Thursday, June 16, 2011

How Does Your Garden Grow?

We have much farm news to share. Apologies for the lag time, we’ve been so busy that we haven’t stopped to write about it until now. 

After all fear of frost passed, the garden was finally planted in early June.

Quick updates: The garden is planted and the pears and hops are growing. Last week, we took a quick but much-needed trip to Durham, North Carolina to visit Rich’s sister and bro-in-law, check out their new digs, meet their dog and swim in their pool. We stopped in Washington D.C. and New York to see some friends. So great to catch up! More on the marketing insights we learned from the Durham Farmer’s Market later. 

Farm, Inc.

The best news is…[insert drum roll here]… we got our LLC from New York state! This means the farm is an official business – McCollum Orchards, LLC. If twelve-hour days didn’t already do it, this stamp of approval makes the job all the more real. Next steps are to finalize the operating agreement and business plan. Of course, there are thousands of ideas for the space – U-pick operation, farm stand, farmer’s market circuit, restaurant supply, wholesale, B&B, café, historic tours, farm leasing, specialty crops, premium processing. (If you have any more, please share!) 

One thing we intend to do is to constantly evolve. Staying flexible is critical for success and avoiding getting in a metaphorical rut. Yet, high capital investments and the slow nature of growing things make it challenging to change production quickly. This makes the business side of farming a really interesting puzzle. We envision finding a “bread and butter” model to run with while always developing one or two ideas on the side that could shift to become the central focus.

Hops Update – Playing Hopscotch

The first month for the hops has been eventful. The hops have drawn much curiosity from the deer, raccoon, feral cats and other furry farm friends, who’ve come to see what all the commotion is about. Almost every day, we find hoof prints poked through the fabric row covers. I even chased away two fawns in broad daylight! Luckily, there’s no munching…yet. The Cascade and Centennial hops (40 count each) are thriving and climbing, as are the Fuggles and Nuggets (10 count each). However, a chipmunk has it out for the Perles (8 count) and the Goldings (6 count). Here’s the story:

A few days after planting, we found some Perle rhizomes dug up with telltale chipmunk paw prints around them. The disturbance killed the roots. So, Rich decided to pull out the Perles and replace that row with six Goldings that had been growing in starter pots. The very next day, we found four of those six rhizomes dug up! That darn chipmunk was at it again! No other varieties of hops were touched, just the Perles and Goldings. And, they weren’t munched or carried off. They were just dug up and left to dry out.

No Goldings or Perles growing in this row b/c of a curious chipmunk

Side note: Next week, we will construct the intricate 18-foot tall trellis system for the hops. Also, Rich – the plant doctor – tried to resuscitate the Perles as a last resort. He placed the rhizomes on wet paper towels in ziploc bags under a grow light (like a little greenhouse) to try to stimulate growth. We’ll let you know how it works, but don't tell the chipmunk!

How does your garden grow?

The test garden is already two weeks old. As a first-time gardener, I am hooked! It is a lot of work. Our test garden plot is 30x60 feet with thirteen 6x6 foot plots and foot/wheelbarrow paths between them. So far, the hardy growers are the heirloom tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkins and pepper plants. Carrots, cabbage, kale, cantaloupe and beets have also spouted. Shallots, onions and leeks are taking off, too. The basil – both Thai and Italian is growing, but the other herbs are suffering. Of course, we’re already planning for a greenhouse type building for next year. And, we are thinking through the logistics of taking the high-producing crops up to scale for selling. It will take a lot of work, cleared land and more tractor attachments.
Potato Pride!
Each plant reminds us of the economics of farming that we must learn. We find ourselves more interested in learning about the food systems and how we fit in. My perspective on the support structure has changed. This week Congress voted to save ethanol subsidies in a controversial debate. Cutting them at the end of 2011 would have suddenly put many farmers out of business. At the same time, increased support for small-scale farms and organic produce is much needed, too. 

In searching for garden plans for our garden, we checked out the White House Kitchen Garden. Raised beds, beehives, volunteers, official garden gift packages! What an amazing array of fruits and veggies! Illustrating the contrast farmers deal with, an intriguing graphic came out this week on what the White House garden would look like if it were only subsidized crops. A big difference! 

"What if the USDA subsidized gardens?"
The questions we grapple on our little plot are reflected in the larger agricultural context: Will the U.S. population find a balance between crops that are good for us and crops that keep farmers in business? It might be too early for us to tell. We’ll just keep growing healthy produce, learning from our trials and efforts and making the best plans we can for the future.


  1. Congrats on the llc!! Hops and fawns and pumpkins and basil all sounds amazing! So romba jel!l by the way, my flatmates and I are starting a garden in our backyard... It's so fun (even tho nothing is growing yet!) and it also means you two can hire me cus I've got experience! ;)

  2. Hi Pooja,
    No need to be roomba jel, you'll have a great garden in no time. When the monsoons come, it'll be even better! And when you make your way back to the States, you can come up to the farm anytime for hops and pumpkins and deer chasing.

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