Monday, September 27, 2010

Cover Cropping for Fall 2010 completed!

For an update on our 2010 SPUDS harvest on September 18th, please see the previous entry (click on 'older post' at the end of this entry)

Mike Lindsay got into the field with a tractor the following Thursday, September 23rd. Anticipating a big storm, he raced the raindrops to get the whole field tilled so our cover cropping would not be delayed on the weekend. (CLICK on any photo for enlargement)

Members had previously rolled up all the hoses from the field to clear the way for the tractor. Here we've attached them to the fence to avoid entanglement by weed growth over winter. Red maples line the Hermitage driveway behind.

The FSC thought Mike L was going to use a brushcutter first to break down the old standing stalks of pea (and some rye) that were laying flat in the field. On another occasion Mike had found it difficult to till the field with long stringy stalks getting caught up in the blades. But this time he made the call in the field to proceed with tilling only, saving on time and fossil fuel use. The old stalks were not a problem, but he avoided cutting any of the long grass along the edge of the field, and that will have to be dealt with at a later date by hand or sheet mulch. It doesn't affect our cover cropping but can creep into the field as competitive growth.. And now there are still big chunks of sod in the rest of the field that might have benefited from the brushcutter to help them break down faster. We'll just have to hope the grass doesn't reroot and gain control of the field before our cover crops can mature sufficiently to suppress unwanted growth.

spiders were back at work right after tilling, and rain bejeweled webs laced the field

Saturday, September 25th was a blustery day, but the FSC (field management sub-committee) managed to get most of our cover crop for Fall 2010 in the ground in about 2 and a half hours (the remainder took about 1.5 hours on Sunday.)

Jan, Lyndsey, Fireweed, Mike N and Ron Dobie staked out the four quadrants with flagging tape (photo further down.) Each quadrant was then divided into four strips. The quadrant where our 2011 potatoes will be planted received one more seeding of overwintering pea to continue adding nitrogen back into the soil in that area. We could see that some of the pea planted this past spring that went to seed and is now tilled under to add more humus to the soil, has begun to sprout anew after all the rain. The new pea just added had been soaked overnite, as this seemed to aid in germination significantly last time.
We used a full 25 pounds of pea on this one quadrant (or half a bag at the cost of approximately $ 40)  

In the quadrant where we harvested our potatoes this year, we planted a mixture of hairy vetch and clover, beginning with the latter. We had approximately 3 pounds of clover total (one pound per quadrant)
and mixed it with an approximate 10 -1 ratio of sand to seed to aid hand broadcasting coverage. Dividing up the field into strips and measuring out the seed exactly was especially beneficial for ensuring that we had adequate clover seed coverage in the areas designated. The cost of the clover, purchased locally at South Country Feed, was $29.39.

We seeded one third of our vetch in the area where we had just harvested our potatoes for 2010 as well. Mike and Ron Dobie rolled the entire field with the tank loaned to us by Brian Miles, and filled at the Hermitage Barn. The power had been out overnite, so it was fortunate that we could rely on the pump at the Barn by the time of cover cropping, since we have no water left in our cistern to use to fill the roller..

 Mike N hauls the water-filled roller over cover cropped ground to increase soil contact and help improve germination

The next day, Sunday, September 26th, Fireweed and Mike returned to the field to finish seeding the top two quadrants with hairy vetch (top, meaning nearest the cistern). Jan and Lyndsey had already seeded the clover throughout this entire half of the field on Saturday.

