Garden Diary - February 2021

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Phillips Farms Tour
Saturday, 20 February 2021

Wintry Farm Tour with Marc Phillips

I was at the farm market buying apples and cider and more. As I checked out there was a flyer, for a tour at the farm itself on Saturday February 20, 2021. Tour limited to 12 people. It will last for about 90 minutes. There is a $10 per person donation requested, payable at the beginning of the tour; 100% proceeds go to Frenchtown Presbyterian Church Food Pantry. Event will be held rain or shine or snow, and regardless of temperature. Wear sturdy shoes and outdoor clothing. Be prepared for a moderately strenuous walk.

When I e-mailed to register the tour was already filled. In fact, the response was so enthusiastic that two more time slots were added; 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. as well as the original 11:00 a.m. I got the last slot for the early afternoon tour. There was snow a few times in the days before, but our driveway was passable. Not exactly warm but 32° Fahrenheit is better than it has been. I bundle up, double masks ready, and off I go.

The public roads are clear, those at the farm are snowy / icy. Except where there is mud. They weren't kidding when it was mentioned that participants should "Be prepared for a moderately strenuous walk." I had to stop periodically to ease my legs and catch my breath. Double masking may have contributed. Plus I kept stopping to take pictures, which always puts me at the back of any group.

Marc Phillips is explaining / describing things to the group as they pause by the field of blueberry bushes. Normally, the blueberries would be the first to be pruned. But removal of the older shoots down to the ground is risky with the piled up snow. The irrigation lines could be damaged since the crews cannot see what they are cutting.

A crew is pruning the Asian pear trees. It took a snow blower to sufficiently clear the rows so the men could trudge to the end, carrying orchard ladders, lopers, and all. Each type of tree - apples, pears, plums, peaches and nectarines, cherries - requires a different / modified pruning system. There's a crew of five at work. Should have additional workers but the snow that closed airports has delayed their arrival.

Obviously, these plum trees have not yet had their pruning. It may be February
but clearly there is a massive amount of work to be done at Phillips Farms.

One issue with orchards - cold weather when the trees are in flower. Cold air is heavier than warmer air. It lies down on the trees and damages the blossoms before the fruit is even set. There was a freeze in April 2016. And another just last year. Phillips Farms lost the crop of cherries, plums, some peaches, some apples.

No. This is not a windmill for energy generation. It's a fan to disrupt the inversion layer and protect the orchard flowers from damage. Phillips Farms has two of these fans - there is another to protect the trees near their house. But they are expensive, need to be ordered well in advance, and come from somewhere in the Midwest. Some day, maybe, they'll get a third one.

Into the greenhouses. First, each of us who enters must step in a tray of disinfectant.

Tray after tray of seedlings, vegetables such as cabbage and broccoli
and other cool weather cole crops. Lettuces. And green onions too.

There's a separate greenhouse just for tomatoes.

Two plants to each grow bag, drip irrigated with a nutrient solution. As they grow, each plant will be trained to the twine, clambering up to remarkable heights. They'd keep on going, too. But once the field crop tomatoes begin to bear and ripen fruit these will be ripped out and discarded. Hot house tomatoes are O.K. but nothing like field ripened, silken skinned, succulently juicy tomatoes kissed by the sun. Until then, we'll manage with these and do nicely.

There are rex begonias up on the rolling bench (one aisle, benches slide
to open the singular aisle where needed.) They have 'Escargot'! That's one
with snail shell-like curled leaves that I've only been looking for since 2019.

Others, intended for hanging baskets are already producing an occasional
flower. Oh, that greyish film on the leaves? That's a disease-preventative spray,
copper based, to avoid bacterial damage that would rot out portions of the leaves.

A pot of forced tulips, just about ready to color up. They'll
be sold as cut flowers at the farm market. Cannot get fresher than this.
Other pots of crocus and daffodils, probably marketed as potted plants.
And hyacinths are not quite ready to bring out of the production area.

And we each received a goody bag with the farm's name on it, a pint of Phillips Farms apple cider, a smaller container of chocolate milk from Spring Run Dairy operated by the Lyness family in Pittstown whose products are also sold at the farm market. Plus a store coupon for $5 off your next purchase at the farm market. What an excellent afternoon outing!

And wouldn't it be lovely if there is another tour, perhaps when the orchards are in flower.

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