State of the Farm: Spring, 2020

(Picture from here.)

With the advent of COVID-19, the state of the farm is intimately connected to the state of the country. So, we’ll start with that.

This is the beginning of week 2 staying at home. Draper Labs (my employer) told us to work from home starting last Monday.

Because of my wife, Wendy, we were prepared. Wendy has been tracking the virus since middle January. We’ve been apocalyptishopping ever since. We have about three months of staples.

This sound like a lot but it’s actually not all that much more than we usually have. When we moved into the house back in 1993 we were at the tail end of the electrical lines. We lost power when the wind changed direction. That first winter there was so much snow that roofs collapsed all over Massachusetts and interior floods so frequent that the resulting claims for damaged walls and floors weren’t even investigated. Adjusters said, “Go ahead. We’ll cover it.”

That winter, when the roof blockages sent streams of water across the walls inside, we looked at our new house and developed a mantra: “There is nothing wrong with our house.”

We developed a sort of apocalyptic mindset. Every essential piece of equipment had to be doubled– with a 150 foot drive way and a foot of snow a week, the snow blower became essential equipment. We had two: one we bought, one we inherited from my father-in-law. We had a generator. We had two cars. We had enough food that we could hunker down for a couple of weeks if the weather forced us to.

So, hunkering down these days isn’t that much of a stretch.

But I find it depressing, just the same.

The main problem for me is finding that my main stay of human contact is work. Wendy and I get along very well but our son is out of the house and it’s now just us. That’s a great burden for any couple.

We’ve been managing it, so far, through technology. Skype, webex, duo and the like. So far it’s been adequate. I’m unsure how it’s going to handle the long haul. Our Incompetent-in-Chief disbanded the pandemic response team early in his administration and didn’t seem to understand what he was being told until it could no longer be ignored. Because of his administration we’re in a bad situation.

It’s possible someone else would have done no better. But so what? He’s the one in charge and he dropped the ball. No, he deliberately tossed the ball off the field, declared he didn’t need it, that the ball was a lie and then was forced to trot off the field and dig through the weeds until he could find it. He still hasn’t yet been able to bring the ball back on field.

But even he had to finally state that this can go as far as July. I think he’s wrong again, there. I think we’re going to be dealing with this until we get a vaccine.

So. Back to the farm, I suppose.

Last year we had a poor crop of Concord grapes. I think the grapes had grown two clustered and could no longer get good sunlight and air circulation. The grapes had no obvious fungus but looked withered. So this spring I cut them back hard. I have pictures of them but the upload isn’t working quite right. So, I’ll leave that for a future post.

The Ruth Stout method I talked about before— laying down a layer of straw and planting potatoes under it– was so successful we’re expanding it significantly. We increasing from two 4×8 beds to about three times that much. The idea is that we want to be as calorie independent as possible. (See COVID-19 above.)

Corn is already sprouting in the greenhouse so that will go in by the end of May. We’re going to aggressively try the Three Sisters method: corn, beans and squash. We’ve practiced this before with significant success. We’re using Glass Gem corn— it looked so cool I had to try it. It’s a seed corn so we’ll have corn meal. It can also act as popcorn.

Lots of beans this year. We already have had success with tomatoes. We’re going to try intercropping the tomatoes with carrots– an idea we got from a video from MIGardener.

We’ve been essentially practicing to get the most calories and nutrition from the garden for some time. This year is no longer practice. The goal is to have a substantial portion of our diet to come from the garden over the winter.

In addition, we’ve had good luck from our peaches, grapes Cornelian cherries and persimmons over the years. Peaches go into the freezer. The CCs, grapes and persimmons go into wine.

This last week we bottled the Marechal-Foch and a Concord/persimmon combination. The M/F did not taste great. It didn’t go bad. It just wasn’t very good. So we bottled it with the name, Unpromising. The C/P combination, by contrast, is very promising. We’ve transferred some additional persimmon wine from primary fermentation to the glass rack stage, where it will remain for some months.

One of the persimmon wines we cooked up with an amylase– we were of the opinion that the persimmon had a lot of starch in it by the way we were able to make persimmon bread out of it. Amylase breaks the starch into sugar and makes it more available to fermentation. The result was dubious. The remaining specific gravity was 1.005 (1.0 == water) so there was something left in the proto-wine that had not fermented. Was it unfermentable sugars? No clue.

There was also a great deal of material left over from the process. This was not left over yeast. It tasted persimmon-ey. So we tried some in bread and it seemed to taste okay. We froze it and maybe will use it in bread making. Sort of like chestnut flouer.

Regardless, we want to make better use of the fruit material. Wine is good and all but it’s not a source of nutrition. We’re considering the problem.

As I said, we have about three months of supplies in house. But we’re expecting our first harvests in May. The spring peas are in and other cold crops are being prepared for planting.

The big fear we have is another cold, wet May and June like we had last year. We’re probably going to put out some crops under row covers to see if that helps. It’s possible that eventually we’ll have to follow some of the solar gardening principles (See here.)  and put everything under semi-permanent covers. At least until July. But we won’t have that ready this year.

That’s it for now.

Be safe out there. Maintain social distance. Don’t be stupid. This bug is nasty to people with comorbidities such as age, obesity, smoking or diabetes. It turns out over 35% of the population has one or more of these so if we’re not personally vulnerable someone right next to us is.

The whole idea is to keep within the capacity of the health care system so people don’t die from lack of care rather than the disease itself.




State of the Farm: Spring, 2020 — 2 Comments

  1. What zone are you in, Steve? I’m curious about persimmons but assumed that where I live (about 20 miles west of Boston) was too cold for them.

    And I was thinking it probably makes sense to start seedlings soon rather than expect that I’ll be able to buy plant come May.