It's nearing the bittersweet end of the growing season here at Bardwell Farm. We are cleaning up the rest of the winter squash out of the fields before the frost, taking up plastic, and putting all of the fields to bed. Seems like a normal routine right? You would think so, but area farmers behind the scenes have been having one heck of a time this year.
We want to take some time in this blog to reflect, not negatively, but more to explain some of the difficulties of being at the mercy of Mother Nature during Season 2018.
Early spring was cold and we were excited to get planting. Temperatures were below average across much of the state which made warming soil temps difficult. In between very cool days and the warmer days, we managed to get the first transplants in the ground. Cabbage and chard settings sat in the soil for almost a month with minimal growth. This led to a lot of dampening-off (seedling death) and cabbage root maggot desiccation. A root maggot is an insect that eats the roots of crops such as cabbage, radish, and broccoli.
Below is a picture of the first setting of cabbage I'm talking about.
We got through the cold spell and were blessed with average rainfall through the early weeks of May, this helped us plant all of the main season crops. We even had to irrigate here and there because there wasn't enough rain. Local farmers were saying it was almost drought conditions by this time. Below you can see me irrigating scallions. May is the month for planting and we sure nailed that!
Conditions were really good through most of June, then on June 19th is when things turned for the worse. June 28th started these crazy rain spells, getting 3.5" of rain in one day! Luckily crops were still in their smaller stage so not much damage was done. If you think about it though that's almost enough rain for a month in just one day! There are a few pictures below that demonstrate how the rain can effect crops in just one storm.
Through the rest of July and August we dealt with constant above average temperatures and excessive rain, it really took a tole on both the farm crew and crops. We had average temps in the mid 90's with high humidity, which made work very difficult to keep up with the crops, weeds, and daily life on the farm.
Crops grew so fast that sweet corn settings were coming in on top of each other. Vine crops such as winter squash and pumpkins matured in the first weeks of August! Winter squash and pumpkins are supposed to mature by mid September, but the hot humid weather we had pushed things along too quickly. These crops love the heat! Sometimes too much which can change harvest dates for crops that are more of a cool seasonal crop.
Heat and humidity, coupled with the excessive rain, took a major tole. Crops just rotted in the soil they were planted in because of the amount of moisture in the ground and in the air. Many crops were lost and we experienced a major decrease in crop yields. The bottom line, too much rain!
This season was also a struggle with pests, soil borne diseases, and weed control.
The insect pressure has been incredible this year because of flea beetles, an insect that munches on cabbage and other crops love the heat. The excessive rot, rain, and humid conditions made the population of fruit flies explode both in storage and in field with crops such as tomatoes, fruits, and basically anything that had potential to rot because of the weather.
Soil borne disease like Phytophthora Capsici which attacks crops such as peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, winter, summer squash, and pumpkins is a killer in the wet seasons. Most fields in the Pioneer valley are infested with this disease which is nearly impossible to get rid of. This is a fungal disease that is only active in saturated soil (moves in water) and can persist dormant in soils for up to 7 years. This disease can travel on equipment or your shoe from field to field. It infects crops by attacking the roots and slowly cutting the water and food source to the plants. This disease wiped out many of of our winter squash, peppers and tomatoes decreasing our yields.
Lastly, weeds have been a struggle to control this year. So much rain has made cultivating and other weed control tactics difficult to maintain because of the mere fact of not being able to physically enter the fields. The result was a lot of weeding and coping with reduced yields... basically, we couldn't keep up with the amount of weed germination and growth because of the rain and heat. Quick fact, most weeds love the heat and don't mind the rain because they are acclimated to this area.
No one ever said farming would be easy, but this year sure pushed many of the farmers in the valley to their limits. There was much learned this season, much lost and gained at the same time. To me, a season like this one made farming real.
There are major downfalls in choosing a career and life like this one, but we cannot let this stop us. We have to push through the difficulties and harvest the crops that grew the best for us. It was a great season to see which varieties held up better than others under these extreme conditions, which ones were resistant to certain diseases and weather conditions, and ones that failed miserably. We look at the 2018 season as an experience, not a loss.
We hope this sheds some light on the season and the life of local farmers.
From all of us here at Bardwell Farm thank you for your support!
In early May we received a visit from Lindsay Sabadosa a progressive Democrat running for Massachusetts State Representative. Not only is Lindsay running for office, she is a hardworking mom and a Western Massachusetts Native.
