This is a mid-summer reflection and report on the first six months of Yokna(patawpha) Bottoms Farm. I want to start by saying that we are now convinced that it is possible to grow, in north Mississippi, high-quality produce using sustainable agriculture practices (no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or defoliants used). This document is a report of progress based on our Purpose Statement:
Yokna(patawpha) Bottoms Farm is a cooperative Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. We are a community of individuals working together to produce locally grown food using sustainable agricultural practices and to promote these farming methods as a viable agricultural system in north Mississippi.
We are working to:
1. Produce food using sustainable organic agricultural practices.
2. Support sustainable organic agriculture and artisans in north Mississippi (farmers, farmers’ markets, and local businesses selling locally produced food, hand-crafted products, and art).
3. Serve as a research site for learning and developing successful organic agricultural practices within north Mississippi’s ecosystem, climate and soil zones.
4. Provide educational services on local food and sustainable agriculture.
5. Facilitate community life through cooperative production, service and celebration.
As of the end of June, 2010, we have harvested over 350 lbs. of food including:
15 lbs of snap peas*
10 lbs of shelled pod peas*
20 lbs of garlic
25 lbs of collards*
50 lbs yellow squash
15 lbs of zucchini
10 lbs of assorted lettuce*
6 lbs of spicy banana peppers
1 lbs of jalapenoes**
200 lbs of cucumbers
20 lbs of green beans
10 lbs of okra**
5 lbs of tomatoes**
1/2 lbs of shelled purple-hulled peas**
3 lbs of eggplant**
Assorted herbs: lavender, basil, rosemary, oregano, and mint
* early season crop, all in.
** crop in early stages of harvest
All of this food has been distributed, sold, or preserved. During June, we sold produce on four Saturdays at the Taylor Farmers’ Market. In addition, we completed three distributions of between 30 and 35 shares. The distributed shares included:
(June 11-13, approximately 3 lbs.): Cucumbers (2-3 depending on size), yellow and zucchini squash (1-2), garlic, and a choice of lettuce or collards.
(June 18-20, approximately 4 lbs.): Cucumbers (3-4), squash (1-2), and a choice green beans or banana peppers.
(June 25-27, approximately 5 lbs.): Cucumbers (4-6), squash or tomatoes (1), okra, green beans, or assorted peppers.
An estimated 90% of all June produce has been distributed to shareholders. The rest has been preserved (we blanched and froze about 10 lbs of snap peas and pod peas–we had one 4′x8′ box of each type of pea that produced wonderfully; however, there was not enough production to provide a worthwhile distribution) or sold at the market or the small amount at Patawphafest.
Our focus at the Tayor Farmers’ Market this past June has been to establish a presence and get to know the market and the market community. Each Saturday, we have managed to gather together a limited supply of produce and herbs, combined with our bags and Patawphafest tees, to have something to sell. We have sold between $25-40 of food plus a few bags and shirts in each of the four markets we participated in. We have also sold about 75% of the food we have taken to the market (unsold food has been rolled into Saturday afternoon and Sunday food distributions).
Currently, we have 3 1/2, 100′ x 50′ sections in production (17,500 square feet, less than 1/2 an acre) and are preparing the second half of section four to plant this week with pumpkins and winter squash. Recently, we planted three strips (100′ rows) with 350 assorted pepper plants donated through the Oxford Community Garden in section four. We are also preparing sections 5, 6, and 7 for fall planting this August and September.
Following is a status report on each crop beginning with Row 1, section 1:
Tomatoes (Section 1, Rows 1-5): We have approximately 250 tomato plants including 50 beefstake, 48 solar fire, 45 jubilee, 30 plum, 20 brandywine, 7 cherry, and 50 assorted heirlooms (Arkansas traveler, etc). We started about 60% of these from seed. We also purchased about 75 plants from the Lafayette High School FFA, 40 heirloom plants from Native Son Farm (Tupelo), and received a 10 heirloom plant donation from Jean and Kevin Robinson. The first heirloom varieties started turning about 10 days ago. The other varieties are just now beginning to turn. The biggest pest so far in the tomato rows has been my dog Shivas. He loves ripe tomatoes and he is a sneaky little guy. While Shivas has actually only helped himself to about 4 or 5 tomatoes (it didn’t help that they were the first to turn!), we have also been removing some caterpillars. Our biggest challenge has been balancing the heat and watering. We watered heavily during the hot and dry spell during early to mid-June and are now noticing some cracking of the tomatoes as they ripen. While overall the plants are not as vigorous as we would like (mostly likely do to the soil), they are covered with green tomatoes, growing, and otherwise healthy. Next year, we plan to apply a little more compost prior to planting in addition to some mineral supplements to increase potassium and phosphate levels. We have also tried several methods of staking and trellising the tomatoes. The best method seems to be the Mississippi weave–two strands of twine anchored by vertical bamboo posts about every 8′ weaved around the plants.
