The "Never EVER Call it the Offseason" Blog
- Weather Update
- We're Honored with Two Awards
- A More Updated Weather Update
- Market Season is HERE? Yes... yes, it is!
Strange world we live in, aint it folks?
On the heels of the most difficult growing season for at least a generation, the strange bedfellow we aggie types have in Mother Nature has brought us a spring so early it's off the charts. Perhaps remorseful over all her perilous tricks last year, the Earth, it appears, is in a super big hurry to start a new growing season and strike the last one from our minds. We're cutting a pretty wide path these days, so I'd have to say she's been successful in doing so. Let's talk shop.
In early March, we got 17 degrees overnight. This past Tuesday the 27th, we got 26 at one farm, 31 at the other. Between these two events, we lost some cherries and a few apples. How many we lost remains to be seen. It's usually significantly colder in Wenksville than in Gardners, so I'd spent most of the day thinking we're ok. Unfortunately, the danger still exists to lose our crop because the spring is SO early. How early?
Well, when we look at insect lifecycle models we talk about a unit of measure called degree days which, without getting jargon-y, is essentially a measure of accumulated temperature - I believe it's hours over 43 degrees. At any rate, as of the third week of March, degree day accumulation was similar to other years... in June.
Just spoke with one of the men who sells us our mating disruption today. He covers an area spreading from Winchester, VA to the escarpment-ringed Niagra region of Ontario. The bloom period over this latitudinal range is usually six weeks, as in bloom starts in Virginia normally in mid March and starts in Canada six weeks later. This year, that gap is three weeks! Which, if you think about, means many of the crops on the East Coast will all ripen at the same time, negatively affecting the prices farmers can get for their crops (and making us all the more appreciative of the fact we can sell them directly to you and not on a flooded wholesale market)!
Other sad news, the strawberries were a complete loss - root rot from the deluge this fall. Fortunately, we will be planting a spot three times larger than the lost patch this spring!
However, as with everything in the farm business, there's a silver lining behind every cloud. Should we have a crop - still touch and go for another month, this crop will be early which is probably good for everybody. The winter was so mild, we didn't lose any work days to excessive snow and our pruning is right on schedule despite the early spring. What this means is we are able to plant in a very timely manner despite it being so darn early - also a very good thing.
Three Springs Recognized (twice) By Our Peers
While on the subject of good news, we recognized by our peers in the agriculture industry with two awards this winter - either of which would have been the highlight of the chilly months between seasons.
The first such distinction was my father David Wenk's recognition by the lifeblood organization of the fruit industry, the State Horticultural Association of Pennsylvania (SHAP), who chose Dave as 2011 Grower of the Year! Words can't describe what an honor this was for Dave who was able to collect himself on the podium long enough to express his gratitude for his brothers and sisters in the fruit biz, for whom he has such an amazing respect. Lancasting Farmer was on hand to document the ceremony. We were able to keep it a secret until the halfway through friend and PSU classmate Matt Boyer's presentation. He was surprised and honored for sure.
The second distinction belongs to all three owners; John (L), Ben (C), and Dave (R) who were awarded the honor of Master Farmers for the Mid Atlantic area in 2012. Just as was the case for Dave's "Grower of the Year" honor, it's the recognition of your peers that makes these awards special to us. While the SHAP honor was chosen by past recipients and board members of that tree fruit organization, the Master Farmer award can be offered to an operation growing any commodity and is chosen by the membership of the Mid Atlantic Master Farmers. The American Agriculturalist magazine provided coverage here. We're looking forward to meeting the rest of the Master Farmers at the reception in Harrisburg in early April.
Things continue to play out like a Charles Dickens novel at Three Springs Fruit Farm as we get doused with another frost last Friday (3/30). Once again, the effects were isolated and mostly minimal. I'm learning that a lot of our neighbors did not fair as well. Some businesses are competitive with neighbors in the same field and I'm happy to say the fruit business, likewise agriculture in general - especially our alternative agricultural brotherhood, do not feel competitive with one another by in large. We ask that you send all of us some good vibes and warm thoughts as it's starting to look like some trying times for many of us in the fruit business in 2012, same as it was in 2011.
