The Farm Report

A field of vegetables ready for harvest at Edgartown's Morning Glory Farm.
A field of vegetables ready for harvest at Edgartown's Morning Glory Farm. Photos by Susan Safford

By Julian Wise - October 19, 2006

A wet and cold start that delayed the growing season. More favorable late-summer conditions that allowed the fields to play catch-up. Ravenous wildlife that decimated certain crops. Among Island farmers, the consensus is that the 2006 growing season was a challenging one that nonetheless yielded enough of a bounty to satisfy local consumers. For farmers long accustomed to the vagaries of New England weather, 2006 was another year to be taken in stride.

Andrew Woodruff, the proprietor of Whippoorwill Farm who runs the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) project where Islanders can purchase shares of the farm's annual yield, reports that heavy rains in June created problems.

"The month of June was extremely wet," he says. "It was pretty destructive of the crops overall. We had a lot of delayed plantings. In particular, we lost the majority of our strawberry crop, which was a great disappointment."

Rusty (Glenn) Gordon of Whippoorwill Farm stocks produce for pick-up by CSA members.
Rusty (Glenn) Gordon of Whippoorwill Farm stocks produce for pick-up by CSA members.

More consistent moisture throughout the summer allowed other crops to succeed. "Our tomatoes did well," Mr. Woodruff says. "I'm finding now that most of the crops in September and early October are doing well because of good moisture in the soil. There are still a lot of crops to harvest."

The farm experienced unusual pressure from wildlife, with crows, rabbits, deer, and raccoons attacking the fields. An acre of melons was lost to crows and rats. "We typically struggle with certain animals," Mr. Woodruff says. "For some reason, this year seemed worse."

In upcoming weeks cauliflower, broccoli, winter squash, and possibly turnips will be harvested. Mr. Woodruff predicts that the CSA will continue offering food through Thanksgiving.

Simon Athearn dumps freshly picked sweet corn into the bin at the Morning Glory Farm stand.
Simon Athearn dumps freshly picked sweet corn into the bin at the Morning Glory Farm stand.

Mr. Woodruff reports that the CSA program grew this past year, which he attributes to greater awareness of the Island Grown Initiative campaign that encourages consumers to purchase locally grown produce. He encourages those interested in participating in the 2007 farm share program to contact him at whipfarm@earthlink.net.

Jamie Norton at Norton Farm says the 2006 season started slowly due to heavy rainfall. "The strawberries in June were rained out, and then in July we didn't have the warmth. Things like zucchini, which we are usually harvesting in July, we didn't get until August 7th. In August things got back on track."

Mr. Norton reports strong yields of tomatoes, squash, flowers, and beans. A surprise hit was jilo, a member of the eggplant family that is a favorite among the Island's Brazilian community.

"We were picking it only on Tuesdays and Fridays, and we would have people lining out the door before we opened just to buy it because it's a crop that reminds the Brazilians of something similar to home."

Mr. Norton says the warm weather in September made the month more productive than the previous year.

A farm family - Debbie and Jim Athearn of Morning Glory Farm with their son Simon.
A farm family - Debbie and Jim Athearn of Morning Glory Farm with their son Simon.

"It was nice to end on a stronger note," he says.

Deborah Athearn of Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown reports similar difficulties with the strawberry crop in June, though she says the melon crop was successful, especially with cantaloupes. Tomatoes were delayed, but the peach crop was one of the best the farm has ever seen. Wildlife created unexpected problems.

"We had a lot of wildlife pressure all around, particularly with raccoons," she says. "We lost the majority of one field of corn we grow in West Tisbury. That was raccoons, skunks, crow, and deer just devouring that field."

Overall, farm business was about even with last year. "August was good for us, and that helped make up for a poor June and July," Ms. Athearn says. After several decades in the farm business, one learns to handle the ups and downs of the growing seasons. "I guess we roll with it a little better than we did 20 years ago."

"There's all those years of perspective. You realize there's always going to be failures in any given year, and you just hope there aren't going to be too many piling up on top of each other."

Andrew Woodruff of Whippoorwill Farm.
Andrew Woodruff of Whippoorwill Farm.

She is pleased to report that unlike New York, which is experiencing a 75 percent drop in its pumpkin harvest, Morning Glory is doing fine with its pumpkin crop. Last Saturday, the farm hosted a sucessful pumpkin festival to celebrate the annual harvest. When the farm closes for the season, her family plans some winter renovations to the farm stand for the 2007 season, including a small addition to the kitchen to add more cooler space.

Ms. Athearn expresses gratitude for the people who support and sustain her family's business. "We're so lucky to have customers that are so faithful to us, who appreciate what we do and appreciate when there are failures. We are very grateful for all of the people who come to our farm."

Even smaller farmers and gardeners have their share of strife with critters. But Teri Praskach who grows flowers for the Farmer's Market at Quansoo in Chilmark says she has had good success foiling the deer.

"I decided I was smarter than a deer and I could outsmart them," she said. Dried blood and a product called Deer Scram are among the deterrents that have brought her luck in keeping the animals away from her dahlias and lilies. She said the best trick is to use more than one deer repellent or practice so they don't get used to any one approach.

Caitlin Jones sells her heirloom tomatoes at the Farmer's Market in West Tisbury.
Caitlin Jones sells her heirloom tomatoes at the Farmer's Market in West Tisbury. Photo by Pat Waring

"You use different things to confuse them, make them think there's danger," she said. Dried blood is effective because deer are vegetarians and afraid of animals; the scent of dried blood makes them think animals are nearby, she explained.

Ms. Praskach said that years ago deer would decimate her crops, mowing down sunflowers and asters. "It looked like somebody went through with a lawnmower," she said.

"I need a rat dog!" declared Caitlin Jones, selling trays of heirloom tomatoes at her Farmer's Market booth. She said that despite eight-foot fencing to keep out deer, she suffered extreme crop damage from a variety of small animals and rodents including rabbits, skunks, voles, and raccoons, and the family dogs did not scare them off. Grubs were a problem too, especially in pumpkins. Ms. Jones whose Mermaid Farm is located off Middle Road in Chilmark said she had definitely lost money on her tomato crop. She said that aside from the four-legged creatures that destroyed them in the garden, catbirds menaced her already-harvested tomatoes, eating holes in them as they were set out on a table for sorting.