Peppers (early planting) (Section 1, Rows 6 & 7): We planted approximately 200 pepper plants including 90 California Wonder Peppers (green bell, from our seedlings), 75 jalapeno (from our seedlings), 15 sweet banana peppers (from our seedlings), 12 spicy banana peppers (from pawn shop/feedstore), 3 cayenne peppers (from pawn shop), and 3 World’s Hottest Pepper (Habanero variety from pawn shop). Later, we replaced 9 bell pepper seedlings that did not make it with plants from the Oxford Garden Center. Currently, our peppers are some of the most vigorous and healthy plants on the farm. They got off to a slow start. Put out during the third week of April, they took almost a month to get going. The peppers like the hot summer weather. We have been harvesting from the 12 spicy banana pepper plants and some jalapeno. We intentionally harvested some jalapeno small in order to have some to distribute and take to the market. This week, we are letting the spicy banana peppers and the jalapeno grow larger. We should also start getting bell peppers later this week and we expect the peak of the bell peppers in about 2-3 weeks.
Snap Beans/Green Beans (Section 1, Rows 9 & 10): We planted Blue Lake bush beans in row 9 and Derby bush beans in row 10 during the third week of April. They were some of the first directly-sowed seeds to come up (along with the squash). Within a couple of days, we noticed that the new leaves were being almost completely eaten. The culprit was bean leaf beatles. Within a day, we started spraying with Neem oil and this helped. We managed to nurse about half of the plants back into healthy growth. In early May, we replanted where we had lost plants. These plants did much better and quickly caught up and even grew bigger than the early planted beans. We have learned to wait until May to plant beans next year. We started harvesting these beans during the second week of June. While we have harvested approximately 20 lbs of beans, we have been a bit disappointed. These beans have continued to suffer some insect damage and although they are bush beans, they could have used a little support (many of them have fallen over). Insect damage left some of the harvested beans covered with a few small black areas. My guess is that these are early damage to the fruit from bean leaf beetles that showed up as the beans matured. We viewed this damage as cosmetic and ate (they taste great) and distributed the beans. While the plants are looking a little ragged (after three weeks of heat, high humidity, and being picked through every other day), most are still alive and still producing. We are expecting to get an additional 10-20 lbs. in the next couple of weeks. Overall, I would guess that about 60% of the total snap bean crop has come from the Blue Northern variety.
Zucchini (half of section 1, Row 8): We planted the zucchini at the rate of two plants every 24″ during the third week of April. The plants emerged in about five days and grew rapidly. The plants were slightly yellowish from the start but the color improved towards the end of May. Just as they started to flower and set fruit in late May, we started noticing the squash bugs. We have fought these vigorously by hand squashing the bugs and eggs daily. At best, we have slowed them down a little. While the squash bugs have impacted most of our vine crops (yellow squash, cucumbers, watermelon, and cantaloupe), they have hit the zucchini the hardest. This has been our biggest disappointment so far although we continue to get 2-6 zucchini every couple of days and a few of the plants are hanging in there. We may still get another 10-20 lbs. We have learned from this and also learned many different methods of natural control that we are going to try next year. These include mulching with newspaper below the straw, covering the plants with a light cover until they start blooming, and companion plantings. We are also going to plant the seeds less dense. The plants where only one seed came up did better than where two plants were side-by-side.
Eggplant (Section 1, part of Row 8, and part of row 12): We planted half of row 11 and the plants did not germinate. We also planted nine seedlings from the Garden Center at the east end of Row 8. Later we got 12 Black Beauty seedlings from Native Son Farm in Tupelo that we planted at the west end of Row 8. Finally, Will from Native Son Farms left us several more Black Beauty seedlings after Patawphafest that we planted at the west end of Row 12. The eggplants got off to a slow start because of an ongoing problem with flea beetles (the conventional wisdom seems to be that eggplants will outgrow the flea beetles but it is taking our’s a while). They also do not seem to like the cool weather so they will be something we will not put out until after May 1 in the future. They are all, however, doing much better. They are setting fruit and we harvested the first five that we sold at the market last Saturday. We may not have enough plants for a full distribution but hopefully, we will be able to offer eggplant as an option in some of the upcoming distributions.
