Salad Greens Production

by Matthew McDermott, production manager, and Rob Jordan, post harvest manager

For many people, mixed baby greens are a popular salad choice all year round.  As part of the CMFC food production, mixed baby greens are grown for the local wholesale and retail outlets from May-November. As part of a 2012 specialty crop grant, and in collaboration with WSU, CMFC set about identifying efficient and economical production methods for this crop.  Although the process continues to evolve, we’ve narrowed in on a mechanized system that provides a relatively consistent, high quality product for the salad eaters of the Puget Sound community.

Bed Preparation:

Early season baby greens are sown under the cover of a permanent hoop house and as the soil warms, production shifts to field-based beds.  In both locations, the cost of intensive hand weeding quickly drives up the cost of production and can leave you with a losing hand.  Time and flame weeding are used to help minimize hand weeding.  Standard primary cultivation involves discing and chisel plowing.  From there, a rototiller is used to create a fine seed bed.

Lighting the flame weeder

Water is introduced (rainfall or irrigation) after the rototiller, which commences the clock.  Depending on soil temperatures, we generally wait 7-10 days for the 1st flush of weeds to germinate.  At this “white thread” stage, the flame weeder is pulled over the bed and heats the plants cells to the point of collapse.  They wilt and die.  But alas, another round of weeds is ready to germinate.  Waiting another 4-6 days allows for this next round to flush and fall to the flamer.  The idea here is to flush weeds in the top couple inches of soil without disturbance, which would bring another round of seeds to the surface.

Sutton Seeder

Seed Sowing and Irrigation:

Seeds are sown immediately after the 2nd flaming.  We use a tractor mounted, Sutton mechanical seeder that sows 24 rows per 68” bed, about 1” apart in row.  The seeds are sown very close to the soil surface to promote quick germination.  We source seed from the Skagit-based seed company, Osborne seeds.  During the spring and fall, seed mixes consist of brassicas, such as kale, choi, and mustard.  In the summer, a mix of lettuce leaves are used.  In the heat of the summer, overhead irrigation comes on for 15 minutes, every 2 hours from 10am – 8pm.

Harvest and Post-Harvest:

Although temperature and daylight play a big factor, brassica mixes can be ready as soon as 28 days from sowing and lettuce as soon as 32 days from sowing.  A two-person team pushes a mechanical harvester that resembles a band saw with a conveyor belt.  200lbs of baby greens can be harvested in about 1 hour as they tumble into Rubbermaid totes.  The baby greens are transported from the field to the cooler while the processing room is prepared.  Because it’s a ready to eat product, extra care is taken to wash and pack in a facility that is licensed by WSDA.  The greens run across a conveyor belt and into two wash tanks.  After the wash tanks, the greens are dried in electric spinners and packed into 2.5lb bags for delivery.

It’s an intense process to produce those delicate greens.  Next time you enjoy a salad, take a minute to think about how it arrived on your plate.

Managing Your UFO Cherries

In an earlier post we described the fundamentals of growing and training cherry trees to the UFO system. This training system is easy to understand and simple to execute when everything goes according to the instructions. The challenge always is what do I do if they don’t grow like the they are supposed to according to the plan. Below I will describe several of these situations.

Key principals to growing cherries successfully:

Cherry trees need to be growing vigorously to produce good fruit. Cherries are different from other fruits because they ripen so early. At the same time the fruit is ripening the trees are still pushing spring growth. So nutrients need to be there during that ripening time not just for the fruit, but for the new wood the tree is trying to grow. Fertilizers need to be applied a week or two before bloom. Cherries only absorb nitrogen over a six week period starting around bloom. If you are using our Fruit Tree Blend (8-18-18 with micros) try ½ cup for the first 2 years then evaluate your trees vigor in later years.  You want to see 2 or more feet of new growth per year  as an average over the whole tree. Another visual indicator is the leaves should be dark green during harvest.

