Hurricane Sandy and the Remains of the Garden

I hope all stay safe in this weather.  The animals were very agitated yesterday.  The guineas raised a racket, making their peculiar loud strange clacking noises all last evening until time to roost, and even then they were unsettled.

But we’re prepared here at the farm, albeit part of preparation this weekend for the hurricane was to address the cold snap that was supposed to come tonight as part of the super storm package but that I’ve now learned won’t hit quite as hard. (Thank goodness!)

Does anyone remember the movie, Remains of the Day, featuring Anthony Hopkins? The original novel written by Kazuo Ishiguru received the prestigious Booker prize.  Great book, good movie.  But in any case, that phrase comes to mind now with the garden as it moves into winter and rest mode.

But there are still things to do.  It’s time now to start onions from seed , in the greenhouse.  I have on hand seeds for a variety called Welsh Winter Hardy Bunching onions, which once established, will re-seed, as well as some other varieties of onions.

The parsley loves the cool weather, as do the burgundy beans, now bearing well (although the deer absolutely love the tops of the bean plants.)  A few remaining beets are flourishing, and late-planted arugula and chard are thriving also.    The wax beans that I was going to pull out came back from the roots and have been bearing surprisingly well–I picked a quart of Gold Rush wax beans yesterday.

 Yesterday also, I dug up about 10 large flat leaf Italian parsley plants and 2 basil plants for transplanting into pots in the greenhouse for winter harvesting.

Salsify—a root vegetable– will winter over.  Good article about it and other heirlooms in Martha Stewart Living November issue, featuring Jefferson’s gardens at Monticello.  Amazingly, peppers are still bearing.  There are beautiful chocolate peppers that I intend to pick today, out in the rain, before the cold weather hits tonight.

Am also busy picking up pecans, hickory nuts and black walnuts—and after Hurricane Sandy, I am sure to have plenty on the ground.  But this is better than Hurricane Isabel which knocked out the pecan crop before the pecans were mature.

The cookbook is coming along –  We hope to have it completed in three-four weeks!  Thanks to all who submitted recipes.  It’s not too late, if you would like to send some.  It’s actually going to be more than a member cookbook, and will also include discussions about sustainable food.  More later.

And, thanks for the Survey responses.

Winter is a time of rest for the garden and for planning and we’re doing that now.   We’ve read the survey comments and we’re grateful for the time taken by members to make comments.  And, yes, we are making some changes for next year.

This year was a learning curve: working with the early hot dry weather, challenges with organic pest controls, and also, lack of labor with a core knowledge base.  All of this, combined with the expected implementation of infrastructure for year one, made life interesting.

Two areas we’ll focus on going forward to work on food production.  One is finding more local resources and information to support organic garden and farm practices, so that we can be better prepared for surprises!

Local resources to support certified organic farming practices are hard to find.   We could have used pesticides on produce to eliminate any infestation with a most beautiful result, but our mission was and is to support not only sustainable practices but also practices in keeping with plans for organic certification.  Not using pesticides makes growing much harder—and today’s expectations of produce are based on what is grown with pesticides.

For example, all peaches in Virginia are routinely sprayed to prevent bug infestation. Anyone I talked to about finding organically grown peaches just laughed and said that growing peaches without pesticides/spraying wasn’t possible!  It is possible, of course, but no one would buy peaches with brown spots.  The challenge to those who farm without synthetics is to find and implement a non-synthetic alternative on a scale that is functional and effective.

Many states have great support systems for organic farming.  Virginia has a wonderful extension program with good support for small farms, but there is minimal information and support for implementation of organic practices.  I.e., how exactly does one deal with a major squash bug infestation (which are a major east coast problem) or bean bugs, without using pesticides, when hand removal isn’t sufficient, and when hot pepper sprays or companion planting don’t work?

National resources to support NOP certification are plentiful, but resources specific to our area, and its unique growing needs, are not.

We’ve found that the best sources of information for organic farming—which is more exacting than “sustainable” as the latter term is used in a variety of ways—have been area organic farmers.  They have been tremendous and we hope to build our network here.

The second major area we’ll focus on is building a solid labor team.  We don’t have a farm family here as built-in labor, and the primary key to production and quality is an available, knowledgeable labor team ready to do the hard work that a farm requires, who in our case are also supportive of organic practices and the additional work that sustainable practices require.  Beans need to be picked right before delivery—and they need to be picked when ready.  Same thing goes for just about any garden item.  While we have some folks on board to help, we need more, and are looking at interns for next year as one option.

Farm labor isn’t just a challenge with our farm.  In talking with area farmers, owners and families do the bulk of the work, and all expressed a concern with available labor.

Anyway, at the end of the day, we remain committed to our environmental mission of growing sustainable food, without synthetics.  In year two we’ll have an operational greenhouse for early seed starting, a mature poultry operation, guineas in place to eat the bugs, and we won’t be starting from scratch!  Lots of changes to be implemented, and we are looking forward to it.

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