Extending the Growing Season in New England

long wind Dave Smile Flipped

Long Wind Farm will be at the Thanksgiving Harvest Festival in Melrose this Sunday. The name comes from the wind that sometimes blows down the Connecticut River on the farm in Thetford, Vermont, about 20 minutes north of White River Junction. Dave Chapman, owner and grower, grows organic tomatoes under 2.3 acres of Dutch glass greenhouses. Although he’s certified organic, he’s an old school organic grower who was growing organic before the USDA and the National Organic Program put a name to it. His soil is amended with compost which he creates himself from local cow and hen manure, other organic materials, some clay, and a bit of sulfer. He also amends it with lots of organic alfalfa meal, a tiny amount of blood meal, and some slow release natural potassium, all of which are, of course, approved by the National Organic Program. He tests the soil monthly to make sure it has all the nutrients the tomato plants need. Most organic tomato growers spray their plants with copper sulfate, also approved by the National Organic Program, as an herbicide which critics feel is adding too much copper and hence poisoning the soil – Dave doesn’t use copper.

Dave started his farm in 1984. He started with oxen, after coming from logging using horses – he thought oxen would be cool. He did eventually get tractors to farm when he purchased some land. I asked Dave why he went into farming. He quipped that logging is both dangerous and unprofitable, while farming is only unprofitable – he said it was a no-brainer.

Long Wind Farm LandscapeAt some point, Dave picked up a booklet from Eliot Coleman’s library (who has a fantastic story unto himself, now farming all winter using greenhouses in Maine) on Organic Greenhouse Growers in Europe – it piqued his interest. Holland, for example, as well as many European countries, are much more developed in greenhouse growing. In Holland’s case, they have a poor climate for growing many crops outdoors and a great climate for growing in a greenhouse. For New England, there has been an explosion of protected growing in the last 20 years to greatly expand the growing season.

Dave had to go through the learning curve and he made his share of mistakes. He first built a couple greenhouses made out of 2x4s – one for plant starts and the other for growing the plants. His first compost was a disaster. He added too much carbon. As a gardener, we are told the mix of nitrogen to carbon is approximately 1:5, so you typically are looking for carbon to put into the mix. But Dave found out that the sawdust that he was adding got too hot and tied up all the nitrogen in decomposing the carbon – the compost reached temperatures of 160°F, while a hot compost should only reach 135-140 °F. When he used the compost on his plants, it starved the plants of the necessary nitrogen.

Long Wind Christina PickingThe variety of tomato that Dave grows is a hybrid and he considers the best tasting tomato you can buy. Because it’s a hybrid, it won’t come back true from seeds. The manufacturer stopped making the seeds, but he was able to get his hands on some seeds that someone else was throwing away. He keeps these seeds safely stored in a refrigerator, of which he has a supply of 4-5 years. He believes he is the last keeper of this particular hybrid of tomato. He asked the seed manufacturer who the parent plants are so he could make his own hybrid seeds, but they wouldn’t divulge. He tries new varieties each year however, and when he runs out of his seed stock, he will have a better varietal to offer.

long wind greenhouseDave said he is now looking into a more energy efficient operation. He already has air to air exchange in the greenhouses which takes the extra moisture, extracts the heat, before letting the cooled excess water vapor outside the greenhouse. He wants to add solar arrays next to the greenhouses to take water and heat it by the sun and use the heated water to heat the greenhouse. He is also looking into photovoltaic solar panels.

Long Wind Farm’s organic tomatoes will be at the Thanksgiving Harvest Festival this Sunday. This indoor farmers’ market on Sunday, November 24th from 12-4pm in Memorial Hall, 590 Main Street in Melrose, MA, will have 25 vendors, food demonstrations, talks, live music, face painting and Melrose Bootcamp on stage. To see more of the events and vendors we will have at our Thanksgiving Harvest Festival, go to our website at http://melrosefarmersmarket.org.

See you at the market!

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