It's hard to believe that I'll be writing a weekly market update for DC NEXT WEEK in advance of Silver Spring opening 4/7... and that the update WILL include asparagus, AND possibly rhubarb. Heads up for the official Markets 2012 announcment very soon and don't agonize over any major changes. If you're expecting to see us, you'll see us for sure!
Sometime I was annointed media ambassador for the PA apple-growing community. When it happened and who was responsible remain a mystery but it's under investigation. Regardless, we've got a smattering of news items in the wake of our volunteering time at the PA Farm Show. If you didn't know, the two apple stands at the Farm show are organized by the State Horticultural Assocation of Pennsylvania and 100% of the proceeds from these booths supports industry research that benefits all of us, from we growers to all you hungry apple-eating customers reading along.
First up was local FOX 43 television, WPMT in York when I do my best Brett Thackera impression and talk weather in this short clip.
Then the next day, Penn State Glee Club Alumnus and meteorologist Brett Thackera's colleague Dennis Owens tries to get me to bad mouth organic farming. Not taking the bait, folks. Thankfully, he was able to catch up with PASA executive direction Brian Snyder who is much more qualified to speak on behalf of PA organic growers than I am! Good job, Brian! And by the way, I've coined the phrase, you may all use the term "local-er" with my permission. You're welcome, world.
And of course, it's always nice to check in with one of my favorite Philly Food Folks, Ben of the Philly Food Feed. He blogs farm show here - did a great job as usual.
What I Did On My Summer Vacation, by Ben Wenk - grade 3
My summer vacation was a good vacation. I spent it at Three Springs Fruit Farm. I learned a lot of things while I was there.
In May, it rained too much. The ground was very wet. Many crops could not be planted. I learned to be patient. I learned what the best conditions were to grow a fungus scientists call Venturia inaequalis. My dad calls it "apple scab". Many of the rains brought hail stones and rain drops. Strawberries were tough with all the rain... too. My friend Matt stopped by the President's house and asked him a question. We tried to have my friends visit, but it didn't work out. They wanted to plant... too. All our customers at our markets were cheery and friendly despite the rain and May was good.
Then in June the ground dried out. Many things were planted. I learned what apple scab looks like on apple leaves. I learned to evaluate hail damage in a very big... way... When we finally had everything planted, we started to pick more fresh things like squashes and cherries and many people ate them. That was good. We made new friends in Baltimore at the Fells Point Farmers Market. The new market made us very busy but we were ok. Toward the end of June, it was dry and I started to learn about irrigation. Our truck broke.
In July, I learned a lot about irrigation. I learned to run the irrigation at night. Then, when that wasn't enough, I learned to run some irrigation in the morning, and some at night. Then, I learned to fix broken irrigation lines and run the irrigation pump some more. Dad said this is a drowt. I didn't like the drowt. Then customers sent us pictures of their favorite things and it made me feel happy again. I learned what scab looks like on apples. Our truck got fixed.
When August came, things were doing ok. The drowt broke and we got rain. There were a few more hailstones but Dad said its ok. People really liked the peaches. People liked the apples also. Many people also liked tomatoes and other stuff. Many people too used the internets and ordered stuff and they liked that too. Then one day the earth shook and it was weird. Then, we met Irene and nobody liked her. She was a big meanie and we told her to go away, then she wouldn't go away and then she did. But when she was here she did mean things like push our trees and push our fruit and kept us away from our customers. What a butthead. Mom doesn't like that language.
I had fun on my summer vacation.
Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah.
From Our Farm, to Your Home,
Mrs. Weidner's 3rd Grade Class
Bendersville Elementary School
Folks, it's only under rare and unusual circumstances that I would even consider what I'm about to announce, but I hope folks will understand that these are the very circumstances with which we are faced.
Three Springs will not be attending Sunday's Headhouse Farmers Market or Greenbelt Farmers Market 8/28 in light of the expected landfall of Hurricane Irene.
