28 March 2011

Farm Fresh

Did you know that purchasing your food locally has many benefits, not only to you, but to your community as well?  Here is a short list of the benefits of buying food directly from the farmer:

1.       Produce and other products are much more fresh and nutritious because they have been recently harvested, usually within 24 hours.
2.       It strengthens your local economy.
3.       It benefits the farming family.
4.       It helps provide food to underserved communities.
5.       You learn about how and where your food is raised by getting to know the farmers.
That being said, there are many ways you can purchase local food fresh.  One is by going directly to the farm.  The majority of farms in this county are family owned and operated and the growing trend for smaller farms is marketing directly to the consumer, rather than selling wholesale to a broker. 
Another is by purchasing a share in a local CSA.  CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, is an arrangement where the consumer purchases a share or shares at the beginning of the year for the upcoming season’s harvest.  A mix of freshly harvested produce (some also include meat and eggs) is dropped off at a community location for the shareholders to pick up regularly.  This arrangement also benefits the farmers because it provides necessary income early in the season to purchase seed and supplies.
Visit your local Farmers’ Markets.  Farmers’ Markets are growing by leaps and bounds and not only  provide a way for the consumer to purchase directly from the farmer, but many also provide family entertainment, have festivals and offer a great place to socialize with friends.  Check with your local Cooperative Extension Office or Town Hall to find Farmers’ Markets in your area, or visit the following website if you are in New York:  www.nyfarmersmarket.com .
Farmers’ Markets also provide a means for low-income families to purchase fresh, high quality produce through local programs that provide financial assistance, such as WIC and the Farmers Market Nutrition Program.  Check with your local social services agency for further information or the State of New York Department of Agriculture and Markets.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to educate yourself on where your food comes from and how it is raised.  Local family farmers are stewards of the land.  We live and raise our families on our land; we work hard to protect our open spaces by keeping the land in agricultural use and preserving natural habitats by maintaining forests and wetlands as well.  We care about the animals we raise and treat them humanely.   We eat off our land the same produce we sell and we know exactly what has gone into to growing those crops and also what has not gone into those crops.  Good nutritional programs used in raising crops are important and go a long way in keeping the crops healthy and disease resistant and also in providing the consumer with nutritionally balanced food.
So eat healthy, eat local and support your family farms.  Without agriculture, this great nation would not be.

25 March 2011

Plant Health

Many diseases of plants can be kept at bay with good cultural practices.  Keeping plants healthy actually begins with choosing the right plants for your location.  It also includes proper watering and nutrition and cleaning of plant material and the surrounding areas.

When choosing plants for your garden, what type of lighting conditions prevail where you are planting?  Is it shady all day or is it sunny?  Perhaps the area only gets sun in the morning or afternoon for part of the day.  This affects not only the types of plants that will perform well in those conditions, but also how much watering you’ll need to do during the season.  If the area remains wet all the time, it will predispose the plants and soil to disease.  So for a shady garden, you will not need to water as frequently as you would for a sunny location.  It is also important to water in the morning, or at least well enough in advance so that the plants are not wet at nightfall.
Fertilizing your plants during the growing season on a regular basis is important to plant health and the plants’ resistance to disease.  Just like people, plants need nutrition to stay healthy and perform well.  Flowers will probably need a fertilizer with different concentrations of elements than will vegetables or fruit plants, so it is important to choose the right type of fertilizer for your needs.

Disease can also spread quickly if plants are not kept clean and free of weeds and leaf droppings, especially in poor weather conditions, where high levels of humidity and excessive wetness for prolonged periods of time further promote disease.
It is essential to clean up dead leaves and other plant material that may be lying in the pot or on the ground around the plants.  This is important not only during the growing season, but also at the end of the season.  Some diseases, like certain types of fungus, can overwinter on infected leaves and once the weather begins to warm up, the spores they produce become active again and you may end up starting the season with unwanted disease problems.

Weed control is also important.  Weeds can carry disease and also harbor pests of the insect variety which can spread to your plants.  A great example of this is the insect known as the “whitefly.”  There are over 1500 species of whiteflies throughout the world.  Whiteflies are normally found on the underside of plant leaves and will feed on the leaves, causing the plants to wilt if the infestation is not controlled.  Whiteflies can also spread disease among plants.  Keeping your garden free of weeds will help to discourage this problem.
You can check with your local garden center or Cooperative Extension office for help in identifying diseases and insects and finding the best treatment.  Keeping your plants healthy helps your plants to stay more naturally resistant to disease, and that means less work and more enjoyment for you.

Buying Plants for Your Garden

Last time we talked about starting your spring plants indoors.  If it’s too much for you to consider, or you just don’t have the room, you can always visit your favorite local garden center to purchase plants for your garden in the spring.   You should keep in mind a few points while making your choices.

Look for local growers as their plants will adapt more readily to your garden since they are grown here.    There are many retailers who bring plants in for sale from out of the area, usually from areas where they have longer, earlier grower seasons.  Because diseases and insects have specific life cycles, and because the growing season begins earlier in these other locations than here in the North, there is the strong possibility that plants from these regions can transport diseases and/or insects into the Northern zones, before their natural cycle would normally begin in our area.  Such was the case with Late Blight just a short time ago in 2009. 
Late blight is a fungus of which mainly tomatoes and potatoes are susceptible.  It can also affect other vegetation within the same family (Solanaceae).  The Late Blight we suffered in 2009 had been linked to plants that were brought in from a southern region supplier.  It began earlier in the season than is normal for our area (it usually arrives after our tomato season has ended) and the excessive wet weather and humidity we had that season further exacerbated the problem, wiping out most family gardens and farmers’ tomato crops for miles around.  

Many smaller, local garden centers and growers grow their own plants or purchase plants from other local growers.  Develop relationships with the owners and staff.   Learn where their plants are from if they are not growing their own.  It’s always a great learning experience and many local growers and garden centers are happy to share that information. 
Another important tip is to ask if the plants have been hardened off.  This is the process of acclimating the plants to our outdoor climate prior to planting them in your garden.  This is done by opening up the greenhouses and increasing air circulation while they are still protected in the greenhouse.  They are allowed exposure to cooler temperatures in order to help lessen the transplant stress once they are placed outdoors.  This step is vital to successful performance in the garden.

Also keep in mind the requirements your garden has for specific types of plants.  Is it sunny, shady, or a combination of the two?  Is the soil wet or does it have good drainage?  Some varieties perform better under certain conditions than they do others.   Do you have a need for trailing plants or plants with height?  Knowing these specifics will help the staff at your local garden center to better be able to assist you with choosing the right plants.
Keeping these points in mind should better help you plan for and plant a successful garden. 

Running Creek Farm Greenhouses, LLC
Valatie/Greenport, NY