a Final Determination Letter saying that none of the plants in the greenhouses could be considered organic and since we have to use organic transplants, none of the crops produced from those transplants could be certified as organic. Their reasoning was that even though not all the plants showed damage, they had been exposed to prohibited chemicals. There wasn’t time to grow new plants so rather than destroy them we planted them. The penalty is a one year decertification but it doesn’t look like we have a lot of options.
Just yesterday I talked to MOSA about their residue samples and they said that the levels were detectable but so low that they could have been environmental background levels. But since I had reported what looked like drift they were decertifying the transplants anyway. It seems a little odd but they had just been called out for certifying hydroponic operations so maybe it is time to stand up for organic integrity now.
The long and the short of it is that while we will have tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant available this year they won’t be certified organic. All of our direct seeded crops will be certified organic.
Labor is still hard to find. I know that you are all shocked to hear this but it is true. After today my crew dried up for most of the summer. It was great to have them to help with transplanting and getting a good start on mulching tomatoes. We would be scrambling if we were still trying to do bunched greens and radishes on a big scale. We have had a lot of help from crop mobs and friends who have reached out with a helping hand. There is another crop mob this Saturday.
Farming is not unskilled work. Even jobs like mulching and hoeing take a fair amount of practice to be fast, accurate and effective. Going beyond straight forward hand tools, it is virtually impossible to find someone who can drive a tractor. There aren’t many farm kids anymore and lots of people can’t drive a manual transmission. Even if they can operate a clutch smoothly it is very unrealistic to think that someone who has just climbed up on a tractor for the first time is going to be able to cultivate or even disk without getting stuck or worse.
I’m still working out the preorder replacement for our CSA. Without greens and radishes there is not a lot to offer right now. We will have peas next week if the heat this weekend doesn’t burn them all up. It is raining now but I’m going to move some irrigation over there so I can water them when it is 90º. There will also be some turnips, basil, cornmeal, dry beans, rhubarb, etc. Sort of like a CSA box at this time of year but it will be ‘ala carte’.
I will send out a list of things that we have available. Prices will vary depending on how much you buy. For example, half a pound of peas will cost you more than 10 pounds on a per pound basis. If the peas make it there might also be a pick your own option at a reduced price. Let me know if you are interested on being on the email list for this.
Our wholesale business will look a lot like last year but without the bunched items.
Repair of the week
One of the drive ratchets on the hayloader broke. Our hayloader is a prewar (certainly WW II, not likely WW I) piece of equipment that was used to make hay before balers were invented in the 1930s. Before that, hay was collected loose and made into haystacks or piled in the barn.
The camshaft that lifts the pawl in the drive ratchet broke. When the cam lifts the pawl the wheels turn freely so the machine can be moved from field to field. When the pawl is engaged and the ratchet is locked up the turning wheels drive the mechanism that rakes up the hay and pushes it up the elevator. It wasn’t possible to just reweld the shaft because it broke inside the hub casting.
I roughed out a new camshaft out of a piece of 1 ¼” X 3/8” bar stock with a portable bandsaw and finished it on a lathe. It made me wish for a four jaw chuck for my lathe so it could hold rectangular pieces of stock. The lever that turns the cam presented its own problems due to the need for a 5/32” X 5/16” rectangular slot to attach it to the camshaft. Both pieces were assembled into the hub and riveted together.
Next project – a fluidized bed to separate unthreshed oats from hullless oats. If anyone has experience with fluidized beds, let me know. I need to separate the less dense but larger unthreshed kernels from the denser and smaller grain. The particles have roughly the same aerodynamic size making any winnowing process less than 100% effective.
Crop mob on Saturday. Sign up through the Birchwood. Info is under Events on the Community page. Signing up lets them get an accurate count for lunch. We will be mulching tomatoes. Thanks.