She toured our farm and wanted to know what was important to me as a farmer and being a young business person in my district. I can talk farming all day and Lindsay was genuinely interested.
She was thrilled about what I was doing right now and my plans for the years to come. She was also excited by the trend of young people getting into agriculture and becoming farmers.
We walked and talked and she took quite a few photos. She and her team posted to Instagram later in the day and it was awesome seeing our humble little farm talked about with such inspiration and hope!
A big thank you to Lindsay and her team for giving me the opportunity to talk about my business and giving me a voice!
You can learn more about Lindsay's campaign at www.lindsaysabadosa.com! #TeamSabadosa #SabadosaMA
Western Massachusetts News Meteorologist Jacob Wycoff's series 10 Towns in 10 Days rolled through Hatfield on April 12th and we were lucky enough to be interviewed!
The 10 Towns in 10 Days series highlights a different town each night, showcasing just some of what the area has to offer. Pioneer Valley Indoor Karting, Black Birch Wines, Good Stock Farm and our farm were mentioned.
Thanks again to Jacob and the crew, you did Hatfield proud!
10 Towns in 10 Days: Hatfield
HATFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM)
May 2, 2018 | Jacob Wycoff, Meteorologist & Erin Fitzsimonds
Take a short spin off of I-91 in Hatfield, and you'll find Pioneer Valley Indoor Karting.
For the last five-and-a-half years, tens of thousands of people have zoomed around the track in their not-so typical go-karts.
"On the inside track, they're capable of 40mph. once we go outside, it'll probably be near 50," said Ryan Bouvier, the Owner of Pioneer Valley Indoor Karting.
If you're looking to slow down a bit, head to Black Birch Vineyards.
Co-Owner Michelle Kersbergen said while they continue to work on their grape harvest, the winery looks local when it comes to finding grapes.
"All the grapes that we've sourced in the past and in the future will be from our own vineyard," said Kersbergen.
You can enjoy some of their collection in their beautiful tasting room, and while the wine list may be growing, Hatfield seems to remain the same.
Some farming roots in Hatfield are deeper than others. Harrison Bardwell of Bardwell Farm said his family has been tending to the land since the 1680's through nine generations.
"Farming can connect you to the Earth and nature. Being able to grow food on the land we have been provided to us is really some meaningful."
Bardwell said the town of Hatfield recognizes his hard work.
"They praise the local vegetables, how good they taste, how nutritious they are. It brings a smile to my face to know that I can support people," Bardwell continued.
His farm also sells and donates some of his crop to places like the Food Bank of western Massachusetts. The food bank serves as the central hub for local food pantries and soup kitchens.
"There are 223,000 people that rely on the food that we distribute from our warehouse," said Chris Wocjick with the Food Bank of western Massachusetts.
Monetary donations are hugely important to the food bank.
"Every dollar that is provided to the food bank, we're able to provide three meals to a neighbor in need," Wocjick added.
For all of the food bank does for people, Western Mass News wanted to help so a $500 check on the behalf of Diamond RV, Big Y and Western Mass News.
Tune in at 12:30 p.m. on Better Western Mass on Thursday to find out what town Jacob is headed to next.
March 30th we received a surprise visit from the WWLP TV22 News Team! Tashanea Whitlow and a camera man took a trip out to the farm to interview me along with several other farms who received the ACRE Grant.
The Agricultural Climate Resiliency & Efficiencies (ACRE) Program is a grant provided by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organization that assists farmers with all sorts of environmental challenges and improvements. They also share their knowledge with farmers to help them implement new practices that impact the environment in a positive way. These resources also include grants such as the ACRE program.
The ACRE grant was presented to farmers through MDAR to help impact the environment in a positive way by reducing greenhouse gasses through fossil fuels, tillage of the soil, and less inputs such as fertilizers, fuel, and pesticides farms rely on in a more conventional setting.
Farmers were eligible to apply for items like no-till equipment, zone tillers, high residue spring cultivators, and spring systems, along with no-till planters and transplanters, which is what I mainly focused my proposal on. Other eligible items were improving irrigation equipment and systems by making them more efficient and environmentally friendly. Also, implementing solar power pumps for irrigation equipment and other farm related aspects.