Collards (Section 1, half of row 11): We started collards indoors in February and moved them into one of the raised boxes in early March. At first they grew well but around the middle of April they seemed to slow down (they were suffering from the poorly-prepared soil we put into our new boxes). During the third week of April, we decided to move them down to the bottoms. They immediately perked up and started growing well. With less than half a row of about 30 plants, we had several good pickings. We sold collards at Patawphafest and were able to include 15 one half pound bags in the first distribution. We are excited about these results and feel good about our ability to grow collards, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower in the bottoms this fall and next spring.
Yellow Squash (Section 1, half of Row 11): The yellow squash has also been heavily impacted by squash bugs although not as severely as the zucchini. I think the difference may be in the planting–we planted one seed every 18″ rather than two seeds together. Still, we are harvesting what we view as a well below-average crop and are going to implement the same strategies next year to combat the squash bugs as we are with the zucchini. Overall, however, there are many plants that are still relatively healthy and we are still harvesting at the rate of about 10-12 squash every couple of days. We may get another 20-30 lbs.
Purple-Hulled Peas (Section 1, half of Row 12 and Rows 13 & 14): Get ready to shell some delicious peas! Our peas that we planted in mid-April also started off poorly (another May 1 planting in the future) with poor germination (only about 10% of our initial planting–bad batch of seed) and bean leaf beetle problems. We replanted around the beginning of May, held the bugs off, and the plants have been thriving ever since. In mid-May, we had some space in Row 12 that we also planted with peas. We are just starting to harvest the peas and they are prolific. We hope to include some large bags (unshelled–the shareholders get to experience this fun, purple-hand-creating, activity) in the July 9th and 16th distributions.
Sweet Corn (Section 2, Rows 1-4): We planted four rows of G90 sweet corn (we selected the “local favorite” as the variety we planted). From the beginning the corn was spotty with about half the plants growing well and about half yellowish and not as vigorous in growth. The health corn quickly grew to about 10′ tall and is nearing harvest. Unfortunately, the storms last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday blew several of the stocks over. This damage is minimal. We are now about 3-4 days from harvest and yesterday I noticed some critter damage (could be a racoon). We may get a small harvest of around 100 ears but we are wondering if corn is worth the time and effort? It takes up much space, is a heavy feeder on the soil, and it is almost impossible to keep the critters out of it as it nears ripeness. If we do corn next year, we may plant an entire section. We also could have planted the corn about ten days earlier than we did. Better and proper soil preparation may also impact the consistency and provide a more solid base to prevent the stalks from blowing over.
Pole Beans (Section 2, Row 5). The pole beans are growing like crazy but not setting any fruit. The plants are still healthy so we are hoping they may produce in the near future. We have no idea why they are not setting fruit. Given the amount of effort required to trellise them and the lack of production, unless we get some answers about the failure to set fruit, we will likely not plant pole beans in the future (or perhaps only a small amount to experiment with).
Butter Beans (Section 2, Row 6). The butter beans are doing well and covered with bean pods. We are estimating that they we will begin harvesting these next week with the harvest peaking in mid-July.
Okra (Section 2, Rows 7-9): Okra loves Mississippi! It appears that okra is going to be one of our best crops. The plants are vigorous and healthy. We have been harvesting for about two weeks but the harvest is just beginning (okra will continue to produce throughout the summer). The plants flower in the morning and we harvest the seed pod from the flower between 36-48 hours later. This means that our okra is small (between 1″-2″), tender, and delicious.
Cucumber (Section 2, Rows 10-12, and half of Row 13): This has been our most productive crop to date. We have harvested over 200 lbs of cucumbers and they are still coming on strong. Although this has been a good harvest, we believe we can do much better. The weeks of hot dry weather during June (just when the plants were prolifically setting fruit), mild insect damage, and poor trellising, have limited the production. Nonetheless, we are concerned that our shareholders may think we are not growing anything but cucumbers but we now know that they are a heavy early producer. It is time to make pickles!
Edamame (Section 2, half of Row 13): Soy beans also like Mississippi. The soy beans are healthy and vigorous (we should have planted more but we ran out of seed that we ordered and we actually could not find anywhere in north Mississippi that sold soy bean seed in small quantities). We currently have about 50 healthy plants and each one is covered with bean pods. We are estimating a harvest in the second half of July (it may come earlier) and looking forward to a healthy supply of Edamame to distribute and sell.
