Week 10

So far we have enjoyed a wonderful first growing season at Barrett’s Mill Farm. There has been plenty of heat to ripen the watermelons and enough rain to keep our greens and lettuce growing. While we have had minor setbacks, all in all it has been smooth sailing. However, last week, our heirloom tomatoes became infected with late blight. Late blight is an air-borne fungus that has become an increasingly common tomato affliction in our region in recent years. Every year late blight spores make their way up north from the southern states where it can survive the warmer winters. This fungus can wipe out otherwise healthy tomato or potato plantings in a matter of days under the right conditions. Last Tuesday we discovered a few suspicious looking leaves on one of our heirloom tomato plants. We removed the plant as well as several plants next to it that weren’t yet showing symptoms and sent a sample to UMass Extension to confirm. Unfortunately, the rain we received Wednesday further spread the disease and Thursday we went to work removing stakes, trellising twine, plastic mulch and drip irrigation before mowing and rototilling in three of our tomato beds. Though not all of the plants in those beds were exhibiting symptoms, we tilled in the entire planting to prevent the spread of the disease to our other plantings, as well as to other neighboring farms and gardens. We will continue to monitor our late blight-resistant red slicing tomatoes, as well as our cherry tomatoes, which are far enough away from the other tomatoes that they may not have been affected.

Late blight is a particular challenge for organic farmers to manage. The one organically approved fungicide that is effective against late blight is copper, and it only works as a preventative measure (so it won’t “cure” late blight once you already have it). Whether or not to spray copper is a question that Melissa and I have struggled with many times. On the pro side, it can help ensure that you get a long tomato season. Tomatoes are an expensive crop to grow, both in terms of resources and time, so it is a particularly frustrating crop to lose after months of nurturing. However, there are also several important cons to consider. In order to be effective, spraying has to be done on a regular schedule. With just the two of us this year, time is at a premium and we felt that we couldn’t afford to spend several hours every week spraying our tomato plants. More importantly, though, we struggle with whether or not spraying copper fits in with our farming philosophy. Copper is a heavy metal that is moderately toxic to aquatic life, which is a concern given our proximity to the Assabet River. Also, while copper is not considered to be a hazard to people consuming tomatoes that have been sprayed (as long as the tomatoes are washed), it is a risk for the person who is mixing and applying the spray. For these reasons we opted this year not to spray any of our tomatoes. Instead, our strategy was to try to plant a high proportion of late-blight resistant tomato varieties. Unlike other tomato diseases, late blight does not hold in the soil, so we will work again next year to prevent it by increasing the amount of late blight-resistant varieties we grow, while also evaluating whether or not it makes sense to us to spray a limited amount of our tomato plantings.

We are really happy that we have managed to get several solid weeks of tomato harvest, starting with cherry tomatoes in the last two weeks of July. We’re hopeful that we will still be harvesting from our surviving plants for a few more weeks before we start to really focus on the fall crops, as there is still much to celebrate and enjoy at the farm! We are now at the halfway point of our CSA season, week 10 of 20. If you have Barrett’s Bucks this is a good week to look at your balance because there are 10 more weeks after this one to use up your remaining Bucks. What is yet to come? Leeks, spaghetti squash, Keuka Gold and Purple Viking potatoes, sweet fall carrots and beets, parsnips, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash and much more!

In the CSA:
Yellow watermelon and cross-section of Chioggia Beets

  • Yellow and Red Watermelon - The yellow is just as sweet as red watermelon, but with an
    unexpected color!
  • Chioggia Beets
  • Colored peppers - a mix of colored bell peppers and sweet Italian "corno di toro" types
  • Green peppers
  • Slicing Tomatoes
  • Red Potatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Lettuce 
  • Escarole
  • Kale
  • Nelson Carrots
  • Red Ace Beets
  • Arugula
  • Red Russian Kale
  • Mustard Greens
  • Cucumbers- pickling and slicers
  • Summer Squash
  • Zucchini
CSA pick-your-own:
  • Green Beans
  • Purple and Yellow Wax Beans
  • Husk Cherries or Tomatillos
  • Cherry Tomatoes - Jasper, Sungold, Black Cherry, Matt's Wild and Mountain Magic
  • Hot Peppers - Jalapeno, Serrano and Capperino
  • Sunflowers
  • Dill and Cilantro - there's a newer planting that is looking pretty good this week!
  • Lemon and Thai Basil
  • Oregano
  • Thyme
In the store:
In the store this week we will have most of the items that are available in the CSA. In addition, we will continue to carry corn from Verrill Farm.