The sun and rain are working together beautifully this season.
We have already harvested over 450 pounds of produce including zucchini, summer squash, radishes, lettuce, garlic scapes, chard, kale, and collards.
Student farmers, Greg, Gabby, and Sean, enthusiastically plant, weed, harvest, make deliveries, and help lead the staff and student volunteers. Last week volunteers Lauren, Laura and Hilary spent their Friday afternoon “hilling the potatoes” with nutrient rich compost.
In the neighboring field, more volunteers planted our second succession of zucchinis and cucumbers.
The Farm feels the most alive on these volunteer days – typically Friday afternoons – when the fields are filled with the energy of student and staff volunteers, the ripening vegetables, and the ever-present sun.
The plants respond quickly to the heat and we are now working hard to keep the tomatoes staked, strung, and supported. In a few weeks, if all goes well, we will be harvesting cherry tomatoes!
By the close of this week most of our seedlings will have found their home in the fields. We will then strive to keep up with their needs as we weed and water them until it is time to harvest and deliver the crops to our partners.
In time, the harvest will turn hues of sugar snap pea green to tomato red and pumpkin orange. For now, we enjoy the rainbow of color afforded by our flowers and invite you to order a bouquet to bring the warmth of the field into your home or office!
Seedlings start small, but it doesn’t take long before they start to drink in the light, nutrients and water that allow them to take root and grow.
Some days we focus so much on the tasks at hand – a common occurrence in most any walk of life – and fail to really see how quickly each crop, and the farm as a whole, is changing right before our eyes.
A few evenings ago I returned to the farm just before sundown to stroll through the fields and take a good look at the crops.
Here is what I found.
The summer squash and zucchini dance in earnest with the last of the daylight and lean into each ray emanating from the west.
The apple trees sway in the day’s final rays as a light, early evening breeze rustles their first flush of foliage.
Our sweet corn, truly grass-like at this stage, appears fragile and uncertain, but stands tall and whispers of how it will grow to tower above my head one day.
There is a simplicity to these early days of warm, sunny weather.
The weeds are not quite capable of challenge.
There is a palpable sense of anticipation in the fields of the bounty and beauty of the productive jungle-like world that will appear – seemingly overnight – as summer takes hold.
For now we enjoy the simplicity of the early days of the season, and know that it is only a matter of time – hours filling easily with planting and cultivating the fields – before all of the crops will share their sun-kissed flavors with our growing community.
The greenhouse is filling with colorful seedlings and student volunteers visit regularly to care for them and ensure that they are getting planted out in the field as soon as possible.
As you may recall, just over 1 month ago we were experiencing summer-like temperatures and a warm, dry spell, very uncharacteristic of a typical New England Spring.
During volunteer hours in early April we were often decked out in our summer best.
Over the past couple of weeks, the weather has shifted a bit and we have been lucky to receive some rain for our newly planted crops. Between showers we have planted flowers including celosia, snapdragons, salvia, and statice, and vegetables including cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, beets, onions, potatoes, mustard greens, and even some early zucchinis and summer squash out in the field.
Much of this work has been carried out by student volunteers either during volunteer hours or even during class time.
On the last day of classes, Thursday, May 3rd, I invited students in my class (Environmental Science and the Food Justice LC which I teach with Prof. Sue Mooney) to spend their last Environmental Science class with me at The Farm.
The students weathered the misty, cool weather and got a lot done!
The early arrivals got right to work harvesting Mesclun Mix and Arugula for My Brother’s Keeper, which was picked up and delivered that day.
The rest of the class kept busy planting winter squash seeds in trays in the greenhouse, beet and red mustard green seedlings and potatoes in the fields, and prepping the beds covered in black plastic mulch for zucchini and summer squash seedlings.
Volunteers are helping The Farm grow in leaps and bounds.
Thanks to their help, we have already filled twenty-three 125′ beds with a wide variety of early season vegetables and some flowers. We have even started to harvest some of our greens and made small deliveries to My Brother’s Keeper and the Easton Food Pantry.
The steady stream of student volunteers is allowing us to reach more people with fresh, healthy, nutritious and organic vegetables sooner than expected.
Over the course of the season I look forward to welcoming new and returning students and staff to help with planting, cultivating and harvesting our crops.
One day – in 3 years or so – we’ll have new jobs like harvesting apples. For now I am happy to see the young trees coming to life out in the field.
On April 11th, 35 trees arrived from Adam’s County Nursery in Aspers, PA. These trees were purchased with some of the funds generously donated by the Class of 2011. We have chosen 4 varieties of apple trees to start our orchard including the heirloom, Pippin, and 3 scab-resistant varieties: Crimson Crisp, Initial, and Querina. It is our hope that within 3 years these trees will be producing a good amount of local, organic, and delicious fruit for our community partners in Brockton. The fruit of each variety will ripen at different times over the course of the growing season, providing us with a nice, long apple harvest season.