Mystery Bean (Section 2, half of Row 14): We planted a half a row of a variety of bush bean (large and flat–we had a pack of seed that we planted; however, we lost the pack after planting). These have not thrived but are setting fruit. The beans show heavy insect damage and have fed the compost.
Cilantro (Section 2, half of Row 14): Fortunately, Daniel disregarded my advice that it was too hot to plant cilantro (any fool should know that cilantro is warm climate plant and would like the heat) and planted half a row. The cilantro is growing like crazy and we are looking forward to an ongoing supply for market and distribution starting July 9th.
Watermelon (Section 3, Rows 1-6): Warning, please do not leave the door of your house open, or our watermelon vines may come in and take over. Our watermelon vines are growing everywhere (fortunately, we gave them plenty of space) and we already have a handful of melons that are football size (on the plants donated by Christine Bertz) and there are hundreds more smaller ones. We are hoping we may get one or two for July 4th. It looks like we may have at least one melon (perhaps more) for each shareholder and a good supply for the market.
Cantaloupe (Section 3, Rows 7-10): The cantaloupe is also thriving but behind the watermelon in setting fruit. It looks like this harvest will begin in late July.
Sweet Potato (Section 3, Rows 11-14): Sweet potatoes love Mississippi too (we lead the nation in sweet potato production). The entire south part of Section 3 is covered with sweet potato vines. These are a late summer crop that we will likely start harvesting at the end of August. Shareholders, we hope you like sweet potatoes because you may get more sweet potatoes than cucumbers.
Peppers (Late planting) (Section 4, Rows 1-3): In early June, some of the folks at Oxford Community Garden asked us if we wanted multiple flats of peppers that had been donated to them but that they did not have room for (they had planted what they needed). We try and plant everything that is given to us so we said sure, we would take them. Daniel and some heat tolerant volunteers worked all day during three of the hottest days in early June to till, compost, and rake Section 4 to create a space to plant these peppers. We got the peppers planted and mulched and they are beginning to look healthy and grow vigorously. All they needed was to get out of the plastic 6 and 9 packs and into the rich soil with plenty of warmth, water, and sunshine. Amazingly, the peppers are different than the majority of the early peppers we planted and include red bell, yellow bell, habanero, cayenne, and assorted rare and unusual varieties. These should all do fine and by August we should be in pepper heaven.
Winter Squash (Section 4, Rows 4-7): Early this week we planted six different varieties of winter squash. Winter squash (as opposed to zucchini or yellow squash) is characterised by hard shells (think pumpkins) which allows them to be stored for 3-4 months. We are anticipating a September harvest.
Pumpkins (Section 4, Rows 8-14): We are getting ready to plant a large pumpkin patch in the remaining half of Section 4. We are hoping to plant this Friday, July 2, for a harvest beginning in late September.
Fence Line: Last February we received a box of hundreds of packs of seed from Ferry-Morse seed company (they sent them to us and all they asked was that we send them some pictures of plants). We have been using as much of this seed as possible (tomatoes, peppers, collards, beans, butter beans, soy beans, cantaloupe, and much of what we planted in the boxes). After finishing our initial planting of sections 1-3, we decided that we would till and plant some of our remaining seeds along the inside of the deer fence. We added a little mulch but mostly we just tilled a single strip along the fence. So far, we have planted about 500′ of fence line. Many folks have planted and we let people select what they planted (with a few suggestions) so we are getting lots of surprises. We are also pleased that most of these plants are doing well. Planted along the fence we have gourds, yard-long Asian beans, Asian cucumbers, watermelon, cucumbers, and various cut flowers including a variety of sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, and giant marigolds.
In conclusion, we have learned something from everything we have planted. We also managed to find a good balance between the amount planted and our ability to care for the plants. With most crops, we have also developed understanding of how much production we can expect for the amount planted. We have learned ways that we may become more efficient and our initial plans are to plant about four times as much of our successful crops next summer (well, maybe not cucumbers!).
Fall planting: We are preparing three new sections for fall planting beginning in late July and running through October. We are going to plant fall tomatoes, collards, turnip greens, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, carrots, beets, and lettuce. A limited offering of fall shares will be made available in August.
