Fox Creek Farm - Detailed Farming Practices
Farming practices: We use organic farming practices, but are not organically certified. To date, our CSA customers have not asked or required USDA organic certification from us. As we are a CSA farm, and our farm is open to visits from our CSA membership at any time, they can see for themselves how we grow the crops. We are very accessible to address any questions or concerns regarding our farming practices, and customary return calls or answer emails within 24 hours.
Soil fertility: Great crops start with great soils. Most of our farm is on silty loam, which is in between sand and clay. Silty loam drains well, but also retains moisture. To maintain soil fertility, we use cover crops, composted manures, crop rotations, and annual fallows:
- Cover crops: We grow small grains and grasses (oats, buckwheat, sorghum-Sudan grass, and rye, primarily), and legumes (red clover, peas) for cover crops. Those crops are not grown for harvest, but to be put back in the soil. This increases the organic matter in the soil (and the legumes provide nitrogen). Through decomposition of the organic matter, nitrogen will be released to the vegetable crops.
- Composted manures: To give the vegetable crop a boost particularly in the early season when the biological soil processes are still ‘warming up’, the composted manures provide some nitrogen and other essential nutrients, as well as organic matter.
- Crop rotations: We rotate our crop groups over the farm. They all have different nutrient needs, and by rotating the crops we prevent long-term nutrient deficiencies (which would be hard to fix quickly when using organic growing practices).
- Annual fallows: At this time, 1/3 of the tillable acreage on the farm is annual fallow. That means that those soils are not used for vegetable production, but rather grow long term cover crops. As tillage of the soil does to some extent damage the physical soil structure, an annual fallow gives the soils an opportunity to rejuvenate, while the cover crops protect the soils from erosion, and provide a source of organic matter and nitrogen.
Pest management: We manage insect pests primarily through our growing practices, crop rotations, physical barriers (row cover), and as a last resort, when needed, some organically approved pesticides.
- Growing practices: plants are most likely to experience high bug pressures when they are young or stressed. Setting out transplants instead of direct seeding avoids the vulnerable stage of very young plants in the field. We take great care in growing high quality transplants in our greenhouse. Starting with healthy plants reduces the impact of the so-called transplant shock. Growing plants in well-managed, fertile soils also reduce plant stress (and pest impacts).
- Crop rotations: over the growing season, bug populations may build up. By moving a group of crops to another part of the farm, last years’ bug population will have a harder time finding their ‘favorite food’.
- Physical barriers (row cover): for some of our crops, even a little amount of bug damage would be unsightly (for example, with Arugula, Mesclun, Pac Choi). We cover those crops at time of planting with row cover, which lets through air, water, and light, but does not allow bugs to enter.
- Spraying: with the above, we follow integrated pest management practices. When needed, we use some pesticides approved for organic production, specifically pyganic (which is a botanical insecticide derived from chrysanthemums) and Spinosad (Spinosadis a natural substance made by a soil bacterium that can be toxic to insects), to control flea beetles in young brassicas (cabbage family), and Colorado potato beetle in potatoes. We don’t have a need to spray for any other pests, as at this point the pest populations are well below agronomic damage thresholds.
Disease management: We manage fungal and bacterial plant diseases through the selection of disease resistant varieties, maintenance of healthy and productive soils, crop rotations, and if needed, the application of some organically approved broad-spectrum fungicides.
- Disease resistant varieties: We primarily select our vegetable varieties for taste and yield, but secondary we look at the disease resistance of those varieties. Plant breeders have been able to select for some traits that makes the plants less susceptible to common diseases (for example, downy mildew in pumpkins and winter squash). Please do not confuse this with Genetic Modification (GMO), in which case the DNA of the plant gets altered. All seeds we plant are either open pollinated or hybrid varieties, produced through age-old plant breeding practices. We do not plant GMO seeds.
- Maintenance of healthy and productive soils: Healthy plants are less likely to get diseased. Well-managed soils will grow healthier plants, which in turn will be less likely to get diseased.
- Crop rotations: Some plant diseases are soil born. By rotating a group of crops to grounds where such crop was not grown for a couple of years can break the soil borne disease cycle, again showing the importance of crop rotation.
- Broad spectrum fungicides: also with the disease management, we follow integrated pest management practices, and do not spray unless there are no other solutions. As a result, we use copper hydroxide, an organically approved broad spectrum fungicide, on the nightshades (particularly tomatoes and potatoes) to control late blight. Late blight is a devastating fungal disease, that will wipe out a potato or tomato crop in less than a week (it was the cause of the Irish potato famine). Contrary to conventional growers, there is no organic fungicide available that could be applied retroactively, i.e. after we find occurrences of late blight in the crop. After a couple of late blight outbreaks, which took our well-managed potato and tomato crops in the past, we have been using a preventative program for the last couple of years.
Weed control: We control weeds through crop rotations, the management of soil health, mechanical cultivation and hand weeding.