Total cost of the hairy vetch seed was $63.42...we split the cost of a whole bag with Ironwood Farm in Fanny Bay, which included an extra $7.50 each for shipping from the U-Pick warehouse in Delta to the Vacouver bus depot where Lyndsey picked it up while in the city. Buying the vetch directly from the distributor saved us about $40 over Vancouver Island retail prices.
                                                                           Welcome, new SPUDster, David Graf 

New SPUDS member, Dave Graf, signed up for the 2011 season at the Fall Faire. He arrived by bicycle to lend a hand with the vetch seeding and to assist in pressing all the seed in the top half of the field into the soil with the hand-pulled roller. The high winds we had anticipated failed to materialize, and it was a spectacular warm fall day! Between mild temperatures, wet soil and planting ahead of the absolute last minute this year, we have our fingers crossed that our cover crop will take hold before winter kicks in and do its intended job of boosting soil nutrient levels by spring time!

The total cost of this fall's covercrop is $132.81 for seed and $100 for tillage. If successsful, we will not be cover cropping the whole field again anytime soon. The plan is to leave those quadrants not in potato production to mature and self-reseed as perrenials. Fossil fuel should also be significantly reduced.

 Dave broadcasts hairy vetch.Circles drawn over the  photo below reveal sectioning of the field with markers for most even distribution of  seeds possible.

 Mike and Dave. It's easier for two people to pull the roller. Ron Dobie and Mike N shared this work on the other half of the field the day before.

Charlie Johnston arrived to lend a hand, drained the main hose from the cistern, and advised against removing the bottom cistern valve for now. It will need to be insulated over the winter so it doesn't crack from freezing if water is left standing in it. But until we build some kind of water catchment over the cistern (it would make sense to catch winter rains for at least one fill) leaving the valve attached shouldn't be a problem.

NOTE: A reminder that you can find info about proper potato storage on the LINKS list on the right hand side of this page. There are also links to information about various potato issues, like the wire worm it seems likely put tiny holes in a lot of our potatoes this year.  The latter is a problem that can  be reduced with earlier harvest. But it is also known to increase in fields that have previously been 'sod' in the 3rd or 4th year of new cultivation. Next year's anticipated earlier planting should help!

Pill bugs can invade wire worm holes, so all potatoes should be checked before storage to avoid further spoiling by these opportunistic crustaceans (yes, they are not really insects!)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

2010 Harvest Success!

After a rainy start to the day, the skies cleared above and eleven SPUDS members plus one made it out to the field to unearth this year's harvest at 3:00 pm on Saturday, September 18th..

                       Photos: top- Ron, Sheila, Kevin, Vern, and Herb's son Ollie digging away
                       middle- Susan Marie shows a variety of sizes in her bucket
                       bottom- V has her mojo on! Ollie, Herb and Karl 

We each took a row or two and worked from the bottom of the field to the top. Mike retrieved our potatoes as we dug them, and busied himself running back and forth to a scale so we could have an accurate account of this year's harvest. We think everyone got about the same volume of potatoes as they did last year, but this is the first year we are keeping detailed records. Last year there were more SPUDS members and the Seglindes were much bigger because they received additional fertilizer (the Yukons we planted last year didn't produce well at all, we couldn't get any White Rose this year although we had been happy with them in 2009, hence our decision to simply stick with Seglindes which had produced really well for us. We had been advised not to plant red or blue potatoes to reduce the chance of increasing scab in the field)

Photos: top- Kevin works his guitar muscles digging, and Mike lugs buckets of spuds to the scale
           bottom- Mike is in his element weighing the harvest and divying up the piles

Some of our Seglindes this year are slightly pitted, and some plants had very few potatoes at all. But we expected a lower yield since we are still working on boosting nutrient levels in the depleted soil, water was insufficient ( even with four refills of the cistern) and as previously mentioned last year the spuds were boosted artificially with the addition of alfalfa meal and another additive (anyone remember if it was rock phosphate or something else?) This year we fed only the soil, and not the plants, in keeping with our Basis of Unity Statement adherence to organic principles that put the soil first.

So it was nice to be able to take home as many potatoes as we did ranging in size from very perfect meal-sized specimens!

