We’re farmers, so let’s talk about the weather! What an “easy season” we’ve experienced here in the Northeast. Folks are saying it’s been the best growing season in many years. Enough sun, not too much rain, steady temperatures, no hurricanes. Mosquito season lasted only about one week, back in May, when we simply donned full rain gear and head nets in order to cut hesperis (aka dame’s rocket) from the hedgerow. Hesperis can spread rapidly if allowed to go to seed in certain moist areas with good drainage; in fact its propagation is prohibited in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Many of our fall customers are asking for bittersweet, whose propagation is also prohibited. There are two distinct varieties of bittersweet, and they look very much alike. Celastrus scandens (American bittersweet) is an innocuous vine indigenous to North America, with smooth stems and berries at the tips of the vines only. Celastrus orbiculatus (Oriental bittersweet) is the impostor whose stems bear blunt thorns and berries along the entire length of the vine.
The biggest distinction between the two is their environmental impact. American bittersweet is becoming so rare in some areas that it is now a protected species. Oriental bittersweet is considered an invasive, since it out-competes the native species, is difficult to manage, and can strangle trees that it vines on. So when customers at the farmers’ market ask for bittersweet, we let them know about the difference between the two species, while at the farm we’re pruning back the C. orbiculatus and patiently waiting for our C. scandens to grow big enough to harvest from.
Another farmers’ market story: We recently had a florist from New York City stop at our tent and inquire if we shipped fresh cut flowers. We don’t, so I gave him the ASCFG web address and let him know that there are plenty of growers much closer to downtown Manhattan than us StrayCats here in northwest Vermont. It was especially handy to have the ASCFG’s “Buy Local Flowers” poster on display to show him what the website map tool looks like. As more of the general public ask their retailers for area-grown product, our organization is in a good position to approach both retailers and wholesalers with our crops, either as individual farms or as marketing collectives. Download a copy for print at http://tinyurl.com/http-buylocalflowers-com.
In fact, the wholesaler here in Burlington has recently become open to carrying more local product on their delivery route (Vermont, New Hampshire, and northeastern New York State) so that their customers—flower shops and supermarkets—can purchase grower bunches right off the truck. Growers have to be able to supply the wholesaler with a minimum of five bunches per week of consistent, quality product. If you have the capacity, ask your area wholesaler what local crops they have a demand for, or create that demand by consistently providing them with sample bunches of your product for them to show their retailers. Refer to Gay Smith’s article in the Summer 2014 issue of The Cut Flower Quarterly to read various perspectives from wholesalers, florists, and growers regarding locally-sourced product.
Back on the farm, I managed to find time to bring a couple pest-ridden plants to the plant diagnostic lab at UVM, where I was able to see under the microscope what was going on. We noticed scads of little blue beetles devouring the leaves on our various willows, and wonder if their munching will lead to in incomplete catkins along the stems this coming winter. While the lab couldn’t answer whether there’s a correlation between the imported willow leaf beetle and erratic catkin formation, I did learn that there are natural parasitic enemies who dine on these beetles, and that willow production could decline if there’s 30% damage to the leaves for 2 or 3 years in a row. Perhaps running guinea hens in the field will help control these munchers. Turns out they also munch on the neighboring dogwoods, and combined with vole damage (girdled trunks where the voles munched on the bark during our icy deep freeze last winter) may be responsible for the sudden death of several of our coral-twig dogwoods.
The plant diagnostic lab also showed me the broad mites, with bright orange backs, that caused our belladonna delphiniums to have wrinkled leaves and black, distorted center growth, commonly called “delphinium blacks”. This tiny mite sucks juices from the tender growing points, and it devastated our second cutting. The first cutting was fine, so in the future we’ll remove delphs from the field, roots and all, after their first cutting to prevent habitat for the mites. Also, of course, we rotate where the delphs are planted each year to avoid overwintered recurrences. Next year our production beds will be on a part of the field that’s been in cover crop rotation for two years, which should delay any over-wintering munchers from easily finding another free lunch.