This week at the farm we met with Charles Schuster, an extension agent with the University of Maryland to give us advice and help us identify some issues we are having. This has been a very challenging growing season not just for us but for about every grower in the region. I asked Mr. Schuster if he had heard that story on NPR, he asked, “…the one about the spiking suicide rate amongst farmers?” That’s not the one I meant and at first I was like, “no”, then I was like, “wait, what?” then I completely lost my train of thought. We realized that our next round of zucchini plants were having issues and we would need to look elsewhere for our supply. When we began searching we quickly found out that every grower we knew was having similar problems. This coming week will be the Vanishing Zucchini Caper.
As we walked the farm with Chuck he quizzed us on our growing practices. Did we sterilize our pruners frequently? Yes, with alcohol. Did we harvest the fields from youngest to oldest to prevent the spreading of disease? What fertilizers did we use? How were we treating the fields after a rain? Every time he responded “good, good…”, it felt like a paternal confirmation that our growing practices were sound. He inserted a few tips here and there which resonated. Such as that I need to look into grants and funding for deer fencing. Butler’s Orchards apparently justified the expense with the amount of produce they saved in two years. Also deer love buckwheat which can be planted to draw them away from our tomatoes, just make sure to mow it down before it goes to seed. Reflective plastic mulch confuses insect pests and saves the need from spraying. Certain fertilizers are designed specifically for drip irrigation and heating the water will facilitate dissolving them. But the best thing I got out of our meeting as we walked from crop to crop, observing symptoms and taking samples, was that we have a valuable resource in Chuck Schuster and the University of MD Extension Agency and that our tax dollars pay for the service.
So even though we are struggling with our beefsteak tomatoes, peppers, squash and cucumbers, our eggplant, heirloom & cherry tomatoes, okra, and sunflowers are gorgeous. The towering sunflowers about to open are actually magnificent. We are developing strategies for how we will deal with the problems we are seeing which include downy mildew, phytophera crown, and bacterial speck. Most of these strategies involve containing the problem and planning for next season with cover cropping, crop rotation, burning tomato stakes and affected plants, etc.. Some of the areas will be ready to plant for next season while others will be kept in cover crop for several years. This coming week is supposed to heat up and be good for the remaining plants. Lettuce is coming back online after a long hiatus along with other baby greens. That all have a great week everyone.