 Photos: top- Sheila models a potato 'earring'... fundraiser idea?! 
 Middle- Vern shows off a nice plump spud 
 Below- another 'big' tater

In about two and a half hours, we had harvested 750 pounds which Mike seperated methodically into 15 piles. Family memberships netted 51 pounds each, and our two single memberships this year, 46 pounds a piece. This leaves us one pile to share between kind hearted folks that have helped us out this year!

Photos: Above- 2010 harvest crew minus Herb's son Ollie, filling in for Bob V, and Fireweed on camera.
Including Karl, Kevin, Mike Ron, Herb, Vern, Veronica, Sheila, Lyndsey, Susan Marie
Below- everybody but Ollie, and Lyndsey on camera

Active SPUDS memberships unable to participate in the 2010 harvest included Bob Vosburg (for whom Ollie attended), Ron and Max, Fox and Margaret, Charlie Johnston and Bill Engelson. Their share of our harvest was set aside for later delivery or pickup. Also missed were SPUDS 2010 Communications Committee members Rae and deNeen

Above: celebrating the harvest with FW's homemade chili (which turned into supper!) with cornbread on the side and our traditional chili salute!

We ate around 5:30 pm and chatted briefly about dates for a meeting of the whole membership to debrief 2010 and plan ahead for next year's crop. Before then, the whole field will be tilled by Mike Lindsay, and covercropped with  fall pea, red clover and hairy vetch...hopefully by/or on the weekend of Sept. 25/26. Helpers needed!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Wondering About our Saturday Harvest Weather?!


As of 8:10 am Saturday, the weather forecast for Bowser and Courtenay says SHOWERS till 3 pm. Actually, Bowser clears up a little sooner.


Please check back for any changes! If we are unable to harvest all the potatoes (or any) today, our fall back plan is for late MONDAY which is currently looking like a sunny day.

 So keep your fingers crossed, and dress accordingly for this afternoon for now! Bringing along an extra container for your potatoes in the form of bucket or bags might also be helpful, although we will have some boxes and mesh bags with us. If you have an extra spade, someone might appreciate borrowing it, too.

 You can also click THIS link to see an HOURLY weather forecast for our region.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

2010 HARVEST on Sept. 18th!

This coming Saturday is Harvest Day in the Spuds patch beginning at 10:00 am, and as many of us as possible are needed to dig this year's potatoes!

Please read to the bottom for list of what to bring, and other pertinent details.

First of all though, a head's up about this year's crop-
Inspite of our late planting date this past spring, our plants got off to a vigorous start. However there are several factors that have influenced our expected reduced yield in the field, including smaller potatoes...

1) this is the first year of our new four year crop rotation schedule and enhanced cover crop planning, so the nutrient levels depleted after SPUDS earlier plantings in the field still need more time to recover and increase.

2) the Seglinde potatoes we harvested last year were large in part because they were artificially boosted by the addition of supplements at planting time to try and compensate for decreased nutrient levels in the soil. SPUDS more recently developed Basis of Unity Statement embraces the principle of organic growing that puts the health of the soil first, rather than bypassing the soil in the quest to boost individual plants.

3) although the rains have finally found us once again, our incredibly dry summer was problematic. Inspite of the generosity of our Volunteer Fire Dept. and four cistern refills, we had more thirsty plants than we had sufficient water availability.

NOTE: It could be worth mentioning in our records that some growers on the island are linking very low fruit tree yields this year with poor pollination as a result of our cool, wet spring. We don't know if this year's SPUDS crop might have also been similarly handicapped, so this topic could use some research.

What we DO know is that we continue to have a wonderful opportunity to collectively further local knowledge about organically growing a food staple that all may share... and that cover crop TIMING for proper soil fertility maintenance is crucial!

To that end, our late potato harvest means we must get our fall legumes and red clover in the ground as soon as possible. Mike Lindsay will be chopping up and turning in this summer's cover crop for us once we have our potatoes out of the ground. So a number of members will be needed to reconvene in the field the following weekend (September 25 or 26) to accomplish our next seeding. Please let the FSC know if you can volunteer a little extra time for this important component of SPUDS field management as well when you respond by phone or email, and we'll set an exact time.

