The Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association. NOFA/Mass welcomes everyone who cares about food, where it comes from and how it’s grown

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June 22-28 is Pollinator Week! Organized by the Pollinator Partnership, Pollinator Week is a national celebration of the thousands of insect species that are essential to flowering plants—including the food crops that we depend on for our meals.  

Pollinators (and, more broadly, insect biodiversity) are one of our long-standing priority issues at NOFA/Mass and one of our topline topics for educational programming, published content, and policy work. 

Of course, due to the coronavirus pandemic, we can’t gather for any in-person activities right now, but we wanted to take this opportunity to share some resources and actions that you can use to support these critical members of our food system and our ecosystem. 

There are three major reasons I love to use drip irrigation in the garden: It puts water where it does the most good, it puts enough of it there to really make my plants happy, and it allows me to set it and forget it for the rest of the summer—a real benefit to a busy, lazy farmer like me.

Drip systems got their start in the desert, and that’s where I first learned about them.  But they are useful wherever plants need more water than the sky will supply.

There are many types of drip emitters, but for gardeners, the most common and most useful is drip tape—thin tubing with regularly spaced slits. Laid in straight lines down the planting bed, drip tape weeps water that percolates down into the root zone, allowing the plant’s roots to dive deep for water (and bring up nutrients from there as well), rather than spread wide and stay shallow.

After several weeks of physical distancing and sheltering in place, I started a research project for NOFA/Mass’s partners, Home City Housing.  We wanted to find out which families may be struggling with food insecurity due to not being able to get to the store, or not having enough money to shop. 

Staff from both Home City Housing and Robinson Gardens Apartments (a part of the Springfield Housing Authority) started combing through their family listings to find out who was in need of food, while we at NOFA/Mass began searching to find farmers who accepted SNAP payments and could deliver fresh food to Springfield, MA.

 

When I started gardening, I thought everything got planted only once; when it was harvested, you waited until next year to get more. But over time I learned nothing could be further from the truth—with succession planting, you can reap multiple harvests of the same crop all season long.

Lettuce is perhaps the premier crop in this regard. There is no reason that home gardeners can’t have fresh lettuce on the table every week of the season, and no reason market gardeners can’t sell lettuce at the farm stand from March to December. All it takes is a plan, the right varieties, and keeping at it.

 

Early spring gives rise to planning for gardens: community gardens, backyard gardens, and school gardens are prepping their sites for planting.  In this time of the coronavirus, food insecurity issues have increased in communities across the country.  Community gardens are becoming not just a novelty, but a key source of produce and nutrition.  For communities of color that already have health disparities and few areas to access healthy food, the garden may now be the best place to provide for their households.

NOFA/Mass has an ongoing program with the youth and families of Home City Housing in Springfield, MA to assist with the self determination to grow healthy, nutritious food. Through programming that has been funded by grants and individual donors, Home City Housing and NOFA/Mass have been able to work with 15 youths to develop organic growing practices at their Tapley Street Apartment Complex.  As partners, NOFA/Mass and Home City Housing have worked together to create an interactive learning program for these youth leaders that covers carbon sequestration, no-till gardening, soil fertility and food nutrition/cooking information. 

Most of the gardeners I know are optimists, and there is nothing quite as tempting to the optimistic gardener as getting the earliest possible start on the tomato season and, one hopes, the earliest possible harvest. But after a number of years of succumbing to this temptation myself, while I still try to push the season, I’ve learned to hold off planting for much longer than my optimistic self might like.

The reasons for waiting are three-fold and, I think, all related to cold temperatures. First, tomatoes will die in a frost, and even in the unheated hoop house, where I grow most of my tomatoes, it can get nippy well into April. I now hold off on starting my seeds until late March or beyond, and plan to transplant in late April. Second, tomatoes need warmth to grow rapidly, and steady, rapid growth is what you want. There is little to be gained by putting a tomato into cold soil. A four-week-old transplant that sits around for two weeks in the cold can easily be surpassed by one two weeks younger that skipped those two weeks of chill.

In this time of the Anthropocene, when human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment, stories about biodiversity loss have become heartbreakingly common. Once limited to the occasional report of a notable megafauna—the endangerment of pandas, snow leopards, elephants—today our awareness of species engagement extends to those small and oft-taken-for-granted service workers of earth’s ancient plant propagation engine: pollinators.

Yet the very workaday nature of the wee beasts that once – to most of us—registered as no more than the movement and sound in the summer air of our backyards should tell us something of how we can help – unlike snow leopards, they live among us, so shouldn’t the opportunities to offer support lie all around us where we live and work?

For the ambitious gardener, there is nothing quite as frustrating as planting seeds that never come up. You watch and wait, and wait some more, and wait some more, and…nothing. Precious weeks can slip away before you accept that you’re going to have to replant. For any crop, this is a nuisance; for some, like long-season tomatoes or late-season broccoli, it’s a disaster.  

There are three keys to avoiding this disaster:  

  • Store your seeds properly 

  • Test their viability   

  • Replace them when its time 

Nutrition, Diabetes Management and Organic Gardening

Friends of the Homeless, located at the Worthington Street Homeless Shelter in Springfield, Massachusetts, held their Diabetes Initiative Workshops for shelter members every Tuesday at 755 Worthington Street last spring.  This season, the group wanted to include a garden; so, the sessions began outside with the small, impromptu garden created by the participants.  During the meetings, the group learned how organic gardening, healthy soil and healthy food can assist with controlling diabetes. During this class, the members were very excited about the budding cucumbers and small, green tomatoes that were appearing in the plot.

For me, the arrival of the NOFA bulk order is, like the arrival of the seed catalogs, a harbinger of spring, and an opportunity to stock up on things I know I will use all season long. The bulk order also appeals to the Yankee in me, because I know I will get great prices, especially with the member discount, and loading up my pick-up with a season’s worth of soil amendments feels like thrift rewarded. There are hundreds of items to choose from, for the back yard or the back 40. Here are some favorites of NOFA farmers this year:

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