Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hoop Dreams: Hoop Houses for Summer Field Tomatoes

This season a portion of the field tomatoes will be placed under these easy to put together hoop houses. The hoops are made from aluminum channel, steel poles and polyethylene covers which should last around 5 years.

The idea is to compare tomato yield and health during the summer seasons for tomatoes in the hoops and those that aren't.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Growing Strawberries, fruits and organic fertilizing


Outside of regular watering and weeding, we always add a little bit of kelp to our soils before planting anything.  Additionally, this time I got a chance to use another sea-based, natural, organic fertilizer called fish emulsion, which is made from fish oils and left over fish parts.  "There is no waste, only potential" and just as compost takes the leftover nutrients and energy in food waste and turns it into fuel for soil microbiology, fish emulsion is a byproduct of fish waste that becomes nutrients for the strawberry plant.  Although we only use a very small amount of this natural fertilizer and dilute it in water, the effects were great.  The key to our addition of fish emulsion was to add it in while the plant was young and in a vegetative state.  The fish emulsion we use is of the NPK ratio 5-1-1.

All fertilizers have an NPK ratio, which is the percentage of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K), which are some of the major nutrients that effect plant development.

When a plant is young, it's first instinct is to produce vegetative growth, nodes, leaves, stems etc.  Once the plant matures, it will look to change course by removing energy from leaf production and start focusing on taking all that energy to flower and eventually reproduce.  Just like a child, we want to provide the right nutrients for the young plants to develop it's basic structures and as it gets older, it will begin to develop more strength and stability to stand on its own.  To stimulate this early vegetative growth we want to help the plant by adding Nitrogen (5% in the ratio stated above).  Plants use Nitrogen to fuel the photosynthetic process and increase green matter, i.e. more leaf and stem to eventually produce fruit.  When the plant matures and there is a trigger of enough light and heat during the day in the late spring and summer, we want to make sure we don't keep feeding the plant Nitrogen.  Instead of using Nitrogen to produce more leaves, if the plant is slightly stressed out and not be over coddled with fertilizers and nutrients it will begin to transform and choose to flower and fruit instead.  Although this may seem counterintuitive it is an important and often overlooked concept for fruit production.  A little stress and trust can go a long way with a plant.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Beginning to Understand Strawberries: Another Perfect Flower


It was back in October when it all started.  Heading into the winter months, when all thoughts on the farm were shifting towards vegetation, a time of calm, internalizing for both plants and farmers.  The fruiting highs of the summer and early fall had come to a close and it was time to let the land rest, but in the greenhouse we were already planning for the next spring.  There is something incredible about this greenhouse's ability to control the environment just enough to allow us to observe plants that might otherwise be locked up by the winter cold.  In the Stone Barns greenhouse, we have no interest in drastically creating micro climates that encourage massive inputs of energy.  Fossil fuels are minimally used only to keep temperatures above freezing, which generally only happens in the coldest winter nights.  During the day, the sun's rays are enough to keep the house in the 50's, sometimes even higher.  We weren't trying to force fruiting summer plants to produce in the winter, rather transplanting strawberries allowed me to observe the incremental metamorphosis a strawberry plant experiences on its way to fruit production.  First the growth of the...