Community outreach, education, service, and celebration: While we have devoted much of our time and energy to the production of food, we have also strived to incorporate all elements of our purpose statement into our farm. Following is a brief list of other things we have been doing:
1. Patawphafest: The purpose of Patawphafest is to spread the word about the farm, provide an opportunity for people to come out and view the farm, educate people about locally grown food, support local artisans, musicians and farmers, raise money for the farm, and to celebrate. Our original plan was for a benefit concert at the Big Truck Theater on Friday night, April 30th, followed by an all day event with music on May 1st. Fortunately, we were blessed with an abundant dousing of spring rain that weekend that did, however, interrupt our festival. Based on the weather forecast and firm commitments to the Big Truck Theater and to the bands scheduled to play, we made the decision to go ahead and have the Friday night benefit and reschedule the Saturday activities for May 22nd. A Tornado Watch, Severe Thunderstorm Warning, and Flash Flood Warning kept most people at home Friday night but about thirty of us got to see some amazing music. Pine Ross and Dread Clampitt were fantastic (the sound quality in the Big Truck Theater provided clarity to every note). As a side note, Dread Clampitt’s new CD, Learin’ to Live came out in mid-May and Sam Bush plays on every track! Needless to say, we did not raise any money for the farm but as in all aspects of this farm, we had a good time and learned some lessons.
The rescheduled Saturday festival was a huge success. Throughout the day about 400 people came out, we had craft-booths provided by the good people from the Oxford Makers’ Market, we had fresh veggies from Native Son Farm (Tupelo), Isis Garden Farm (Tupelo), and Yokna Bottoms, we had great local music from nine different acts, and lots of crawfish and beer. The sound was great and our improvised bi-level stage did fine. We also received almost a $1000 in donations.
Although we did not raise any money this year, we are encouraged by the support we received and are looking forward to the Second Annual Patawphafest in May, 2011.
2. Vegetarian Pot Luck: We hosted the Oxford Vegetarian Potluck in March. We plan to host this group again in the fall.
3. Drum Circles: During the summer and into the fall we are hosting monthly drum circles by the fire pit down under the oak grove. The first circle was June 21st and was a huge success. The schedule of upcoming circles is posted on the right column.
4. Oxford Community Garden: We are supporting the Oxford Community Garden. The Community Garden has been kind enough to let us distribute our shares at their site and we hope to collaborate in future efforts.
5. Taylor Farmers’ Market: We are committed to a full season of weekly participation in this market.
6. Litter removal: We have been working to clear CR 471 and 420 of litter (no small task). So far we have made two trips to the dump and to the recycling center.
So far, our community involvement and service has been only a fraction of our vision. Frankly, we have been spending most of our available time in the field; nonetheless, our commitment remains and we how to strengthen these and additional efforts as the peak growing season winds down.
Conclusion: As we enter the second half of our first growing season, we have mixed emotions. We are extremely proud of what we have accomplished but recognize the many obstacles that must be overcome if this farm is going to be a success. The reality is that this farm needs to be self-supporting in its third year. There is one thing we need to do to meet this goal: grow much more food (somewhere between 5 and 10 times as much as we are estimating for this year’s harvest). We are confident of our success in meeting this challenge and look forward to many years of providing fresh, tasty, organic, and local produce to people in the Oxford area. We sincerely thank everyone for your support.
A final note on the size and contents of shares distributed: Sadly, we have had a couple of shareholders withdraw because of the small size and content of the first three shares we distributed to date (June). While we appreciate the support of these shareholders and respect any shareholders decision to release their share, we do want everyone who participates in the farm to be satisfied with what we are doing and what they are receiving from the farm. Thus, we want to be clear that we will return all payments to any shareholder who is unhappy with the quantity, quality, or selection of produce we provide. We do, however, hope that all of our shareholders will understand that our goal is to provide each shareholder with somewhere near $200 of food during the course of the season! Clearly, the food included in the first three distributions was not worth $50. Part of the CSA model is that shareholders share the risk and share the reward. We were a week to ten days late in some of our planting and our tomato and pepper seedlings were small. For plant health, we actually planted at the optimal time (but not for an early harvest). As a result, in June, we distributed what we had which was a lot of cucumbers and some garlic, lettuce, yellow squash, zucchini, snap beans, and okra. All we can say at this point is that more is coming; we will have to wait and see how much. Given this, we hope that all of our shareholders will hang with us through the rest of this season and then assess the value of what you received. We are still planting (pumpkins today, winter squash earlier in the week, and peppers two weeks ago) and we are optimistic that all shareholders will receive an ample supply of food from your investment. In closing, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact us by phone or email, or better yet, come out for a visit.