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LCBF JOURNAL #1 - April 1, 2020

Posted 5/20/2020 2:06pm by Chris.
JOURNAL - FARMING IN TIMES OF A PANDEMIC - MICHAEL'S MUSINGS

LCBF JOURNAL #1

April 1, 2020 Michael Tabor  

NOTES FROM A FARMER IN TIMES OF A PANDEMIC  

Licking Creek Bend Farm (LCBF) starts each season with a tour of the farm in Needmore, PA (Fulton County), and pot luck for our customers, CSA members and friends in the WMV area.  This year, it’s become obvious that won’t happen.  Most of our regular farm markets and wholesale outlets are also in question.  We are committed to continuing and enlarging our CSA and the markets allowed.  

In light of all these circumstances, I decided to start this journal as a way to keep in touch with our customers and CSA members and let you know what is happening on the farm.   Part of the purpose of a CSA is to re-establish the connection that once existed between farmers and consumers.  When the CSA system first started, it wasn’t that unusual for families to come and help out on a farm and pick vegetables for themselves, feeling the dirt on their hands and knees in the soil, and being in touch with the cycle of growth in the region.  While we’re hopeful this moratorium is not the new normal, for now, folks will not be traveling to their local farms and participate in the planting and harvesting.  

The good news is that as of April 1, there are no known COVID-19 cases have been reported in our Fulton County, PA.  Nearby counties only have a handful.   Much has changed near my farm since I started farming in 1972. 

We are located in the “panhandle” where Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia meet.  There are hardly any more family small farms that raise dairy, pigs, corn, oats and barley.  The clothing factories like London Fog have closed or left the County, a loss in nearby Hancock, MD of over 400 union-scale waged jobs held largely by women and replaced by a few antique malls in the hopes of attracting tourism.  CAFOs (confined animal farm operations) have tried to move in to the county, one near us was successfully stopped by the community.  

So, as we have done for the last 48 years, on April 1, we start planting long rows of red, white and yellow onion sets – about 100lbs of small bulbs, planted with the root end down and covered by rich compost and straw.  They will grow quickly and be ready for a first markets (this year perhaps in mid-May).   Justin, our year-round indispensable, vastly experienced farm staff, has been working all winter readying thousands of seedlings for early planting, preparing our machinery and keeping the farm in beautiful shape for the coming of this season.  And, Charmaine, our beloved farm manager of 15 years moved back to the farm April 1.   We are gambling, that despite an unusually early spring, we won’t get a surprise dip in the temperature below freezing and destroy the young seedlings.  In the past, with “regular” weather predictions, we have had to wait until mid-May or even early June to plant.  

Farming is amazing exercise and keeps me in shape during the farm season , so during the winter, I am grateful for our local YMCA where I can stay in shape, taking all sorts of classes, so I can be when I return to work where my workday starts and 5:00am – 8 or 9:00pm. The classes that challenge me the most include core-conditioning classes, stationary cycling, Hatha Yoga class run, H.E.A.T. (High Energy Athletic Training), men’s strength training class and “tribal dancing” Zumba class and I get to be one of the few men shaking his hips and trying to keep up with all the women who tolerate my awkward rhythmic presence.  But, with social distancing, the Y is closed and I’m taking walks and riding our stationary bike to keep in shape.  

PREPARING THE FRUIT TREES   My work on the fruit trees doesn’t usually start until mid-April.  This year, I’ve started a month early. In early March, due to climate change, “budding” started happening 6 weeks early!  The trees looked like they were dormant and bare, but if you look carefully you’d see the buds and this year’s fruit starting to form. 

So, at age 77, with only a short winter’s farm break, it was time to get to work again.   

Since we don’t use chemical pesticides on the farm, the fruit trees were sprayed in early March with 98% organic mineral oil.  The spray smothers, winter insects and their hatching eggs.  We’re concerned with the Pear Psylla.  There are 4 generations of this onerous insect.  Anytime the temperature gets above 40 degrees in the early spring, each female produces 650 eggs!  So now, this week at “bud burst” the pear psylla are returning from nearby locations and I’m ready to do another spray mix of organic insecticide.  I’ll also use “Surround” a clay-based barrier film that repels and irritates insects.   Plus we add copper, an old-fashioned “general biocide” to kill fungal and bacterial cells, approved for organic farming.  This has to be done delicately to avoid damaging plant tissue.  The same method is used on the apple and peach trees.  This year we’re also trying something new against the Plum Curculio.  These bad boy beetles appear during the first warm period after petals fall when it gets to be 70º.  The beetles puncture each tiny apple where they deposit eggs that drop to the ground and grow.  The method we’ll use to try and stop this cycle is wrapping sticky tape around each tree to stop the new beetles from crawling up the trees and infect the apples.  While this method is more labor intensive, it is better than any chemical alternative.  We’ll see how it works.   Then there’s the danger of cool weather and late frost.  The cool weather will discourage pollination. A late frost will damage or kill the delicate apples, pears and peaches.  

CSA OUTREACH   In addition to reaching out to our regular email lists, we’d like to reach out to hospital personal and other first responders and folks whose jobs cannot be done at home and may be without paychecks during this pandemic, to offer a CSA weekly share at a substantially reduced rate, and through donations.  We already know of three Fire Department volunteers who have been diagnosed with the virus and we hope to work with their families to arrange for CSA participation in June.   If you are interested in helping identify folks or want to chip in what you can, please let us know.  We can be reached best through our email.   Stay tuned for the next periodic journal email! Stay safe, find things to enjoy, and be mindful of the blessings we do have.  

Michael Tabor Licking Creek Bend Farm      

FARM VISIT DAY, SUNDAY, MAY 31, 2020 11:00AM - 4:30PM (cancelled for this season)