Working at the Farm at Stonehill gets you really in-tune with the crops. I started to notice the little things- the little nibbles or brown spots that pop up on the plant’s leaves. I then started to notice bugs on the crops, and began to differentiate between which insects are good, and which are harmful. I would catch a bug in the act of munching on the produce or the plant itself, and would ask myself “how badly is this bug to the plants?” I frequently found myself delving through the Farm’s insect encyclopedia, seeing which insects I should squish and which ones I should leave be.
One of the good bugs I noticed immediately was while weeding in the black plastic beds. I occasionally would see wolf spiders peeking out of the dark holes, now cleanly pulled of any weeds. The spiders are looking out for their prey of harmful earwigs, grasshoppers, crickets, and any other insects that want to take a nibble on the fresh produce or even the plant itself. I leave them be because I know that they are helping the plant from being possibly hurt from some other insects. Some insects I come across aren’t too bad, they just like to take little nibbles and then move on. I leave these guys be, unless they become a complete nuisance to the plants.
One day, I was doing a thorough weeding around our parsley plants when I came across this fat, yet beautiful caterpillar. I looked him up in an insect guide and found him to be a Black Swallowtail caterpillar. These caterpillars love to munch on parsley and dill to ready themselves for their pupae stage. His home made of our parsley plants was now completely exposed thanks to my thorough weeding, and so I thought that I would try to keep him as a pet as an apology for ruining the camouflage that hid his home from possible predators.
I decided to name him Stanley and I made him a little habitat, fitted with a nice bed of fresh parsley, and sticks for interactive purposes. Having him as a pet was a great idea because I got to see him grow fatter and create a chrysalis, and then turn into a beautiful butterfly. I did an analysis on the wing pattern of Stanley once he exited his chrysalis, and actually found out that he is actually a female. Stanley has a more prominent blue pattern on her wings, which differs from the less blue-colored wings of the males.
Stanley’s new home is the permaculture garden at Commonwealth Court, and so if you see a black swallowtail in that area, that may be in fact Stanley. It was sad to see her go, but I know that she will love the permaculture garden and I hope she has many children and grandchildren to outlive her.
Spring is a miraculous time to be a farmer – it is a time of creativity, renewed energy and productivity.
On these cooler days in May the fields appear to be a blank canvas that we are given the opportunity to fill up with colorful, nutritious crops. We start each growing season with the memory of bountiful fields – thousands of plants producing fruits faster than we can harvest them – as we look out at many open rows waiting to be filled with tiny, seemingly vulnerable seedlings. With the knowledge that these small, fragile seedlings often grow rapidly into strong, vibrant plants, we forge ahead and begin to paint the farm once again.
The volunteers are plentiful and eager to help the farm have another successful year! During the months of April and May we often welcomed 25-30 helpers each Friday who quickly got right to work: planting, mulching, watering and prepping beds. We have them to thank for the rows and rows of healthy plants that are growing along beautifully now on these longer, warmer days.
The plants are adapting well to the somewhat harsher environment that lies outside of the protective hoophouse, and with some water and time in the sun they start to grow. We can’t help but anticipate all of the delicious flavors that our first harvests of High Mowing Mesclun Mix, Shanghi Green Pac Choi and Deer Tongue Lettuce will bring to the table.
In addition to careful planting, the light and heat from the sun, and nutrients in the soil, our crops will also require water and some help competing with the weeds to ensure that they achieve their full potential. Volunteers assist in the important tasks of rolling out the irrigation “lay-flat” tubes and drip tape and delivering mulch to the fields.
We are experimenting with doing some more mulching between the rows this season using hay purchased at the end of the last season and newly purchased salt marsh hay. This mulch will add organic material back to the soil and allow us to cut back on hours spent weeding and weed whacking!
In addition to volunteer groups, a number of classes visit the farm regularly to deepen lessons introduced in the classrooms across the street. The Farm was the subject of this year’s Faculty Focus piece, created by our marketing team to highlight how a number of faculty members are utilizing The Farm as an outdoor learning space.
Father Steve Wilbricht is one of the faculty who is utilizing the farm as a living classroom. He is committed to growing grapes with the help of his class on the Sacraments and can often be found weeding, watering and monitoring the health of the grapevines at The Farm.
One strategy to ensure productivity or all of our crops involves supporting our populations of pollinators, both native and imported. This year we are adding a hive of Italian honeybees to the farm, which will be managed by the beekeepers of The Best Bees Company in Boston. This addition to The Farm is the result of a Sustainable Agriculture semester long project by students Devin Ingersoll and Jess Lantos – both members of the Class of 2014.
The construction of our second hoophouse is another current exciting activity at The Farm, and is also the result of a student project. In my Sustainable Agriculture class last spring, Dan Gardiner (Class of 2014) and Jack Bressor (Class of 2013) outlined how we could extend our growing and learning season at The Farm with the addition of a second growing structure like this. With the help of a second year of funding from the Harold Brooks Foundation we were able to purchase the supplies to make the addition this spring.
Despite their own busy spring at Freedom Food Farm in Raynham, MA, Farmers Chuck Currie and John White are making some time to put up the hoophouse for us. We plan to grow tomatoes, cucumbers and other warm weather crops in this structure during the summer and then chard, kale, lettuce and other greens during the colder months.
One of the unexpected benefits of this construction project includes temporary perching for local tree swallows. Seeing them enjoy this space reminds me of the lessons I teach in the classroom – we are part of a larger ecosystem here at The Farm and have an important duty to be stewards to the land and to support the biodiversity that thrives on the farm and in the fields and trees that surround us.
We have also seen toads, bees, crickets, robins, bluebirds, nesting killdeer and many other creatures at The Farm this spring, which encourages us to continue to think about ways to provide a diverse habitat as we simultaneously work to grow, harvest and deliver our crops to nurture the human members of our community.
I was relieved to see that this Killdeer (pictured above) decided to lay her eggs in a row after it had been planted it with seedlings. She actively defends her nest whenever we approach the area to plant or weed in a nearby row. We are happy to let her have this head of lettuce and hope that she stays in this part of the field out of harms way of the rototiller or a hoe.
This summer, 3 summer farmers will be helping to care for our farm: Kayleigh McDonnell, Andrew Curran and Chris Astephen. Together we will work with the volunteers, visitors, killdeer, bees, community members, and whatever the weather brings us to grow vegetables and flowers.
We are keeping busy moving the seedlings from Hoophouse #1 into the fields and have started to harvest a few things – lettuce and Pac Choi – for our community partners and the people that they serve.
Season #4 is officially underway… looking forward to seeing what new elements we can add to this year’s masterpiece.
Visit us at The Farm or on Facebook to see it all unfold.