Archive for August, 2011



2011 has been a significant learning experience. With expansion and variety come new challenges and time demands. I am an engineer by profession and that consumes, easily 50 – 60 hours of my week. Trying to plant, manage, weed, harvest and control bugs and disease in 25 different products in the remaining hours of my week has proven nearly impossible. Especially without the aid of modern chemistry. I find that I have no time to work in the shop or enjoy any form of recreation from May through October. It has gotten old and the return on investment just isn’t there.


Therefore for 2012 we’ll be concentrating on what we know and do well. This mostly means concentrating on a few products in larger quantities and elimination of our CSA program.


I have concluded that our season can be broken down into 3 main time periods. May – June, July – Mid September and Mid September – End of October.


May and June in Michigan aren’t known for fruit bearing seasons except for greenhouse grown products and strawberries. Maybe a few cole crops such as peas, early broccoli and kohlrabi. Most produce seedlings and seeds aren’t sown until mid – 3rd week in May here in zone 5 due to frost uncertainties. In 2012 we’ll be concentrating on seedlings for market as well as our strawberries which consist of a few hundred mother plants put in this past spring. We’ve been considering a 1/2 acre addition of strawberries, mainly June bearing. Possibly offering a limited u-pick opportunity as well as taking fruit to market.


Our main season, July (really mid month) – Mid September would see us concentrating on providing sweet corn, tomatoes and a variety of melons (cantaloupe, watermelon, hybrid melons). I have been considering a quantity of strictly canning / processing type tomatoes but there doesn’t seem to be the market for any quantity. I’ve decided any watermelon I grow will be a triploid (seedless) variety, people have become accustomed to seedless.


Mid – September through October of course is fall ornamental season. Winter squash, corn stalks, indian corn, pumpkins and gourds. Mostly offered roadside and maybe a u-pick pumpkin patch for the kids.


Now we just have to see what varieties do best in various trials and get busy prepping. Everything but our 4 rows of strawberries will be plowed this fall and annual rye planted. The rye will again be turned under in the spring ahead of planting and this should alleviate some of our fertilizer requirements.


We are actually excited about streamlining and the possibility of once again having the ability to enjoy summer while still offering items that customers flock to us for.


Happy birthday Dad…




2011 has had it’s ups and downs, it’s positives and it’s negatives. Some items have done well and others have struggled. Bug and weed pressure have been very high and with that various diseases.


Sweet corn has probably suffered the worst. With the cool spring it was very difficult / impossible to keep ahead of the grass in row with cultivation. I’ve been on a “no pesticides” kick and hence my only way to control most weeds is to choke them out, cover the ground or manual cultivation. This year has been a disaster. There are not enough hours in the day to get done what needs to be done on this scale while working a full time day job. If the Spring was not difficult enough, the hot dry July really took it’s toll. Poor pollination and stunted ears, compounded by weed pressure resulted in poor yields. Deer and raccoon didn’t make it any less difficult. The deer have a tendency to enjoy the tassel of the corn and without the tassel pollination is difficult. The first replication (1/4 acre in size) was a total loss. The deer had eaten most of the tassels and what did make an ear the raccoon finished off for dessert. I harvested 9 good ears and then mowed down $1000 worth of corn without selling a single ear. Luckily the corn that matured toward the end of the month and beginning of August received some moisture and cooler weather and made some decent product. 13 raccoon were removed and the soybeans matured and animal damage diminished significantly. As of today we have one replication of sweet corn remaining and I should have 2 weeks worth of harvest out of it beginning this Friday.


This last replication was a bit of an “experiment” for me. I have an area, about 1/4 acre in size where I traditionally have rotated melons. This year it was bare and the grasses overtook it and I left it fallow until almost the middle of June. I had plenty of seed left so I loaded the sprayer with glyphosate and burnt it down. After a week I added weight to the row units of the planter and pretty much no-tilled seed into the area. The 400 Cyclo IS NOT a no-til planter. It worked ok but we won’t make a habit of it… We did the same for pumpkins and that was a disaster. When the corn was about 18 inches I had plenty of broadleaf pressure so I applied 2,4-D by hand between rows with the back-pack sprayer. What has resulted is a good corn stand with small grasses about 6 inches high.


To go one step further, in August I decided it was time to get my applicator’s license so that I had more options should I need them. After cramming for a week and an 89% on the exam I am now certified. The beginning of August I had planted what was left of my sweet corn seed, about 1 lb worth, where I had disced my first replication under in Mid July. Last night I applied Atrazine + Dual II Magnum to see how well it’ll control the grass and small broad leaves. The corn is about 5 – 6″ tall and planted at a 30,000 population. About 12 rows worth. If we can maintain some temperature and water and avoid a frost it MAY make corn sometime in October. Good luck to that. At least we are being pro-active in our weed management program.


Cucurbits (melons, cucumber, watermelon, squash) have been another problem. Squash bugs have been tough on them and  anthracnose has pretty much done the cucumber in and decimated the first watermelon crop as well as cantaloupe. Hopefully some Sulfur and Copper will arrest it on what is left. The squash bugs are tough buggers to kill and over the counter insecticides don’t tend to work well so they’ll just have to continue to eat winter squash. Hopefully the plants can hang on. I have a 2nd planting of melons coming on and I hope that they fruit well.


The one shining light on the season has been the tomatoes. Boy do we have tomatoes. Disease pressure has been low and aside from having to pick a few horn worms off only the grass hoppers have been an issue. We’re harvesting bushel after bushel a this point, more than we can seem to sell. We’ll be doing quite a bit of canning in the coming weeks. The Sunsugars have been particularly popular as they are sweet like candy. I always tell folks that I don’t care for tomatoes. It is a texture and taste thing, but the Sunsugars – I’ll eat them like candy all day long. The Charger that we grew has also performed admirably. A nice 6 oz tomato with a good set, no disease, a healthy plant and no cracking.


One thing I have learned from this season is that I cannot manage this many crops with this many issues, by myself in the amount of time I am left with after a full time day job. It is time to change course and streamline. Not downsizing, chances are we’ll expand acreage for 2012, but I need to concentrate on a limited number of items that I can grow and sell in large quantites. Items such as sweet corn, melons, tomatoes and pumpkins. We’ve even been discussing strawberries and raspberries for a small U-pick operation. I am looking for a niche to exploit. Maybe the tobacco leaves will be the fall hit.


Stay tuned for 2012 planning.