The instructions from the nursery were the following: keep roots moist, store the box in a cool and dry area, and plant within 2 weeks – at the most! These tasks were easily accomplished with the help of over 50 volunteers. Helpers included students from my Environmental Science class, Professor Corey Dolgon’s Introduction to Sociology class, Professor Tom Balf’s Environmental Science class, and other new and returning students and staff volunteers who joined us during “volunteer hours” on Thursdays and Fridays.
After assessing our farm’s current footprint, we decided to establish the orchard in the southwest corner of our field. On April 13th, Sheriden and Brian arrived a bit earlier than the rest of the day’s volunteers and helped me place a stake where each hole would need to be dug. The trees have been grafted onto a semi-dwarf stock, so the trees will only grow to be about 8 to 10 feet high and 8 feet wide. This will allow for easy picking – we hope the deer don’t think so too!
A couple of hours after Brian, Sheriden and I laid out the orchard, a large group of volunteers joined us and quickly dug holes where each stake had been placed. We even had enough time that afternoon to plant the first 10 trees, and chose the Crimson Crisp variety to be the first to go in the ground.
The trees seemed to utter sighs of relief as they went from their cramped, dark quarters in the box into the warm soil and compost. Each tree received 5 gallons of water to help them weather the unseasonably warm, dry days.
We waited for the warmest days of the following week to pass before planting the remaining trees on April 19th and 20th.
On Thursday afternoon Sean Vermette, the college’s painter, and his two children, Maeve and Will joined us to ensure that one of the Querina apple trees settled nicely into it’s new home.
Sean held the tree in place while Will and Maeve filled the hole in with soil and compost.
I have a feeling that Will and Maeve will be visiting from time to time to check on the progress of their little tree. I hope they will not be too disappointed by the long wait for their tree’s first apples!
That same afternoon, students from Prof. Tom Balf’s class planted the 9 remaining Querina Apple Trees after learning a little bit about cover crops, crop rotation, drip irrigation and other sustainable farming practices.
Many of these students were new to the farm, and I was impressed by their careful and efficient work. I look forward to welcoming them back anytime!
After planting the trees, these students made quick work of delivering 5 gallons of water to each tree. We will be setting up drip irrigation over the next couple of weeks for each tree to get them through the hottest months of the summer.
It’s hard not to smile as you see the orchard going in.
The last few trees were planted on April 20th – well within the 2 week window suggested by Adam’s County Nursery.
Under bright blue and sunny skies, Joe Favazza, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs & Dean of the Faculty, and Katie Conboy, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, joined students Sarah, Erin, Dan, Tim and me to plant the last couple of Pippin apple trees.
It will take a couple of years until the trees bear fruit, but we are already reaping the benefits of growing an orchard as a community.
A big thank you to the Class of 2011 for donating the trees, and to the students and staff who helped perform orchard layout, dig the holes, plant the trees, apply the compost, and water the trees.
Please visit often to nurture the orchard and watch it grow.
After our brief waltz with summer temperatures, the more seasonal cool nights and blustery, sunny days of early spring have returned.
The seedlings in the greenhouse are holding up well despite the colder temperatures. Every evening, if it looks like the temperatures will dip into the 30’s, we cover up the seedlings with a thin sheet of row cover to protect them from cold damage.
Some of the seedlings are growing so well that they need to be transplanted into larger “homes” so that their roots can find the moisture and nutrients that they need to grow.
Thanks to the careful work of volunteers, these Mesclun Mix Greens and Arugula are thriving.
Despite the cooler days, volunteers are still filling the fields, and jumping right in to plant seeds in The Sem, transplant seedlings in the greenhouse, and plant seeds in the field.
Last week, on March 30th, 18 volunteers arrived at The Farm and got right to work prepping and “pre-weeding”. Before I knew it, the first bed was masterfully prepared and the group was ready to plant two varieties of radish: Rudolf and Pink Beauty.
The “magic” of this time of year comes during these bustling times of group activity, and also in the unexpected moments of quiet reflection.
These come early in the morning when the frost is still melting away…
…and in the early evening when we tuck the seedlings in to protect them from the cold nights.
Under the cover of night, the seedlings withstand the cold and greet us the next day a little bit stronger, and one day closer to their time to grow to their full potential in the field.
These seedlings are embracing the sunlight of each day, modeling “Carpe Diem” in a whole new way!
Outside of the greenhouse, the soils are warming under consistent sunny skies and temperatures in the 50’s. As a result, today was a perfect day to plant peas.
I prepped the soil with a rototiller, a rake and a hoe and planted the peas in 2 straight rows, with a string to guide my work.
We now have 2 beds planted – many more to come!
I am looking forward to planting our onion and lettuce seedlings next week with the help of our volunteers!
In The Sem we continue to plant our seeds.
In the greenhouse, you’ll see kale, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, collards, dill, cilantro, parsley, and other greens growing in all shapes and sizes.
At The Farm, the perennials are waking up from their winter’s nap, and will be there to greet you!