The What Ifs:

  • What if you have tied down your leader and only 1 or 2 shoots break and push upwards and you find yourself beginning the second year without many shoots growing.  The key strategy here is not letting any shoot grow any faster than another.  You will want to keep the main trunk at a 30 degree angle from the ground and if you want one shoot to be the strongest it should be the shoot growing from the end of the trunk. With that said if this terminal shoot or any shoot for that matter, is really out growing all the others then you bend (tie) that part of trunk to a more horizontal position to the bottom training wire.
  • If you still have leaves and flowers growing on the horizontal trunk and you aren’t having luck getting the upright shoots to push, taking off all competition along the trunk is advisable. This means leaving only the upright shoot or bud you hope become shoots.
  • If you still don’t have all the upright shoots you want then scoring above the buds (Just cutting out a tiny piece of the green bark, see photo)  in late spring is a good way to encourage these stubborn buds to begin to elongate into your upright fruiting shoots.

My Role as a Second-Year Intern

By Chrissy Hoefgen

Cloud Mountain Farm Center is a very diversified organization; growing a number of perennial and annual fruits, vegetables, and ornamentals requires many helping hands. In addition to the twelve full time staff members on site, CMFC also hosts seven first year interns, and this year, a second year intern, which is me, Chrissy. A day in the life of a second year intern holds many learning and teaching opportunities to experience the grit and the grace of farming.

Every morning after stretching my body (which is frequently sore from the previous day’s workload), I throw on a pair of long johns for these damp spring mornings, dirty kneed Carhartt’s, a few long sleeve button ups, maybe a knit hat to keep my hair back, and head downstairs to prepare for the rest of my day on the job. As a second year intern, I am more involved with the behind the scenes work. This year I take part in the decision making, task delegation, and communicating logistics of the day to day function of the working farm. Each day the production team, which includes myself, Matthew the Production Manager, Chris the Farm Lead, and Rob the Post-Harvest Coordinator, lines out tasks relevant to weather conditions and season. For example, pruning European pears, transplanting Alliums, harvesting salad greens, and disking ground for future vegetable beds.

While my main focus for this year is orchard management and fruit tree physiology, my role and responsibility is varied because of the many systems at CMFC and the diversity of goals I have as a growing farmer. The knowledge I collected from my first year was very wide ranging and broad. I was introduced to many new and intriguing agricultural practices, perspectives and concepts. With the opportunity to return to Cloud Mountain for a second year, I was able to narrow my focus and objectives, and set goals based on my interests and potential future enterprises- which I hope to be perennial fruit cropping systems. I’ve been involved with the observation of trees stages, and the decision making process about when and how to prune the trees, spray for diseases and/or pests, thin fruit set, and harvest the ripened fruit. Being a part of this process prepares me to make these decisions for my own business someday.

At the end of each day, although typically exhausted and dirty, I leave the farm with a sense of empowerment. I am fortunate to work within a community who supports my dreams and aspirations as a young female farmer, and encourages me to grow and stretch my level of comfort and knowledge. I look forward to waking up in the morning and being able to return to the beauty of this season’s new flowers emerging from the bud they once lived inside. I also look forward to spending eight hours of my day outside, tending to an array of unique organisms, planting tiny seeds in organic soil, and the nonstop information I devour daily. Life on a farm is far from leisurely, but oh, is it remarkable.

Grape Grafting at Cloud Mountain Farm Center

As the rain pours down outside and the wind howls off the mountain through this cold and dreary spring, a crew of diligent grafters works away in the little propagation house behind the nursery.  They are grafting grape vines, literally building the plants that will eventually become the vineyards throughout our region.  If you’ve enjoyed a glass of wine recently, especially one from vines grown west of the Cascades, send out a little thanks to these folks right now.  It may very well have had its beginnings right here in this little room.

Fresh Omega Graft

Kelsey on the grafter

“Kachunk…Kachunk…Kachunk.”  The steady rhythm of the pedal driven grafting machine underscores all conversation in the propagation house, and if the crew is like me, it probably follows them into their dreams as well.  We hear that sound a LOT!  On a typical day we graft over a thousand vines, and for 4-6 weeks every spring, this consumes our world of plant propagation as we pump out anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000 new vines.

 

Luckily we have that machine I mentioned above.  A highly engineered piece of German equipment, it simultaneously makes omega shaped cuts in both the rootstock and the scion and joins the two pieces together with one kick of the foot.  It can do in less than a second what would take an experienced grafter close to a minute, and with greater accuracy and consistency.

