Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Update on becoming sustainable on the farm

So far farming has not been sustainable.   Not having a tractor is a sustainable feature for the farm.   But now part of the plan is to lease a tractor when it is needed.  The farm is 3.5 acres of apples.  The understory of the apple tree area is gradually being planted with perennials.   Where an apple tree has died from disease, there is a sunny spot that can be planted with sun loving vegetable crops.  This can remediate the soil if another apple tree will be planted there after a few years.

Plans for the upcoming apple growing season.  The pruning was done in the high summer, 2014.   So for dormant pruning, there will just be pruning larger branches out of the trees.   Prepare chemical inputs.   The orchard will be set up with traps.   These traps are fedder traps with a weevil cage trap on top.   The traps are trapping curculio's and many tarnished plant bugs.  The government is doing testing, so maybe some of their research is good.   You can only hope that.      So 20 traps will be set up  around the perimeter of the orchard.   The area where the most curculios seem to aggregate, on the north side will have a more dense placement of traps.   The interior of the orchard will be sprayed with Surround at about 1/2 green tip to pink.   The interior of the orchard will also be sprayed again
 after petal fall.  

   Meanwhile, on the home front, I am burning about 120 gallons of oil a month.  This year it costs about $2.65/gallon.   Last year oil cost $3.79/gallon.   And tons of electricity.  It is not so sustainable.

  Countless money has been spent.  The more I spend the more it seems like the less apples there are.
So maybe the key is proper pruning while carefully applying any pest control.

The NEWA system, a weather computer forecasting website for fruit pests.  So that has been one helpful tool for this year.     Thanks.

Some bugs from the orchard

Some bugs under peeling bark on an apple tree


A bug with a good profile on a sticky trap

A coddling moth and an earwig face off

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Bumblebee nest

Here is a film clip of a bumblebee nest.   These bees were living under cardboard,  in some wood chips.  They seem quite happy and productive.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Organic Apple Orchard in New England 2014 Overview

The overview for the apple orchard for this year, 2014,  for Bird of the Hand Farm-  No Yields, no apples.

This is the end of year five of growing apples.    After 5 years, growing apples organically in New England is sustainable because the labor is free (done by me) and this year there was no apple crop, so there was much less work than usual.    To create a sustainable farm has been my goal.  This is probably the year that reached closer to that goal.
   The long and cold winter of 2013 & 2014 took it's toll on the harvest.   As spring finally came, full bloom of the apples trees was a week late at about May 15th.   But then the petal fall (basically the time that bloom is over) came only four days later on May 19th.   Despite this short bloom period, the overall amount of blossoms seemed like a good amount.  The next test of the size of the fruit crop is the event called fruit set.  Around June very little fruit had set.    The Roxbury Russets, Braeburns, Wealthys and SpyGolds had no fruit at all.   At this point, a decision was made to not spray the apples with Surround, the clay material that keeps a lot of bugs off the fruit.   This was a savings of about $1300, not to mention all the labor involved in spraying this material on the trees 5 or 6 times.
   So this year, was a resting year of rebuilding and not spending money of the orchard.   It was very sustainable, but only for this year.   Over the five years, no profit has been made.    Farming is a tough
   Still looking to the sustainable future.........

A single hanger-on apple

Copyright 2014

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Beware: Internet Scam directed at Small Farmers

