Sunday, June 1, 2014

Babies, Bridges and Broccoli

You know that saying, ‘If you want to make the gods laugh, tell them your plans’? They were talking about farming. Back in April, we were excited to get out into the new fields. In anticipation of the new CSA, a new farm stand at Delphi and a bigger Lockport Community Market, we tripled our plantings. We seeded more plants for just the spring crops – broccoli, chard, kale, cabbage, beets and carrots, to name a few – than our entire harvest in 2013. Even the cooler than average spring temperatures could not dampen our excitement. 
So many plants!
We just needed to fix what we thought was a minor issue of blocked old agricultural drain to help the fields dry quicker. The company guessed it was probably clay tiling used in the early 1900s. No problem: a quick replacement of new agricultural tiling (big plastic pipe with holes in it to catch the ground water laid under the field) would take no more than a day to install. Drier fields are worth the investment.
Well, this old farm had other plans in store. We discovered the hard way that the old farm property has an extensive network of French drains, which are long ditches filled with rock and capped with large flat rocks and covered with soil. They were probably first constructed in the 1830s when the farm was established. All by horse and human labor. Over the decades the drains collapsed or silted in and trapped water pooled up on the field surface. Between cold April rain showers we made several failed attempts to lay new ag tile. After conferring with several water specialists, we realized that cleaning out the French drains was the only recourse.  It took several weeks…and was costlier than expected. The drainage was finally cleaned out by May and the fields showed immediate improvement. But, we had lost a lot of time for planting.
Fixing French Drains

Also in April, we were dealt with illness. Chicken pox went through out household. The worst was that our three-month-old got it. We learned what all parents have before us: your world stops for a sick kid. We took turns and nursing her day and night through a six-day fever. Wonderful friends and family jumped to our rescue with everything from support and food drop-offs to watching her while we caught a nap to just cleaning the kitchen. We could not have gotten though it without them! Now, baby girl is fully recovered with just a few pock marks left over.
By the end of April, we were in a pickle. The carefully crafted field plan was out the window. The new fields that had been prepped for spring crops were covered with rock and subsoil from the ditch. Oh, and there was a ditch where field had once been. What were we going to do with all those seedlings perched all over our kitchen, office and dining room? 

First, we quickly prepped the old fields for the spring seedlings. Finally, spring broccoli, kale, beets and lettuces had a home outside. Then, we built a sturdy bridge over those troubled waters in the ditch so we could even get equipment out to the new fields. The farmers picked up more than 30 loads of rocks to get the new fields workable again. (That is all labor by hand and back, folks!) The spring field became the summer field and the summer field will be used for fall plantings in June.
Crossing the Bridge Over Troubled Waters
In spite of stressful setbacks, the farm has managed some big progress. The farmers built a new-to-us hoop house. In cold springs like this when the soil temperature is much colder than average, which delays field planting, having a hoop house gives us an advantage. The plastic covering warms the ground temperature faster than the field soil. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant were already growing in there about a month before the field crops are planted. A small section of the hoop house is designated as a greenhouse to acclimatize seedlings before they go out into the field. We also purchased two tractors, another necessary farm investment. One is a large Kubota for heavy farm work and the other is a 1951 Farmall Super A to cultivate the vegetables. Manufacture of cultivating tractors ended in the ‘60s as agriculture moved to bigger industrial machines but the old tractors are perfect for small vegetable operations like ours.
Healthy Baby and Dad's New Tractor
With some creativity and a lot of help, the farm is now mostly back on track. This spring reinforced our motto of being prepared for anything on the old farm. We cannot always anticipate what will happen, but we are learning to act quickly to solve the problems that pop up.  Honestly, what got us through the tough parts is knowing our CSA members are looking forward to the first share pick-up and continuing to get ready for the start of the Lockport Community Market and the new Delphi farm stand. We are working seriously long hours and are finally catching up to where we should be. After all that the farm has been through this spring, we really looking forward to offering that first crisp head of spring broccoli!
Garlic growing strong!


  1. Nice job Bree & Rich! Farming is all about taking it one day at a time, and remembering that things always work out in the end - Robin Ross

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