Grafting Crew and new grafts

That’s not to say that there’s no work left for us humans, though.  Between harvesting the sticks and planting the newly grafted vines out in the field, we touch those sticks no less than 21 different times at various stages in the process.  It’s complicated, it’s exacting, and it’s full of potential pitfalls, but grafting onto a rootstock is essential in our maritime climate with its cool, short summers and fall rains.

The rootstocks we choose encourage earlier ripening by as much as 1-2 weeks, and that’s often enough of an advantage to ripen fruit successfully and get it harvested before the rains arrive.  We’ve been trialing wine grapes and rootstocks here at the farm for over 20 years, and we are getting a pretty good picture of how the different rootstocks perform, how the different varietals fare through the season, and how to turn these grapes into a good bottle of wine.

Propagation house filled with new grafts.

If you’re interested in learning more about the trials or about the nearly 100 varieties of grapes that we grow, call us, swing by the nursery, or sign up for one of our grape growing workshops. You can also order vines and find information about growing wine grapes in our climate by visiting our website.

Apple and Pear Scab

One of the greatest challenges to growing apples and pears in our climate is scab, a fungal disease (Venturia inaequalis on apples, Venturia pirina on pears). Preventing this disease is key to keeping your orchard trees healthy.

Some people say, “I don’t mind a few spots on my fruit, why should I spray to prevent this disease?” The short answer is that the infection doesn’t just infect the fruit. More serious is infection on the foliage of your trees, which can cause the leaves to drop early. Serious scab infections can almost defoliate your tree- and its leaves are how the tree gets its energy. Repeated scab infections will stunt your trees, especially young trees.

Approximate number of hours of leaf wetness required for primary apple scab infection at different air temperatures

Scab infections are dependent on both moisture and temperature. You can see from the table to the left how leaf wetness and temperatures play a role in the leaf infection. The most serious infections occur during warm springs with lots of rain.  This spring, we’ve been relatively cool, but we’ve also had lots of hours of leaf wetness. At 54°F, a light scab infection can occur with 11.5 hours of leaf wetness. At 60°F, the same infection can occur after 9.5 hours of leaf wetness. In a commercial orchard, careful monitoring helps the orchardist know when to apply fungicides to prevent infections.

Most people growing apples and pears at home want to use organic methods to manage their trees. Currently the best control for scab in the home orchard is micronized sulfur. But sulfur can only prevent infection, not cure it, so it must be on the tree at the critical time!  A good strategy is to apply the sulfur just as your

Pre-Pink apple blossoms

apple blossoms are beginning to show color (pre-pink) or your pear blossom clusters are starting to separate. Then apply the sulfur again as the petals fall off the

Pear blossoms just separating

flowers at the end of bloom. These two applications should give you enough control to keep your trees healthy.

What if you can’t spray due to weather? One year’s miss won’t do too much damage, but repeated misses can cause ‘blind wood’ or wood with no fruit buds.

If you don’t want to spray to control scab, choose scab resistant varieties when you plant. There are varieties of both apple and pear that are highly resistant to this fungus.

Other steps you can do to control scab in your orchard:

  • Apply lime to the orchard floor in the fall at leaf drop. This both sweetens the soil and helps speed the breakdown of the fallen foliage
  • Rake up and destroy fallen foliage to remove scab spores from your orchard
  • Keep your trees growing vigorously by avoiding drought stress and fertilizing if necessary

 

Seeking an Executive Director to Join Our Team

We are looking for a dynamic leader who is passionate Cloud Mountain Staffabout agricultural research, empowerment, and the economic sustainability of diversified agriculture in Northwestern Washington. The Executive Director will be responsible for setting and managing a yearly budget, development and fundraising work on behalf of CMFC, and support and stewardship of a highly motivated staff engaged in bettering the regional food system.

The Executive Director reports to the Board of Directors and works independently and alongside CMFC staff with mission-aligned research organizations and regional economic development organizations with an agricultural focus. Work is reviewed in terms of achievement of goals and objectives through a yearly review of the Personnel Committee of the Board of Directors. The Executive Director directly oversees seven (7) staff managers and directors but is ultimately responsible for a full-time staff of thirteen (13) and a seasonal staff of up to ten (10).

Primary responsibilities include, Organizational Management, Strategic Planning, Financial Management, Ambassadorial, and Development.

