The ongoing drought, and now the heat wave, have led so many of you to express concern for the crops here at Stearns. Many of you have also commented on how clean and weed free the farm looks. While I’d like to take credit for how the fields look, I have to admit that these two conditions aren’t unrelated. It’s just much easier to control weeds when it isn’t raining regularly or significantly, and you are putting the water exactly where you want it via irrigation lines!
The irrigating is necessary, and it has been successful–but it will definitely cost us. We pay for town water to irrigate, and are expecting our water bill to be at least $10,000 this season! Rest assured, we do everything in our power to irrigate responsibly. With a couple of rare exceptions, we use the most water-saving irrigation methods available to a small, diversified farm with a tiny staff.
The cost of water is certainly a downside, but there are lots of benefits to growing in this endlessly sunny, dry weather. I can’t say that I dislike it, at least in terms of growing conditions. I feel as though I am getting a taste of what it is like to grow in the California desert, where many of the nation’s veggies come from. Dry weather means much less disease in the fields. Sun and heat make almost all of the crops we grow very happy, especially if you have the ability to add water. The outcome is non-stop growing! Our tomato plants, melons, and peppers, for example, are looking incredible right now.
Many of you have asked specifically about basil and eggplant, and here I have a little bit of bad news. While the heat has done wonders to make the foliage on the eggplant lush and huge, it has also caused many of the blossoms on the plants to drop. Therefore, at least to start out, I am expecting very small eggplant harvest.
On to the basil. In the past four or five years, a disease called Basil Downy Mildew has moved into New England. It used to be that basil was a guaranteed cash crop for farmers. You could count on being able to harvest it in abundance and sell it alongside tomatoes, but those days are gone, at least for now. The disease is devastating and knocks out whole plantings of basil within a week or so (for some reason seem to skip over home gardens, not sure why). In short, I thought I was going to avoid Basil Downy Mildew by keeping our basil in the high tunnel to keep its leaves dry. And I did. But the magnified heat in there caused the basil to bolt very quickly.
Our PYO basil planting is looking solid, as the unusual dryness is keeping the disease at bay for now, so there will be some coming out of there. This is all to say that I hope that you all get basil this season, but it may not be in the abundance that you were hoping for. Such is farming—sometimes you miscalculate your risks, and the season delivers something completely unexpected and unprecedented. I look forward to the day when there is a truly disease resistant variety of basil available on the seed market.
Be well, and enjoy your veggies!
Mel on behalf of the Stearns Farm crew.