By Becky Nelson
Record-breaking heat has sparked green growth around the farm in a big way. By the calendar, we are right on track with planting and summer preparations, but by the temperatures, we are already woefully behind. The raspberry plants are now blossoming, promising an earlier than sometimes crop. The blueberry blossoms are already passed with little berries now viewable. Baby apples are all over the trees in the orchard. Our early hoophouse crops are on in full force, and we have already picked spinach, radishes, lettuce, kale, beet greens and just this week, cucumbers and zucchini.
When we invested in and erected the hoophouses more than two decades ago, we were in the very infancy of the gardening strategy. We have used the metal frames and plastic protective coverings for many years now, using them exclusively for raising tomatoes for many years. We dove into experimentation mode a few years ago and tried peppers. The success was amazing, and we have planted more and different veggies over the last few years, landing on some great successes and not bothering with others. It is amazing and helpful to stretch our traditionally short northern growing season by several weeks on each end, and I am grateful to the researchers and then the manufacturers who made the technique a viable option for growing here in the northeast.
Some folks are experimenting with raising strawberries and even raspberries in hoophouses, but for the present, we are content with quick annual products. Small size/backyard hoophouses are now available for sale by some gardening centers and seed businesses, and if you are an avid gardener, it might be time to start looking at making your soil work even harder for you. It takes some preparation and some changes in planting methods and traditional psyche, but the addition of these wonderful tools in your backyard can provide hours and days and even weeks of growing that haven’t always been available in our growing zone.
Agriculture continues to amaze and thrill, with new research in genetics, growing techniques and more sustainable practices emerging every day. One new technique being utilized in some urban settings is the “container” practice, where grow lights and small-scale irrigation in containers like carried by trucks are making small scale farms in city neighborhoods a possibility, as are the hoophouses that are such a boon to us here in the Granite State. Hydroponic growing, with water and no soil, is also an emerging and successful technique that is taking off. The Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center has experimented with aquaculture, as well, feeding the hydroponic plants with the wastewater from raising the fish. Big growers are reliant on GPS and computer systems to monitor the health, growth and profitability of all manners of things grown, both animal and vegetable.
There has always been change in the agriculture world, but the changes recently seem to be ever-faster and ever more technical. Changes in regulations and food safety are also in the forefront, and being an agriculturalist can sometimes be challenging. I am grateful that there are so many resources and research results online and through university research that we can stay abreast of the latest trends, techniques and requirements.
With graduations happening all around us, I hope some of these kids plan to go into growing or researching how to grow our food. With the climate changing at a frightening pace and the need to be better stewards of our planet a clanging bell, the challenge of sustainably feeding ourselves will be a constant item on the to-do list for a very long time. We need lots of bright and eager minds working on the challenges we are facing, and I urge any young person unsure of what to do for a career to look toward their dinner plate. We old farmers are just that…getting old, with the average age of those growing your food now 58 years of age. We will all be retiring in the next decade or so, leaving a big void in the food industry. Let’s urge our youth to get “growing.”
Becky Nelson is co-owner of Beaver Pond Farm in Newport, New Hampshire. firstname.lastname@example.org.