Minimum Qualifications & Skills Education & Experience include:

  • Undergraduate degree in a relevant discipline (organizational management; applied land management; business administration); Master’s degree in a relevant discipline preferred
  • Minimum five years of relevant complex multi-project, multi-stakeholder organizational or business management experience, with at least two years of business analysis or project management; or the equivalent combination of education and experience
  • Business development and organizational management should include previous experience supporting teams of diverse skills, personalities and job types; sound financial management in both grant-funded and for-profit enterprises; revenue generation; and operational management skills including working with land and facilities
  • Must have a strong track record of securing funds for organizational growth through any combination of business planning and social enterprise development, effective grant writing/reporting and project proposals, and donor-based strategies

For full job description and to apply please go to:

https://www.idealist.org/en/nonprofit-job/c5dd3020ec424ef39d45303203a8b8b2-executive-director-cloud-mountain-farm-center-everson

Native Plants for Your Landscape

By Layla Dunlap, CMFC Nursery Manager

Red Flowering Currant for sale at CMFC's Nursery

As I look out over Cloud Mountain Farm Center’s Nursery from our office window, I see brilliant colors starting to pop-up as spring slowly arrives. It gets me excited about warmer weather, hiking season, and botanizing. Botanizing is a term I like to use for identifying plants while I’m in the woods. My love for botanizing began when a friend suggested we take a class to learn the plants we would see while hiking in Montana. I was immediately hooked and spent several seasons working as a botanist looking for rare and sensitive plant species of the PNW. But it wasn’t until I started growing native plants that I truly found my passion. Who doesn’t like watching plants grow, especially when they’re little baby native plants? And who doesn’t want a little piece of wildland in their yard? I want a native plant garden!

Why should you want native gardens? Native gardens, once established, can make beautiful landscapes as well as provide wildlife habitat and food for pollinators. Native plants are low maintenance; they require minimal water and no fertilizer or pesticides once established. Wouldn’t you like more time to stop and smell the natives? Using these plants in the landscape also helps promote biodiversity and sustainability. With habitat loss occurring, growing native plants even in a small area will help to conserve these species.

Once you’ve decided there is no reason not to add natives to your landscape, then what should you do? Think about your planting area: is it shady or sunny? Is your site really wet or extremely dry? Is your site protected from wind? What size plants will fit best in your space? What do you want to gain from these plantings? These questions will help you decide which native plants to choose. In my “dream” garden I envision lupine, lots of lupine…ocean spray shrubs ….tiger lilies…and much, much more. For inspiration, visit Kruckeburg Botanic Garden in Shoreline, WA as a great example of native gardens. They have four acres of native plant gardens with some exotic plants as well. The Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island offers another fantastic example of landscaping with natives.

Cloud Mountain Farm Center’s Nursery carries several native plant species, and our staff is ready to assist you with your native plant questions. Here are just a few suggestions of natives to use in your landscape:

  • *Amelanchier alnifolia, Serviceberry. Attract birds to your garden with this native shrub. Deciduous shrubs with white spring flowers, edible berries in summer, and good fall foliage.
  • Cornus stolonifera, Red-osier dogwood. Deciduous shrubs with berry-like fruit that ripens in late summer, persists as fall and winter food for birds.
  • *Mahonia species, Oregon grape and relatives. Evergreen shrubs with flowers providing nectar in winter and early spring, berries late summer and fall.
  • *Ribes sanguineum, Red-flowering currant. Deciduous shrub that provides nectar during the spring, and berries for the birds in  late summer.
  • Sambucus racemosa or caerulea, Red or blue elderberry. Deciduous shrubs that provide berries late summer. Flowers attract hummingbirds.
  • Symphoricarpos albus, Snowberry. Deciduous native shrub with white berries. These berries are not eaten by birds until late winter, when food supplies for them are scarce.
  • *Vaccinium ovatum, Evergreen huckleberry. There are several species of huckleberries in the PNW. Hucks bear fruit through summer & autumn.
  • Rubus spectablis, Salmonberry. Deciduous shrub that produces delicious berries.
  • Lonicera involucrata, Twinberry.
  • *Aquilegia formosa, Red columbine. Attracts hummingbirds. Self-seeding perennial that tolerates full sun to part shade.
  • Lonicera ciliosa, Trumpet honeysuckle. Vine that prefers part shade to shade. Orange tubular flowers attracts hummingbirds.
  • Penstemon species. The largest genus in North America! Penstemon species have tubular flowers that attract hummingbirds.
  • *Dodecatheon hendersonii, Shooting star. One of the first natives to bloom. Pretty pink flowers will attract insects to your garden.