We decided to explore how we could improve our soils for the longevity of the farm. We looked into no-till equipment. With many hours of research and time, and talking with companies, it was clear a no-till planter perfectly fit our operation. It was compatible with our goals of improving our soil, saving, and reducing fossil fuel use, and reducing our carbon footprint.
Bardwell Farm was awarded $11,900.00 towards a MaterMacc 2 Row Vacuum Precision Planter with no-till options. The planter is perfect for our farm because it is designed to plant and space any sized seed, from as small as a carrot to as large as a pumpkin seed, with only one piece of equipment. This planter also is "vacuum" which means it will plant seeds exactly spaced in rows, in a width row I choose. The best part is that is designed for no-till planting and this is where the grant came into play.
The planter is equipped with heavy duty coulters that cut through biomass on the soil's surface and is able to plant through cover crops without disturbing the soil. We project this will be a five year progression until we are really seeing a substantial difference in soil health, yield, and the health and quality of plants and vegetables produced. As they always say... good things take time!
We are excited to implement this new equipment and feel good knowing we are having a better impact on our environment and producing a higher quality product!
We want to thank WWLP TV22 News and the Daily Hampshire Gazette for taking the time to learn about what farms are doing in the area to help improve our environment and reduce greenhouse gasses. We also want to thank the USDA and MDAR for awarding us this grant and making all of this possible!
Stay tuned as we start to make the switch to a no-till farming season!
We have battled more winter weather since we last left-off, the snow wasn't too bad but the wind sure gave us a beating.
After we put the plastic up on the frame we waited for a warm day to readjust and tighten everything up. Thanks for the help Cam and Spencer!
Next, we installed a blower for the double layer of plastic. The blower adds air between the layers and creates an air pocket to act as a type of insulation. With the inflated layers it retains more heat when the weather is colder.
Now that we had adequate warmth, we switched gears and put some actual farming into play! We started a cover crop! With the help of a few friends we subsoiled the ground intensely to break up the hard pan we created from leveling the land.
We rototilled the soil and seeded "Peas, Oats, and Radish" into the ground along with some fertilizer and lime. Within a few weeks we had germination and it's looking great!
Ok back to the actual high tunnel... we spent a few days working on the roll up sides, installing the eyebolts, and adding rope to keep the sides from moving.
After that was complete, we came back to the end walls. My dad and I attached final trim board and fastened the plastic with wiggle wire for extra protection. A huge thank you to my father (who still thinks we are building a house and everything has to be precise) for giving it the classic farm look in barn red. To say the least it came out better than imagined!
The end wall doors and vents were the project finishing pieces. We fabricated the doors in the shop by cutting, mounting, and fastening polycarbonate sheet to them. We also built the vent windows in the shop as well, painted them up and attached polycarbonate. Everything came out perfect!
Lastly, we mounted the vents and doors to the end walls with the hinges. This took some expertise because of the slight ground movement from the frost over the winter. The structure finally looks complete.
Happy to be moving forward with irrigation, and electrical. Soon we will be planting... we are counting the days and it can't come soon enough!
Stay tuned to Part 3 of the High Tunnel Project. As always thank you for reading and all of your support!
It's been a long active winter, but things are looking up, today is March 20th and the first day of spring! So we may be getting a little snow tomorrow, no big deal right?
Like you, we are so ready for this cool weather to break and the snow to finally stop. We're looking forward to warmer days and finally breaking ground.
Even though it's cold, Bardwell Farm is busy at work and we are counting down the days. We're tuning-up all of our equipment. The high tunnel is almost complete and ready for operation. Seeding of the first crops that you will see on the stand come May all begins soon!
What we will be talking about in the days to come...
Here's to season 2018 and a Happy Spring to all!
Christmas at Bardwell Farm is a time for thanks, family and some much needed relaxation. We look back on the year and the success of the farming season and feel blessed we are together as a family.
We are especially thankful for the family we don’t get to see too often. We laugh, share memories and it’s a special time. As my family grows in age I cherish this most.
I take this time to remember my grandparents who were two very big influences in my life. As we celebrate the holidays in their old home, now our new home, it’s hard not to reflect and be thankful for all the traditions we were brought up with and that homey feeling it brings. I think of them often.
Christmas is also a brief time away from the farm to relax with friends, act like a young adult and have a little bit of fun before the next season comes. Sometimes I need this more than you know.
Thank you to my family, friends and loyal customers who support me and the farm year after year. I feel blessed and thankful. You are all in my thoughts through the holidays.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
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