2012 Growing Season

Early farmer's market finds

Early farmer’s market finds

Ever wonder why some of your favorite gardening/farming magazines only produce 11 issue a year with June and July being a combined issue? It certainly isn’t because they have nothing to write about. Could it be that some of the best contributor are  growers and farmers alike? And that their busiest time of year to work the land is, well, summer time?

It occurred to me this past growing season that my available writing time was at a bare minimum. I am by no means one of the best growers or writers but I do know that once the temperature started to rise above 55-60, I was switching my inside pleasures for outdoor ones.

Tomatoes and Peppers are planted in the Hoophouse on May 20th.

Tomatoes and Peppers are planted in the Hoophouse on May 20th.

The growing season here in Maine is relatively short compared to other parts of the country but that doesn’t mean you have to wait until Memorial Day weekend to plant your garden. Last winter, I spent a lot of time exploring extended season growing. It involved hoop houses, caterpillar tunnels, determining seed varieties and quantities, seed starting dates, maturity dates, fertilizing schedules, insect controls and marketing.Caterpillar Tunnels planting in early AprilJuly 2012 Gardens and fruit 052

The hoop house was perfect for growing tomatoes, cukes and peppers.

The hoop house was perfect for growing tomatoes, cukes and peppers.

As I planned a schedule for myself built around the available time I had outside of my day job, I managed to start my growing season in March instead of late May-early June. My goal was to have produce ready for the farmer’s market in early May.Grand Opening  Despite the roller-coaster ride the weather took us on last Spring, I hit the first farmer’s market in Sanford with fresh salad greens, radishes, chives, tarragon and oregano.

Fresh packed salad greens

Early radish, crisp and crunchy!

Early radish, crisp and crunchy!

From there it went on with a weekly supply of salad greens, kale, tomatoes, cukes, peppers, summer squash, garlic scapes, snap peas, green beans, potatoes, melons and squash. For my first year at marketing, it was a great success. I surpassed my goal two times.

Note: I completed the marketing research as part of the Farms for Maine’s Future business grant Rivard Farm received in 2011. StuCroft Farm  (my farm) sold produce grown in Acton, Maine. Rivard Farm sold tomatoes and berries from the family farm in Springvale, Maine.

Below are photos from the Farmer’s Market and Growing Season 2012 year in review.

cluster tomatoes are a popular hoop house variety

cluster tomatoes are a popular hoop house variety

The Blueberry Season arrived 2 weeks early.

The Blueberry Season arrived 2 weeks early.

Blueberries and Raspberries were a good seller at the farmer’s market.

Melon, squash and corn patch

Melon, squash and corn patch

Sept Farmers Market 002

Watermelons and Cantaloupe anyone?

Watermelons and Cantaloupe anyone?

Labor Day Harvest

Labor Day Harvest

As I write this post in mid January 2013, I realize that it won’t be long before I fill the seed trays with potting soil and start dropping in tiny seeds for a new year of growing. I would like to say that I will have time in the coming months to keep you updated but somehow, I know that the pleasures of writing will succumb to the demands of growing produce. I’ll do my best.

Busy as a BEE

Busy as a BEE

Best Wishes for the New Year! Diane

PS. Stay tuned for some great news from Rivard Farm!

The good, the bad, and the green!

venting the hoop house on a warm spring day

With the beautiful weather lately, who hasn’t been thinking about getting seeds into the garden. In years past, I would be watching and waiting for the spring-like weather to arrive so I could get started on the growing season. In the last three years, I’ve managed to get some early seeds in the ground by the middle of April. This year it was January 28th, thanks to the hoop house!

There has been some good and not-so-good that has come with planting so early here in Maine. It requires more awareness of the forecasted weather, the daily high and low temperatures and a physical effort to monitor the growings in the hoop house whether its opening or closing the vents and windows, watering, sowing more seeds, of figuring out what insect is eating holes in the leaves of your lettuce.

I would say for the most part this new adventure has been on the good side of things. The not so-go-things have been some near misses.

One day in February , I looked out to see the hoop house door swinging open in the wind when the temperature was only 15 degrees. We quickly affixed a door clamp and bungee cord to the door to preventing it from opening accidentally.

Before the wind storm

Then on Friday, April 27, I came home to the two caterpillar tunnels completely blown over.

The wind was so strong that it ripped a couple of cabbage plants right out of the ground. Others had broken leaves. Considering the whipping these plants got, I only lost about 10 % of my plants.

wind whipped cabbage

Another disappointment has been the spinach. I’ve planted spinach seeds three times on three different dates and have yet to see any significant growth. I’m not sure what the probably is. If anyone has a remedy, let me know.

Red Russian Kale, very tasty!

I haven’t completely given up of spinach yet, I’ve planned it two times in the Caterpillar tunnels (named CAT I and CAT II) and seems to be having somewhat better results. I can’t figure out if it been the temperature, the fertility of the soil, or the daylight hours. I definitely need to read up on this problem. I love spinach and it’s driving me crazy that I can’t grow it.

Early radish, crisp and crunchy!