Philadelphia customers are encouraged to find your favorite Three Springs peaches and apples at any/all of the following fine retailers: Weaver's Way Coop, Sue's Produce in Rittenhouse, GreensGrow Farms, Green Aisle Grocery, and Harvest Local Foods. Please note, an announcement regarding the status of Sunday's Headhouse Market in general from The Food Trust is forthcoming. The market itself could remain open - please check their Facebook, Twitter, and mailing lists for up to the minute details.
Greenbelt customers are encouraged to visit us this Saturday at Silver Spring Farmers Market, as well as next Saturday at Silver Spring Farmers Market between Fenton and Georgia Avenues on Ellsworth Drive, downtown Silver Spring. The Greenbelt Farmers Market does not operate the day before labor day. Please be aware also, an official decision regarding the status of the Greenbelt Farmers Market in general is also forthcoming and I encourage everyone to await offical word from their Facebook, Twitter, and email correspondence regarding whether or not the market proper will be open this Sunday.
I felt like I had to be proactive in regards to making a decision for our farm in advance of these official decisions regarding weather cancellations because I needed to devote the extra attention to getting the most out of our Saturday markets as a result. I also feel strongly that these markets will not be open, having seen the updated path of the Hurricane.
I don't need to explain to folks that, with the additional cancellation of our Wednesday Health and Human Services market due to after effects of the earthquake, that having four markets in one week rather than seven at the heighth of our season is certainly a step in the wrong direction. Furthermore, the winds and weather resulting from this Hurricane are likely to affect the quality and supply of everything we grow on our farm including, notably, our Honeycrisp and Gala apple crops, the lion's share of which remains unharvested as of right now and is likely to become "windfalls" - an unmarketable product.
Keep smiling, folks. It's bound to get better. We've endured freaky weather before.
PS, if someone is willing to make the jump from "plague of locusts" to stinkbugs... plus the weather we're having... nah, just a coincidence!
See, smilin' already!
- Farmer Ben
10. Why can I never remember the last verse of Woody Guthrie's "Dust Bowl Blues"?
9. What time did you turn the pump on?
8. Which sections are we irrigating tonight?
7. When are you going to be done with that pump, I'm gonna need it back.
6. Did you backflush the lines this morning?
5. How long should we extend the suction hose?
4. "How in the heck can I wash my neck if it aint gonna rain no more"
3. What time did you turn the pump on? (we'd been over this one a lot)
2. There's a chance we're gonna get some (rain) tomorrow.
1. When the #&*@%! is it going to rain?
Glad to finally have a little rain! Can I order a little more for next week?
Picture, if you will, another hot day at Three Springs Fruit Farm. Temperatures are nearing 100 and you have workers to check on before it gets too hot to continue. My Uncle John found himself in such a situation earlier this week. You're driving up to the big Honeycrisp block in Gardners to check up on somebody when you're faced with this image (left). The tops of your trees are dying! Just the tops, just one row. Your heart sinks and you start thinking what you might have done wrong. Is it fireblight? Mildew? You see the end post of the trellis is split from top to bottom and you wonder - did someone back in to my trellis? Did someone turn too short and whack it with a tractor or mower? Did that uproot the trees? The more you investigate, the more you start to discover that, hard as it might be to believe...
These trees got fried by a lightning strike! AC/DC might liken it to being "Thunderstruck". Either way, it's the only solution for this anomoly. The row is at the top of the hill (shortest distance for lightning), it's isolated to only one row, and it shattered every support pole and bamboo conduit in the row. The singed leaves are isolated to the places closest to that high tensile wire. There are no signs of impact on any of the split support poles - instead, they look like they were split by the maul-weilding cousin of Thor himself; right down the middle, vertically! Here are more pictures documenting this oddity! These Honeycrisp trees are going to be stunted for life. It's only a bit of consolation to have an interesting story to go along with it.
Here's the latest shot... things didn't "turn out the way we wanted them to"... see before shot on the left and after shot on the right... dead trees.
Not to be a downer, I wanted to include this shot - (courtesy @OurPeachCrop) shows some large Honeycrisp apples coloring up nicely. More importantly, the apple on the left was DELICIOUS! It was still just a hair underripe... so patience, folks. Next week!