Crops remain in field for another year
   It all started innocently enough- the sales experience that may have been a scam. I also may have been complicit in credit card scam. But that is a whole other story. In my enthusiasm to sell the whole crop of perennials for the year, all the red flags of a scam were ignored. The e mail that first came seemed legitimate. The e mail asked for 3 types of perennials. The e-mail came from Tokyo, from the oldest department store in Japan. Getting an international order was just the greatest. The request was for 780 perennials. The sale amounted to $2680.00. Well wasn't I happy, this will be my total sales for the year. Seeing that this was a year when the apple trees had gone biannual, there was no apple crop and I needed a sale. My business plan is to grow apples with medicinal plants underneath the apple trees. Well it is year six and there is no profit as of yet. And that made the enticement of this order all the more special and real for me. The order was an entrepreneurial adventure
One incredible part of the order was the shipping. It was to be shipped freight air. The cost of the shipping was $3800. The purchaser, lets call him Iao or Lao. required that only his selected shipper be used. And the total amount, shipping and plants had to be charged to his credit card. There are already some potential red flag issues flying. That is an astronomical amount for a 50 lb order. So being alarmed (not enough to set off a red flag yet), I called Fedex for their cost of the shipping. And guess what, shipping Fedex has about the same price as this shipper quoted to ship next day air to Japan. Yikes, shipping by air freight is not cheap.
So proceeding with the sale of these plants as if it were a legitimate order, I went about the business of accepting credit cards. As of yet my business has not needed to accept credit cards. This sale required credit card processing. The credit card sales office had a lot to say about the possibility of fraud on a transaction of this description. The scam would have actually worked in my favor. Iao and I might have been able to split the money charged to the credit card. The salesman explained that the 4% credit card charge to the farm, is to insure credit card transactions, covering this form of fraud.
The plan was to sent the shipping cost that I had from the credit card order to his designated shipper (another red herring). In this case the scammer will have gotten $3800, I will have made $2680 on the deal. Well maybe, the credit card company might have tried to call me guilty and get back the $3800 for the shipping and the plants lost in Japan. Or if I were innocent of fraud myself' the credit card company could not come after me for the money. The plan didn't sound in my favor. You know it's tough being a farmer.
In the meantime Iao was calling asking when I would quickly “quickly” , “hurry up” send him the estimate with the shipping costs included so he could send the money to me via credit card. Communication with Iao was impossible. I wanted to find out why customers in Japan were willing to pay such high amounts for medicinal plants. He didn't want to talk about the product, he only wanted to know when he can give me his credit card number so the order can be processed.
At this point I accepted the fact that this order was a fraud. Sometimes it seems like marketing on line in the global economy is not worth it. Wasting time on international shipping intrigues is not time well spent. But this story is to alert overworked small farmers not to be scammed. For this small local farm trying to keep up with the weeds and stop playing with the internet scammers seems a more profitable route.

Thank God

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

March 2011
Now the spraying begins, well maybe it's a bit early.

Lots of snow in 2011

The weather was not moderating. the snow was deep. The pruning continued. Mid month we entered silver tip which is the point at which the buds break. the movement of the weather is grueling. Lloyd is finishing up the pruning and removing overhanging oak branches that are shading the buds on the apple trees. the average temperature is in the low thirty’s right above freezing. Mid month we started an attempt at IPM monitoring. This monitoring for pests is a mysterious look at the changing life cycle stages of an insect. There are light traps (500$) But there is no electricity at the orchard. Sticky yellow cards, sticky red cards, white cards. which pest is attracted to which colored paper and what they look like when the bug sticks to the trap. Supposedly I am monitoring the over wintering pests in March. When I catch a bug on the sticky paper no one seems to know what they are. These are some of the challenges of monitoring for insects.
winter apple bud

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Feb 2011                                                 

February: The snow is deeper now , but with snow shoes you can walk on top of the snow. For pruning this raises you up and puts you into the upper branches of a semi dwarf apple tree. The snow seemed about 3 feet deep. It's made it easy to prune. With snowshoes on, you don't break through the snow and up in the branches they are in easy reach and the cuttings can be dragged on top of the snow to a pile.
In early spring, Lloyd Wright a twenty five year apple tree expert came on the scene. He asked me why I was removing certain branches. He felt the trees had a large tolerance for oozing black cancor and borer wood damage on the main trunk. He wanted to see shade covering cut branches like bandages. He did pruning like a surgeon and only removed the right branches. My sister and I had hacked back 1/2 of the branches on the tree. And then further proceeded to cut out the fledgling new growth which may have been the apple fruit for the following years. So with Lloyd as our guide, we reduced our pruning to removing the mostly end branches that over laid and shaded the buds beneath them. Prune correctly and watch the miracle. Well maybe.

Please note:  These are notes from the 2011 season. Through the course of the years we hope to learn how to prune fruit trees.