Friday, April 26, 2013

Rise and Shine! Spring Happenings Around the Farm

Spring Has Sprung! We mark our third spring here on the farm. Amazing how much it has changed in two years, and how much farming has changed us. We get busier and busier as the ground wakes up. Spring flowers – daffodils, crocuses, tulips – have put on a show-stopping performance in the lawn in front of the house. As each spring, there are lots of great updates – and more projects than we have time for – from the new hops yard to orchards to the first garden greens.

Crocus below the schooldesk stairs

Apples and Daffodils
Our impact on the farm is most visible in the orchards. When we arrived three Marches ago, the apple orchard looked like a troop of Kraken sea monsters. We dramatically pruned them back, fighting poison ivy and braving wintery winds to lop out a third of growth each spring. (And held our breath that the trees were not too shocked.) The most dramatic change is probably clearing the overgrowth around the orchard that shaded them and prevented much-needed air flow. In this third spring, many trees are getting their pleasant umbrella-shaped form back.  We snip off sucker shoots, clear out the “mummies” (dead apples that stay on the trees), rake up the leaves where disease winters over, and chip the deadfall to compost and apply as mulch next year. According to “The Holistic Orchardist,” decomposing wood will promote fungal and microbial growth, which helps apple tree root systems.
The Thorough Organic Orchardist
Now, the fruit trees are budding. Just in time for an upcoming workshop we are hosting: The Thorough Orchardist: Planning for Success with Tree Fruit. On Saturday, May 11th 1-4pm, Mike Bilonten of Red Jacket Orchards will be on the farm to discuss planning and planting an organic orchard, sponsored by the Northeast Organic FarmingAssociation-New York. You can register here. We hope to learn a lot from him for the future u-pick orchards.

 Farm to Pint Glass
In April, we had the pleasure of giving a talk at Beerologyat the Buffalo Museum of Science, called “From Farm to Pint Glass: The Art and Science of Growing Hops.” We got to talk about one of our favorite subjects – growing hops – and tag-teamed with a knowledgeable home-brewer who explained brewing with hops. As it was a beer-tasting event, it was a lively audience discussion. Then, McCollum Orchards’ Cascade hops were used in a special Porter-style beer at Cole’s for Community Beer Works’ one-year birthday. We were thrilled to taste the hops in a delicious beer! The beer events piqued a lot of interest in this year’s harvest party, which we plan to make bigger and better.  
Talking hops in front of a big audience.
Rich tilling the new yard
Once again, we are expanding the hopsyard on the newly cleared acreage. (Will there ever be a spring when we don’t lug 21’ poles around?) The expansion required de-rocking the area, discing, tilling, amending with organic fertilizers, and hilling for the 400 Centennial and Chinook rhizomes to be planted this week. Best yet, we will use locally harvested larch poles for the trellis system.

The Mini-Jungle
Garden seedlings are in full swing! The farm stand will open in just two months on Thursday, June 27th. We will also be at two farmers’ markets: Lockport Community Market and Farmers Market at Grider. Now, our office space is a mini-jungle. We start everything from seed (non-GMO and most USDA Organic). Since we must use every inch of the ½ acre garden space as efficiently as possible, we start 99% of plants as transplants, even beets and peas. We can’t afford to have any non-starters that oftentimes occur when seeding directly outside. There’s nothing better than brushing my hand across the top of the tomato starts and smelling that earthy tomato scent!
Baby Peppers, Celery, Onions, Peas, and flowers
This year we have a great selection of tomatoes – seven varieties in all. We will offer better slicing tomatoes this year, along with cute cherry tomatoes, huge heirlooms and a tried-and-true paste/sauce tomato. By demand from our neighbors and customers, we will grow lots of butternut squash, pumpkins, and other winter squash.  We are adding cut flowers to the mix, too!

Flowers, Birds & Bees
Spring has brought the return of flowers, birds and bees to the farm. Spring flowers, probably planted generations ago by Rich’s great-grandmother, have sprung forth with unbridled exuberance. In March, there was a purple carpet of crocus across the front lawn that stopped cars down N. Adam Street for several weeks. Now, daffodils are popping up in unexpected places like bursts of little yellow fireworks. Some black tulips are even emerging and the lilacs are just about to bloom. Blooms and warm weather have brought out bees in droves, which is great for pollination around the farm.
Photo courtesy of Michael Ammermuller

Back-Breaking Debris Clearing
It is a good thing there are so many pretty flowers and birds to look at outside these days because we are usually outside cleaning up rocks and roots from the recently cleared fields. This is a necessary step to be able to get the tractor in to disc up the compacted soil. Luckily for me, Rich enjoys wrestling 30-year-old roots and prying out rocks because sometimes I just want to fall on my knees and cry, “Why?!” Okay, that is dramatic. We are racing against time before weeds hide the debris. The hard work of getting the fields cleaned must happen before we can mark out our permanent rows for the farm’s next evolution.
View past heirloom pears and new hops to the cleared field and new hopsyard
The coolest thing is that land clearing unearthed another ancient rock wall that marked a field boundary. It is fascinating to think the 180 years ago, the same family was clearing the same land…and probably mostly by hand like us! Now, we have horsepower tractors to help, whereas they had horse power. Just like Hiram, Silas, et al did back then, we are working hard to get the job done  so the fields can grow delicious fruit, berries and vegetables once again.

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