* Denotes that Cloud Mountain Farm Center Nursery carries these plants.

Root stock, defined

“What the heck is a rootstock? “. It is not uncommon for us to hear this from our customers buying fruit trees. Deciding which rootstock to use is one of the complexities of planting fruit trees.

Young fruit tree

In simple terms, fruit trees are produced by joining a variety of fruit, like Honeycrisp apple, to a certain rootstock. This grafting a variety of fruit onto rootstock influences how that plant will grow.  For fruit trees, various root stocks determine:

  • Soil tolerance- tolerant of wet soil? tolerant of drought?
  • Vigor (size) of tree- mini-dwarf, dwarf or semi-dwarf
  • Anchorage- whether the tree will be self supporting
  • Precociousness- how soon the tree will begin fruiting
  • For some root stocks, disease resistance

For most people living on small city lots, full size fruit trees are not a good option. Full size (also known as ‘standard’) fruit trees make take 10 years or more to come into bearing, and require large ladders to manage. Dwarfing rootstocks allows closer planting of smaller trees in small spaces. The larger semi-dwarf fruit trees can be planted 10′-15′ apart, and be kept under 15′-20′ with pruning. Some of the more dwarfing root stocks can be planted as close as 4′ apart, and be kept under 8′- no ladders required!

Dwarf rootstocks usually come into full fruit sooner than larger trees. They are more soil sensitive, needing well-drained soils, and are often less tolerant of winter wet soils. They are also somewhat less summer drought tolerant than larger rootstock trees. And most dwarf rootstock will need support as they can bear more fruit than their root system can support.

Scion rooted fruit tree

Central WA Orchard in V-trellis system

When planting a grafted fruit tree, it is important to plant the graft well above the soil line. If the graft is buried, the variety above the graft may root into the soil. The tree will then become a full sized fruit tree!

Commercial orchardists have been using dwarfing rootstocks for years, as they measure their production in pounds/tonnage per acre rather than pounds per tree. Drive through a commercial orchard area in Central Washington, and you rarely see apples grown as free standing trees. These trellised orchards are more expensive for the grower to plant, but more than make up the cost in savings in labor- fewer trips up and down ladders. In some commercial orchards that are on flat ground, mobile platforms on trailers replace the ladders of yesteryear.

For the home owner, supporting dwarf trees is usually less elaborate. A stout stake 6″-8″ away from the trunk can support dwarf trees, and can be used as a training tool. This central stake can be used to help train the tree, and can be used with string to support fruit load on the branches.

Dwarf rootstocks do have some disadvantages compared to semi-dwarf root stocks. The larger root stocks do tolerate a wider range of soil types, and are slightly more drought tolerant in dry summers. Larger rootstocks are usually a year or two later coming into bearing. And these larger trees are more difficult to maintain (pruning, spraying, thinning, harvesting), if allowed to grow to their potential size. However, larger rootstocks have their own advantages beyond soil and drought tolerance. Many people who have deer pressure in their areas will plant larger growing trees. They protect them in early years, but as the trees mature, their lower branches can take some browsing without killing the trees.

Another possible advantage of larger rootstocks is that potential disease infections can be outgrown by the greater vigor. This seems especially true of some marginal stone fruits such as peaches and apricots.

So, before planting fruit trees, ask yourself these questions?

  • How big do I want my fruit trees to get?
  • What are the best rootstocks for my soil?
  • Will I need to support my fruit trees? And how am I going to do that?
  • Will I need to water? Do I need drought tolerance?

Answering these questions can help you choose the best rootstocks for your site.

 

 

 

Spring Soil Preparation

These last weeks of March, as winter begins to loosen its heavy grip, many of us get excited to get early ground turned in preparation for peas, oats, and anything else we thing we might get to survive the remaining spring awakening in the still cold, 42°F soils.

There are a lot of tools and a lot of soils so we thought we’d highlight a few in place here at CMFC  and with some of our incubator farmers.

