Sunday, May 26, 2013

I went smart!!!!

A couple of weeks ago my old phone died.....  and I got lured by the dark side, or I finally caught up with the rest of you?  Yup I got a smart phone and the best thing about it is there is always a camera in my pocket.  Over the past couple of weeks I've been taking some pics of Butternut Farm during the beautiful month of May.  I thought it would be fun to share some with whomever was interested in checking them out. 

Strawberry patch.  About the second week in May.  No flowers yet but they are soon to come.  From first flower to ripe fruit it takes about 1 month and our first flower emerged this year on May 14th.  So be ready in mid June for Pick Your Own Strawberries.  Any of you avid farmer Giff blog readers will remember a previous blog when I talked about how we applied the 500 +/- bales of straw to the patch around thanksgiving time.  Well in mid April we raked all that straw off the plants and they took off growing! 

A couple of things going on here.  First is the close up of the Blueberry bush in bloom.  Notice the bell shaped flowers all clustered together.  Each flower will turn into an individual blueberry!  Also more importantly going on here is the Bumble Bee.  Yup they are responsible for doing the lions share of the pollinating duties in our Pick Your Own Blueberry patch.   I like to think of them as the gentle giants of the pollinating world.   There are days when there will be three or four bees in each bush.  A really fascinating thing to see!

Mid may in the Apple Orchard!  This year was a "Snow Ball Bloom" as the saying goes.  The abundance of flower buds in early spring leads to what looks like a snow storm in the apple orchard during May.  These Pick Your Own apple trees are actually Honey Crisp.   Of all the flowers which are on these trees now during bloom I want only about 1 of 15 to actually turn into an apple and make it to harvest.  Any more than that and the trees will be overburdened leading to fruit quality issues and a tendency for the trees to go bi-annual and not create fruit buds for next years crop.  Fruit thinning, or culling the extra fruit, begins in early June! 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Chopping brush. There is more going on then you may think!

brush has been raked from under the trees and is ready for chopping
In one of my earlier blogs from a couple years ago I talked about apple pruning here at Butternut Farm.  Pruning involves removing unwanted limbs and shoots from a fruit tree.  My tools of choice are a hand saw and a good pair of Corona 26" bypass loppers.  While pruning is a very artistic expression of any fruit grower, what to do with the mess it produces is not.  Yup, all that brush needs to be dealt with.  Traditionally it has been burned.  However over the last 20 or so years most fruit growers have converted to chopping the brush.  The tool of choice for that job here at Butternut Farm is a 5' Kuhn Flail mower/brush chopper.  Run off the PTO of our 35hp JD 4600 utility tractor it is a bit undersized for the work we ask it to do so we take it real slow and don't try and chop any branches over 4" diameter.   3 passes down a row and we are able to turn all those branches into small splintered up fragments. 
    The brush residue which is left behind is a great way to add valuable organic matter to the soil.   Especially when it is done every year.  Slowly this residue will get broken down by the living biota in the soil.   Bacteria, microbes, earth worms, etc are constantly working on these chopped up branches in various stages of degradation.  This process releases all the nitrogen that our apple orchards need, puts carbon back into our soil, and helps fuel the "living soil" here at Butternut Farm which leads to a more sustainable farm system. 
    According to research done by Alan Lasko in New York apple orchards (Cornell coop ext.).  A typical acre of high density apple orchard, similiar to the ones we have here at Butternut Farm, removes almost 20 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. 12 tons by the trees and 8 tons by the grass sod.  Multiple that by the 6.5 acres of apple orchards that we have here and that is 130 tons of carbon dioxide that our apple orchards are removing from the atmosphere every year.  If for no other that alone is a good reason to by local apples! 
Just chopped apple brush.  This mechanical break down of the prunings is the first step in the digestion of this great food for our soil. 
Just after brush chopping.   By harvest all this residue will be pulled into the grass sod and be barely noticeable

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Blanket for the Berries

Strawberries!  Such a curious name when you think about it.  Why is the word "Straw" in the name of this berry which grows on plants so close to the ground?  I imagine the reason is that these close to the ground growing berries really benefit from mulch being applied on and around the plants.  Since straw is the most commonly used mulch then the name became such.  I can't imagine them being referred to as "Pine needle berries" or "Saw dust berries", two other materials which have been used as a mulch for these plants.  Those names just don't have the same attractive ring to them.

Mulch serves many purposes for the plants:  Insulation during the cold winter months is probably the most important!  Especially on a low snow year.  Deep cold can damage the crowns and root systems of these plants and have a big impact on production.  This is why we put the straw directly on top of the plants just before winter sets in.  Hopefully we have timed it just before a rain or snow event to settle the straw, so that the next windy day does not blow the 400 bales into the adjacent apple orchard.   With the equipment that we have here at Butternut Farm this task can take less than a day for three people to cover our 2 acres of pick your own strawberries.  I can't imagine doing all that work by hand!
    In the spring the straw mulch is raked off the plants and into the row middles (where the tractor tires and pickers travel) as soon as the field is dry enough to get the equipment through.  Again having the right equipment is very important as this task takes one person less than a day. Unfortunately I do not have a picture of that piece of equipment right now.  This spring I will try and remember to add a picture of the de-mulcher in action.  Now the straw serves its other purposes of providing a comfortable surface for pickers to kneal on during harvest and to keep the plants and fruit clean of splashing soil and disease spores which get spread around with a rain.  The straw keeps all that stuff on the soil surface below the straw where it belongs. 

Having the proper equipment for the job is important irregardless of the industry you are in!  Operating a pick your own fruit farm is no exception to this rule.  That equipment can be as simple as a pair of snow shoes which enable me to keep pruning apples during the snowy months or it can be a straw mulcher which is used only one day a year, but is pivotal in enabling this farmer to continue to grow PYO strawberries here at Butternut Farm.

Thanks for reading.