In the last few weeks we have been harvesting radishes every day or two, and collecting enough greens to have a salad with dinner. It is pretty amazing to be eating greens this time of year when in years past I would have just been putting seeds in the grounds.

Mesclun greens, great addition to the salad.

Last fall, the National Weather Service had predicted that the winter of 2011-12 would be a winter of extremes, and extremes it was. We had a snow storm at the end of October, a snowstorm at Thanksgiving and really very little snowfall after that. And it continued right into Spring. The temperatures have been all over the board, with dips in the twenties and highs in the 60-70-80 in February, March and April. And this weekend its been not exception. The last two nights have been in the mid twenties and tonight is predicted to go as low at 21 degrees!

These unusually high temperature for spring in Maine have confused some of the plants and trees. The warm weather has forced many crops to blossom early. Now they are in jeopardy of being killed by these very cold nights.

peach tree in bloom, three weeks ahead of normal.

Vitamin greens, by far the most prolific grower in the hoop house.

Normally, plants like kale, tatsoi and arugula love cool growing temperatures, but when temperature soar into the 70-80 outside, the hoop house was pushing into the 90’s. This surge in temperature causes these plants to bolt. The plants think the high temps are a sign of the end of its growing season and starts to produce a seed head. This shouldn’t be happening to plants that I haven’t even had a chance to harvest yet. So off with their heads!

A delicious salad to go with dinner.

I’ve been clipping back the seed heads and adding them to my salad. The plants will continue to grow but will probably not mature to their full size.

It’s hard to predict what Mother Nature will do next. She is still in charge even if I tried to out smart her this year by planting two months ahead of schedule. She can bring on another chilly night, cause I’m right on her heals. Does she wear stilettos?

row covers protecting the tender strawberry blossoms

The strawberries are under the row cover and the young fruit trees are wrapped in a trash bag to protect their blossoms. The hoop house is closed up tight and the CAT tunnels are anchored down with rocks. (We’ve got plenty of rocks around here to be put to good use.)

One thing I’m learned through this growing process is, don’t put all your growing ideas in one basket. For if one crop doesn’t grow or is killed by frost, there is another crop waiting to fill the void. Therefore, today we planted 25 lbs of seed potatoes. Another crop that just might see the warm weather return and grow an abundance of spuds. Let’s hope!

Wherever you live, I hope tonight’s polar dip won’t crush your growing spirits. Press on, for warmer days are coming.

Do you have any experience growing spinach? I’d love to hear your comments. Diane

Tomato Graduation Day

My tomato babies!

April 21, 2012

by: Diane Rivard

Just 6 weeks ago, I planted some tomato seeds for dad’s hoop house project. I was a little apprehensive at first because I had the expectations of growing something for someone else. No, not just anybody, it was my dad, a man, a farmer with years of experience. I knew I had to get it right.

hoop house tomatoes started in oasis cubes.

I’ve grown tomatoes from seed many times before but this time was different. The seeds were started in oasis cubes. After nine days I need to fertilize them because the nutrients in the cubes ran out, then 2 weeks after sprouting they were turned on their side so they could grow a stronger root system. So many things to think about.

Everyday, twice a day, I climbed the ladder to the loft’s attic garden under the 6 x 6 sky window to check on my little tomato babies. I made sure they had enough water, they were rotated so they got even light exposure, and brushes my hands over the tops of them to help strengthen the stems. I could almost see them growing before my eyes. At four weeks old, they were transplant into peat pots and fertilized with fish fertilizer.

As they grew, I had to move them apart from each other so the leaves would not shade its neighbor.

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the loft garden

Then three days ago, dad said he was ready to accept his tomatoes. Oh boy, did I think they were ready to leave home…so soon? I put 12 Clermon and 12 Geronimo’s in trays and carried them down the ladder on my right shoulder. I brought them out to the garage and set them up with an oscillating fan.

the fan running on medium speed, 6 feet away from the tomato plants

The move to the garage would get them ready for cooler temperature (nighttime temps of 60 degrees) and the fan got them ready for the stiff breeze that would no doubt blow through the hoop house.

This morning, I loaded the tomatoes into the car and drove them down to the farm. It was a bittersweet moment when I sprang the trunk and my tomato babies got their first taste of pure sunshine at their new home. Dad walked out of his hoop house with a smile and said, “What do we have here?”

“Your tomato graduates!”, I said

We carried the trays into the hoop house. It was a comfortable 78 degrees. Together, dad and I put two tomato plants, peat pot and all, into a five gallon grow bag half-full with bark mulch, we added more mulch to the bag, filling in around the sides of the pots and over the tops.

adding bark mulch to the grow bags

We talked about keeping them warm at night, a few nights a 60 degrees, then lowered a few degrees each night down to 55 degrees. My motherly instinct was working, I guess. Dad assured me that he planned to cover them with a low tunnel and use a quartz heat for supplemental night-time heat.

I gave dad a hug and said, “Take good care of my babies. I guess they’re not babies any more, they’ve graduated!”

Dad with his new hoop house tomatoes