The growing season is in full swing in the High Country of North Carolina, with summer crops in the ground and coming up. At this summer solstice time, it is exciting to watch the accelerated growth of crops from the long daylight hours, growing a noticeable amount daily. This month has been filled with planting and it is now time to seed fall crops. I enjoy admiring my mature crops in the field and watching the daily progress of plants recently transplanted or seeded. There is always something new to see and much of it is good. I have had very few problems with disease and insect damage up to this point.
July brings a lot of new pest control and disease issues, with downy mildew concerns for cucumbers, blight concerns for tomato plants, and harlequin beetles, Japanese beetles, Colorado potato beetles, and squash bugs. I feel a certain sense of dread whenever I think about this assault on my farm. I’m sure there will be many lessons learned when dealing with these pests, which have thriving populations at my farm site because it has been used for vegetable production for many years.
I am selling weekly on Saturday mornings at the Watauga County Farmers’ Market and have a steady income from that. Every week I work on improving my display since people shop with their eyes and the way produce is displayed and advertised often determines whether it sells or not. At the beginning of the season, I had very little to bring to the market and was selling out regularly. As I bring more, I am faced with what to do with surplus when market is over. In the past month, I have started to build relationships with local restaurants, as well as sell some to a local produce distributor, New River Organic Growers. Making these connections has been a learning process and has required a lot of leg work to talk to the right people and make it easy for restaurants to buy from me. Though I am selling regularly to several local restaurants, I still find myself with excess that either is composted or given to my pigs.
The other big news is that I have pigs now! The pigs are actually a collective project between all of the farmers at the F.I.G. Farm. We are raising one pig for a fundraiser farm-to-fork dinner in September, and the other three belong to individual farmers and will probably be slaughtered for personal meat consumption only. It is fun having the animals to watch and be entertained by, and they add to the farm as a point of interest for visitors, which will be important for our upcoming farm tour at the end of the month. When raised correctly, the pigs will also be a valuable part of the ecosystem of the farm. We will rotate their pasture so that they can till the soil with their noses, dig up pesky weeds and mob graze crops when they are finished producing. I am interested in permaculture and integrating those principles into my farm system, so using animals on the farm really makes sense and is something I want to continue to do.
We continue to get very little rain – a far cry from last season, which was effectively rained out. Because of the geography of this mountainous region, places within a few miles of my farm can get plenty of rain when I am dry. We went ten days in June without more than a sprinkle that didn’t even wet the dry soil. There have been benefits to this, however, since I have been planting a lot and have been able to do so unimpeded. I have also refrained from spraying my tomatoes with fungicides so far, and a lack of moisture has been helpful in keeping away blight and other fungal diseases.
Next week we will be a part of the Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture High Country Farm Tour! Read next month to find out more about the tour!
Caroline Hampton is a first year farmer, growing vegetables, herbs and flowers at the Octopus Garden in Valle Crucis, NC. A North Carolina native, Caroline grew up in Raleigh and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with an Environmental Studies degree. Caroline enjoys writing, playing banjo, and hiking in the NC mountains. Her favorite vegetable is the carrot.