What to Bring on Saturday at 10:00 am:

-helping hands (including friends who might be inspired to become new SPUDS members!)
-spades (NOT pitchforks)

-buckets for hauling
-gloves for gently rustling up stray spuds
-any strong storage bags (like large mesh onion sacks, or burlap bags)
-water bottle (and a hat if it's sunny)
-suggested $3 donation if you would like to enjoy some home made chili for lunch after the harvest!
-bowl and spoon

Fall Co-operative Meeting

For sometime in the latter half of October, a date will soon be proposed for a general meeting of the membership where FSC learning experiences and recommendations for next year, along with budget updates, member input, etc, can be shared by all.
What if it's Raining this coming Saturday?

Please check back here for an update on the morning of if you're in doubt abou the weather.

In the meantime, hope to see you soon, and please don't forget to rsvp  so we know how many names to put in the chili pot, etc! 335-1209


On August 30th, Bill, Ron S, Fireweed, Mike, Ron D, and Herb arrived in the field to weed. Susan Marie and her son had gotten out to the patch a few days earlier and taken care of the vast majority! So we spent less than an hour attending to the rest of the field, and then rolling up the drip lines that we would no longer be needing since no more cistern refills are scheduled for this year's crop.

FSC UPDATE August 27th, 2010

Harvest time is fast approaching!

Thanks to Charlie and the generous support of our Volunteer Fire Department, SPUDS potato plants have suffered through but survived our extremely dry summer so far (driest July on record since 1985!)

While next week's weather forecast sounds promising, the little bit of rain we have had since the dry spell began has been negligible, so the SPUDS patch has been watered as judiciously as possible. With no more cistern refills coming this year, we are now solely reliant on Mother Nature. We have just a few short weeks of needed tuber development left so help is needed now to remove weeds that may otherwise retard remaining growth potential. 

Please come on out to the field this coming Monday evening at 7:00 pm (Aug. 30th) to help get this relatively small job accomplished swiftly. A quick call or email response will let us know how many members intend to participate. We’ll also roll up the hoses that are no longer needed on the field this year.
A reminder will be sent out closer to the date, but please also mark your calendar now for our 2010 HARVEST, set for Saturday, September 18th at 10:00 am!

 SPUDS member Bob V notified the FSC that he will be away in September but has arranged for someone to take his place (and share his potatoes) so we are not short-handed in the field on harvest day. We hope others unable to attend may be inspired and able to do the same! 

 Mike Lindsay will be back in the field to prepare all four quadrants for cover crop sowing as soon as possible after our harvest. Members will be needed to reconvene in the field on Saturday, September 25th (and/or possibly Sunday, Sept. 26th)  for this vital task. There won't be many weeks left in the growing season for the seed to establish itself, so time is of the essence. Next year we should be able to plant our potatoes earlier and harvest them sooner so there is a longer window available to us for fall cover cropping.

 The BLACKBERRY FAIRE is on Sunday, September 5tThis isn't an official SPUDS date, so therefore not included on the list of field parties below. However it would be great to have a SPUDS table at the faire, so if anyone is interested in helping  host our small display, please get in touch! We could really use a few more members for 2011 and this might be just the time to interest neighbours and island newcomers.

 Finally, another reminder that  anyone interested in assisting SPUDS FSC or Communications Team is welcome and encouraged to do so. A general meeting of the membership will be in order after the harvest for budget reports, sharing learning experiences and recommendations for the 2011 growing season. Stay tuned!
 For your convenience in the meanwhile, here again are the several SPUDS field dates requiring membership involvement. RSVP’s always appreciated

Monday, August 30th, 7:00 pm (WEEDING)
Saturday, September 18th, 10:00 am (HARVEST TIME!)
Saturday, September 25   (COVER CROP SOWING, time TBA)