Chisel Plow

Chisel Plow

We had some ground with a late season crop in it, which we’re always hoping to cover as soon as possible.  The dry window we got in the end of February gave us a moment to run a chisel plow through our late-cropped soil.  Last week we had another dry window and just in time to let us run the chisel through it again and give us some rough ground to transplant in some Napa cabbage which was begging for space to grow.

A bed after two chisel passes, one month apart

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Our chisel plow reaches down a solid 12 inches, with more possible depending on soil conditions, and then the roller behind helps to crumble and flatten the small ridges it can create.  It creates deep fracturing without inverting the soil or creating flat, downward pressure which can create a hardpan layer.

Walk-Behind Tractor

One incubator farmer who took advantage of the early chisel window, Foothills Flowers, chose to follow up with a BCS walk-behind tiller, using the shallow tillage and lightweight equipment to prep multiple beds for direct seeding of a dozen or so flower varieties. They were also able to sow beets for a contract through the Bellingham Food Bank’s Seed Money Program (a program sponsored by the Community Food Co-op’s Farm Fund which dovetails volunteer gleaners with funding for new farmers).

Occultation

Silage tarps being used for soil occulation

Popularized by Jean Martin Fortier, this method uses silage tarps to block light and rainfall in order to germinate weed seeds and then kill them with a lack of light, as well as kill a cover crop and activate the soil microbiota.  This is one being experimented with by incubator farmers Slanted Sun, as well as our neighbors at Small Acres.

Broadfork

Another cool tool for early soil prep that works similar to a chisel plow,  but on a micro-scale, is the broadfork.  Here’s one from Meadow Creature, doing its thang:

Inserting the broadfork

I place the fork (20” wide with 16” tines) 4 to 6 inches behind my last penetration. I wiggle and dance the tines all the way down—in some cases you might not go quite so deep, but for our first ground-breaking, I want as much aeration as possible to activate the soil microbial community, and no chance for a pan higher in the soil profile, should that be the unforeseen consequence of my ambitious actions.

Lean way back!

And here are the results

And leeaan back!  Leveraging the forks against the unworked ground behind me.  This is a good place to be very conscious of keeping your hips all the way forward so you’re using the strength in your shoulders and arms with the weight of your body rather than pulling with your back.

Aerated soil

Keep working back against the unforked soil for leverage.

Being very conscious of a good stance (knees bent, one foot slightly ahead of the other), and pushing from that front foot, I wiggle the fork from its last placement to begin anew.

In this heavy silt loam, the broadfork allows deep aeration without destroying the soil structure as a tiller would. Watch a video of a broadfork in action at other farms here.

So whatever your method, good luck and remember to go easy early, and avoid compacting action while stimulating your soil microflora to life.  This year they’re extra sleepy!

Anticipating Transition at the Center

A New Executive Director

At Cloud Mountain, we are used to change. Much of agriculture is about being attuned to the seasonal changes of plants, weather, and ecosystems. One might go so far as to argue that success in agriculture depends on the ability to anticipate and plan appropriately for inevitable change. So too, in the growth and development of organizations, and this spring, we find ourselves anticipating and planning for a different, but no less exciting, kind of change.

After six years as our Executive Director, Tom Thornton has made the decision to step down from his position. Tom has served as the Executive Director of Cloud Mountain Farm Center since its transition in 2011 from a private business to a 501(C)3 non-profit. Under Tom’s oversight, the organization has become an important player in the field of agricultural education. We are fortunate that Tom has agreed to continue on with the organization in a capacity that builds on his skill and passion for research and crop development.

So, what will a new Executive Director mean for Cloud Mountain Farm Center? While it most certainly means change, it also represents an opportunity to expand and refine our efforts to build dynamic, local food systems. A new Director will bring fresh ideas and energy into the organization, but be assured we will continue to deliver the high-quality plants, produce, expertise, and education that you count on us for.

The Search Begins

Our Board of Directors has been hard at work over the last several months, developing a strategy for the recruitment and hiring of a new Executive Director. We anticipate posting a job description in April, with the intention of having a new Director in place by the middle of 2017. However, we are committed to finding the right candidate for this leadership role, and Tom will continue to serve as the Executive Director until a new Director is hired. Please continue to watch our blog for future announcements about the search process.

In the meantime, we hope you will join Cloud Mountain’s Board and staff in thanking Tom for his leadership and dedication over the last six years!